Philatelic terms explained: An in-depth guide to the most-used stamp terminology

Stamp collecting is a rewarding hobby for all ages. However, it can be quite challenging if you don’t know the meaning of the stamp terminology that’s widely used by collectors and dealers.

This guide to stamp collecting abbreviations has been compiled for those who may need a bit more clarity to fully understand the various classifications and philatelic terms.

Adhesive: A stamp that is gummed

Airmail Stamp: Issued to prepay the postage of mail carried by air

Albino: A design impression without any colour

Aniline: A water soluble ink or dye

Approvals: When a collector is offered a wide range of stamps to examine and choose from ahead of a purchase, but it must be bought or returned to the dealer in a specified period of time

AVG - Average (AVG): A stamp is average if the design is cut into by the perforations in any way, if the outside margin shows on the perforation teeth or if heavy cancellation marks are present

Average Mounted Mint (AVMM): As issued by the Post Office, with good gum and fully complete perforations, with hinge marks on the rear and other visible faults

Average Unmounted Mint (AVUM): A stamp which is in the state it was issued by the Post Office, bearing good gum and full complete perforations, but with visible faults

Average Used (AU): A stamp in a good used condition with cancellation marks, small defects or heavier postmarks

Bisect: Describes part of a stamp cut in two for separate use; usually during an era of stamp shortages

Blind perforation (Blind perf): A perforation which has not been fully punched out and has left some paper where the perforation holes should be.

Block: A group of four or more unseparated stamps, which form a square or rectangle

Blunt perforation (Blunt perf): A stamp with a perforation which is shorter than would usually be expected

Booklet: A small book which contains stamps in 'panes'

Booklet Panes: A small leaf or page of stamps which is sold in a booklet format

Cachet: A commemorative marking, illustration or description on an envelope which explains the commemorative purpose when it was mailed and is usually applied by a rubber stamp

Cancellation: An authorised mark applied to a stamp to prevent its reuse by defacing it surface

Centring: The position of the design on a stamp within its perforations. For example: On a perfectly centred stamp, the design ‘well-centred’ when exactly in the middle

Chalky paper: Stamp paper is coated with a chalky solution for security purposes to prevent the attempted removal of the postmark, which would damage the stamp's surface

Charity stamp: A stamp which was issued with a premium or surcharge for charitable purposes

Circular date stamp (CDS): A circular cancellation mark which often has the date and place name or location within it

Classic: One of the earliest stamp issues from a country, usually up to about 1900

Coil join: A tab which unites two sections from a roll of stamps

Coil Stamps: Stamps which were produced in rolls for use in vending machines and can often be identified by a pair of straight edges on opposite sides

Comb perforation: When the perforation pins have been arranged in a comb pattern to perforate three sides of a stamp in one stroke

Commemorative stamp: A stamp issued to mark a person, special event or anniversary - which is usually only on sale for a limited period of time

Commemorative Sheet: A sheet of stamps with a commemorative inscription to mark an event or anniversary

Cover: An envelope, postcard, letter-sheet or any other wrapper which has been used to send correspondence by mail

Cut Square: The cut corner of an envelope or postcard bearing the imprinted stamp with ample margins

Cylinder number: Letters and numerals displayed in sheet margins which can identify printing cylinders. They are normally collected in a ‘cylinder block’ of six stamps

Defective Mint (DEFM): A stamp which has heavy creasing, thins or missing perforations, but would otherwise be classed as in a 'mint' state

Defective Used (DU): When a stamp is in 'used' condition but it also has noticeable defects, such as small tears, creases, clipped perforations or thins

Definitive: A stamp issued for ordinary postal use which remains on sale for an extended period

Denomination: The monetary value printed on a stamp

Die: A small, flat piece of soft steel which is used to print stamps by using an engraving plate to impress the design onto the paper

Disturbed gum (DG): When the gum of a stamp has been damaged in some way

Doctor blade: A steel blade used to remove surplus ink from a printing cylinder in the press

Duck Stamp: Issued annually since 1934, these US duck hunting permits help to finance the federal waterfowl program

Embossed Envelope: An envelope which bears a postage stamp with a raised surface design printed on the actual envelope

Embossing: A form of printing in relief

Error: Highly-collectible stamps because a mistake in stamp design, printing or production has occured during their design or manufacture

Essay: A trial stamp design which sometimes differed from the actual issued stamps

Extremely Fine (XF): A stamp where the design is well centred with the margins on all sides almost perfect, wider than usual and clear from any perforations. For used stamps, the cancellations are light and tidy. For unused or mint stamps, the original gum is present

Face Scrape: Where part of the stamp's front side has been scraped away to leave a spot in the overall stamp design

Face value: The denomination or value of a stamp, which is expressed on its face

Fine (F): A stamp design with unbalanced margins (top or bottom), but is not cut in any way by the perforations

Fine to very fine (F-VF): The stamp design is slightly off-centred (horizontally or vertically) but is clear from perforations - making it attractive, but widely collected because it does not come with an unaffordable price

Fine Used (FU): Stamps which are lightly cancelled and have a circular date stamp

First Day Cover (FDC): An envelope or card which has been postmarked and used on the first day of issue.

First Flight Cover: An envelope or postcard which was carried on the inaugural mail flight between two destinations

Flaw: When a printing fault causes a fortuitous blemish on a stamp

Forgery: A fraudulent copy of a genuine stamp, overprint or postmark - usually done to deceive collectors

Frama stamps: Also known as Machine Labels, these stamps are produced by a micro-processor machine after coins of the required value have been entered

Gem: A term which can be used by anyone because it has no definite meaning - although it is mostly used to describe an extra high-quality stamp with fine centring, boardwalk margins and no faults or other special features.

Graphite lines: GB definitives, from 1957 to 1959, had black vertical lines printed on the back of them so they could be used by automatic letter-sorting equipment.

Greetings stamp: A stamp intended for use on a birthday card or other mail specifically for a special greeting

Grill: This series of small dots is embossed on a stamp to allow ink from the postmark to sink in and prevent the stamp being cleaned and reused

Gum: The coating of adhesive glue on the back of an unused stamp.

Gum bend, Gum crease or Gum wrinkle: A natural occurrence in flat-plate printed stamps where the paper has shrunk and the gum did not shrink at the same rate, causing the stamp to wrinkle. This will not lower a stamp's value unless it is severe.

Gum skip: A portion of the stamp has been left without gum because it was not spread completely over the stamp during its manufacture.

Gutter: The blank margins of narrow space dividing a sheet of stamps into panes and permitting perforation

Handstamp: A postmark or overprint which has been applied by hand

Heavily hinged (HH): When the gum has been hinged and the mark which has been left is very large or prominent

Hinge Remnant (HR): The gum has had a hinge applied to it and a portion of it was so difficult to remove that it was left attached to the stamp

Hinged (H): The gum surface has had a hinge applied to it

Hinges: A small gummed strip which is used to fix stamps to the pages of an album

Imperforate (Imperf): Stamps which have been deliberately printed and issued without perforations, so that they bear straight edges on all four sides

Imprint: When the name of the printer or issuing authority is inscribed on the stamps or in the sheet margins

Imprinted stamps: Stamps which have been printed directly on to postal items such as postcards or envelopes

Inclusion: When a foreign piece of material has been pressed into the paper during manufacturing to create a spot that can be seen on the front, back or in the middle of a stamp

Invert: A stamp with one part of its design printed upside down in relation to the rest of the stamp.

Jubilee Line: The coloured line found in the sheet margin of certain Q.V. and K.E.VII British stamps

Jumbo or Boardwalk Margins: A stamp where the border between the edge of the design and its perforations is larger or smaller than that of other stamps in the same sheet. If this space is large, the stamp is usually referred to as a 'jumbo' and is more attractive and desirable.

Key type (U): A uniform design used by many colonial countries, where a standard key, head or plate was used with different duty plates to bear the country's name and the stamp's value

Lightly hinged (LH): The gum has had a hinge applied but the mark which has been left is very small or light

Line perforation (P): When a sheet of stamps is seperated by a single line or row of holes

Local: A stamp with geographical limits of where it can be used to post items

Machin: A common name given to GB definitives, first issued in 1967, which had the Queen’s head designed by Arnold Machin

Machine label: More popularly known as Frama stamps, these are stamps produced by a micro-processor machine after coins of the required value have been entered

Maltese Cross: The cross-shaped cancellation which was used on the first British stamps

Margin: The unprinted edging which surrounds or divides a sheet of stamps.

Maximum card: A picture postcard often with a stamp and cancellation which is relevant to the actual picture on the card

Miniature sheet: A small sheet of one or several stamps which are usually decorative

Mint: A stamp in its original and unused pristine condition which was never cancelled and bears its full or original gum

Mint Never Hinged (MNH): A stamp, as issued by the Post Office, with full original gum and which has not been previously hinged

Mint Sheet: An entire sheet of stamps in their original unused condition as issued by the Post Office

Mounted Mint (MM): In the state as it was issued by the Post Office, including good gum and fully complete perforations, but with hinge marks on the back

Mulready: Envelopes and letter sheets issued by Great Britain during 1840 which had a pictorial motif designed by William Mulready

Never hinged (NH): A stamp that has never had a hinge applied to it with full original gum and no marks of any kind - sometimes known as an unhinged

New Printings: When additional supplies of current stamps are reprinted

No gum (NG): An unused stamp without gum

Non Value Indicator (NVI): A stamp with no monetary value on it, but with its postage class (1st, 2nd) shown instead

Obsolete: A stamp which is no longer sold by the Post Office even though it may still be valid for use on post

Official Stamp: A stamp which was valid only for use by a government agency

Overprint: Printing added to a stamp after production to indicate a change in value or function, or to commemorate an event.

Pair: Two unseparated stamps which are joined either vertically or horizontally as originally issued

Pane: A formation or group of stamps within a sheet

Perforation Gauge: A device which is used to gauge the number of perforations on a stamp in two centimetres

Perforations: The holes which are punched between stamps on a sheet to make them easy to separate

Personalised stamp: A stamp bearing an image taken from a personal photograph, but with an attached non-postal label

Philately: The technical name for stamp collecting

Phosphor stamps: Stamps which have been overprinted or coated with phosphorescent materials so they can be recognised by automatic letter sorting machinery

Pictorial: Any stamp which features a decorative image, rather than the usual symbolic designs such as a portrait or coat of arms

Plate Block: When four or more attached stamps are still fastened to the margin which has the number of the printing plate clearly inscribed

Plate number: This is when the letters and numerals in a sheet margin identify the printing plate

Postal Stationery: Postcards, envelopes, cards or any other covers which bear imprinted or impressed stamps on them

Postmark: Any markings on a postal item, such as a cancellation, which records the date and/or origin of its connection with the postal service and its transit through the mail system

Precancel: A stamp which was intended for use by a bulk poster and supplied with a pre-printed cancellation by the post office

Presentation pack: A stamp collecting souvenir which contains a set of stamps and some descriptive text about the issue

Prestige booklet: A booklet of stamps devoted to one subject or event which contains special panes of stamps accompanied by descriptive text alongside them

Proof: A trial impression stamp which has been taken from an original die or printing plate

Provisional: A stamp issued for temporary use often overprinted or surcharged

Pulled perf - Pulled perforation (PP): A stamp where the perforation tip is missing completely

Regional: A collectors' term for issues by Royal Mail for use in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Seperate issues were also made for Guernsey and Jersey to 1969 and until 1973 for the Isle of Man.

Re-gummed (RG): A stamp which has had new gum applied in place of the original.

Remainders: Stamps which remain in official stocks even after becoming obsolete

Re-perforated (RP or Reperf): When alterations have been made to a stamp to add perforations to one or more edges. This is often done for dishonest reasons, such as to improve the worth of a lower-value stamp

Reprints: Stamps which are printed from original plates after being withdrawn

Revenue Stamp: Any stamp which indicates the payment of a fee or tax

Roulette: When slits or cuts have been used between stamps to seperate them instead of perforations

Seahorse: The high value definitive stamps associated with King George V

Self-Adhesive: A gummed stamp with a pressure-sensitive adhesive that does not need moistening to fix it to the postal item

Selvege: More often known as the margin, this is the unprinted paper around a pane of stamps

Semi-Postal: A stamp where all or part of the money generated by its sale is donated to charity

Se-Tenant: When adjoining stamps differ from each other in some aspect, such as their design or denomination

Short Perforation (SP or Short Perf): When a portion of the perforation tip is still present, but is not as long as it should be

Socked on the Nose (SON): This means that the stamp has a CDS and it is applied very close to dead centre on the stamp.

Spacefiller: A heavily defective stamp with considerable faults which sells for a greatly reduced price

Specimen: A sample stamp which has the words ‘specimen’ perforated or overprinted on it

Straight edge (SE): A philatelic term for when one or more edges of a stamp do not have perforations. Not to be confused with a coil stamp (always has two edges without perforations), a booklet stamp (can have one, two or three edges without perforations) or an imperforate stamp (which has no perforations).

Strip: Three or more stamps which are joined together in a row

Superb (S): A nearly perfectly-centred stamp with a design that is perfect in all aspects. These are usually scarce and worth more in value

Surcharge: When an overprint has been used to alter or change a stamp's established face value

Tab: The illustrated or descriptive label which is attached to a stamp

Tête-bêche: A stamp which is inverted in relation to the adjoining stamp in a pair

Thin: A 'thin' stamp gets its name from having an area where some of the paper is thinner than the remainder of the stamp.

Tongs: The American philatelic term for metal tweezers which are used to handle stamps safely and easily

Topicals: A group of stamps which are all of the same theme, such as trains

Traffic lights: The term used by collectors for the coloured check dots found in sheet margins

Unmounted Mint (UM): A stamp in its original unused condition, as issued by the Post Office, with good gum that has never been hinged and complete perforations. Also known as unused never hinged

Unused (*): A stamp with no cancellation or any other sign of use, usually without gum

Unused never hinged (**): Also known as an 'Unmounted Mint', this is a stamp in its original unused condition that has not been hinged

Used (O): A stamp that has been used postally and appropriately postmarked

Used abroad: Stamps from one country which has been used and postmarked in another country

Used on piece: A stamp which has been kept on part of the original cover to completely preserve its postmark

Variety: When a stamp differs in some detail from its 'normal' issue

Very fine (VF): Well centred with full perforations and light cancellation if used

Very Fine Used (VFU): A very fine stamp which is undamaged, almost perfectly centred and bears a light postmark

Vignette: The central portion of a stamp's design which has been printed separately within the frame

Watermark: The distinctive design or pattern formed in paper by 'thinning' it during the manufacturing process to protect against forgery and act as a valuable security precaution.

Watermark Detection: A method where collectors place a stamp in a tray filled with special fluid to safely determine the existence of a watermark

Wilding: The popular name issued to British definitive stamps, which were first issued in 1952, featuring the Queen’s head and taken from a photographic portrait by Dorothy Wilding

Wing margin: When a wide margin occurs on one side of a stamp because of the central perforation of the sheet gutter margin

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