Errors, freaks, and oddities sound like judgmental characterizations, but for philatelists, these are terms of art. Errors are stamps with serious mistakes that are repeatable, for example, a missing perforation. Freaks are less serious defects, being stamps whose variations are minor. Oddities, not surprisingly, describe stamps that are neither errors or freaks, more like curiosities than out-and-out mistakes. For example, imperfect stamps produced solely to test whether they will dispense properly in vending machines are considered oddities.

Probably the most famous errors feature inverted images. For Australian stamp collectors, the prize is an Inverted Swan, a Western Australia stamp from 1854 whose frame surrounding the colony’s symbol, a black swan, is upside-down. The best known U.S. stamp error is the 1918, 24-cent Inverted Jenny. The stamp bore an image of a Curtiss JN-4 biplane, known as a Jenny, which flew the first scheduled air-mail routes in the United States. But one sheet of 100 stamps was printed upside-down, or, to put it more accurately, the sheet was fed into the press incorrectly, resulting in a stamp with an airplane on it that appeared to be flying upside down.

The error that produced the Inverted Jenny was undetected during printing, and while it affected a full sheet of stamps, it was not the sort of thing that needed to be corrected. Other errors, though, are spotted on stamps after they have been printed, and then steps are taken to nip the problem in the bud. For example, a red 1½-cent stamp issued in Fiji in 1938 featured the image of an outrigger canoe, its sails filled with a sweet tropical wind. But the artist who prepared the engraving neglected to put a sailor on board, so there was no one steering the ship. Once the oversight was discovered, the plate was re-engraved and the helmsman was added.

Spelling errors on stamps are easier to correct, such as the Cook Islands stamp from 1967 that depicted a water lily but identified it as a “Walter Lily.” More egregious is the Malawi stamp from 1965 that misidentified Lake Malawi as Lake Nyasa. And then there are errors that prove God is in the details, such as the 1956 East German stamp commemorating the life of 19th-century composer Robert Schumann, except the music originally placed as a background behind his green bust was by Franz Schubert.

Other compositional errors include placing landmarks from one region on stamps meant to depict another. In 1932, it must have been a surprise to Filipinos to learn that their Pagsanjan Falls looked exactly like Vernal Falls in California’s Yosemite National Park. Then there are examples of a printer’s laziness, such as the 1897 Newfoundland stamp that purports to show explorer John Cabot’s 15th-century ship, the Matthew, but instead reproduces Columbus’ Santa Maria from an 1893 U.S. stamp (both were printed by the American Bank Note Company).

In rare cases, errors are actually perpetuated, such as the 1962 Dag Hammarskjold four-cent stamp, whose inverted-yellow version was printed in relatively large numbers for the benefit of collectors before being corrected.


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Sc# 3138 Bugs Bunny Sheet Of 10 - Error Imperf 10th StampScott #2870 Recalled Legends Of The West Error Sheet MnhUsa Early Experiment StampRare U.s. 1994 Legends Of The West Sheet (scott #2870) In Original PackagingX-men #1 Gold Edition Usps Stamp First Day Issue Marvel Comics United StatesError - #2481 45c Sunfish....black Color Shift, Nh Us Stamp:#2284-5 25c Color Shift Error Error Mnh Stamp PairScott 2470-2474 Set Of Mint Error Lighthouses Stamps Without 25 Cent NumeralsThe Thing Gold Edition 2007 Usps Stamp First Day Issue Marvel Fantastic FourError - #1937-8 18c Yorktown....black Color Shift, Nh - PairError - #1723 13c Energy....huge Perf Shift, NhScott#2130a, 10.1c Red Precancel, Misperf Coil Pair. Nh.Error - #1891a 18c Lighthouse....xf Og Nh - Imperf Pair - Start@99cScott#2280c, 25c Flag Over The Yosemite, Coil Imperf Stp3. Nh.Us Stamp:#2521 Misperf Error Mnh StampUs Stamp:#1289 20c Marshall Misperf Error Mnh StampUnited States 1982 20c Booklet Pane,misplaced Vert Perfn Error, Mnh. Striking!!!Silver Surfer #1 Gold Edition Usps Stamp First Day Issue Marvel United States1618cf Gray Ommitted Error , Extra Fine Mint Never Hinged SingleScarce 1894 Salvador Error Strip, 3 X 10 Cent Purple Stamps Imperf Horizontally.Us Stamp:#2281 25c 1987-88 Ink Error Mnh/og StampError - #1947 15c Christmas....xf Og Nh - Buff Omitted1956 Rep Dominicana Double Print Error Olympic Games Vf Mnh B6.54 Start $0.99Scott 805b 1 /2 Cent Mint Nh Imperforate Between Pair With Saint Louis Precancel1974 "skylab" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #15291938 Presidential Issue Washington Efo Lot Of 3 Mnh Sc #804Scott 899b 1 Cent 1940 National Defense Horizontal Pair Imperf Between StampsTogo - 1969 Eisenhower O/print On 60f - Sg.662 - Completely Missing Head X 4 Mnh1975 "d.w. Griffith" Efo Lot Of 3 Sc # 1555Scott#1618b, 13c Americana Imperf Coil Pair. Vf & Nh.Scott#720b, 3c Violet Booklet Pane Of 6 W/plt.#20901. Nh.#2492i Error Pane Mnh 6 Pairs And Label Pair Missing Vertical Die Cuts Pse CertScott 1280 2 Cent Mint Mail Early In The Day Perf Shifted Error Block Of 6 U249 Entire Mint Impression On BackScott 1596 13 Cent Mint Nh Plate Block Of 20 Error Brown Wing Color Shifted Sierra Leone Freeform 1972 Express Delivery Cover Africa Postal History Error - #1286 10c Jackson....perf Shift, Nh - Very Wide!!Error - #1580 10c Christmas....huge Perf Shift, NhError - #807 3c Prexy....underinked+overinked, Nh Set 2Error - #3054 32c Yellow Rose.....huge Perf Shift, Nh - S/a PairError - #1735 A Rate....huge Perf Shift, Nh - DiagonalError - #2524 29c Red Rose....huge Perf Shift, NhError - #1615cf 8.4c Piano....xf Og Nh - Imperf PairUnited States Scott #1363 Xmas Efo Lt Yellow Color Missing Min Bid $3.99 Free ShVermilion, Ill. 1894 Cds On U311 W/misplaced Indica1940 National Defense Issue Partial Perf Efo Lot Of 3 Sc #899, 900, 901Error - #2280c 25c Flag....xf Og Nh - Imperf Pair - Start@99cScott #2641a Olympics Mint Nh Drastic Misperf Freak Plate Block409 Imperf Line Pair Mint Ognh, $10.50 **free Shipping With Two Items**Scott Ux58 6 Cent Paul Revere Postcard Error Miscut, Revere On Left Side Us Errors/efo Stamps Sc #1280 Sheet Nh Rotary OffsetScott 1454 15 Cent Error Parks Plate Number 33726 Printed Over 33727 Mint NhUs 1204 Hammarskjold Invert Errors Album Page With All Types And Se-tenant Prs.St Vincent Scott 1017-21 Mnh (royal Set) "inverted Center" ErrorsMr Fancy Cancel 210 E Fancy Cancel Huge One Of The Largest Stamp I've Ever SeenUs 4787-8 Ssht Of 12 Completely Imperf No Die-cutting Double Sided Sheet 2 + 10Mr Fancy Cancel 1c Banknote Rosette Fancy Cancel Perfect Strike Huge MarginsUs# 1285 ~ Plate Block Of 4 ~ Perf Shift ~ Mnh ~ EinsteinUs 4815 Virgin & Child Blk From Booklet Completly Imperf Without Any Die-cuttingError Stamp - 4cent Higher Education Misaligned Black Ink - Rare Ink Error