6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple


6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple starts off where we left last. Like any other collectible object, a postage stamp also has a few characteristic elements that help the collectors in identifying what a particular piece of historical beauty on paper is all about. In this series of articles, 6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple we will investigate the characteristics that every philately enthusiast should be aware of. Let’s look at each one of them in more detail.

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Country: – 

6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple

As the word suggests this is the identifier helping the philatelist to know the “Nationality” of a particular stamp. The first postage stamp did not mention it’s country of origin. In 1874 Universal postal union exempted the United Kingdom from the rule that the country name is mandatory to be published on the stamp. Only the profile of the reigning monarch (QV1) was allowed as the identifier of the country of origin. That practice is still in place till today. All other issuing countries of UPU publish using modern short forms or using Latin Letters only.

To exemplify The Republic of South Africa uses RSA on its stamps. French colonies and France use multiple allowed forms of identification. The designer has the discretion to choose from.

Denomination: –

6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple

The prime objective of a postage stamp is to let the sender know how much he or she has to shell out for the pre-payment of the postage. It varies depending upon the form, size, and weight of the postal consignment.

The standard format is that there is a numeric value mentioned in the local currency of the issuing country. According to the norms in the early days, the value was mentioned in words. UPU changed the trend to use Arabic Numerals so that the postal clerks of different countries were able to identify the value. The Chinese stamps issued in 1949 did not have any sort of denomination. This was due to the political decision to base the price of the stamps on the daily fluctuating rate of Golden Yuan.

Other prevalent methods of denominating the stamps are “First Class”, “Presorted Zip+4”, “Rate Change”, “Permanent” and “Semi-Postal”. A Semi-Postal stamp depicts two values. The primary one is meant for the postal department and the secondary one is donated to charity.

Design: – 

6 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple

The graphic designing of a postage stamp is majorly categorized into four variants as below

  • Portrait Bust – Profile or Full Face
  • Emblem – Flag, National Symbol (As shown above)
  • Numeric – They are designed with numeral values
  • Pictorial – Example of Gandhi stamps

Design is used to differentiate the stamp among the million counterparts available. Pictorial is the most deployed design variant with many thematic stamps being introduced. The different themes range from Flora, Fauna, Birds, Automobiles, Famous historical personalities, Celebrities, Original artworks, and the list goes on.

The choice of releasing the pictorial stamps lies with the respective governments and it also is a great tool to create “Country Branding”.

Gum: – 

It is the sticky chemical adhesive applied at the back of the stamp so that it can be easily and firmly glue on the desired postal article. It can be shiny, dull, smooth, rough, dark, white, colored, or tinted. Major stamp adhesives used are Arabic (Glossy), Polyvinyl Alcohol (Matte & Colorless), PVA Dextrine (Green).

Luminescence: – 

Most importantly this was done to help in sorting and efficient processing of large quantities of mail. It was a tedious task to manually find the stamp and postmarking or canceling it subsequently. This was achieved by printing the stamps on a luminescent paper using fluorescence and phosphorescence. Stamps with the luminescence were termed as tagged and without as untagged. Another important aspect to note is that the tagging was nearly invisible to the naked human eye.

Pitney Bowes developed and manufactured machinery to complement the streamlining of workload. They developed a machine that could flip the mail and find the stamps using UV light. The mail will be sorted in such a manner that they were in the same position and then within a few moments all will be postmarked.

Tagging could be done in multiple ways such as blocks, bands, bars, in a pattern, or all across the stamp. It is also noteworthy that while examining the tagged stamps using a UV detector utmost caution should be used. It can cause damage to the eyes and hands.

Paper: –

Paper is the founding element of a postage stamp. It is the substrate that is supplemented with printing ink, gum, security measures, and design. Before any stamp goes into production multiple paper characteristics such as composition, weight, color, size, watermark, surface finish, opacity, hardness, and strength are taken into consideration.

The philatelic paper is of two kinds – Wove and Laid. Wove paper is smooth and has a uniform texture all across. The correct name is “Wire Wove”. British and US stamps printed after 1880 are all made using this quality of the paper.  Laid paper, on the other hand, has closely spaced parallel wires with cross wires at wider intervals creating frames. Russian stamps with Scott #s 31-38 are printed on this type of paper.

There are different varieties of paper that are used to print the stamps. These also serve as a differentiator in the identification of stamps. Some of the commonly used paper varieties are Batonne, Quadrille, Pelure, Native, Manila, Silk, Granite, Chalky, India, Double Goldbeater’s skin, and Ribbed.

Closing Remarks: 

The first episode of this series of 6 Elements of A Postage Stamp Made Simple comes to an end and requesting you all to stay tuned for more.

To be continued……….

Rohit Mittal

Self Taught Techie, Father to a budding philatelist son and a Global Business Professional Having Traveled across four continents. I have helped European and Indian Businesses to turn around and realize business objectives in 180 to 270 days. Reading & Writing is my second nature. I rekindled my childhood passion for stamps after forty years and love to collect European Pre 1960s MNH OG stamps majorly from France, Germany, and Italy.
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1 year ago

Excellent write up.

1 year ago

Simple, nice, useful and clears some very basic issues for collectors. Thank you,