By Janet Klug
Test stamps, dummy stamps and training stamps all fall into the same category.
The "dummy" name is used because the labels simulate postage stamps but lack the functionality of them. Test stamps, dummy stamps and training stamps are not postage stamps and they are not revenue stamps, but they look like they could be one or the other. Instead, they are stamplike labels that are used by postal administrations to test a stamp technology or postal equipment or to train post office staff.
Although these labels are called by several names, for the sake of simplicity "test stamp" will be used in this article. It is the name used in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.
The Scott catalog lists U.S. test stamps that were used to test coil and booklets vending machine formats, offset printing, perforations, paper, gum and a host of other innovations. According to the introductory paragraph in the Scott catalog's test stamp listing, U.S. test stamps were used for testing of production equipment and stamp vending and affixing equipment by commercial entities and the U.S. Postal Service.
The catalog gives the prefix "TD" to test stamps.
Figure 1 illustrates Scott TD74, a patriotic-theme test stamp created and used by Stampmasters Inc. for testing their stamp vending machines.
The test stamp listings in the Scott catalog take most of the mystery out of collecting U.S. test stamps, but much more information about these interesting labels is available from the United States Stamp Society's Dummy Stamps Study Group. Twenty-three issues of its newsletter are available online at www.usstamps.org/dssg.html. From that web site you can also get membership information about the United States Stamp Society.
Many other countries besides the United States have test stamps.
Great Britain is and has been an issuer of a vast array of test stamps. A web site located at www.stampprinters.info/dummystamps.htm has an archive of illustrated newsletters that show an incredible selection of what are called dummy stamps in Great Britain.
What is interesting is that in addition to the Scott catalog definition of test stamps, the British definition seems to include essays. Essays are proposed stamp designs created by a designer and presented for review by a postal administration. The design may be adopted, modified, or rejected.
I found one reference that called the souvenir sheet illustrated in Figure 2 a sheet of dummy stamps. This sheet shows previously issued British stamps printed in black. Wavy red lines surround each stamp image and text surrounding all of the illustrations is also in red. It was issued for Stampex 1962, Britain's national stamp exhibition. To me, it is a show souvenir and more properly falls into the realm of cinderellas. Cinderella is the name given to nonpostal stamplike labels.
Many countries use test stamps as training mechanisms for post office clerks who must learn how to organize and sort their stamp stock, break down sheets and panes to customer specifications and maintain their inventory of accountable stamps.
The stamps in Figure 3 are test stamps from New Zealand. These are normal stamps that were in common circulation in New Zealand in their day, but they have been overprinted with black bars. The black bars invalidate the stamps for use as postage and mark them as post office training materials.
Figure 4 shows intaglio-printed test stamps by Sven Ewart printed by PFA Stamp Printing Works for Sweden Post Office in 1937. Various colors of the same design were made into booklets, blocks and sheets. Some of the stamps, as shown in Figure 4, were imperforate between two side-by-side stamps.
The test stamps from Switzerland shown in Figure 5 are intaglio-printed. The printing method shows off the art deco style design of a ball and wavy lines. Another Swiss test stamp is illustrated in Figure 6. This was also intaglio printed in two colors, blue and yellow. The stamp shows the head of Michelangelo's famous statue of David, once again showing off the engraver's artistry.
Sometimes you have to wonder what the test stamps were testing or if they were testing at all.
However, the Swiss test stamp shown in Figure 7 is blatant about its purpose. The test stamp shows an electric train. On the left side of the train is a vertical inscription in German that reads "Mehrfarbiger Stichtiefdruck." Translated into English that means "multicolor intaglio printing." The right side of the train is inscribed "SPECIMEN."
If you are interested in stamp printing, postal equipment or postal operations, collecting test stamps might be a way for you to expand your collection.
Thanks to Roger Schnell, who suggested this article and provided some of the illustrations.
July 30, 2015 09:01 AMAs in previous years, Rarities Week, the series of sales conducted June 22-26 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, included several name sales as well as an assortment of notable items from around the world. The week kicked off with something of a do-over: a sizable assortment of better United States stamps and covers that had appeared in four previous sales, but whose winning bidder then failed to pay for them. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 04:35 PMThe Tieton, Wash., post office is a simple 1935 cement block building with a slat wood facade. Townsfolk in the agricultural community of 1,200 in central Washington believe the post office could become a landmark, if only the United States Postal Service would allow them to cover the front with a stamp-like mosaic. Read More ›
July 23, 2015 03:11 PMThe American Philatelic Society will host the nation’s largest annual stamp exhibition Aug. 20-23. The show will take place at the DeVos Place Convention Center, 303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich. Read More ›
July 21, 2015 01:00 PMLinn’s Washington Correspondent Bill McAllister recently reported that the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service has taken the nation’s mail agency to task for intentionally creating 100 upright $2 Jenny Invert panes. Read More ›
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz discusses the largest souvenir card produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The card is one of three issued to honor the centenary of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke discusses Canada’s recently recalled $1.20 Dinosaur Provincial Park stamps featuring inaccurately described Hoodoo rock formations.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the discovery of another pane of the intentionally created upright variety of the $2 Jenny Invert stamp.
Chad Snee discusses the recent sale of the glass locket containing the famed 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.