Stamp Collecting Terms

Stamp Collecting Terms
The very first stamps that came out did not have
perforations, but cutting them became cumbersome.
Perforating machines came into use to solve this
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.5 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


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.

Another interesting commemorative was the coronation
of Queen Elizabeth. In Canada, the first day cover was
issued in a town called “Coronation” in Alberta!8
Overprints and Perfins
As we’re going along this glossary, are you somehow
getting the feeling that there are many facets to stamp
collecting that you could specialize in? When stamps
have something written on them, there is usually a
meaning attached.

For example, the tutorial web site of the British
Philatelic Society said that the letters “OHMS” may be
put “over the stamp” which means (on His Majesty’s

When letters are punched into the stamp, leaving small
holes, they are called "perfins".

The word "Perfins" stands for PERforated INitialS. This
was to discourage postal employees from stealing
stamps for their own use.For collecting purposes, therefore,
you may think of collecting just perfins that display the names of
companies. This is one field of collecting that could
intrigue you at a later time.

Coil Stamps

Coil stamps come in long rolls and have no perforations
at the top and bottom sides. Because they are
connected to stamps in the strip, they do not need to
be perforated on the other edges. Note that coil stamps
may be vertical coil or horizontal coil.

Booklet Pane

Stamps used to be sold in “booklets.” The booklets
usually had a sheet of five or six stamps. Each of these
sheets was called a pane.


Stamp collectors spend hours looking for errors. It
seems that laughing at people’s mistakes is a favorite
human pastime. The same theory goes for stamp
collecting. Collectors have a great time when they do
spot an error.

And because errors are not something you see
everyday owing to automated stamp manufacturing,
when errors do occur, the stamps can fetch a fortune.
For instance, the US and Canada have stamps with the
center part upside down.

While some errors will not fetch you a huge amount of
money in auctions or stamp clubs, they are still
interesting to most collectors. A good source of
collecting entertainment would be the Canadian
“Admirals” issues of 1911-1925.
They are not really errors, but they do have minute

Color errors are also common. When a color is left out
in the printing, this constitutes an error. So the next
time you buy stamps, look at them more closely.
Perforations may also contain errors. Many stamps
have perfs running right through the middle.

Stamp collecting does not end with the basic
terminology. As you become more sophisticated in the
activity, you may be motivated to begin visiting stamp
dealers and stamp shows.

You will be meeting some symbols – usually a symbol
such as an “asterisk” or acronym (two to three letters)
that are used by stamp dealers.

Used and unused stamps have symbols: “0” for used;
“*” for unused, and “**” for unused, never unhinged.
These symbols don’t have any mystery to them. When
a stamp is cancelled (post office puts a mark on the
stamp), then it is considered used. If it wasn’t
cancelled, then the stamp is unused.

Have you ever licked the other side of a stamp so you
could affix it to your envelope and then mail it? Did
licking it ever leave a pleasant or unpleasant taste on
your tongue? Believe it or not, gum plays a prominent
part in assessing the value of a stamp. A stamp’s gum
condition can be characterized with the following

Never hinged: this means the stamp has never had a
hinge applied to it. NH can also mean that the gum
must be in like condition with no marks of any kind.


Hinged: the gum has had a hinge applied to it.


Lightly hinged: the mark is small or minor after the
gum has had a hinge applied to it.


Heavily hinged: the mark is very conspicuous after the
gum has been hinged.


Hinge Remnant: a portion of the hinge applied to the
gum was difficult to remove that it was left in place,
attached to the stamp.


Disturbed gum: the gum was damaged except by
hinging. Fingerprints, glazing or bubbling can
contribute to damage.15 - The gum has been damaged
in some way other than hinging.


No gum: there is no gum, stamp is unused.16
Many other symbols are used but the above are the
more commonly used. Also, you may encounter the
word “centering” which is another determinant in a
stamp’s value.

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