Authentication Terms

Philately has a large number of terms used to describe stamps and covers and their condition. Many of the terms have a common meaning throughout the various specialties, others do not. Our certificates sometimes contain terms that are not clear or completely understood by the submitter of an item. To help clarify the terminology contained in certificates the Authentication Service is preparing a glossary of terms most frequently used in authentication.  The first section of the glossary addresses stamps and a second section will address covers.

Stamp Terms          Cover Terms

Terms Used in Authenticating Covers

Cover Terms

Cover – A generic term for an envelope or folded letter.

Entire – A complete envelope with printed or handstamped indicia.

Envelope – Paper that is cut and folded to provide an enclosure for a letter.

Envelope front – An envelope with no back.

Folded letter – A sheet of paper folded in such a manner that the contents are not visible and the outside is available for the address.

Folded letter front – A folded letter that has had the contents cut out leaving only that portion on which the postal marking(s) and address appear.

Piece – A piece of a cover with stamp(s), or printed or handstamped indicia

Wrapper – A strip or band of paper used to wrap around printed matter and on which the address and postage is applied.


Marking Terms

Auxiliary – Markings other than the postmark or rate markings that signify additional postal service given a cover. Auxiliary markings most commonly encountered are Advertised, Forwarded and Missent.

Examined – A manuscript or handstamped marking applied to a cover to indicate it was examined by a military censor.

Postmark – The marking (handstamped or manuscript) applied to a cover that identifies the post office of mailing. Additional postmarks may be applied if the cover is missent or forwarded.

Rate – A single numerical rate marking or a combination of a numerical rate and a paid marking to indicate the postage paid or due. Markings many be handstamped or manuscript.

Strengthened Marking – Any marking (handstamped or manuscript) that has been strengthened with ink or pencil to enhance its appearance or to fill in missing characters.


Cover Types

Across-the-Lines Cover – A letter carried across the lines by express companies from June to late August 1861. Also a letter carried across the lines covertly.

Advertising Cover – An envelope that has a printed or handstamped advertisement or illustrated advertisement either as an overall design, a corner card, or on the back flap.

Adversity Cover – An envelope made from paper materials on hand, such as business or court forms, documents, maps, etc.

Blockade Cover – A cover successfully carried through the federal blockade, either incoming or outgoing

College Cover - An envelope with a corner card or illustrated design advertising an institution or college.

Confederate Use of US Postage – A cover rated with US postage from a state during the period from its admission to the Confederate States through 31 May 1861.

Drop Letter – A letter deposited at a post office for delivery at that office.

Flag-of-Truce Cover – A cover exchanged between Confederate and US military flag of truce officers.  After exchange such covers were deposited in the postal system for delivery.

Hand Carried – A cover carried outside the mail for all or part of the distance to the delivery office or person. Such letters are usually docketed “politeness of,” “courtesy of” etc.

Independent State Use of US Postage – A cover rated with US postage from a state during the period it was an independent state.

Official Envelope – An envelope bearing the imprint of a Confederate Post Office agency, bureau or office for use by officials authorized to send mail free of postage on official business.

Overpaid Drop Letter – A drop letter that has more than the required amount of postage affixed.

Patriotic Cover - An envelope that has a printed or hand drawn design with a patriotic theme.

Postmaster’s Provisional – A cover with a provisional stamp or a provisional entire. 

Prisoner of War Cover – A cover to or from a prisoner of war

Semi-Official Envelope – Imprinted envelopes prepared by Confederate and state governments for various departments for official business. Semi-official envelopes required the prepayment of postage.  

Soldier’s Cover – A cover from a soldier with the postage marked due and the name and unit of soldier annotated.

Stampless Cover – A cover with the postage (paid or unpaid) indicated by one or more handstamped or manuscript markings.   

Steamboat Mail – Mail carried on a steamboat

Trans-Mississippi Express Cover - A cover carried across the Mississippi River at the special Trans-Mississippi Express rate. 

Turned Cover – A cover which has be used to carry a letter to its destination, then turned inside out and reused to carry a letter a second time.

Wallpaper Cover – An adversity cover in which the cover is constructed from unused wallpaper.

Way Letter – A letter picked up by a mail carrier between post offices and delivered to the next post office where it was marked “Way” and entered the mail system.


Special Uses

Bisect - Stamp cut into two parts (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) with each half intended to pay all or part of the postage equal to one half the face value of the original stamp. The stamp must be tied to the cover on two sides.

Combination Use – A cover with two or more different stamp issues to pay the appropriate postage.

Conjunctive Use - A postmasters’ provisional stamp or envelope, used with a general issue stamp, handstamped paid or handstamped due marking to pay the required postage.


Cover Condition Terms

Back flap – The flap used to seal an envelope. Also the twin flap that was pre-sealed when making the envelope.

Back flap added - An envelope with one or both original back flaps replaced

Bogus - A fabricated stamp, cancel, marking or other item of a design that never existed.

Cleaned – A cover or stamp that has had soiling, staining or perhaps even the cancel removed by various means

Crease - A fold in a cover that creates a permanent deformity.

Did Not Originate – An adhesive that was not originally affixed to a cover when postally used.

Docketing - Contemporary notation on a cover that may include the sender’s name, date written, received or answered, and a summary of the contents.

Endorsement – Manuscript routing preference placed on a cover by the sender or a forwarder before or during transit.

FakeSee Forgery.

Fantasy – See Bogus

File Fold – A fold in a cover resulting from being folding for filing. See crease.

Forgery – A likeness of an existing stamp, cancel, marking or other item made to defraud collectors.

Foxing - Spots and stains caused by fungi. The spots or stains may range in color from brown to reddish-brown to yellowish-brown.

Rebacked – An envelope which has a new back attached.

Reduced – A cover that has had a portion of one or more sides removed.

Removed and Replaced – An adhesive stamp that has been removed and replaced in its original location.

Repair – A missing or damaged portion of a cover replaced or reconstructed.

Restored – A cover professionally cleaned or repaired

Scrape – An abrasion on the front of a cover resulting from the removal of some of the paper fibers.

Sealed tear – A tear sealed by an adhesive hinge, tape or other material not original to the cover.

Soiled – Any substance on the surface of a cover that dulls, darkens or detracts from its appearance.

Tear – A physical separation of the paper fibers.

Tied – A stamp that is canceled in manuscript or by a handstamp device which, extends across the stamp and on to the cover or piece.

Toning – A deepening of the color of a cover due to age, sunlight, or storage conditions.


Postmark Condition

Illegible – Postmark cannot be read

Indistinct – Full postmark cannot be read but enough letters can be read to determine the town and state

Weak – Full postmark can be read with some difficulty

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