Terminology & Trivia

Additional halfpenny: This was a hand-struck marking used from 8th June 1813 until 1839 on mail transported by four-wheeled mail coach within, or to and from, Scotland. It indicates that an extra 1/2d postage was chargeable being a levy paid to the Scottish Turnpike Trusts.

Alphabet letters: This term describes the letters printed on stamp issues of Great Britain from 1858. Letters were placed in all four corners of the stamp, the upper pair on the stamp being the same as those in the upper corners but in reverse order.

Booklet pane: This term is used for an uncut block of stamps especially printed and cut for use in booklets. The first booklets were produced in 1895 for use in Luxembourg.

Brunswick Star: This is the name given to a duplex cancel used at Edinburgh from 1863-65 and printed by a Parallel Motion Hill machine. The name of the cancel comes from the breast-star in the Hanoverian Order of Brunswick.

Cape Triangles: These were the first triangular shaped stamps and were issued by the Cape of Good Hope in 1853. They were also the first African stamp issue. The shape was so that postal clerks could tell the colony’s outgoing mail from incoming mail, as many of them were illiterate.

Country name: The Universal Postal Union regulations of 1874 decreed that all stamps being used for international post must have the country name inscribed. There was one exception, Great Britain, in recognition of being the first country to issue adhesive stamps. The effigy of the reigning monarch is deemed sufficient to identify them.

Dandy roll: This is a wire roller which bears down on the paper pulp as it comes from the vats and in so doing, gives the finished paper its watermark.

Die: This is the name given to the original engraving of a stamp design, usually recess-engraved in reverse on a small flat piece of soft steel. When more than one die is used in the production of an issue, distinctive varieties are often identifiable.

Essay: The artwork of a proposed design for a stamp is called an essay. Some essays are photographic, others are drawn in pencil or ink, or they can be painted. To attain the status of a proof, the proposed design or essay, must be identical to the issued stamp for which it was submitted.

Europa: The original Europa stamps were issued by the nations in the European coal and steel association. Today, European nations that are members of the postal and telecommunications association (CEPT) issue Europa stamps.

Fiscal stamps: These are a revenue stamp or similar label denoting the payment of tax. Fiscals are ordinarily affixed to documents and cancelled by pen, canceller or mutilation. Fiscals have occasionally been used either legally or illegally to prepay postage.

Fugitive ink: This ink dissolves or disintegrates in water. It is used in the production of some stamps to prevent forgery and re-use.

Goat’s eyes: The 1850 issue of stamps from Brazil, their third, are known as ‘Goat’s Eyes. They were small rectangular imperforate stamps displaying the numeral as the main part of the design.

Guide lines: The early printing plates had fine vertical and horizontal guide lines marked on them to assist the operator laying down the impressions. They were removed from the margins but not the stamp impression, so they can appear in the corners and through the postage and values on the stamps. Guide dots, to indicate the spacing of the guide lines, can also appear.

Hobson’s Choice: Mr Hobson of Cambridge was a provincial carrier of mails and ran a livery stable. He made a rule never to work one horse more than another, so a hirer was given the next horse waiting in turn. Hence the term, Hobson’s Choice.

Höster Machine Cancels: In 1879 Wilhelm Loffelhardt of Hamburg applied for a patent on a canceling machine. He was joined in 1881 by Georg Haller and in January 1883 Albert Höster became involved, adding a counting device. Höster’s name was the only one to survive.

Imprimatur: This Latin word means “let it be printed” and is the term applied to the first pane of a stamp produced after a printing plate was approved.

Ivory Head: This term was employed for the 2 pence blue Great Britain stamps of 1847-1857, where chemical action blued the paper under lightly inked portions.

Jubilee lines: These are also known as marginal rule lines. There are lines around the sheet margins of stamps and are so called because they were first used on the ‘Jubilee’ stamps of Queen Victoria in 1887.

Jumelle press: Jumelle means in French in or with pairs ie twin. A rotary printing press called the Jumelle, which was installed by Harrisons in 1972, combines recess and gravure printing. These printing methods can be used alone or together on a stamp issue. It can be used to print coils, rolls or booklets from the same cylinders and has a perforator built-in.

Keyplate designs: Various colonial powers (eg Great Britain, Spain and Portugal) used these designs in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an economic way of producing stamps for a number of different countries and territories. Plates were engraved for each colony using a master die. I hope to include a piece on these in a future edition.

Killer cancels: This is the name given to the obliteration portion of a two part cancel. It usually consists of bars or a pattern and cancels the stamp, the second section giving the details of place and date of posting.

Late fee stamps: These represent an extra sum payable in order to catch a certain mail after it has been closed down for normal correspondence.

Line perforation: A perforating machine that only makes one line of perforation holes at a time produces line perforations. The sheet has to be moved to produce the horizontal holes, hence single line or line perforation.

Marginal Rule: Marginal rules or marginal lines, are lines of colour parallel to the outer edges of stamps. They are also referred to as ‘Jubilee Lines’, as they were first noted on the 1887-1892 GB ‘Jubilee’ issue. The lines appear on the printing plate as a ridge of metal. Their purpose is to raise the inking rollers to the printing surface of the plate and absorb the shock in so doing, thus preventing the design at the edge of the plate wearing out more quickly than the rest of the plate.

Maximum cards: These are picture postcards that reproduce a stamp design or a view that that the stamp has been based on. They came into being in the 1940’s. The stamp was affixed to the picture side of the card and posted so it would be franked with a relevant postmark. These are known as maximum card as there is the greatest possible relationship between stamp, card and postmark.

Newspaper stamps: These stamps were used to prepay the postage on newspapers and periodicals. The first were issued by Austria on 1st January 1851 and the first from the British Commonwealth were issued by New Zealand in 1873. They are not always distinguishable from ordinary stamps, being the lowest denomination in a stamp series, e.g. ¼d from Malta and the British Colonies, and they could be used to make up higher values for ordinary postage. Early Austrian examples were stuck to the newspapers before printing, so are cancelled by the newsprint.

Numeral Obliterators: These came into use by the British Post Offices in May 1844 and were used to identify the office where the letter was franked. Different sets were used for the London Chief Office, London District Post and the Provincial offices of England (oval),Wales, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Scotland (rectangular) and Ireland (diamonds). They had a number in the centre and each post town and some important sub-offices, had their own unique number. When the English numbers ran out, a letter was prefixed to make further cancels. British Colonies and some other foreign countries introduced them in the 1850’s.

Obliteration: This term, although often applied to a cancellation, is really the name for a killer mark applied to prevent re-use of a stamp. The obliterator is coupled with the dater die, which shows the name of the office and the date the piece of mail was posted.

Optically variable ink: This ink will appear to change colour, when it is tilted at different angles even in ordinary light. It was used for the Queen’s head on the GB high value Castle Series of 1992 as a form of security to deter and, hopefully, prevent counterfeit versions of the stamps being circulated.

Plug Repairs: If a small area of a printing plate was found to be sub-standard, one method employed to repair it was to drill out the offending portion. The resulting hole was then filled with a copper pin, which was in turn knocked flat and then re-engraved. This is called a plug repair and was often undetectable on the printed stamp. Some good examples are known on the 1d issue of Edward VII.

Posthorns: This term is the popular name given by philatelists to describe the definitive series of Norway, first issued in 1872 and still being used today. The basic design is the same, but has been adjusted at times along with the currency and the method of production.

Quadrille Paper: This term is applied to paper that has been watermarked with crossed lines forming a pattern of small squares. An oblong quadrille has small rectangles rather than squares.

Quadrisect stamps: A term used for the 1931 stamps of Nicaragua, where stamp fragments were valid for postage when supplies of the normal low-value stamps ran short.

Re-entry: When part of a line-engraved stamp design is duplicated this is termed a re-entry. The original design has not been completely erased from the printing plate, when correcting a fault, and traces of it appear along with the new impression, which causes doubling of part of the design.

Repp Paper: This is a ribbed paper with fine ribbing on its surface, rather than that resulting from the watermark. The paper has a corrugated appearance.

Spoon Cancel: This is the name given to a distinctive experimental duplex cancellation issued to 29 larger towns and cities in England and to Wrexham in Wales. The portions of the handstamp are merged and the post office number cuts into the dated portion of the cancel to the left. The first ‘Spoon’ was issued to Hull on 21st December 1853 and they remained in use until 1860. Five main types exist.An example from Oswestry, July 1856, is shown below.

In Ireland the first types were like their English counterparts, but later the number appeared in a diamond.

Sunday Delivery Stamps: These were issued by Bulgaria between 1925 and 1929 and again in 1942. They were affixed to mail for delivery on a Sunday or public holiday and were a surcharge on top of the normal postage rate. The revenue generated was used for the maintenance of a sanatorium and rest hone for postal employees and their dependents.

Traffic Lights: This term is used to describe the check dots printed in the sheets margins of modern stamps printed by offset litho or photogravure. They are a reference check that all the colours have been printed.

Trilingual Triplets: In 1968 South West Africa issued 3 and 15 cents stamps to honour President Swart. They were printed alternately in English, Afrikaans and German. This was followed in 1978 by a set of six stamps, on the theme of universal suffrage, overprinted in the three languages side-by-side in strips of three.

Unappropiated dies: This term applies to GB fiscal stamps where a space was provided in the design for their purpose to be filled in.

Unemployed Intellectuals’ Stamps: These stamps were issued by France between 1935 and 1940.Thay had a premium to help to provide unemployment benefit, the dole, for unemployed intellectuals. In 1940, Hungary had a similar idea and in their case the premium was to provide the dole for unemployed artists.

Vale Stamps: This word was overprinted on railway stamps of Nicaragua in 1911. It is Spanish and means ‘worth’ or ‘valid’. This allowed the stamps to be used postally.

Varnish Lines: These lines were a security device and were applied to some stamps as a way to prevent them being cleaned and re-used.Bars of varnish were applied to Austrian stamps between 1901 and 1907 and to Russian stamps between 1908 and 1918. In the case of Russia the lines were applied in a trellis pattern.

Wallpaper: This term is applied to apparently unnecessary postal issues from countries, which are considered to have little or no philatelic or monetary value. I have also known them referred to in the past as jam pot labels, but I am not sure if that was school friends using that term or if it has wider usage.

Winter gum: This term is applied to a special soft gum used on stamps from the USA. The gum was for use when the weather was cold and dry, to protect stamps from curling, cracking and breaking and was in use between 1904 and 1906.

X List: Between 1886 and 1915 every British Post Office kept this so called X List to enter the details of each parcel that was conveyed by rail, even if only for part of its journey. This was done as payment had to be made to the railway companies.

Xeroxed Stamps: As the name suggests this term is applied to stamps produced using a photocopier. Colour copies might be employed, now the technology is available.

York Maltese Cross: This distinctive type of Maltese Cross cancel is known in use between July 1842 and 1843. It is slightly smaller and squarer than normal versions. The centre is tiny and the thin-lined middle cross compact.

Yost Typewriter: Typewriters have been employed to produce stamps or to overprint them. A Yost machine was used in July 1900 during the Boer War to overprint stamps of the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

Zemstvo Posts: This name is given to the services organised in the Zemstvos or units of local government in Russia. The Russian Imperial post only covered cities and large towns. In 1864 local authorities were allowed to set up networks in rural areas to connect with the Imperial Post services. They ran up to 1917 and several thousand stamp types were produced.

Zigzag Roulette: This type of rouletting consists of slits made with small cuts at an angle cut in a zigzag fashion. The edge of the stamps therefore looks like a saw but the rouletting leaves smaller points than seen with the true saw tooth roulette. 

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