The Postal History of ICAO


The language of stamp and cover collecting

It is good to remind some basic concepts and terms regarding stamps and covers occurring in the language of philately. Most of these are used in the chapters displaying the stamps related to the Organization.

  1. Block: Units of two or more postage stamps not separated and arranged vertically or horizontally. A Corner block is a block of four or more stamps from any of the four corners of a sheet or pane of stamps, usually (but not necessarily) with the margins. A block of 12 stamps could be four stamps across and three down, or three across and four down, or even two across and six down. Blocks normally have a regular rectangular shape, but you might also encounter an irregular block, such as five connected stamps consisting of two stamps in one row and three in another.
  2. Cachet: In stamp-collecting parlance, cachet refers to a design or inscription added as a decoration to an envelope or cover, a piece of postal stationery, or a postal card. The cachet design may be printed, painted or drawn, or it may be a label or a marking made by a rubber stamp. An add-on cachet is a cachet that has been added to a previously uncacheted first day cover after the first day of issue. The add-on could be hand-painted, hand-drawn, computer printed, rubber stamped, a glued photograph to name a few methods, and made in very limited edition, many are one-of-a-kind.
  3. Cancellation or Cancel: A mark placed on a stamp by a postal authority to prevent its reuse.
  4. CDS: A circular date stamp (CDS) is a circular postmark containing the date and usually the place of mailing.
  5. Chromalin Proofs: are preproduction colour way matching proofs prior to print press proofing using a laminated film/toner system. It is normal that only one or two Chromalins are produced per item before progressing to print proof stage; therefore, these items are extremely rare.
  6. Color Proof: Impression of the approved colors taken prior to printing.
  7. Color Trial: Proof made in selected colors to permit a final choice of color to be made.
  8. CTO: Stamps that are cancelled-to-order (CTO) have cancels printed on them without having been used. The cancels are either printed on the stamps at the time the stamps are produced, or they are cancelled later. CTO stamps can be distinguished from genuinely used stamps because they usually still have full adhesive gum.
  9. Cover: An envelope, letter sheet or postal stationery for mail. An envelope mailed with no stamps on it is a cover, and there are also covers that have not been mailed.
  10. Die Proof: Impression from the completed die, for submission to authorities for final approval.
  11. Error: The term error has two very specific meanings. The first refers to stamps or postal stationery that have one or more inadvertent, complete and consistent printing or production errors, e.g. omitted colors, perforations, tagging or any other completely missing step; inverts of color; improper color; double printings or perforations. The second definition of an error deals with stamp design; misspellings, typos or incorrect factual or design information on a stamp give such issues design error status.
  12. First Day City: is the city or town where the new issue firstly goes on sale. Today, the designation of the city is largely ceremonial and the stamps are supposed to go on sale in every post office on the first day of issue. The first day city’s postmark is often abbreviated as FDOI for First Day of Issue.
  13. First Day Cover (FDC): Envelope or postal stationery items with one or more stamps cancelled on the first day the stamps or stationery were issued. The First Day Covers are either commercially made or limited-edition add-on cachets.
  14. Freak: A freak is differentiated from an error because it is a more random occurrence, may occur inconsistently on numerous stamps, envelopes or postal cards. Typical printing freaks include color shifts, over- or under-inking, smears, nearly missing colors or ink contamination. Typical production freaks include misperforated or miscut items.
  15. Gutter pair: Two stamps, one on each side of a gutter, either vertical or horizontal.
  16. Hand cancel: Cancellation applied by hand to deface a stamp.
  17. Imperforate or Imperf: A stamp in the issued colors but without perforations.
  18. Margin: The border outside the printed design of a stamp, usually beyond the perforations.
  19. Maximum card: Post card made from a photograph of a working model of a stamp demonetized and enlarged.
  20. Meter stamp or meter: Postage imprinted directly onto an envelope by means of a meter machine.
  21. Miniature Sheet: A miniature sheet (sometimes called Souvenir Sheet) can be defined as a small sheet, different in format from normal stamp sheets, containing one or more stamps, which are placed on public sale and valid for normal postal use at the time of issue. The selvage of the miniature sheet often bears special inscriptions. Stamps on the miniature sheet can be in se-tenant position while the same stamps were not se-tenants in regular issue. The first miniature sheet was issued by Luxembourg in 1923 to celebrate the birth of the Princess Elizabeth and this example was quickly followed by other countries in the world.
  22. Oddity: Oddity is a catch-all term to describe those desirable or collectable items that don’t fit comfortably in the error or freak categories. Such items can include all types of plate varieties, odd or unusual cancels, etc.
  23. Overprint: An overprint is defined as a printed addition applied to the finishing stamp face that does not alter or validate the face value of the basic printed stamp.
  24. Pair: Two attached stamps.
  25. Pane or Stamp pane: Panes are the units into which sheets of stamps are divided before delivery to the post office for sale.
  26. Perforated initials or Perfins: Refers to letters (i.e. company initials) or logos punched in adhesive stamps to discourage theft of the stamps by employees. The practice ceased with the introduction of postal metres. There are two general types of perfin: private and official. Private perfins were used by commercial enterprises, whereas official perfins were used by Federal or Provincial governments.
  27. Plate block (sometimes called a plate number block): A specific type of stamp block that includes attached margin paper called selvage imprinted with an identifying number for the plate or cylinder that printed the stamps.
  28. Postmark: Marking applied by the postal worker or machine giving place, date and time of mailing. The term of postmark is usually used to refer to both the postmark and the cancel.
  29. Postal stationery: Envelopes, aerogrammes, postcards or wrappers bearing impressed postage stamps and issued by the post office department.
  30. Proof: Trial impression from the die or printing plate before actual production.
  31. Set: Individual stamps issued in concert with other stamps that share similar designs or commemorate the same subject. The sum of all stamps in a given issue is called a set. Stamps in a set are most often issued on the same day, but they might be issued individually over an interval of time. When individual stamps or sets with similar themes are issued sequentially over a period of time, the stamps and sets are known collectively as a series.
  32. Se-tenant: Many stamp hobby terms have French roots, including the word “se-tenant,” which is used to describe two or more stamps that are attached to one another but have different designs.
  33. Sheet of stamps or Presse sheet: A sheet is the complete printing unit of stamps as it comes off the press, either as a sheet or part of a long roll called a web. Sheets usually comprise two to 12 (or more) panes.
  34. Slogan cancellation: Cancellation that contains a message.
  35. Specimen: A specimen stamp is a sample postage stamp that a Postal Administration puts out to introduce a new issue. It is usually overprinted or punched as such for distribution to postmasters, to administrations, or to the Universal Postal Union. Some are remaindered and thus become available to collectors.
  36. Stamp: Small piece of adhesive paper that can be affixed to an envelope to send a letter or bill through the mail.
  37. Souvenir sheet: See miniature sheet. The postal authority that issued it generally intended it to be saved as a souvenir, rather than to be used for postage.
  38. Surcharge: A surcharge is defined as a specific type of overprint applied to the finishing stamp face that alters, raises, or lowers the original face value in the same or another currency. This usually accommodates inflation, currency change and/or shortage of another denomination.
  39. Unofficial FDC: is a First Day Cover (FDC) cancelled in a city or at a post office other than the one designated as Official first day city. The term also refers to an FDC produced by a private company other than the post office of the country.
  40. Variety: A stamp with characteristics different from the normal state of the stamp.

With the proliferation of computers in printing, it may be interesting to remind the variety of printing processes employed by the early cachetmakers. By today’s standards, these 1930s cachets are primitive, not very colorful and, to some, not very attractive; however, many pioneer cachetmakers overcame the technical limitations of the printing arts.

Through the 1930s, for all but the most expensive, high-end printing presses, each color in a printed piece required a separate pass through the machinery. Artwork was restricted to simple generic line drawings that were supplied to printers and non-generic artwork or photos that required processing. Text was first set by hand, with each letter put into place on the printing form. Later, text was generated for photo-offset presses by companies that specialized in typesetting at an additional cost. Other types of high-end printers were later introduced.