first issues > glossary

Glossary

This page will contain definitions and explanations of some of the technical terms in philately.

Term Meaning
Acknowledgement of Receipt Prepayment for an acknowledgement of receipt of a registered package. Some countries issued a stamp to show payment, the first being Columbia.
Burélage A fine pattern of lines or dots printed underneath the design on the front or back of the stamp as a security device. It was first used by Denmark.
Interpanneau Interpanneau is French for 'gutter'. An interpanneau pair is two stamps with a gutter between them.
Paper types
  • Batonné - a watermark of straight lines about 1cm apart originally developed as an aid to handwriting but also used for stamps.
  • Chalky - a patented security paper developed by printer De la Rue. The paper was coated by a a suspension of chalk, making it difficult to remove the postmark and reuse the stamp. Used inconsistently on GB and colonies' issues from the 1900s to the 1960s.
  • Laid - showing a pattern of watermarked lines
  • Quadrille - watermarked with horizontal and vertical lines.
  • Watermark - a design incorporated into paper when the pulp is rolled resulting in a thinning of the paper. A security device.
  • Wove - plain paper as distinct from laid. The texture is a plain mesh rather than an intentional design.
Perforations Early stamps were imperforate and had to be cut from a larger sheet. Perforations, a series of holes between the stamps, allows them to be separated easily by hand. The process of perforation involves small discs of paper being removed, as distinct from rouletting, where the spaces between stamps are pierced or intermittently cut. With self-adhesive stamps the paper between the stamps is usually removed completely.
Wikipedia states, “The standard for describing perforation is the number of holes (or the "teeth" or perfs of an individual stamp) in a 2-centimeter span. The finest gauge ever used is 18 on stamps of the Malay States in the early 1950s, and the coarsest is 2, seen on the 1891 stamps of Bhopal.” When specifying perforations, if the horizontal and vertical are different (sometimes called 'compound'), the horizontal is stated first (e.g. 12x11).
This link shows how to use a perforation gauge.
Postal agency / post office  
Printing methods In all but the most primitive methods for a stamp to be printed an original design must be produced and then reduced in size, reversed and multiplied onto a plate that is used to print a sheet of stamps. There are four main methods of producing a plate.
  • Engraved - From an original design, a single, smaller image design is etched in recess, in reverse (die proofs can be taken at the various stages of the etching process).
    The metal is hardened and used to produce a transfer roll in which the image is 'the right way round' and 'sticking out' (or whatever the opposite of recessed may be).
    The transfer roll is used to make the printing plate (recessed and reversed), containing multiple versions of the image. The plate is inked, with the ink in the recesses, and used to print the stamps.
  • Lithography - A printing method invented in 1795 by Alois Senefelder using polished limestone (zinc and paper are now used) and greasy ink, laid on the plate in reverse and fixed by acid. The plate kept damp during printing so hydrophobic the ink sticks to the greasy image rather than the damp stone or plate. In modern offset lithography, the image is copied photographically to a metal plate used in a rotary press and the image transferred to the stamp via a rubber roller.
  • Photogravure - This uses photographic methods applied to a metal plate rather than the more usual photographic paper. The design is phographed and transferred through a screen that converts the image to a series of dots. The plate is etched chemically so that the dots become depressions that will hold the ink. This method is commonly used for colour printing with four plates produced by photographic colour separation to show red, blue, yellow and black and thus reproduce any colour. The first philatelic use of photogravure was for a 1914 Bavaria issue.
  • Typography - More correctly Letterpress, the term 'typography' is used throughout philately to describe a process used commonly for the first century of stamps. It is, in some ways, the opposite of engraving in that the ink is applied to the raised areas, not the recessed and thus an addition design tranfer process is needed to produce the final letterpress plates.
Embossed (relief) printing is not one of the four main methods and not really printing at all. A raised image is produced on the paper from metal dies, often without the application of colour, that being added by printing processes.
Rouletting see perforation
Suzerainty Most of these definitions are philatelic, but this one is political. It crops up several times in these pages, including those for Egypt and Korea.
Wikipedia, "Suzerainty is a situation in which a powerful region or people controls the foreign policy and international relations of a tributary vassal state while allowing the subservient nation internal autonomy. The dominant entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the more powerful entity itself, is called a suzerain. The term suzerainty was originally used to refer to the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and its surrounding regions. It differs from sovereignty in that the tributary enjoys some (often limited) self-rule." [accessed 4th July 2016].

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