Refresher Course

Training camp for stamp collectors: back to hobby basics

By Rick Miller

One fact we can all agree on is that stamp collectors collect stamps. While that seems perfectly obvious, the situation can get pretty murky in a hurry not far beyond that point.

Figure 1. A 2007 Armenian 120-dram King Tigran the Great postage stamp (Scott 755). Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 2. A 2005 Oklahoma $10 Snow Geese hunting permit stamp (Scott 26). Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 3. A Panevezys, Lithuania, 3-auksinas deregistration fee stamp (Barefoot 1) issued in 1922. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 4. A Chilean 10-peso Coat of Arms telegraph stamp (Hiscocks 6). Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 5. An Austrian patriotic label depicting the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 6. A British nondenominated first-class Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones stamp (Scott 2724). Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 7. An imperforate Venezuelan ½-centavo Coat of Arms stamp (Scott 16). Click on image to enlarge.

For a preponderance of collectors, collecting stamps means collecting postage stamps – stamps that show payment of postage or postal fees or taxes. A 2007 Armenian 120-dram King Tigran the Great postage stamp (Scott 755) is shown in Figure 1.

However, collectors of duck stamps, revenue stamps, telegraph and telephone stamps, and other types of cinderella stamps have a different perspective.

Duck stamps, more properly called hunting permit stamps, generally are used to collect funds for wildlife conservation by showing payment of a fee for the privilege of hunting one class or another of wildlife, often waterfowl or other game birds. Duck stamps have been issued by the United States government, other national governments, many U.S. state governments and some Indian reservations.

Oklahoma's 2005 $10 Snow Geese hunting permit stamp (Scott 26) is shown in Figure 2.

Revenue stamps, generally speaking, are used to show payment of taxes, although stamps showing exemption from taxation or showing payment of various government fees also get lumped under the heading of revenue stamps. The number of different revenue stamps, sometimes called fiscal stamps, is staggering. They have been issued by virtually every level of government for every conceivable purpose in every nation on Earth.

Shown in Figure 3 is a 1922 3-auksinas deregistration fee stamp (Barefoot 1) issued by the city council of Panevezys, Lithuania. This stamp shows payment of the fee required for deregistration from the city records whenever a resident moved from the city. Although this stamp shows payment of a fee, rather than a tax, it is considered a revenue stamp.

Telegraph and telephone stamps usually are considered together, although they had quite different uses. Telegraph stamps showed payment of or exemption from the fee for transmission or delivery of a telegram. In the days before coin-operated public telephones, telephone stamps were used to show prepayment of telephone service time on public phones.

A Chilean 10-peso Coat of Arms telegraph stamp (Hiscocks 6) is shown in Figure 4.

It would be difficult to draw the definition of cinderella stamps too broadly. Cinderellas generally are considered to be any stamplike label that is not a postage stamp issued by a national postal authority. Among the items considered to be cinderellas are local postage stamps; unissued stamps; revenue stamps; telephone and telegraph stamps; adhesive etiquette labels; charity and fundraising stamps; poster stamps; political campaign, patriotic and propaganda stamps; bogus and phantom issues; and advertising labels.

Figure 5 shows an Austrian patriotic label, dated 1914, depicting the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary.

In stamp collecting, it is useful to know the components of a stamp.

The design is the printing on the front of the stamp. Designs can be quite elaborate or very minimalist.

The designs of most stamps include a vignette and a frame. The vignette is the central design element, usually the subject of the stamp, while the frame is the surrounding design elements. On the Emperor Franz Josef label shown in Figure 5, the inset portrait of the emperor is the vignette, and the rest of the design elements are the frame.

The inscription is the written part of the design. Inscriptions on postage and revenue stamps usually give the name of the country or issuing authority and the service for which the stamp was issued; for example, postage, airmail, document tax, and so on. The inscription also often gives the name or description of the stamp subject depicted on or commemorated by the stamp.

The part of the design that expresses the monetary value of the stamp is called the denomination or face value.

In days of yore, nearly all stamps were issued with a written currency denomination. In recent years, more and more countries are issuing nondenominated stamps without a monetary inscription of value. Sometimes, the values of these stamps change over time along with postal rate increases.

The British nondenominated first-class Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones stamp (Scott 2724) shown in Figure 6 sold for 39 pence when it was issued on Jan. 7, 2010. However, with a postal rate change on April 6, it's value increased to 41p, and it will always be good for payment in full of the domestic first-class letter rate.

Another distinguishing stamp feature is the method of separation. There are a number of other minor methods, but most stamps have been issued either imperforate, perforated or die cut.

Imperforate stamps have to be cut apart for use, and their distinguishing feature is straight edges on all sides of the stamp. The Venezuelan ½-centavo Coat of Arms stamp (Scott 16), shown in Figure 7, is imperforate.

Perforated stamps have holes punched at regular intervals between the stamps in a pane or sheet, which allow individual stamps to be easily torn from the sheet or pane for use. All the stamps shown here, except those in Figures 6 and 7, are perforated.

Die cuts are made by sharp tools called dies that cut completely through the paper of adjoining stamps. The stamps that are die cut are usually self-adhesive and held together until use by backing paper. Die cuts can be straightline, serpentine, syncopated, irregular or perforation. Perforation die cuts look like perforations, but they were in fact, cut by a die. The stamp shown in Figure 6 has perforation and syncopated die cuts.