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    

Us Stamp:#r135b 2c 1871-72 3rd Issue Revenue Inverted Error StampRare Inverted Center, Lithuania Scott C39c Signed Reverse By Charles MatuzasRare Inverted Center, Cook Islands Scott 86 Var.Us Stamp:#505 5c Rose "error" 1917-19 Mh/og StampRare Inverted Center, Liberia Scott 35aInverted Medallion Imperf. Pair Of Spain Scott C56 (var), Charles Lindbergh.Rare Inverted Center, Cook Islands Scott 87 Var. Rare Inverted Center, Liberia Scott 116a Block Of FourHaiti Rare Inverted Centers, Matching Corner Blocks Of Four Un Issues From 1960.Scott #1355 6c Walt Disney Major Misperf Error, Mint, Nh. Inverted Center Imperf. Pair Of Mexico Scott 514a With Pf CertificateScott #2920a Flag Over Porch Booklet Major Misperf Diecut Error, Mint, Nh.Us Stamp:#1789v 15c John Paul Jones Imperf Error Mnh/og Stamp PairGb Uk New Zealand 50c Sg932a Error Pale Green Missing Vf Mnh B3.22 Start $0.99Rare Inverted Center, Panama Scott 441g Rare Inverted Center Set, Dominican Republic, Scott 144a €Us Stamp:#c91-92 31c 1978 Air Mail Color Shift Error Mnh/og Stamp Mr Fancy Cancel 147 Used With The Largest Even Margins I've Ever Seen EfoScott #1286 Major Misperf Block Of 4, Mint, Nh.0920- Us #90 1867 12c Washington "e"grill Used Stamp1969 Moon Landing Lot Of 2 Color Shifts Mnh Sc# C76Look!!!!! Rare Error Lighthouse Block Pane Of 5 Us Postage Stamps Look!!!!!Postage Due - Scott #j93 Shifted Black Error, Mint, Nh. Est $25+Mr Fancy Cancel 136a I Grill Used Split Grill Listed But Unpriced In ScottEfo Us Stamps #1305ej Type 2, Dull Gum! Imperf Error Pair! Unused Mnh! Cv $65!1895 Mnh Smoke Stack Red Smoke Color Issues Us Stamp:#554 2c Carmin Misperf Error Mnh/og Stamp U.s. Scott#1470 Mint Never Hinged With Major Color ShiftsRare Inverted Center Set, Guinea, 3 Imperf. Pairs, Scott 433-435 (var). Scott#2280b, 25c Flag Over The Yosemite, Coil Imperf Pair. Nh.Error United States Sc.#1305e Coil Joint Line St/4 Mis-perf Mnh (rs3336)Us Stamp:#u429 2c 197-32 Mis Positon Error Unused Cut SqMr Fancy Cancel 1615b Lightly Hinge Drum For Liberty Coil Imperf Pair Efo Cv$475Scott#1213a, 5c Miscut Booklet Pane Of 5 W/plt#27438. Nh.Postage Due - Scott #j93 Shifted Black Error, Mint, Nh2092, Mnh 20c Ducks - Large Misperforation Error - Stuart Katz1974 "fort Harrod Kentucky" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #15421972 "olympic Games" Lot Of 3 Color Shifts, Broken Ring Mnh Sc #1460, 1461, C85Efo Us Stamps #1059ad Tagged, Imperf Error Pair! Unused Mnh! Cv $30! See Pics-- 1610, Mnh $1 Lantern Large Black Color Shifted Down Error - Stuart KatzC80, Mnh 17c Statue Of Liberty Scarce Misperforation Error - Stuart KatzUs Stamp:#63 1c Blue Washington 1861 Issue Misperf StampScott#1617, 10c Americana Misperf Coil Line Pair. Nh.Scott#1906, 17c Electric Auto, Nice Misperf Pair. Nh.Scott#2265, 21c Rr Mail Car, Dramatic Misperf Coil Pair. Nh.1956 Washington Efo Lot Of Perf Shifts And An Ink Smear Sc #10310918- Us #88 1867 3c Washington "e"grill Used Stamp#951 Argentina Forgery Study Of Forgeries Or Falsifications De Hamburgo 2x PagesCvp16 Computer Vended Postage Pair + Label 3/08/90 .2ozUs Stamp:#u411 2c 1907-16 Folded Ink Error Unused Env. U.s. 560 Inking Error, Imperf Blk/4Td91 Purple Test / Dummy Pair "commercial Controls" Multipost Mailmaster Mnh0920- Us #87 1867 2c Jackson "e"grill Used Stamp0920- Us #89 1867 10c Washington "e"grill Used StampUs# 634 ~ Gutter Snipe ~ Block Of 4 ~ Mnh ~ They're Super Freaky!!10x Saint Lucia 1986 Royal Wedding Unissued Souvenir Sheet! Dealers Stock! Wow!1969 "w.c.handy" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #1372Inverted Surcharge Error Belgium Belgique Belgi1870 "franklin" Perforation Shift Efo Used Sc #145Us Stamp:#554 2c Carmine 1922-25 Issue Postal Counterfeit Stamp Used