Philatelic glossaries

All About StampsPhilatelic terminology can be baffling to new stamp collectors. When I first started working at the APRL, terms like cover, cut square, and Cinderella sent me scurrying for the nearest philatelic glossary. Even experienced philatelists can be stumped by obscure or foreign terms and abbreviations.

We have many philatelic glossaries and dictionaries here in the library – like the United States Stamp Society’s Glossary of Terms for the Collector of United States Stamps or Wayne Youngblood’s All About Stamps: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Philatelic Terms – but you don’t need to be sitting in a library to have a glossary close at hand. There are several good glossaries available on the web.

The United States Stamp Society’s glossary is available on their website., home of Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott Catalogue, has a good basic glossary including “nearly 300 terms frequently encountered by stamp collectors and cover collectors.”

The USPS has a somewhat smaller and naturally U.S.-centric glossary on its website. The main advantage of this glossary is the inclusion of U.S. Post Office Department and USPS names, like Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC).

Philatelic Terms IllustratedPerhaps the most comprehensive of online philatelic glossaries is the list of more than 30,000 terms on AskPhil, a website sponsored by the Collectors Club of Chicago. In addition to English philatelic terminology, this glossary includes many abbreviations and foreign terms, from Å (a one-letter Norwegian post office name) to $Z (Zimbabwean currency unit).

For a British glossary, try the British Postal Museum & Archive, partially based on Stanley Gibbons Philatelic Terms Illustrated by James Mackay. The list also includes many non-English terms.

What’s your favorite resource when you are stumped by a philatelic word?

Postal History at the Post Office

USPS History Web

The United States Postal Service provides a wealth of resources, reaching back to its roots in colonial America, for those interested in its history. Last summer the Historian’s Office redesigned their Postal History web site. It provides access to the essays, reports, and lists they have written and compiled about people who have worked at the Post Office as well as information on Stamps, Postage Rates, Mail Transportation and Delivery, Postal Uniforms, Post Office Buildings, and Historical Statistics for the Post Office. The Photo Gallery displays a small fraction of the pictures held in the Post Office collection grouped by people, vehicles, buildings, equipment, airmail, and railroads. Research Sources links to other significant postal history collections and provides a link for contacting the Historian’s Office.

Ochopee, Florida Post Office

Postmaster Finder is one of the most valuable resources. This growing database contains the names and dates of service for postmasters who served at more than 15,000 Post Offices, a number that increases weekly. It includes nearly all postmasters appointed after 1986 and for some post offices, the records stretch back to the 1700s. Besides personal names, the data can be searched by city, county, state, ZIP Code, or dates of establishment and discontinuance for post offices.

The USPS corporate library supports the information needs of the headquarters staff and is open to outside researchers by appointment. While its strength lies in the documents, reports, and magazines produced by the Post Office as well as Congressional reports and hearings about the Post Office, there is also a good collection of postal history books. For access, contact Raymond Plante, 202-268-2906 ( in the library, or Jenny Lynch, 202-268-2074 ( and Melody Selvage, 202-268-2532 ( in the Historian’s Office.

Mystery item – Fort Leavenworth essay

Fort Leavenworth essayOccasionally we come across something in the library archive that doesn’t quite fit neatly into a box (physically or metaphorically) and, unfortunately, was not labeled for posterity.

This “mystery” item appears to be a hand-painted essay in two shades of reddish brown. It is for a proposed but never issued stamp honoring Fort Leavenworth. It is in the typical style for 3¢ commemoratives of the mid-1950s. The “1953” date may be when it was drawn, as we can think of no major anniversary occurring that year. We are not sure of its origins or how it came to reside in the APRL archives.

The artist’s name at the lower right is C. L. Linck.

Perhaps one of our readers will be able to shed some light on this essay?

Guest post by Neil Coker, APRL Reference Assistant

Online index to the Congress Book, part 2

Congress Book IndexIn my previous post about the Congress Book index, I neglected to mention the index that is available on the American Philatelic Congress website.

The advantage of the indexing that the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library has done for the Philatelic Union Catalog is that it allows researchers to find Congress Book articles along with articles and books from other sources. So, the researcher does not need to know that his topic has been covered in a Congress Book in order to find it.

If you know that you are looking for a Congress Book article, however, the American Philatelic Congress index may be more efficient.

Congress Book record with link to index
Congress Book record with link to index

At the APRL, we add links to online indexes to our journal records. We hope to also work with journal editors to incorporate as many of these indexes as possible into the union catalog. This is especially helpful for researchers who don’t know which journals might cover their topic, and for finding articles in unexpected sources. It also enables the researcher to do a broad search from one location, instead of having to search multiple indexes.

Online index to the Congress Books

Congress BooksDid you know that you can search the contents of the Congress Book using the Philatelic Union Catalog?

The Congress Book is published annually by the American Philatelic Congress (an affiliate of the American Philatelic Society) and each volume contains scholarly articles by philatelic researchers. The 77th Congress Book was released in August during APS StampShow.

Congress Book record
The Congress Book record in the APRL catalog. To see this record, go to the APRL home page and click on Online Catalog, which will take you to the Philatelic Union Catalog. Then search for Congress Book and select APRL from the list of locations.

Here at the APRL, we catalog the Congress Book as a journal, with each volume received added to the same bibliographic record. This is very handy if you want to see quickly which volumes we have available. However, it means we don’t record the contents of each volume.

Continue reading “Online index to the Congress Books”

125 years of American Philatelic Society history

APS 125th Anniversary exhibitOne of the largest of the archival collections at the APRL is the APS Archives. The collection includes documents, photos, correspondence, and souvenirs from the Society, which celebrates its 125th anniversary today.

Over the summer, APRL intern Robbin Zirkle put together an exhibit to showcase material from the archives. It was on display at StampShow in Columbus, Ohio in August, and is now on display on the APS website.

APA Constitution 1886In addition to 66 pages of material, Robbin also set up a display case to show some of the larger items from the collection, including wine bottles with commemorative labels, a gavel, a ledger, a Stamp Cruise t-shirt, an APS tie, and the original constitution of the APS (then the American Philatelic Association).

Even before she started her internship, Robbin had been inventorying the APS Archives. The first installment of her inventory will appear in the 3rd quarter issue of the Philatelic Literature Review. Such inventories are key to helping researchers discover and use archival collections.

The Philatelical Library

The Philatelical LibraryDuring the Tiffany Dinner at StampShow earlier this month, Scott Trepel auctioned a rare piece of philatelic literature with proceeds going to the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship. (You can listen to Trepel’s talk on the APS website.)

The item auctioned was a copy of The Philatelical Library: A Catalogue of Stamp Publications by John K. Tiffany. This bibliography of the early literature of philately, published in 1874, is not a volume you’re likely to own unless you are a literature collector. Only 150 copies were printed. The APRL’s copy is in our rare book room and not available for loan.

You can read the book without even getting up from your computer though, because the Smithsonian Institution Libraries copy (no. 37) has been scanned and made available through the Internet Archive Texts database. From the Internet Archive, you can read the book online or download it in a variety of formats, including EPUB and Kindle. You can also search the text.

When we find examples of philatelic works that have been scanned and made available on the web, we add links to the entries for these books in our online catalog. If you find digital books, please let us know and we’ll add even more links to our catalog. In this way, some of the rarest philatelic literature is now becoming some of the most accessible literature!

77th Congress Book Released


American Philatelic Congress Logo

After Christmas 1935, Eugene Klein convened philatelists at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia for the First American Philatelic Congress. During the two-day event, they heard 19 original philatelic papers by philatelists such as Stanley Ashbrook, Clarence Brazer, James Waldo Fawcett, Max Johl, Catherine Manning, Delf Norona, and Philip Ward. The Congress published the articles in a softbound volume of 62 pages without illustrations.

This annual tradition of publishing original articles by leading philatelic and postal history scholars continued last week with the release of the 77th Congress Book at STAMPSHOW in Columbus, Ohio. Today, Congress Books are 200-page hardbound volumes, with color illustrations, containing eight or nine original papers. The 2011 volume is the sixth edited by Ken Trettin.

The Congress Book is distributed annually to members of the American Philatelic Congress. This year’s article titles convey the diversity of topics and research approaches published in the Congress Books: “The Disintegration of the Hohenzollern Empire 1918-1923” (Al Kugel); “Prexies and the Interaction of Color” (Diane DeBlois & Robert Harris); “A Census of Confederate Covers Bearing the 2¢ Green Stamp” (Dan Warren); “The Underground Railroad Post Office in Postumia Grotte 1872-1945” (Tom Lera); “The Development of Airmail Services in Poland 1918-1928” (Jerzy Kupiec-Weglinski & Jacek Kosmala); “The Salam ‘Pointing Hand PAID’ Handstamps: America’s First Pictorial Postal Markings” (Mark Schwartz); “The Puzzle of the Piscataqua Postmarks” (Nancy Clark); and “The Court Delivery Stamps of Imperial Austria” (Ingert Kuzych).

Collectively, the nearly 1000 articles published over the past 77 years represent a significant body of philatelic scholarship, which I consult often. I was able to complete my set of Congress Books this summer when I found No. 7 (1941) on the APRL library sales shelf. For those who do not own a set, they are widely available in philatelic libraries. The last paper index to the Congress Books was published in 2006 (Nos. 1-72). The Congress maintains an electronic version of the index, updated through 2010; and Leonard Hartmann’s Philatelic Bibliopole has a list of authors and titles that can be “Ctrl+F” searched.

John Barwis Wins Champion of Champions


John Barwis

Last weekend at STAMPSHOW in Columbus, Ohio,  John Barwis, who had two exhibits entered in the World Series of Philately competition, won the championship with his The Half-Lengths of Victoria, 1850-59. Those interested in spending more time with the first stamp issue from Victoria will find his book, The Half-Lengths of Victoria: The Stamps and Postal History 1850-59, published in 2009 with Rod Moreton, in the several philatelic libraries.

This attractive, readable, and well-designed volume should interest collectors beyond Australia, or even British Empire, because it set a new standard for the research and publication of monographs on a single stamp issue. Additionally, John provides a model for researchers planning to undertake a cover census, or analyze existing census data in greater depth. The authors consider stamps and covers in relationship to their postal use and historical events, placing the Half-Lengths within the context of Victoria’s developing postal system and 1850s Australian gold rush. “By concentrating on the confluence of stamp collecting and postal history and by presenting previously unpublished census data on Half-Length covers, we hope to shed light into areas that cannot be illuminated by stamps or covers alone.”

Continue reading “John Barwis Wins Champion of Champions”

StampSelector Scarce Stamp Quantities Issued List

SSSSQILThe StampSelector Scarce Stamp Quantities Issued List is now available online. Compiled by Alex of StampSelector, the website provides quantities issued for stamps issued in small numbers (fewer than 100,000). It aims to be comprehensive but is, as might be expected, a work in progress and Alex plans to update it periodically. You can browse the website by country or region, or you can search.