Some Stamp Collecting Terms

Some Stamp Collecting Terms
Like any hobby stamp collecting has its own jargon and terminology that the beginning collector needs to learn.
Terms that relate to stamp collecting are very important and help the collector know more about the particular stamps they are collecting.

Avid collectors keep a ledger of these terms and their definitions. Collectors can also find terms and definitions online. Here are some terms to get you started.


The very first stamps that came out did not have perforations. However, cutting them became cumbersome. Perforating machines were invented to solve this problem. These machines punch holes vertically and horizontally so that stamps can be torn from the sheet more easily. Even after stamps were being perforated, many 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. As such perforations come in different sizes. The larger the holes, the fewer perfs there are on the sides of stamps.


Have you ever entered a contest where one of the rules stated that all entries “must be postmarked by such and such a date?” When post offices have the letters and other material mailed by the public, they mark the stamp or stamps “cancelled.” This is to show that the stamp has been used so that people cannot reuse the stamps again. Sometimes post offices used a kind of hammer that was wet with ink to hit and cancel 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 a fascinating branch of stamp collecting because the covers actually provide information about a certain major or historical event.

Three components go into a first day cover: the envelope, stamp, and postmark. The last component—the 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.

Overprints And Perfins

As we are going through this glossary, are you 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 meaning attached.

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 might intrigue you 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 outer edges. Note that coil stamps can be a vertical coil or a 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 on stamps. 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 often fetch a fortune. For instance, the U.S and Canada have stamps with the center part upside down. While some errors will not fetch you a huge amount of money at an auction, or stamp show, they are still interesting to most collectors.

Color errors are also pretty 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 can also contain errors. Many stamps have perfs running through the middle.

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