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”)

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

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    

Rare Scott 505 Error Block Of 12 Washington Rose (5¢ Framed By 2¢) Og Nh No Rs1940 Thailand 'error' 5 Satang Siam Chakri Palace Green Cliche Sc# 239a StampUs Scott #1705 Sound Recording: Major Color Shift Efo / Error Stamp. Mnh.Us Scott #1505 Chautauqua: Major Color Shift Efo / Error Stamp. Mnh, Og.China 2x Error Stamp Dr. Sun Yat-sen 19391908 "franklin" Preprinting Paper Fold Efo Mh Sc #331Usa : 1917. Scott #505 Mint Og Strip Of 3. Center Stamp The Error. Catalog $300+Efo Error Stamp - Sc# 239a - Inverted Head - Unused - Stains & Yellowed Gum1850's "george Washington" Used Sc #15 Type Iii Miscut EfoU.s. Stamps - Efo/errors - 8 Perf Shift Coil Stamps - Mint Never Hinged2 Misperfed Strips Of 5 With Plate Number - MnhCvp 91 Flag - Computer Vended Postage - Test Vend Void PairUs Flags: 2 Diff. Perf. Shift Coil Pairs, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh.Dominican Rep.1899 Two Proofs,different Color,carton Paper,rare! Honduras Efo Error Stamp - Sc# 63a - Inverted Head - Totally Nifty!U.s. Group Of Efos ($112)Cvp 93 Charlie Brown - Computer Vended Postage - Test Vend Void PairUs Scott #1729a Valley Forge Xmas: Imperf Pair Error Stamps. Mnh ($65.00)#542 Washington 1c Rotary 10x11 Double Pre-printing Paperfold UsedUs Scott #2132a Steamer, Car: Ps5 X2 #1 & #2 @ Top Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh, Og.Us Scott #2265 Railroad Mail Car: 4 Diff. Perf Shifts, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh.Us "stamp Out Smoking" Skull Cinderella Stamp/labels X6 Diff. Cool Item! MnhUs Scott #1906 Electric Car: Perf Shift Strip 6, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh."for Testing Purposes Only" Coil Strip Stamp Groupings In Brown & Black Look !Us Scott #2124a Buckboard: Ps7 #4 Buggy Whip Plate Crack Efo / Error Stamps1555 Mnh Double PrintUs Scott #2915ah Flag Porch: Imperf & Miscut Coil Pair Error Stamps.mnh ($32.50)2521b, 4¢ Make Up Rate Imperforate Pair Error Mint Nh Cat $60.00 - Stuart KatzClassic Belgium Lion Sud Kasai 3.50fr Block Of 6 Inversed Surch Vfmnh B97.30 0.91897ac Usa 2c "locomotive 1870's" Perforation Shift,strip With Plate #4 Error Us Scott #2130a Oil Wagon: 3 Diff. Perf Shift Pairs, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh.Us "stamp Out Smoking" Skull Cinderella Stamp/labels X6 Tete Beche Pairs! MnhFrance Algeria 1fr Surcharge Double + Wrong Colour Vf Mnh Signed B73.26 0.99$Us Scott #2133b Pushcart: Imperf Coil Pair Error Stamps. Mnh ($40.00)1281 3c Parkman Misperfed Sheet 100 Nh Free Us Shipping Nice!!Us Sc #3535 Porky Pig Mnh Souvenir Sheet Including Imperf StampMr Fancy Cancel Scott 3378 Blind Perfs Between 2 Stamps Efo #15721931 - Red Cross Issue Error - Red Cross On Top Of Globe - Scotts# 702Scott#1618cd, 15c Americana Flag, Imperf Coil Pair. Vf & Nh.Us Scott #2523b Rushmore Flag: Imperf + Miscut Coil Strip 6. Error Stamps. Mnh.1954 - 3c Liberty Error - Misperforated Block Of Four - Scotts# 1035Us Scott #1618 Liberty Bell: Perf. Shift Strip Of 4, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh.United States #1505 Plate Block With Extra SelvageUs Scott #2255 Carreta: "white Wheel" Coil Strip Of 5, Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh.Us Scott #2915ah Flag Porch: Imperf Coil Strip 4. Error Stamps. Mnh.Lot Of 2 1932 "washington" Ink Smear Efos Sc #707, And 710Us Scott #2252 Conestoga: Ps5 No# "burning Wagon" Cpv Efo / Error Stamps. MnhC85 Single Olympics Skiing 11 Ct Yr 1972 Multi-color Shift Error MnhDominican Rep,1899 1c Dull Green,thin Paper,imperf,proof,rare! Sc 100 # 1402 Coil Pair W/ Miscut Error Partial Dbl Plate # Lot437119¢ Fawn Major Two-way Misperf, Mint Never Hinged1899 5c Motorcycle Mint Mis-cut PairSc# 2278 - Color Shift - Mint Never Hinged - Us 25¢ Flag2225a 1c Omnibus Mis-perf Mint Strip Of Five#219 Franklin 1c Issue Of 1890 Pre-printing Paperfold Used, Ny Oval Cancel; Us Scott #2126a Tricycle: Ps5 #1 "dirt Clod" Cpv Efo / Error Stamps. Mnh1974 "fort Harrod" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #1542Lot Of 3 Airmail Stamps With Partial Plate Numbers Efos Sc #c60, C73, And C821926 Efo Us Sc. # 591 10¢ Monroe Block Of 4 Mnh (jd626)Us Scott #2913a Flag Porch: Imperf & Miscut Coil Pair Error Stamps. Mnh ($30.00)