Collectors use abbreviations to communicate

May 2, 2021, 3 PM

By Michael Baadke

If you listen closely to the conversation at a meeting of your local stamp club, you may think the members are all speaking in code.

"Is that from the BEP?"

"Ah, your cover has an RPO cancel."

"I only collect FDCs."

"It looks like a CTO to me."

For many subjects, stamp collectors have developed a shorthand vocabulary to make discussion easier. The letters "CTO" are easier to say or write than the phrase "canceled-to-order stamp."

Collectors don't use these initials to exclude others or to hide meanings. Using initials for technical terms simply makes it easier to communicate with other collectors.

The problem is that newer collectors may feel left out when they hear an abbreviation they don't understand.

When initials are used as abbreviations in Linn's Stamp News articles, the reader can find the meaning by looking for the matching phrase earlier in the story.

For example, if you encounter the initials USPS in an article, you'll see that the earliest reference in the story spells out the name, "United States Postal Service."

There are many different initials used in articles, advertisements and collector conversations that abbreviate familiar stamp-collecting terms.

The following guide may help you find your way through this philatelic alphabet soup.

APO –– Army post office (also Air Force post office). Because U.S. military personnel frequently transfer from one location to another, the U.S. armed forces handle much of their own mail forwarding and delivery. APO addresses direct the mail to the proper military branch. The initials also appear in postmarks. See also FPO.

APS –– American Philatelic Society. The largest stamp-collecting club in the United States has 55,000 members, including many in other countries around the world.

Information about the benefits of APS membership may be obtained by sending a stamped, addressed envelope to the American Philatelic Society, Membership Information, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803.

BEP –– Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The oldest and most well-known of U.S. stamp printers was once also the only active U.S. stamp printer. The BEP (also called "the Bureau" by many collectors) began printing postage stamps in 1894. In prior years it also printed U.S. revenue stamps.

The Bureau celebrated 100 years of postage stamp production in 1994 with the issuance of the $8 souvenir sheet, Scott 2875, shown in Figure 1. The Bureau building in Washington, D.C., is illustrated at the top of the sheet.

A few stamps in the 1960s were printed by private firms, but it wasn't until the 1980s that private contractors began printing U.S. stamps in earnest.

The initials used to identify these stamp printing contractors are listed in Linn's 1999 U.S. Stamp Program.

CDS –– circular date stamp. The CDS is the round part of a postmark containing information telling where and when an item was mailed or processed for mailing, usually a full date and city.

Figure 2 shows examples of three circular date stamps: two handcancel markings at top, and one machine marking at bottom.

Collectors often use the information in the CDS to learn more about postal history.

CTO –– canceled-to-order. Postmarked postage stamps that were never used to carry mail are known as CTOs. Often such stamps can be identified by their full gum and a neat corner cancel.

To generate more revenue, some countries have postmarked mint stamps or printed them with postmarks and sold them at discounted prices to stamp dealers and packet-makers.

Some collectors of used stamps do not care for CTOs and prefer a stamp that actually went through the mail.

Figure 3 shows a 1982 CTO from Vietnam, Scott 1228.

EFO –– error, freak, oddity. The letters EFO are frequently used to describe a stamp variety that is different from the normal issue. The three terms each have a specific meaning.

Errors are major mistakes in stamp production that result in completely missing colors, inverted design elements, no perforations and so on.

Freaks and oddities are less severe varieties that often are collected but might not appear in standard postage stamp catalogs.

EKU –– earliest known use. When the first day of issue for a stamp is not known, collectors often record its earliest known use: the earliest date that the stamp is known on a postmarked cover (a mailed envelope or similar item) or a piece of a cover.

Though the issue dates for modern U.S. issues are well-publicized, stamps are often sold early at post offices, usually because of a clerk's mistake. The definition of an EKU of a modern issue is also the earliest use of the stamp as verified by the presence of a standard postal marking.

FDC –– first-day cover. When the issue date of a stamp is known, any envelope or other mailed item franked with that stamp and showing the issue date in the postmark is known as a first-day cover.

The term frequently is used to refer to a modern souvenir cover from the United States that includes the phrase "first day of issue" within the postmark, or a similar item from another country.

An FDC of the 1986 Stamp Collecting issue is shown in Figure 4.

FIP –– Federation Internationale de Philatelie. The English name of this Swiss-based organization is the International Federation of Philately.

FIP officials determine exhibiting rules for international stamp shows and promote philately (the stamp hobby) throughout the world.

FPO –– Fleet post office. Mail service to members of the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as to all civilian personnel serving with these organizations, is handled by the FPO system. FPO addresses and postal markings usually appear on covers carrying such mail.

See also APO.

HPO –– highway post office. From 1941 to 1974, some mail was sorted in special trucks while they were in transit.

Most such covers are marked with a cancel that identifies them as HPO mail.

LP –– line pair. Two attached coil stamps with a printed line between them.

When flat printing plates were used to print U.S. stamps, sheets of stamps had guidelines printed upon them to show where they were to be divided into panes.

On flat-plate coil issues, those same lines would regularly appear between two stamps, and they are sought by some collectors as pairs.

When curved rotary plates replaced flat plates, a similar printed line appeared because of a small gap that existed when two curved plates were joined together on the press.

Figure 5 shows a line pair of the 6¢ Franklin Roosevelt coil issue of 1967, Scott 1298.

Line pairs were eliminated from U.S. coil stamps when the last Cottrell press was retired in 1985.

PNC –– plate number coil. Beginning in 1981, most U.S. coil stamps are printed with a very small plate number appearing on the face of single stamps at regular intervals in the coil.

Some collectors save unused strips of three, five or more with the PNC single stamp usually centered in the strip.

Others look for postally used examples of PNC singles, as shown in Figure 6.

The initials PNC are less frequently used to describe a "philatelic-numismatic combination" (or "cover"), a thicker item similar to a modern FDC that includes both a stamp and a coin.

PSA –– pressure-sensitive adhesive. See SA.

RPO –– railway post office. From 1864 to 1977 some mail was processed by clerks on moving railway cars. Such mail often can be identified by its RPO postmark.

SA –– self-adhesive (also known as pressure-sensitive adhesive, or PSA). Usually this refers to a postage stamp with gum that adheres to paper by the application of pressure alone. Most self-adhesive stamps are sold on a coated paper release liner.

UPU –– Universal Postal Union. An organization of international postal authorities formed in 1874 to standardize mail delivery procedures between different countries around the world.

In 1999 the UPU is celebrating its 125th anniversary. More information about the UPU appeared last week in Refresher Course.

USPOD –– United States Post Office Department. Until 1971, this was the name of the government branch responsible for the processing and delivering of mail in the United States.

USPS –– United States Postal Service. Following a reorganization of mail service in 1971, the United States Post Office Department was renamed the United States Postal Service. It has become a self-supporting postal corporation wholly owned by the federal government.