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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Philatelic Terms Illustrated - D to F

Definitive Stamp

A definitive stamp is a stamp issued for regular, utilitarian postal use, and is often in use for many years before being replaced by a new series. Definitives usually depict the ruler of the country, but they can also depict a common theme, such as fish, plants, or industries, like the 1k Nigeria stamp shown above, that was issued in 1973. Most stamps that are issued in booklet form are definitives, with that trend changing in recent years as many countries have begun to issue commemoratives in booklet form as well. 

Dextrine Gum, Dextrose Gum or Gum Arabic

The substance on the back side of the stamp that allows it to be fastened to the envelope, is called the gum. Up until the late 1960's and early 1970's, stamp gum was made with dextrose - a cellulose based, natural substance. Such gum was often very shiny, yellowish and had a flavour that many found unpleasant. The 1927 Confederation stamp shown above is an example of this type of gum. Some countries that produced this gum also added other compounds which caused it to attack the paper it was on, resulting in damage to the stamps if not removed. Germany during the 1930's is an example of a country that did this by adding sulphuric acid to the gum. 

By the late 1960's synthetic alternatives in the form of Polyvinyl Alcohol, also known as PVA gum became available and started to come into general use. However, there are still many countries, most notably France, that have continued to use dextrine gum on their stamps up to the present day. 

Die Cut

The the term "Die-Cut" refers to a method of separation used for modern self-adhesive stamps, in which a cutting mat is laid over the stamps, and perforations are cut into the stamps, so that they can simply be peeled apart from their backing individually. In recent years, postal administrations have moved away from printing stamps on gummed paper, so that perforating has become obsolete, and perforated, gummed paper stamps are gradually being replaced by self-adhesive die-cut stamps. The above image shows  pair of die-cut stamps issued for the Tall Ships Visit to Halifax for 2000. The die cutting is very visible at the top and bottom of the pair, but much harder to see between the two stamps, due to the nature of the stamp design.


Embossing is a process, whereby a part of the paper is pressed through a narrow opening to produce a raised design in the paper, called a relief. The snake of the above stamp is raised from the surface of the rest of the stamp. If you turn the stamp over, there will be a large depression where the snake is. Embossing was first used on the 1847 stamps of Great Britain, and then very rarely after that, until the Cameo designs of Gambia were issued in 1869. Since then, embossing has been used to print many modern stamp issued, although it is usually employed in combination with other printing methods. For example the 2001 Year of the Snake stamp above was printed using both lithography and embossing.

First Class Mail, Second Class Mail and Third Class Mail

First Class refers to the standard mail stream with normal delivery and handling times. Envelopes which were not marked in any way and sealed at the flap on the back are referred to as "first class letters". The distinction is lost today because the only option in most cases for sending a letter is first class.

However, until about the early to mid-1970's cheaper second and third class options also existed. Mail sent in this manner was often required to be marked "second class mail" or "third class mail" and in some cases you were not permitted to seal the envelope. Apart from this, the main difference between first class and these two options was that the delivery time was slower. By the mid to late 1970's these services were generally abolished, though some countries still have a bulk rate which businesses sending out very high volume mailings can take advantage of.

First Day Cover

A first day cover refers to a cover that was sent on a stamp's first day of issue. Most first day covers until the 1970's were produced by private individuals who would take an envelope and print, draw or paint a design onto the envelope, called a cachet, address the cover to their customers and then take them to the post office where the issue of the day would be affixed and cancelled with the first day of issue postmark. Of course any cover at all, even those without cachets that happened to be used on a stamp's first day of issue would qualify as a first day cover, and as a matter of fact it is these covers that today are the most valuable and highly sought after. However, some of the hand-painted cachets can also be worth many hundreds of dollars each, even on what is normally a very inexpensive issue.

By the 1960's larger companies started producing first day covers, with standardized, pre-printed cachets, The Art Craft first day cover above is one such example. Then in the 1970's the postal authorities themselves began mass producing their own first day covers. These are of extremely high quality and their existence essentially killed the market for individual cachet-makers who simply could not compete with the economies of scale that were enjoyed by the post office.

Frameline, Spandrel, Vignette and Value Tablet

All stamp designs, with very few exceptions are contained within an outer line, or group of lines. This outer line or group of lines is called the frameline (s). Usually, but not always , a stamp will have both an outer frameline, and an inner one. The above stamp from Lagos issued in 1894 has both an outer frameline, that surrounds the entire design, and an inner one that surrounds most of the design as well. 

The main portion of the design within the frame and frame ornaments is called the vignette. On the above stamp, the vignette is the bust of Queen Victoria. The corner portions of the design that lie outside the vignette, but within the framelines are called spandrels. The leaf ornaments on this stamp in each corner are the spandrels on this stamp.

The space enclosing the words of value (denomination) is called the value tablet. It is usually rectangular, although it really can be any shape at all. 


The term "franking" refers to the combination of stamps that has been affixed to a cover to pay the postage.

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