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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Brass Lock Padlock Rotary Number Canada Usa Post Office Bronze Postal 1950s MailSoutheast Asia - "sedang" Postal LabelsError - #1863f 22c Audubon....imperf Between, Nh Cv$1400?? -- Start@99cUs Stamp:#702 2c Red And Black 1931 Mh/og Stamp "red Cross" Shift Up ErrorAmerican Bank Note Company Sunken Die Proof (#14442)Noblespirit No Reserve Useful Us Stamp Album W/ Used Modern!!!!"encyclopedia Of Plate Varieties On U.s Bureau-print" - Rare Book!!Stamp Xmas Blowout No Reserve 1 Cent Start!!! Usa 1959 Flag Misperf Error SuperbC85 Single Olympics Skiing 11 Ct Yr 1972 Multi-color Shift Error Mnh1610 Single Rush Lamp $1.00 Yr 1979 Mnh Multi-color Color Shift ErrorUnited States 1984 Dogs Misperforated Block Of Four Mnh*1c Franklin Cut Square (u420) - Printed On Reverse ErrorUs Stamp:#1608 50c Color Shift Error Mnh/og Stamp 1973 "jefferson Memorial" Perf Shift Partial Sheet Of 60 Efo Mnh Sc #1510Error - #cvp31....3 Demoninations On 2 Stamps, Nh -- Start@99cUsa - 1938 Crash Cover A.m. 3-2 Seattle To Chicago1943 "twin Motor Transport" Booklet Pane Of 3 Miscut Efo Mnh Sc #c25aUs Stamp:#2281a 25c 1987-88 Imperf Error Mnh/og Stamp PairError - #1856c 14c Lewis....imperf Between, Nh -- Start@99cError - #1297a 3c Parkman....xf Og Vlh/nh Imperf Pair -- Start@99cError - #c81 21c Usa....misperfed, Nh -- Start@99cUs Stamp:#810 5c 1938 Presidential Stamp Ink Error Mnh/og Stamp Blk Of 4Lot Of 3 Perf Shifts Efo Sc #1847, 1856 And 2175 1940 Us Playing Card Tax Sc Rf26-rf27 Nh Cat $387C25var 6ct Air Mail Transport Block W/double "rf"overprint Ur & Ll Mint Nh#525 Washington 1c Offset, Misperf Horizontal & Vertical Mint Nh Corner MarginScott 899 1 Cent Defense 1940 Block Of 6 Mostly Imperforate Vertical Row ::2338 Mnh New Jersey Mis-perfed - Efo#1895 - 20 Cent Flag Imperf Pair, Mint NhError - #2236 22c Delaware....color Shifts, Nh -- Start@99cXmas Blowout No Reserve 1 Cent Start!!! Usa Stamp 1959 Flag Misperf Error SuperbUs Stamp:#807 3c 1938 Presidential Stamp Ink Error Mnh/og Stamp Stamps Scott U.s. #1551 Pair,extreme Misperf,error,mint,nh,vf (a2509)Noblespirit No Reserve Dramatic Us R135 Bullseye Gutter Snipe Error1908 Messina Italy Earthquake Stamp ~ American National Red Cross Relief FundNystamps E Mint Old Us Error Efo Stamp & Block Collection#114 Locomotive 3c Pictorial, Diagonal Preprinting Paperfold, Crossroads Cancel#114 Locomotive 3c Pictorial, Multiple Pre-printing Paperfold; Other IssuesRare Mistake Incomplete Postage Indicia Usps Stamped Envelope Error Seabiscuit 12 Cents Package Stamp Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Dn Bell, Traffic ManagerUsa, Scott #1610, $1 Dollar, With Orange Omitted On Candle FlameUs 807 3c Prexie Presidential Series Block Of 4 Double Paper Variety Efo#2280c Yosemite 25c Imperforate Coil Pair Mint Never Hinged; Cv $10United States 2257c Mnh Really Mis-perfed Plate Strip 5 Plate #5 2013 Scv $4.25Us Stamp:#807 3c 1938 Presidential Stamp Ink Error Mnh/og Stamp Pl# Blk Of 61972 U. S. Sc # 1472 8 Cent Santa Claus Plate Block Of 12, Mis-perf Error MnhUs Stamp:#900 2c 1940 Ink Error Stamp Mnh/og Stamp Scott 899 1 Cent 1940 Defense Corner Block Of 4 Mostly Imperforate Vertically1973 "giannini" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #1400Error - #1898ae 4c Stagecoach....tagging Omitted, Nh Cv$35 -- Start@99c (43) Used #941 Usa StampsError - #1597 15c Flag....plate Smear, Pair - Nh -- Start@99c1470 Single W/pb# Tom Sawyer 8 Ct Yr 1972 Color Shift Error Multi-color Mnh1336 Single Madonna & Child Color Shift Error 5 Ct Yr 1967 Multi-color MnhEfo Stamp Variety As ShownU.s. #1895 20c Flag Imperf Error Coil Strip Of 301941 1f Semi-postal La Legion Des Volontaires French Battalion On Eastern FrontUsa # U534 With Official Post Office Handstamped Penalty Clause, Never UsedSet Of 11 Confederate Stamps - All Are Modern Facsimiles1894e Mnh Flag Over Supreme Court Perf 11.2 - Mis-perfed Efo