Refresher Course

Se-tenant stamps: different designs together

By Michael Baadke

For many years, whenever a sheet of stamps was printed, every stamp on the sheet would have the same design.

Figure 1. Se-tenant stamps, like this 1986 Royal Birthdays pair from the Isle of Man, consist of two or more different stamp designs that are attached to one another.
 
Figure 2. Some se-tenant issues consist of continuous designs divided into individual stamps. A strip of three stamps that combine to create one continuous design is called a triptych (top). A single design divided into four different stamps is called a quadripartition (bottom).
 
Figure 3. Canada's 1982 50¢ Maple Leaf booklet contains four stamps of three different values, plus two labels.
 
Figure 4. Se-tenant coil stamps are unusual but not unheard of. Two designs alternated in Sweden's 1997 2-krona Pheasant coil issue.

As an example, when the United States issued its first two stamps July 1, 1847, the 5¢ Benjamin Franklin stamp was printed on one sheet, and the 10¢ George Washington stamp was printed on another sheet.

Many stamps are still printed this way. The 32¢ Year of the Tiger stamp issued Jan. 5 by the United States is printed in large sheets of 180 identical stamps.

The sheets are cut into smaller panes of 20 stamps that are sold at post offices.

In recent years many countries have created stamp issues that include two or more different designs printed next to each other on the same sheet.

An example is shown in Figure 1. The Isle of Man issued two stamps Aug. 28, 1986, to mark the birthdays of Great Britain's Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.

Rather than printing each design repeatedly on a separate sheet, the two different stamps were printed so that they appear next to each other on the same sheet.

The pane of the Royal Birthday issue contains 12 stamps — six pairs — printed in three rows of four stamps each.

A single pair of stamps — one of each design — is shown in the illustration.

Stamps with different designs that are attached to one another are called "se-tenant" by stamp collectors.

"Se-tenant" translates from French as meaning "holding together." In French the word is pronounced "seh-tah-NOHN," while many American collectors pronounce it "seh-TEH-nent."

The term is used to describe attached stamps that are different from one another in any way, such as design, color or denomination (face value).

The occurrence of se-tenant stamps has increased dramatically during the past 30 years. Think of the 1994 Legends of the West stamps, where 20 different stamps with 20 different designs appear together on a single pane.

In 1976, the United States issued a pane with 50 different stamps depicting the 50 state flags. Other 50-stamp se-tenant issues followed: State Birds and Flowers in 1982, North American Wildlife in 1987, and American Wildflowers in 1992.

Many countries use se-tenant designs on stamps to increase the number of stamps collectors will purchase to add to a collection.

When the United States issued a 6¢ stamp in 1968 to honor artist John Trumbull, it created one stamp showing a detail from one of Trumbull's famous paintings.

Now, in the era of the se-tenant stamp, the United States commemorated artist Alexander Calder March 25 by issuing a pane of 20 32¢ stamps with five different se-tenant designs showing various Calder sculptures.

One way that postal authorities create se-tenant stamps is to take a single continuous design and split it up into individual stamps by adding perforations and denominations where needed.

When viewed together, the three 13¢ stamps shown at the top of Figure 2 make a continuous design that is a detail from a well-known painting by Archibald M. Willard, The Spirit of '76.

Stamp collectors use the word "triptych" (pronounced "TRIP-tick") to describe three se-tenant stamps that together make one complete design.

Four se-tenant stamps that combine to create one design are called a "quadripartition" (pronounced "kwod-rih-par-TISH-en)."

An example of a quadripartition is shown at the bottom of Figure 2. The single design by artist Peter Max was used to create a block of four stamps in 1997 for the United Nations in Geneva.

The stamps described so far have been manufactured in panes. Two other formats familiar to collectors have also used se-tenant stamps.

Se-tenant stamps have been used in booklets by many countries to simplify the total face value of the booklet.

Canada's 1982 50¢ booklet of four stamps is shown in Figure 3. Although the central design of each stamp is the same dot-matrix image of Canada's Maple Leaf symbol, there are three different denominations among the four stamps: two at 5¢, and one each at 10¢ and 30¢.

Each denomination is also printed in a different color.

The booklet pane also includes two labels, each encouraging stamp collecting in a different language. The English version is printed in green like the 10¢ stamp, and the French label is printed in red like the 30¢ stamp.

The labels can also be considered se-tenant in this case.

If the 30¢ stamp was removed from the pane with the French-language label still attached to it, the stamp could be described as a 30¢ stamp with se-tenant label.

Similar booklets that contain panes with se-tenant stamps of different denominations have been issued by the United States, Germany, Denmark and many other countries.

The stamps in Canada's 1982 Maple Leaf booklet are definitive stamps. Many modern definitives feature simple designs. The stamps are sent back to press when more stamps are needed.

Commemorative stamps, which are usually more colorful designs that are placed on sale for a limited time, have also appeared se-tenant in booklets.

The United States issued five se-tenant Lighthouse stamps in booklet form twice: with 25¢ values in 1990 and with 32¢ values in 1995.

Se-tenant coil stamp issues are a little more unusual, though some countries have created such items regularly.

Sweden's two 2-krona Pheasant stamps from 1997 are commemorative stamps that were issued in coils as a joint issue with China. The two Swedish stamps, shown in Figure 4, alternated throughout the coil.

Definitive coil stamps, like Great Britain's current Queen Elizabeth II series, have been created in se-tenant strips containing different denominations.

Technically, the United States has not issued se-tenant coil stamps.

Since 1981, U.S. coil stamps have had small printing plate or cylinder numbers printed at the bottom of individual stamps in the coil at designated intervals.

Many collectors consider a plate number coil single stamp to be a face-different stamp when compared to the same coil stamp without the plate number.

One could say, then, that a pair of coil stamps, one with a plate number on it and one without, are se-tenant.

The United States has also issued self-adhesive coil stamps with different designs, such as the 1993 and 1995 Christmas stamps, each with four different designs. However, the stamps are die-cut and separated, not attached to one another, and cannot properly be defined as se-tenant, unless the backing can be considered as holding them together.

Collectors around the world are fascinated by the various combinations of se-tenant stamps and se-tenant stamps with labels. Such items are not only collected as mint (unused) stamps, but also postally used or saved intact on a mailed cover.

Collectors may be paying extra for se-tenant issues, but the various stamp combinations offer the collector more variety to look for.