The novice's guide to... Stamp Collecting (Part One)

Head to Stanley Gibbons in London and buy yourself a £5 mixed bag of stamps. You'll get 100g of stamps to sort through and marvel at. See what catches your eye and what doesn't. Once you've taken a good look are you itching to find more 19th century yellow Swedish stamps? Another upside down biplane? You're on your way to becoming a philatelist.

Although experts often suggest specialising, it is important not to constrict your interests too early in the formative stages of collecting. There is plenty of time to become an expert.

Philatelic jargon can be especially off-putting to the novice. Here's some help below:


An error stamp looks different from how it was intended. Mistakes can include:

· Incorrect colours - the world's most expensive stamp, the 1855 Treskilling Yellow, was meant to be a bluish green

· Missing images - a number of stamps commemorating the 1965 opening of the London Post Office tower famously omitted the tower

· Inverted images - such as the famous US Inverted Jenny airmail stamps

Error stamps are often quickly destroyed by embarrassed printers or issuing bodies, making many of them extremely rare and worthy of investment.

First day cover

A cover is a stamp that has been stuck and franked, also known as "cancelled", on an envelope or post card. A first day cover is such a specimen that has been franked on the day the stamp was issued. These are much sought after among collectors.


Since the 1850s most stamps produced in Britain have been perforated so they can easily be detached from each other. It is the condition of these perforations that can have a huge impact on the price. Stamps are often described in terms of the number of holes, or "perfs" around the outside.

The Penny Black was imperforate and had to be cut by hand

Rouletting, which used small cuts in the paper instead of holes, was another commonly employed technique in the formative years of stamp production, particularly in Europe and the US.

Many of the earliest stamps, such as the 1840 Penny Black, the first postage stamp, were imperforate, (that is with no perforations) and had to be cut by hand with scissors.

Panes and sheets

Panes are complete units of stamps, commonly consisting of 100 stamps. A sheet is usually a larger measurement of 400 stamps that comes straight off the printing press before being cut into panes.

To be continued…


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