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.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



First shown in 2008 to celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 15th anniversary, Alphabetilately is esse… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

#528be Mint Original Gum Double Impression Error Vf With 1990 Pf Cert.#499b Mint Original Gum Imperf Horizontal Error Pair With 1971 Pf Cert.#528c Mint Original Gum Hinged Double Impression Error#501d Mint Original Gum Double Impression Error With 1997 Pf Cert.U.s. #2166a Mint Nh - 1985 22c Christmas, Imperf Pair#502c Mint Original Gum Imperf Horizontally Error Strip Of 3 With 1998 Pf Cert.Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1158 Mnh 4c Pair Imperf Efo#530a Mint Original Gum Never Hinged Xf Double Impression ErrorEfo - (10) Perf Shift - Misperfed Single Stamps - Mint Never HingedU.s. #1363c Mint Nh - 1968 6c Christmas, Yellow Omitted ($50)Italy #j11a Used Inverted Center Error Stamp#540a Mint Original Gum Imperf Horizontally Pair#525d Mint Original Gum Never Hinged Double Impression ErrorMr Fancy Cancel Scott 2154 Mnh 22c Misperf Efo#528c Mint Original Gum Hinged Double Impression ErrorMr Fancy Cancel Scott 2370 Mnh 22c Misperf EfoWildlife Belgium Katanga Rare Inversed Overprint Vf Mlh N6.7 Start 0.993413d $11.75 Hologram Omitted Mint Nh Dramatic Error!Us Scott #2870 Recalled Legends Of The West Error Sheet 29c Mnh In Usps FolderNoblespirit No Reserve Remarkable Legends Of The West Error Sheet#538a Mint Original Gum Never Hinged Imperf Horizontally Pair Vf 1994 Pf Cert#530a Mint Original Gum Hinged Double Impression Error#535a Mint Original Gum Never Hinged Double Impression ErrorU.s. #2280 Scarce Mint Nh Str 5 W/pn - 1988 25c Flag, Imperf51% Miscut, Bk129 Complete With #1595d 13c Liberty Bell Pane Of 5 Plus Label Mnh#702 Plate Block W Red Shifted Down & To The R - Very Dramatic Bonus Used Single#529a Mint Original Gum Hinged Double Impression ErrorUs Stamp:# 6c Air Mail R.f. Ovpt Counterfeit Stamp Booklets PaneUs Stamp:#2248 22c Love 1987- Mnh Gutter Between Error StampsBuffalo Stamps, Scott #2913 Imperf Pair, Mint-nh/og & Xf, Cv = $75**us, Sc# 1519a Mnh Vf, Coil Line Pair In Strip Of 3 Rare Efo Imperf1981 "flag Over Supreme Court" Double Flag Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #1894Efo Scott #599 Line Coil Pair Includes Two Pairs Ognh $32.00Us Stamp:# 6c Air Mail R.f. In Circle Ovpt Counterfeit StampMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1473 Mnh 8c Misperf Efo1804 15¢ Banneker Large Misperf MnhMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1950 Mnh 20c Misperf Mnh Misperf Bb Pg 8U.s. 4c. Lincoln Strips Of Mis-perfed Coils, MnhEfo - (10) Perf Shift - Misperfed Single Stamps - Mint Never Hinged U.s. Stamps Scott #425 Typei,blk Of 6,error,misperf,mint,nh,vf (a6054)#525d Mint Original Gum Double Impression ErrorMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1291 Mnh 40c Pair Misperf EfoLot Of 2 1967 "canada" Color Shift Efos Mnh Sc #1324Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1509 Mnh 10c Red Color Shift Efo1970 "natural History" Double Printed Plate Number Block Of 4 Efo Sc #1390Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 806 Mnh 2c Misperf EfoMr Fancy Cancel Scott 2023 Mnh 20c Misperf EfoMr Fancy Cancel Scott J90 Mnh 10c Misperf EfoMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1623 Mnh 13c Pair Misperf EfoLegends Of The West Error Sheet In Original Usps Sleeve Scott #2870 Lot Of 5 U.s. Postage Coil Pairs, Imperf's Errors, Mnh, Look ! 8¢ John Sloan Major Design-changing 6+mm Color Shift, Top Margin, Mnh1448-1451a Color Shift Error / Efo Block Of 4 National Parks Mint Nh[nc-327] National Wild Turkey Federation 1981 Mnh Sheet Of 10[nc-331] National Wild Turkey Federation 1983 Mnh Sheet Of 10Efo - Sc# 2112a - Imperf Pair "d" Stamp - O/g Mnh634d Miscut Error / Efo Booklet Pane With 35% Pl# 19851 Mint NhMr Fancy Cancel Scott 812 Mnh 7c Pair Misperf Efo1958 "eagle" Perf Shift Block Of 4 Efo Mnh Sc #c50