Stamp Collectors - Some Terms Used in Stamp Collecting

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Stamp Collectors - Some Terms Used in Stamp Collecting

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 Service). 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 differences. 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.

Stamp Collectors - Some Terms Used in Stamp Collecting

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 letters:

NH - 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.

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

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

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

HR - 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.

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

NG - No gum: there is no gum, stamp is unused.

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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Stamp Collectors - Some Terms Used in Stamp Collecting


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A postage stamp is adhesive paper evidence of a fee paid for postal services. Usually a small rectangle attached to an envelope, the stamp signifies the person sending it has fully or partly paid for delivery. The study of postage stamps is philately. Stamp collecting is the hobby of collecting stamps. Source: Wikipedia.