Alphabet soup: Scott catalog prefixes and suffixes

Apr 28, 2021, 7 PM

By Rick Miller

"You can't tell the players without a program!" the stadium hawkers used to shout as they strode up and down the stairs between the rows of seats. That saying applies in spades to stamp collecting, which is what keeps postage stamp catalog publishers in business.

Speaking metaphorically, the stamps are the players and the catalog is the program. But it turns out that you also need a program for the catalog.

The Scott catalog numbering system didn't spring fullblown from the mind of J. Walter Scott as Athena sprang from Zeus' brow in Greek mythology. Scott himself possibly never assigned any Scott numbers, although it is likely that he did.

The numbering system is a slowly evolving accretion, not unlike a coral reef. It is the work of many minds over 136 years and counting.

At first the stamps listed by Scott did not have catalog numbers. They were listed by country, denomination, year of issue and color, with a few illustrations of what some of the stamps looked like.

As the number and types of stamps being issued grew, the need for greater organization became apparent. The 48th edition of the Scott catalog, issued circa 1887, was the first to assign catalog numbers to stamps.

In the U.S. stamps section, the postmasters' provisionals and the general-issue regular postage stamps were numbered sequentially in chronological order.

U.S. carrier stamps, special delivery stamps, newspaper stamps, postage due stamps, postal stationery cut squares, Official stamps, Official cut squares, telegraph stamps, local stamps and revenue stamps followed, numbered sequentially, but with gaps between the numbers of each group.

For example, the last United States postage stamp listed in the 48th edition was the 4¢ green Andrew Jackson stamp of 1883, which was listed as No. 97. The next stamp listed in the 48th edition is a 1¢ black on rose carrier stamp of 1849 listed as No. 150.

Today the 4¢ Jackson stamp is listed as U.S. Scott 211, and the 1¢ carrier stamp is listed as U.S. Scott 6LB9.

The practice of listing regular postage stamps first, with all other types of stamps and stationery following, is the source of the phrase "back-of-the-book."

The limitations of this system are readily apparent. Once enough stamps have been issued to use up unassigned numbers between the different groups of stamps, all of the back-of-the-book stamps have to be renumbered with higher numbers and bigger gaps between the groups.

This the Scott catalog editors dutifully proceeded to do periodically. The havoc wrought on dealers' inventories and collectors' collections with each successive renumbering must have been substantial.

For example, the 1¢ yellow Benjamin Franklin Department of Agriculture Official stamp, now listed as U.S. Scott O1 and shown in Figure 1, was listed as No. 501 in the 48th edition of the catalog, as No. 801 in the 52nd edition; as No. 593 in the 1900 edition; as No. 500 in the 1915 edition; and as No. 1500 from 1920 to 1939.

Mercifully, in the 96th edition of the catalog published in 1940, the present Scott system of catalog numbers with prefixes and suffixes was adopted.

In 1940, Scott renumbered all back-of-the-book stamps discretely to their own groups and assigned one or more letters as prefixes to indicate the type of stamp. For example the prefix "B" was for semipostal stamps, "C" was for airmail stamps and "J" was postage due stamps.

There are alternatives to the Scott prefix-suffix system. For example, some catalogs number all stamps with any kind of postal connection chronologically and sequentially without regard to their use. Others separate the different types of stamps into groups and number all stamps within each group discretely starting from No. 1, but without prefixes.

The Scott system has advantages. Unlike straight sequential numbering, a Scott catalog number instantly tells you what kind of stamp you are dealing with.

An advantage over nonprefixed discrete numbering is that you don't have to say the name of the group when you give the catalog number. Instead of saying or writing, for example, "Great Britain postage due stamp No. 23," you can just say or write "Great Britain J23."

The disadvantage to the system is that, as more and more types of stamps were issued, more and more prefixes were needed.

While the average collector can probably remember the meaning of the "B," "C," "E," "J," "N" and "O" prefixes, and perhaps a few others, no one who is not equipped with a photographic memory can remember them all.

The three tables shown with this article are a program for the Scott catalog system of prefixes and suffixes. The list is as comprehensive as I could make it, compiled from a number of sources, none of which is complete.

The Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers provides a fairly comprehensive listing in its introduction of all prefixes and suffixes used with U.S. stamps. The introduction to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, however, lists only 40 of the more commonly used prefixes.

The first table at right contains prefixes and suffixes used for all types of postage stamps and telegraph stamps and for related postal items listed in the Scott catalog, such as international reply coupons, postage currency and souvenir pages.

The second table contains postal stationery prefixes.

The third table contains revenue stamp prefixes.

Because the system of prefixes evolved over a long period of time and is the work of many different editors, the prefixes are not always consistent. Some letters are used to mean more than one thing, and some mean different things in different country listings. For example "PR" is the prefix for newspaper tax stamps, except in the U.S. listings, where it is the prefix for newspaper stamps.

Most offices-abroad stamps are discretely numbered without a prefix, except for those of Poland and the United States, which are prefixed by the letter "K." Government-in-exile stamps of Poland and Yugoslavia are also prefixed with the letter "K."

"LB" denotes a local semipostal stamp and "LO" denotes a local Official stamp, except in the U.S. listings where "LB" denotes a carrier semiofficial stamp and "LO" denotes a carrier Official stamp.

Another idiosyncracy of the Scott catalogs is that, although this elaborate system of prefixes exists, Scott editors haven't always used them.

When a semipostal stamp or an airmail stamp is part of a set that includes regular postage stamps, the semipostal or airmail is sometimes listed as part of the set without a prefix in the regular postage listing.

For example, Italy Scott 239-41 commemorating the marriage of Prince Humbert of Savoy to Princess Marie Jose of Belgium comprises one regular postage stamp and two semipostal stamps, yet they all are listed as a set with unprefixed numbers in the regular postage section of the catalog.

Some of the prefixes, it seems, apply to only a single stamp. For example, I believe that the 15-peso green President J.J. Prieto V. parcel post postal tax stamp, Chile Scott QRA1, shown in Figure 2, is the only stamp in the entire catalog with this prefix.

Of course, if any country ever does issue another parcel post postal tax stamp, the "QRA" prefix is standing by ready for use.

Prefixes and suffixes used in Scott catalogs

The prefixes and suffixes listed below are used to identify postage stamps that serve a purpose other than standard postage. Country-specific prefixes, mostly U.S. stamps listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers, are identified with the country name in brackets.


A — forerunner [Indian stamps used abroad]

AR — postal fiscal

AX — 3¢ 1861 CSA postmaster's provisional

B — semipostal

BK — booklet; BC — booklet cover

BKC — airmail booklet

C — airmail

CB — airmail semipostal

CBO — airmail semipostal Official

CE — airmail special delivery

CF — airmail registration

CL — airmail semiofficial

CM — R.F. overprint [U.S.]

CO — airmail Official

CP — commemorative panel

CQ — airmail parcel post

CVP — computer-vended postage [U.S.]

D — pneumatic post

E — special delivery

EB — semipostal special delivery

EO — special delivery Official

EP — encased postage

ER — delivery tax

EX — personal delivery

EY — authorized delivery

F — registration

FA — certified mail

G — insured letter

GY — marine insurance

H — acknowledgment of receipt

I — late fee

IRC — international reply coupon [U.S.]

J — postage due

JQ — parcel post postage due

JX — porte de mar

K — offices abroad [U.S., Poland]

K — government in exile [Poland, Yugoslavia]

KB — offices abroad semipostal [Poland]

L — local

LB — carrier semiofficial [U.S.]

LB — local semipostal

LC — local airmail

LE — local special delivery

LEB — local semipostal special delivery

LF — local registration

LH — local acknowledgement of receipt

LJ — local postage due

LJ — rural postage due [Baden]

LN — local occupation

LNC — local occupation airmail

LB — local semipostal

LC — local airmail

LE — local special delivery

LEB — local semipostal special delivery

LF — local registration

LH — local acknowledgement of receipt

LJ — local postage due

LJ — rural postage due [Baden]

LN — local occupation

LNC — local occupation airmail

LNE — local occupation special delivery

LO — carrier official [U.S.]

LO — local official

LOX — typeset post office seal [U.S.]

LP — local newspaper

LQ — local parcel post

M — military

MB — military semipostal

MC — military airmail

MCE — military airmail special delivery

ME — military special delivery

MH — Machin head [Great Britain]

MP — military newspaper

MQ — military parcel post

MR — war tax

N — occupation regular issues

NB — occupation semipostal

NC — occupation airmail

NCB — occupation airmail semipostal

NCE — occupation airmail special delivery

NE — occupation special delivery

NIMH — Machin head [Northern Ireland]

NJ — occupation postage due

NL — occupation rural delivery

NO — occupation Official

NP — occupation newspaper

NRA — occupation postal tax

NRAJ — occupation postal tax due

NSC — numismatic souvenir card

O — Official

O — postal savings mail [U.S.]

OA — Official perfin [Australia, Canada]

OAC — Official airmail perfin [Canada]

OAE — Official special delivery perfin [Can.]

OB — Official perfin [Australia]

OC — Official perfin [Australia]

OC — Official airmail perfin [Australia, Can.]

OCC — Official airmail perfin [Australia]

OCE — Offl. airmail spec. del. perfin [Can.]

OD — Official departmental

OE — Official special delivery perfin [Can.]

OL — local official

OX — post office Official seal [U.S.]

OXA — registry seal [U.S.]

OXF — postage stamp agency seal [U.S.]

OY — life insurance [New Zealand]

P — newspaper [except U.S.]

PC — postage currency

PN — postal note [U.S.]

PR — newspaper tax

PR — newspaper [U.S. only]

PS — postal savings [U.S.]

Q — parcel post

QE — special handling

QI — postal insurance

QO — parcel post official

QRA — parcel post postal tax [Chile]

QY — parcel post authorized delivery

RA — postal tax

RAB — postal tax semipostal

RAC — airmail postal tax

RAJ — postal tax due

S — franchise

S — savings [U.S.]

SC — souvenir card [U.S.]

SMH — Machin head [Scotland]

SP — souvenir page

T — telegraph [U.S.]

TO — Official telegraph

TS — treasury savings

WMMH — Machin head [Wales]

WS — war savings

WV — sanitary fair [U.S.]

WX — Christmas seal [U.S.]

X — postmaster's provisional

Y — revolutionary government [Philippines]

YF — rev. govt. registration [Philippines]

YP — rev. govt. newspaper [Philippines]

Z — prefecture postage [Japan]

ZB — prefecture semipostal [Japan]


E — essay

H — flat-plate imperforate coil

P — die proof or plate proof

S — specimen

TC — trial color proof

V — flat-plate imperforate coil

Postal stationery prefixes

AXU — CSA prov. handstamped envelope

CVUX — computer vended postal card [U.S.]

LU — local envelope

LUP — local wrapper [U.S.]

NU — occupation envelope [U.S.]

NUX — occupation postal card [U.S.]

NUZ — occupation official card [U.S.]

U — envelope or letter sheet

UC — airmail envelope or letter sheet

UCM — military airmail envelope [U.S.]

UE — special delivery envelope [Hawaii]

UF — registration envelope [Canal Zone]

UO — Official envelope

UO — postal savings envelope

UX — postal card

UXC — airmail postal card

UY — paid reply postal card

UZ — Official postal card

W — wrapper

WO — Official wrapper

XU — CSA P.M. prov. handstamped envelope

Revenue stamp prefixes

R — general revenue

RB — proprietary

RC — future delivery

RD — stock transfer

RE — cordials, wines, etc.

REA — beer

RF — playing cards

RFV — playing cards [Danish West Indies]

RG — silver tax

RH — cigarette tubes

RI — potato tax

RJA — narcotic tax

RK— consular service fee

RL — customs fee

RM — embossed revenue stamped paper

RN — revenue stamped paper

RO — private die proprietary match

RP — private die canned fruit

RQ — unemployment insurance [Ryukyus]

RS — private die medicine

RT — private die perfumery

RU — private die playing cards

RV — motor vehicle use

RVB — boating

RVC — camping

RVT — trailer permit

RW — hunting permit [duck stamps

RX — distilled spirits

RY — firearms transfer

RZ — rectification

XR — provisional [Ryukyus]