US Stamps

What is a souvenir sheet?

Sep 13, 2021, 3 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Today’s issuance practices of the United States Postal Service may call for a redefining of long-accepted definitions. The subject was raised by Linn’s reader Jack Andre Denys, who asked, “Is the 2007 Jamestown souvenir sheet the largest ever U.S. souvenir sheet?”

The Postal Service issued this pane of 20 41¢ triangular stamps with the same design May 11, 2007, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown (Scott 4136).

The front and back of the pane are shown in Figure 1. The front includes one stamp, an inscription and a large illustration. The other 19 stamps are on the reverse. Is this a souvenir sheet? Or should it be called something else?

I suppose the answer to Denys’ question depends upon how we define souvenir sheet and how we define largest.

Following are two just two of the definitions of souvenir sheets.

The Linn’s glossary defines it as “a small sheet of stamps, including one value or a set of stamps. A souvenir sheet usually has a wide margin and an inscription describing an event being commemorated. Stamps on a souvenir sheet may be perforated or imperforate.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a souvenir sheet is “a block or set of postage stamps or a single stamp printed on a single sheet of paper often without gum or perforations and with margins containing lettering or design that identifies some notable event being commemorated.”

Figure 2 shows the sheet of 25 2¢ White Plains stamps issued Oct. 18, 1926 (Scott 630) to commemorate the international philatelic exhibition held Oct. 16-23, 1926, in New York City. Inscriptions about the exhibition are in the margins above and below the stamps. Given that almost everyone defines this as a souvenir sheet, why are any of the panes of 20 or 25 stamps of modern times not souvenir sheets?

They have decorative margins with certain minimal information — not unlike the White Plains souvenir sheet. Some of them were issued for (and at) events, while others are just normal issues. Should that make a difference?

As to biggest, I can’t think of anything bigger than the 2007 Jamestown pane if one considers the total area of both sides. But here again, we run into debatable questions.

Shortly after the Jamestown pane was issued, the U.S. Postal Service issued the 41¢ Star Wars pane of 15 on May 25, 2007 (Scott 4143), shown front and back in Figure 3. It is slightly wider and an inch taller than the Jamestown pane, but has stamps on only one side. Does this make it smaller than the Jamestown pane?

Not so fast. The Star Wars pane has considerable information about the characters on the reverse, so shouldn’t that be considered an integral part of the pane, making it larger than the Jamestown issue? Life would be so much easier without these complications.

If we consider only one side of these panes, then how do we classify the series of five 29¢ and 32¢ World War II panes of 10 issued from 1991 through 1995 to mark 50 years since that war (Scott 2559, 2697, 2765, 2838, 2981)? Figure 1 shows the first pane of 10, issued Sept. 3, 1991. These were produced in the form of normal sheets of stamps, but with two sheetlets per pane. Is half the pane the souvenir sheet? Or is the entire pane the souvenir sheet?

The bottom line is that I could not answer Denys’ question — at least not as the answer would establish a benchmark for philately.

I can answer it for myself, but each of us is likely to bring our own set of assumptions when answering the question. That will result in different answers each valid for our own set of assumptions.

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