Philatelic Terms

To a new collector, philatelic terms are often a source of puzzlement. Here's some of the more common terminology:

A stamp with gum, as opposed to one printed directly onto an envelope or postcard.
These are stamps normally sent to you by post from a stamp dealer, from which you select the ones you want and return the remainder with your payment.
Bar cancelled
An overprinted cancellation often used on stamps which have been withdrawn from use and then sold to collectors.
A stamp cut in half (with official permission), due to a shortage of stamps of a lower denomination.
An unofficial stamp privately printed in order to deceive collectors. Sometimes bearing the name of a non-existent country, or designed to resemble a real stamp.
A mark to indicate the stamp has been used either postally or fiscally. Can consist of a postmark or ink mark.
Cancelled To Order
A stamp which is postmarked on the buyer's instructions. This is either because the buyer wants a neat cancellation, or because this particular stamp is worth more if it has a postmark.
Charity stamps
Either specially-printed stamps, or normal issues on which a surcharge has been added in order to raise funds for charitable purposes.
Anything which resembles a postage stamp, but was not actually issued by a postal authority for postal purposes.
Coil stamps
Stamps originating from rolls used in automatic vending machines. The perforation is often trimmed or completely missing on one or both sides.
Commemorative stamps
These are issued to commemorate special occasions - for example, centenaries.
Control blocks / Imprint blocks
Usually a block of four or six stamps, or a strip of five, attached to a section of the sheet margin showing a cylinder or control number related to the printing of the sheet.

The "normal" stamps which are in use for a long period of time and do not mark special occasions.
Stamps which are officially no longer considered valid for postal or fiscal use.
These are stamp designs which the postal authority has considered, but decided not to use.
Face Value
The actual denomination of the stamp as shown in its design.
Stamps used for non-postal purposes, normally for the payment of taxation on legal documents
A privately-printed stamp which resembles the genuine article, produced either to deceive collectors or the postal administration. Can also be a genuine stamp which has been altered by adding errors or overprints to imitate a more valuable item.
Lacking perforation, as was the case with very early stamps.
A standard design usually produced by a country with colonies in order to reduce design costs. Only the country name differs on the designs.
Stamps not valid for international postage but for regional use only.
Arnold Machin made a plaster cast profile of Queen Elizabeth II in 1964, for use on coins. In 1966 permission was given to use the same design on stamps, so the term "Machin" refers to British pre-decimal and decimal definitive stamps issued from June 1967 to date.
Mint condition
A stamp in the same condition in which it was originally sold i.e. unused
A stamp no longer available from a post office counter.
A further printing carried out on a stamp to alter its purpose or value.
The holes punched in rows between stamps in order to facilitate separation.
Perforation Gauge
A tool to measure the size and number of holes. Can be either electronic or a printed card.
Phosphor Bands
One or more strips of phosphor applied to the surface of the stamp to aid mechanical sorting. The phosphor fluoresces under ultraviolet light.
These are the test prints made before the actual production of a stamp begins. Usually these are imperforate and lacking one or more elements of the complete design. They are also often printed on a different paper to the final issue. Proofs should never get into collectors' hands, but occasionally this happens - making them highly sought-after.
Stamps specially prepared because of a shortage of the normal issues.
Stamps sold in bulk by the postal authority after the issue has been withdrawn from use.
A new printing of an obsolete stamp, using the original plates.

A type of perforation which does not remove any part of the paper, instead puncturing the surface of the paper with small blades or a row of pins.
Two or more different stamps of the same issue joined horizontally, vertically, or in blocks.
An overprint that either alters or confirms the face value of a stamp.
From the French for "Head to Tail", a joined pair of stamps in which one of the pair is upside-down.
Traffic lights
The term used for the dots of colour printed in the sheet margin. The colours correspond to the printed colours in the stamp design.
Universal Postal Union
A department of the United Nations, coordinating worldwide postal services and regulations.
A stamp which differs in some way from the normal issue. This may be because of a different shade of colour, or detail of design.
War Stamps
These stamps were issued in order to raise funds during wartime. Often, normal stamps were surcharged.
A design embedded in the paper during the manufacturing process.
Dorothy Wilding was a photographer whose work was used for a new definitive stamp issue of Great Britain (1952 to 1967, with a re-issue in 1998 and 2002) and Canada (1954 to 1962).

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