Some Stamp Collecting Lingo

Some Stamp Collecting Lingo

The very first stamps that came out did not have perforations, but cutting them became cumbersome. Perforating machines came into use to solve this problem. They punch holes vertically and horizontally so that stamps can be torn from the sheet more easily.

Even after stamps were being perforated, post offices also produced stamps that were not perforated, to help collectors collect them.

A perforated stamp has “perf” characteristics and the perfs go by number. Some stamps have perf # 12 on one side and maybe a perf # 8 vertically. So perforations come in different sizes. The larger the holes, the fewer perfs there are on the side of stamps.


Have you ever entered a contest where one of the rules state that all entries “must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2005?” When post offices have the letters and other material mailed by the public, they will mark the stamps or stamp "cancelled". This is to show that the stamp has been used so that people don't use them again. Post offices sometimes used a kind of hammer wet with ink to hit the stamp.

Envelopes / First Day Covers

When stamp collectors save the envelopes that have stamps on them, it is called collecting first day covers or simply “covers” for short. This is an interesting branch of stamp collecting because the covers actually provide information about a certain major event.

Three components go into a first day cover: the envelope, stamp and postmark. The last component - postmark - is the key element as it signals the date on which a particular stamp was cancelled. Generally, the United States Postal Service releases a stamp in one city on the day before a new issue is sold.
A new stamp that is issued is often a cause of celebration.


Commemoratives are stamps that highlight or “commemorate” a person or event. For example the first landing on the moon by American astronauts produced a commemorative stamp to call attention to this milestone. While the stamp may be pretty, the first day cover is more meaningful because it contains information about the event.

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