Stamp collecting is a rewarding hobby for all ages. However, it can be quite challenging if you don’t know the meaning of the stamp terminology that is widely used by collectors and dealers. This guide to stamp collecting abbreviations has been compiled for those who may need a bit more clarity to fully understand philatelic terminology. We will start by listing the abbreviations used on this website, followed up with a glossary of terms. 

 Abbreviations 

S or Sup – A stamp that is graded in Superb condition  (See our article on how we grade our stamps) 
XF – A stamp that is graded in Extremely Fine condition 
VF – A stamp that is graded in Very Fine condition 
FVF or F-VF – A stamp that is graded in Fine to Very Fine condition 
F or Fine – A stamp that is graded in Fine condition 
AVE – A stamp that is graded in Average condition. This is typically the lowest collectible grade of stamp unless the stamp is extremely rare 
MNH – A stamp that has never been hinged with full original gum 
MLH or LH – A stamp that has almost full original gum with a small trace that it has been hinged 
MH – A stamp that has been hinged but most of the gum is still intact 
HH or HHR or HR – A stamp that has been heavily hinged, could have multiple hinge marks or a hinge remnant. Less than 50% of original gum remains.
BLK – A block of stamps, we usually follow that with the number of stamps in the block, ie. BLK16 
IMP – Imperforate Stamp 
BK or BKT – Stamp Booklet 
PR – Pair of Stamps 

Glossary 

Adhesive: A stamp that is gummed 

Airmail Stamp: Issued to prepay the postage of mail carried by air 

Approvals: When a collector is offered a wide range of stamps to examine and choose from ahead of a purchase, but it must be bought or returned to the dealer in a specified period of time 

Block: A group of four or more unseparated stamps, which form a square or rectangle 

Blunt perforation (Blunt perf): A stamp with a perforation which is shorter than would usually be expected 

Booklet: A small book which contains stamps in ‘panes’ 

Booklet Panes: A small leaf or page of stamps which is sold in a booklet format 

Cachet: A commemorative marking, illustration or description on an envelope which explains the commemorative purpose when it was mailed 

Cancellation: A mark applied to a stamp to prevent its reuse by defacing it surface 

Chalky paper: Stamp paper is coated with a chalky solution for security purposes to prevent the attempted removal of the postmark, which would damage the stamp’s surface 

Charity stamp: A stamp which was issued with a premium or surcharge for charitable purposes 

Circular date stamp (CDS): A circular cancellation mark which often has the date and place name or location within it 

Classic: One of the earliest stamp issues from a country, usually up to about 1900 

Coil Stamps: Stamps which were produced in rolls for use in vending machines and can often be identified by a pair of straight edges on opposite sides 

Comb perforation: When the perforation pins have been arranged in a comb pattern to perforate three sides of a stamp in one stroke 

Commemorative stamp: A stamp issued to mark a person, special event or anniversary – which is usually only on sale for a limited period of time 

Cover: An envelope, postcard, letter-sheet or any other wrapper which has been used to send correspondence by mail 

Cut Square: The cut corner of an envelope or postcard bearing the imprinted stamp with ample margins 

Definitive: A stamp issued for ordinary postal use which remains on sale for an extended period 

Denomination: The monetary value printed on a stamp 

Die: A small, flat piece of soft steel which is used to print stamps by using an engraving plate to impress the design onto the paper 

Disturbed gum (DG): When the gum of a stamp has been damaged in some way 

Duck Stamp: Issued annually since 1934, these US duck hunting permits help to finance the federal waterfowl program 

Embossed Envelope: An envelope which bears a postage stamp with a raised surface design printed on the actual envelope 

Embossing: A form of printing in relief 

Error: Highly collectible stamps because a mistake in stamp design, printing or production has occurred during their design or manufacture 

Essay: A trial stamp design which sometimes differed from the actual issued stamps 

Face value: The denomination or value of a stamp, which is expressed on its face 

First Day Cover (FDC): An envelope or card which has been postmarked and used on the first day of issue. 

First Flight Cover: An envelope or postcard which was carried on the inaugural mail flight between two destinations 

Flaw: When a printing fault causes a fortuitous blemish on a stamp 

Forgery: A fraudulent copy of a genuine stamp, overprint or postmark – usually done to deceive collectors 

Grill: This series of small dots is embossed on a stamp to allow ink from the postmark to sink in and prevent the stamp being cleaned and reused 

Gum: The coating of adhesive glue on the back of an unused stamp. 

Gum bend, Gum crease or Gum wrinkle: A natural occurrence in flat-plate printed stamps where the paper has shrunk and the gum did not shrink at the same rate, causing the stamp to wrinkle. This will not lower a stamp’s value unless it is severe. 

Gum skip: A portion of the stamp has been left without gum because it was not spread completely over the stamp during its manufacture. 

Gutter: The blank margins of narrow space dividing a sheet of stamps into panes and permitting perforation 

Handstamp: A postmark or overprint which has been applied by hand 

Hinges: A small gummed strip which is used to fix stamps to the pages of an album 

Imperforate (Imperf): Stamps which have been deliberately printed and issued without perforations, so that they bear straight edges on all four sides 

Imprint: When the name of the printer or issuing authority is inscribed on the stamps or in the sheet margins 

Imprinted stamps: Stamps which have been printed directly on to postal items such as postcards or envelopes 

Inclusion: When a foreign piece of material has been pressed into the paper during manufacturing to create a spot that can be seen on the front, back or in the middle of a stamp 

Invert: A stamp with one part of its design printed upside down in relation to the rest of the stamp. 

Jumbo: A stamp where the border between the edge of the design and its perforations is larger or smaller than that of other stamps in the same sheet. If this space is large, the stamp is usually referred to as a ‘jumbo’ and is more attractive and desirable. 

Local: A stamp with geographical limits of where it can be used to post items 

Machin: A common name given to GB definitives, first issued in 1967, which had the Queen’s head designed by Arnold Machin 

Margin: The unprinted edging which surrounds or divides a sheet of stamps. 

Maximum card: A picture postcard often with a stamp and cancellation which is relevant to the actual picture on the card 

Miniature sheet: A small sheet of one or several stamps which are usually decorative 

Mint Sheet: An entire sheet of stamps in their original unused condition as issued by the Post Office 

No gum (NG): An unused stamp without gum 

Official Stamp: A stamp which was valid only for use by a government agency 

Overprint: Printing added to a stamp after production to indicate a change in value or function, or to commemorate an event. 

Pair: Two unseparated stamps which are joined either vertically or horizontally as originally issued 

Pane: A formation or group of stamps within a sheet 

Perforation Gauge: A device which is used to gauge the number of perforations on a stamp in two centimeters 

Perforations: The holes which are punched between stamps on a sheet to make them easy to separate 

Philately: The technical name for stamp collecting 

Phosphor stamps: Stamps which have been overprinted or coated with phosphorescent materials so they can be recognized by automatic letter sorting machinery 

Pictorial: Any stamp which features a decorative image, rather than the usual symbolic designs such as a portrait or coat of arms 

Plate Block: When four or more attached stamps are still fastened to the margin which has the number of the printing plate clearly inscribed 

Plate number: This is when the letters and numerals in a sheet margin identify the printing plate 

Postal Stationery: Postcards, envelopes, cards or any other covers which bear imprinted or impressed stamps on them 

Postmark: Any markings on a postal item, such as a cancellation, which records the date and/or origin of its connection with the postal service and its transit through the mail system 

Precancel: A stamp which was intended for use by a bulk poster and supplied with a pre-printed cancellation by the post office 

Presentation pack: A stamp collecting souvenir which contains a set of stamps and some descriptive text about the issue 

Prestige booklet: A booklet of stamps devoted to one subject or event which contains special panes of stamps accompanied by descriptive text alongside them 

Proof: A trial impression stamp which has been taken from an original die or printing plate 

Provisional: A stamp issued for temporary use often overprinted or surcharged 

Pulled perf (PP): A stamp where the perforation tip is missing completely 

Re-gummed (RG): A stamp which has had new gum applied in place of the original. 

Re-perforated (RP or Reperf): When alterations have been made to a stamp to add perforations to one or more edges. This is often done for dishonest reasons, such as to improve the worth of a lower-value stamp 

Reprints: Stamps which are printed from original plates after being withdrawn 

Revenue Stamp: Any stamp which indicates the payment of a fee or tax 

Roulette: When slits or cuts have been used between stamps to separate them instead of perforations 

Self-Adhesive: A gummed stamp with a pressure-sensitive adhesive that does not need moistening to fix it to the postal item 

Selvage: More often known as the margin, this is the unprinted paper around a pane of stamps 

Semi-Postal: A stamp where all or part of the money generated by its sale is donated to charity 

Se-Tenant: When adjoining stamps differ from each other in some aspect, such as their design or denomination 

Short Perforation (SP or Short Perf): When a portion of the perforation tip is still present but is not as long as it should be 

Socked on the Nose (SON): This means that the stamp has a CDS and it is applied very close to dead center on the stamp. 

Space filler: A heavily defective stamp with considerable faults which sells for a greatly reduced-price 

Specimen: A sample stamp which has the words ‘specimen’ perforated or overprinted on it 

Straight edge (SE): A philatelic term for when one or more edges of a stamp do not have perforations. Not to be confused with a coil stamp (always has two edges without perforations), a booklet stamp (can have one, two or three edges without perforations) 

Strip: Three or more stamps which are joined together in a row 

Surcharge: When an overprint has been used to alter or change a stamp’s established face value 

Tab: The illustrated or descriptive label which is attached to a stamp 

Tête-bêche: A stamp which is inverted in relation to the adjoining stamp in a pair 

Thin: A ‘thin’ stamp gets its name from having an area where some of the paper is thinner than the remainder of the stamp. 

Tongs: The American philatelic term for metal tweezers which are used to handle stamps safely and easily 

Topicals: A group of stamps which are all of the same theme, such as trains 

Traffic lights: The term used by collectors for the colored check dots found in sheet margins 

Used abroad: Stamps from one country which has been used and postmarked in another country 

Used on piece: A stamp which has been kept on part of the original cover to completely preserve its postmark 

Variety: When a stamp differs in some detail from its ‘normal’ issue 

Vignette: The central portion of a stamp’s design which has been printed separately within the frame 

Watermark: The distinctive design or pattern formed in paper by ‘thinning’ it during the manufacturing process to protect against forgery and act as a valuable security precaution.