Stamp terms

Stamp collecting has so many different terms that sometimes it seems like stamp collectors are speaking in their own language! Here's a quick guide that explains some of the most common terms.

Block: Stamps are printed in large sheets usually with either 50 or 100 stamps. A block is part of this sheet, made up of at least four stamps in two rows of two.

Cancellation: Also called a postmark, a cancellation is a date stamp with special ink, put on a stamp by the PostShop to show where and when the letter was posted.

Catalogue: A book that tells you what stamps a country has issued, as well as what they are worth. Stamp dealers and libraries will have catalogues for most countries.

Commemorative: Commemorative stamps remember special events. They are on sale at PostShops for a short time but can be bought for up to one year from the Collectables and Solutions Centre.

Definitive: Definitives are stamps you see almost every day and are on sale for a long period of time at all New Zealand Post Shops.

First Day Cover: Special envelopes that have stamps on them which are postmarked on the first day of their issue.

Face Value: Also called a stamp's ‘denomination’, this is the amount of money shown on the stamp.

Perforations: The holes around the stamp so the stamps can be torn from the sheet.

Imperforated: A stamp or part of a stamp with no perforations.

Miniature Sheet: A small sheet specially made for stamp collectors. Miniature sheets are usually made up of one of each stamp in an issue, but sometimes only have one stamp.

Off-centre: A stamp that has been accidentally printed with its picture not quite in the centre. This means that the perforations are closer to the picture on one side than the other.

Overprint: When words or numbers are printed on a stamp after the stamp has been printed. A good example of overprinting was in 1979 when '14c' was printed over the 10c Queen Elizabeth II definitive stamp.

Se-tenant: This term is French, and means joined together. It is used to describe two or more stamps next to each other in the same sheet which are different in design or value.

Special Postmark: Like commemorative stamps, these are special postmarks (cancellations) that remember important events.

Thematic: A collection of stamps on one subject or theme.

Unused: Also known as 'mint' stamps, this is a stamp that has not been postmarked or cancelled and can be worth a lot more money than used stamps.

Watermark: A design put in the paper when the paper is made. You can use the watermark to tell if a stamp is real.