Refresher Course

Collecting formats: how you collect affects what you collect

By Rick Miller

Once a stamp collector decides what postage stamps he will collect, he has to decide on the format he would like to collect.

Figure 1. A mint Lithuanian 1.35-litas Jonas Zemaitis stamps (Scott 884) stamp. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. A Canadian 3¢ Queen Victoria stamp (Scott 37) bearing a quarter moon and star fancy cancel. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. A British 19-penny Queen Elizabeth II Machin Head stamp (Scott MH106) bearing part of a machine cancellation that depicts a ballerina doll. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. An Austrian 10-kreuzer Franz Josef stamp (Scott 55) bearing a Dec. 4, 1891, Trieste bull's-eye cancel. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 5. A used United States $1 Seaplane coil stamp (Scott 2468) bearing plate number 3. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 6. A French Morocco 10-centime+5c Red Cross semipostal stamp (Scott B9) on piece, postmarked Sept. 14, 1914, in Oudjda, Morocco. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 7. A U.S. 42¢ Abraham Lincoln, Rail Splitter stamp (Scott 4380) on neatly trimmed paper. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 8. A pane of 20 U.S. 37¢ John Wayne stamps (Scott 3876). Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 9. A cross gutter block of four taken from the press sheet of the 37¢ Lewis and Clark Expedition Bicentennial issue (Scott 3854). Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 10. This 1993 registered cover mailed from Haverfordwest, Wales, to Brawdy, Wales, is saved intact to preserve postal history. Click on image to enlarge.
 

A mint Lithuanian 1.35-litas Jonas Zemaitis stamp (Scott 884) is shown in Figure 1. This stamp has not been used for postage and is post office fresh.

A used stamp will bear evidence of serving the purpose for which it was created, such as the strike of a postmark. If you don't want to choose one over the other, you can always collect stamps both unused and postal used.

Some collectors prefer their used stamps lightly canceled, because most of the stamp design is then free to be viewed and admired, but there are other options. Other collectors like fancy cancels, machine slogan cancellations or bull's-eye cancels (also called socked-on-the-nose cancels).

Figure 2 shows a Canadian 3¢ Queen Victoria stamp (Scott 37) bearing a quarter moon and star fancy cancel.

Figure 3 shows a British 19-penny Queen Elizabeth II Machin Head stamp (Scott MH106) with part of a machine cancellation that depicts a ballerina doll.

An Austrian 10-kreuzer Franz Josef stamp (Scott 55) bearing a Dec. 4, 1891, Trieste bull's-eye cancel is shown in Figure 4. A bull's-eye cancel normally shows the complete date and place of the cancel.

Some collectors of U.S. stamps enjoy collecting mint plate number blocks, used plate number singles, mint strips of plate number coil stamps or used plate number coil singles. A used United States $1 Seaplane coil stamp (Scott 2468) bearing plate number 3 is shown in Figure 5.

Used stamps can be collected off paper by soaking them off in water, or on piece with a portion of the original envelope or wrapper. Stamps are usually collected on piece to preserve elements of the postmark or cancellation.

Figure 6 shows a French Morocco 10-centime+5c Red Cross semipostal stamp (Scott B9) on piece, preserving the Sept. 14, 1914, Oudjda, Morocco, circular datestamp.

Many recent U.S. new issues and some foreign new issues are printed on paper that will not soak off their paper in water. These stamps are being collected by trimming the envelope paper neatly around the die cuts.

A U.S. 42¢ Abraham Lincoln Rail Splitter stamp (Scott 4380) on neatly trimmed paper is shown in Figure 7.

As more stamps are being issued with multiple se-tenant designs in a single pane, often with attractive designs in the selvage, collecting full mint panes has become popular.

A mint pane of 20 U.S. 37¢ John Wayne stamps (Scott 3876) is shown in Figure 8.

In the early part of the 20th century, some U.S. issues were sold as uncut press sheets to producers of vending and affixing machines for the production of stamp coils, but later also to collectors. Since 1994, many U.S. issues have been sold as uncut press sheets.

Some collectors keep the press sheets intact, but others save the position pieces that can only come from the full press sheet.

A cross gutter block of four from the 37¢ Lewis and Clark Expedition Bicentennial press sheet (Scott 3854) is shown in Figure 9.

In addition to sheet format, many stamps are also issued in booklets. Some collectors save entire booklets, while others save booklet panes.

Stamps can also be collected on cover. This collecting method is known as postal history. Postal history can also include studies of postal rates, routes and equipment involved in delivering the mail.

A registered cover mailed Jan. 19, 1993 from Haverfordwest, Wales, to Brawdy, Wales, is shown in Figure 10.

Saving this cover intact preserves the postmarks and registration markings. The intact stamped cover is much more interesting than the stamps it bears would be off cover.