The familiar folk tale of Cinderella tells the story of a lovely but oppressed young girl whose wonderful attributes go unrecognized until a magical night at the prince's ball.
In some ways, the name is a term of endearment for these labels and stickers that aren't valid for postage, but which still attract the attention of collectors.In the stamp hobby, the term cinderella is applied to any stamplike object that is not really a postage stamp.
Local post stamps, even though they might have legitimately paid for postage, are also grouped in with cinderellas by some collectors.
The field of cinderellas is very wide-ranging. There are many cinderellas that have no relation to stamps or postal history, but they are collected anyway by individuals interested in the subject matter.
Other cinderellas, including those created by stamp printing firms, have a closer relation to postage stamps.
Some cinderellas can be deceptive, in that they closely resemble postage stamps, but have never been authorized or intended for postage use.
Figure 1 shows an attractive label that fits this category.
This intaglio-printed label displays many earmarks of a genuine postage stamp. It has a line-engraved design of a bear cub; it is inscribed with a country name, "Japan" and a large letter "P"; and it has an inscription in tiny capital letters at the bottom that reads "Gov. Printing Bureau, Tokyo."
Also, the label is neatly perforated on all four sides and has a moisture-activated adhesive on the back.
But after examining this label, a few puzzling questions begin to surface. Why is it marked with a letter "P" instead of a denomination in numerals? And why does it show the country name "Japan," when modern stamps issued by Japan normally are inscribed "Nippon?"
A search among the listings for Japan in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Cataloguewon't identify this stamp, because it's not a stamp.
It's a cinderella.
Specifically, it is part of a series of attractive labels created by Japan's government printing bureau to serve as printing samples and test labels. The designs show many different subjects, including fish, flowers, mountains, birds and so on.
The bureau describes these labels as "Artistic Trial Design Postage Stamps." The name "Japan" printed on the label intentionally distinguishes these labels from genuine postage stamps, while helping to identify them as products of the printing bureau in Japan.
These labels were created to publicize the bureau's printing capabilities.
They are similar in some ways to test, or dummy, stamps printed by various entities in the United States and in other countries.
Such labels are created to test everything from perforations to luminescent inks. Though not normally issued for sale to collectors, many have gotten into collectors' hands and are traded among them and saved in stock books and albums.
The U.S. test stamps are listed and valued in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. They range from engraved single-color perforated coils with simple text designs to multicolor lithographed labels with bold illustrations.
Another example of a cinderella that has a close relationship to stamps is the promotional label pictured in Figure 2.
Promotional labels and poster stamps are created for all sorts of reasons: to promote products for sale, upcoming special events, political causes and so on.
The label in Figure 2 is one of a set of four, each printed in a different single color (violet, blue, green and red). The labels were printed by the American Bank Note Co. to publicize the 1934 National Stamp Exhibition in New York City under the sponsorship of the New York American newspaper.
The vignette (central design) shows a terrific aerial view of Manhattan featuring Rockefeller Center.
These labels are professionally engraved, perforated and gummed, making their resemblance to genuine postage stamps quite striking. However, they measure about 1.4 inches by 2.2 inches, significantly larger than a standard U.S. commemorative stamp.
Some stamp exhibition promotional labels have reproduced familiar stamp designs. Although many have designs that are easy to distinguish from genuine postage stamps, others are more subtle.
The example in Figure 3 was created by stamp printers Harrison and Sons Ltd. for the 1981 British Philatelic Exhibition in London. The souvenir reproduces two unused stamp designs to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Downey Head issue, the nickname for Great Britain's 1911 postage stamps honoring King George V that were printed by Harrison and Sons.
Other cinderellas are also associated with postage stamps and postal history. Along with test stamps, the Scott U.S. specialized catalog identifies and lists a number of these, including essays and proofs, and postal counterfeits.
Post office seals are another form of cinderella found in the Scott U.S. specialized catalog. These labels are used primarily to seal mail damaged in transit, to prevent content loss.
Once perforated and gummed, as the example from 1877 in Figure 4 shows (Scott OX1), current U.S. post office seals have a fairly plain text design and are self-adhesive. These cinderellas can be collected on their own, or on covers that were repaired by having one or more seals affixed.
Cinderellas can be assembled in collections by subject or topic, by country, or by the function they fulfill.
For many collectors, cinderellas are saved to augment a collection of stamps and postal history. A collector specializing in Britain's 1911 Downey Head stamps might be very interested in adding the Figure 3 show souvenir to that collection, for example.
Several groups specifically cater to collectors of cinderellas and provide journals and other services to their members.