Jim Forte Postal History

(800) 594-3837 or (702) 791-6828
Fax (702) 369-9139
P.O. Box 94822 Las Vegas, NV 89193


    The franking of a cover is described in words. Catalog numbers are not used. There are dozens of different catalogs used worldwide. Any number used would be useless to a large percentage of those reading the descriptions.

    The franking is the postage or endorsement that paid for the transmission of the cover. The first step is to determine whether the franking is paid by stamps or in some other way. The vast majority of covers are franked by stamps. A cover without a stamp must be determined to be either pre-philatelic or franked by other means. A cover is considered pre-philatelic if the date is before the mandatory use of postage stamps for the service provided. For example, in the U.S., stamps were required on domestic letters starting in 1855. However, depending on the route, overseas letters were sometime stampless until the U.P.U. was formed in 1876. Also, certain types of official mail are considered stampless after 1855. For the U.S., the best test is whether the marking are listed in the American Stampless Cover Catalog. For other countries, the only test is the date, domestic mail before postage stamps were mandatory or foreign mail before 1876. With precise rules, it is imperative to ASK if there is any uncertainly a cover is pre-philatelic.

    The description of a pre-philatelic cover has a particular form, different than later covers. Please click here to review the format.

    Covers with stamps, later than pre-philatelic, generally fall into four categories. Most common is official mail. This is mail sent by the government, sent free or without stamps prepaying the postage. Second most common is military mail. During most wars and other conflicts, soldiers were given the privilege to write home for free. Third most common is metered mail. This is ubiquitous after 1950 in the U.S., with mail paid in stamps a tiny fraction of the total mail volume. Finally, there is postage paid mail. These are markings on a cover to indicate that postage had been paid, often without a specific amount listed. Most familiar in daily mail are the endless sales circulars. Also in this category, more interesting are postage paid markings applied when stamps were in short supply, after a war or during time of hyper inflation.

Franked With Stamps

5c and 20c Prexie with 9c Jefferson Fourth Bureau, 3c World's Fair and 3c Baseball 1939 Jamaica, N.Y. Airmail to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Do not use catalog numbers. The Scott catalog is used only in the U.S. and Canada.  I sell worldwide.

The first way to determine the proper way to name a stamp is to look at the existing examples of the stamp on the site. Names of U.S. stamps before 1950 can be found by going to this page and selecting the appropriate sections. To look for names of most U.S. stamps after 1950 and any country of the world, go to the Advanced Search Page, select the country in the search box, and then select other factors to narrow your search. Usually the easiest way to narrow your search is by year. If the cover is from 1935, choose years between 1930 and 1940.

If there are no examples on the site, you then use the Scott catalog to determine a stamp name. There is a different standard for definitive stamps and for commemorative stamps.

Definitive  stamps are described by domination and the subject of the stamp.

Definitive stamp sample

This stamp would be described as 30c Peace With Olive Branch.

Commemorative stamps are described by denomination and what is being commemorated.

Commemorative sample one

This would be described as  1.75F World Cup Soccer Championship. Please note it is NOT Soccer Players.

Commemorative sampe two

This would be described as  2.25F New York World's Fair. Please note it is NOT State of Liberty, French Pavilion, Trylon and Perisphere.

Commemorative example three

This would be described as  2.25F Photography. Please note it is NOT Joseph Necophree Niepce and Louis Jazues Mande Daguerre. Please also note that the word Centenary is omitted. Words like centenary and anniversary are mostly meaningless. In general there are  not to be part of the description. There are some exceptions, such as when in is necessary to differentiate similar definitive and commemoratives.

Be sure to note if a stamp is a Semi-Postal. Semi-Postal stamps follow a hybrid naming convention. In general, the reason for the tax is noted. In some cases, both the subject and reason for the tax is noted.

Semi-Postal example one

This would be described as 12pf+8pf Assumptions of Power by the Nazis Semi-Postal. Please note that the currency is noted for both the postage and surtax.

Semi-Postal example two

This would be described as 3pf+2pf Frontier Highway Munich Winter Help Semi-Postal. In this case, since the reason for surtax is not particularly descriptive, the subject is noted. It can sometimes be hard to determine whether to include subject or not. Please email me and ask if you are not certain.

Some stamps are known by particular names that are not in the these formats. For example, there is the Great Britain Penny Black and the United States Blackjack. Please look at the existing records or email me to ask.

Very Important - I have not been as careful in using the proper format for stamp names for most countries other than U.S. and Canada. When you search existing listing, you will sometimes find the same stamp described in two or more different ways. When you see this, email me and I will let you know the correct name and make the corrections on the existing records.

Currency symbols are done in the following manner: The large denomination currency is usually a single capitalized letter, like F for Franc or M for Mark. The small denomination currency is most often a single small lower case letter, like c for centimes or pf for pfennig. The best way to be sure is to look at the covers on the site. Click here and browse for the country. When the country specifically uses dollars like the U.S., use $. For British currency use d for pre decimal pence, p for decimal pence, 1/- for shillings and £ for pounds. This symbol can be access from the Character Map or Alt+0163. The occasional stamp denominated as a farthing should be described 1/4d. If you come across any discrepancies in the listings, or are uncertain about how to note the currency email me.

A coil stamp is important. Please be sure to note if a stamp is a coil. Describe coils that are in pairs as Coil Pair, strips as Coil Strip of 5, or line pairs as Coil Line Pair. The coiling wording comes after the denomination and design, but before the issue as 2c Jefferson Coil 1954 Liberty.

Do not note blocks or pairs unless the cover is before 1880 or there are imperforate or coil stamps.

A booklet pair or single is not important and should not be noted. A complete booklet is important and need to be described.

France 45c Liberty and Peace Overprinted Algerie 1924 Alger, Alger PPC to Everett, Mass. Marking weak.

Please note the handling of overprints and surcharges. Describe the stamp followed by the word Overprinted capitalized. Even though overprints and surcharges are technically different, describe both in the same manner with the word Overprinted.

I do not file covers under every Scott listed country. For example, I have the code IS for Israel. This same code encompasses Palestine, the Ottoman period and foreign offices in the Palestine. Unless the stamp is listed under Israel, start the description with the country name. Any time the franking does not match the country the cover is being filed under, start the description with the name of the country.

Bohemia and Moravia 50h Karlstein Castle and 10h Linden Leaves and Closed Buds 1940 Semily PPC to Horka n. Moravou Forwarded to Zpet Semilly.

Covers for every political jurisdiction are listed in the catalog. You are told how the cover will be filed. When the country files is not country of stamp start the description with the name of the country. Germany is a good example. Occupations are filed under Germany. Be sure to start the description with name of the catalog listed entity.


Southern Rhodesia 1/2d QEII Sable Antelope, 1d QEII Tobacco Planter, 1d African Scene and 2d QEII Rhodes' Grave 1953 Causeway, S. Rhodesia to Seattle, Wash.

Include the reign on British Commonwealth stamps that include the monarch portrait.

1/2d KGVI Coronation Bilingual Pair (3) and 1d KGVI Coronation Bilingual Pair and single 1937 Johannesburg Airmail to Ipswich, England Forwarded to Stowmarket.

South Africa issued stamps inscribed in both English and Afrikaners. Many were issued in pairs, one English and one Afrikaners. These bilingual pairs must be noted.

10s Bleriot XI Plane Triangle and 25s Arms and Stars 1937 Riga, Latvija Airmail to London, England. EUROPEAN SIZE

Note the shape of stamps that are not square or rectangular, such as triangles or diamonds.

5c Monroe Prexie (6) 1939 Detroit, Mich. Grand River Sta. Airmail to Budapest, Hungary.

If there is more than one of the same stamp on the cover, please note the quantity AFTER the description of the stamp.

30c Prexie (2) with 15c Statue of Liberty Fourth Bureau and 30c Winged Globe 1939 Chicago, Ill. (Lincoln Park Sta.) Registered Triple Airmail to Lisbon, Portugal with violet sl Trans-Atlantic Air Mail. Crease.

Again, note placement of quantity, AFTER the description of the stamp.

2c Adams (2) and 10c Tyler (2) Prexie on 6c Monoplane Air Envelope 1940 Springdale, Pa. Airmail to Bochum, Germany. Germany Censor.

If there is more than one stamp from the same issue, you can reuse the name of the issue. In this case place the quantity after the words necessary to describe the particular stamp.  The quantity is always as far to the right as is possible. In the example above, Prexie is used to describe the 2c and 10c stamp. You can't put (2) after the word Prexie since it is not possible to know which stamp there are two of. You put the quantity after the last word which described the specific stamp there is more than one of. Do not put the quantity after the denomination as a matter of course. The only time this would be acceptable is if there are more than one stamp of the same series where at least one of these stamps is present in a quantity greater than one. This is an area which always seems to cause problems. If this is not clear, you should call 800-594-3837 to discuss it.

Note the handling of the the postal stationary. Stamps are described as 'on' the postal card or envelopes.

$2.00 U.S. Capitol (2) and 2c Washington (2) Fourth Bureau 1935 Chicago, Ill. Parcel Card ($4.04 - Zone 5 11c First Pound + 5.3c x 74 Additional Pounds) to Baltimore, Md. MONARCH SIZE

Please pay particular note to placing quantity. When you reuse part of a stamp description, place the quantity AFTER the words that apply to that particular stamp. This is an incredibly common place for errors. Be absolutely certain you understand this.

3c Lincoln, 5c Roosevelt, and 15c Statue of Liberty Fourth Bureau 1926 Fairfield, Ala. Registered Double weight to Esslingen, Germany MONARCH SIZE

Please note the commas and the use of the word ‘and’ to note the stamps.

1/2c Prexie on 1c Green Jefferson Postal Card 1944 New York, N.Y. Madison Square Station Printed matter to Tipton, Great Britain.

Note the handling of the postal card.

2c Washington Franklin 1909 Chicago, Ill. PPC to First Infantry, U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan.

It is not usually important to specifically identify the stamp. Here the main interest is the usage. In most cases, the most important factors of the cover are the rate, usage or the marking.

1c Washington Franklin Perforated 12 Horizontal Coil 1910 Chicago, Ill. PPC to Columbus, Ohio.

Here, the specific stamp is integral to the value, so it is described so that the words describe one particular stamp.

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