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    

Egypt 1933 Air 200m Sg#213 Misperf In Block Of Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintNoblespirit No Reserve Beautiful Us C18 M/nh W/ Tab =$100 CvEgypt 1933 Air 40m Sg#206 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintMr Fancy Cancel Scott 374 Mh 1c Block 6 Paper Crease Efo #771#715 Gb Qv 18.. Line Engraved Watermark Inverted 1d & 2d C£640 (2)Egypt 1933 Air 60m Sg#208 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintMr Fancy Cancel Wx1 Mint Never Hinged Pair Imperf Between Listed But UnpricedEgypt 1933 Air 80m Sg#210 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintEgypt 1933 Air 100m Sg#212 Misperf In Block Of Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1 Used 5c Paper Crease Efo #774Egypt 1933 Air 50m Sg#207 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintEgypt 1933 Air 70m Sg#209 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintEgypt 1933 Air 90m Sg#211 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte MintScott #3054 Missing Color ErrorMr Fancy Cancel Scott 797 Mnh 10c Paper Crease Efo #767Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 2552 Mnh 29c Imperf Btwn Pr Cert Printers Waste Efo #782Scott #554 Mint Freak Misperf 1923 WashingtonMr Fancy Cancel Scott 499 Mnh 2c Blk 4 Vert Imperf Between (2) Cv$1800 Efo #7771994 Usa Stamp # 2870 Legends Of The West Error Sheet Cowboy Bill PickettMr Fancy Cancel Scott 332 Mh 2c Pair Paper Crease Efo #770Mr Fancy Cancel Scott E15 Mnh 15c Paper Crease Efo #768Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1503a Mnh 8c Imperf Between Horiz Pair Cv$225 Efo #778Mr Fancy Cancel 1618ce Strip Of Four With Imperf Between Efo Cv$100 In ItalicsMr Fancy Cancel Scott 807 M Ng 3c Block 10 Paper Crease Overinked Efo #769Mr Fancy Cancel 1036 6c Vf Mnh Liberty Series Booklet Pane Major Miscut EfoGood Selection Of Switzerland - Fake Or Forgery - 1843/50Mr Fancy Cancel 495 2c Pan-am Expo Blk4 Mint Never Hinged High & Fast Train EfoMr Fancy Cancel 1381 6c Professional Baseball Plate Block Major Black Shift EfoMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1722 Mnh 13c Diagonal Misperf Efo #789#194 Flag Over Supreme Court Misperf Horizontal 40% & Diagonal Vertically MnhEgypt 1933 Air 30m Sg#205 Misperf In Block Mnh Stamp Error Variety Unmounte Mint#1735 Eagle 'a' Rate Misperforated Margin Stamp, Mint Never Hinged, Pristine!Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1384c Mnh 6c Light Green Missing Certficate Cv$25 Efo #795Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 2434-2435 Mnh 25c Black Missing Efo #799Scott E17 13 Cent 1944 Special Delivery Error Block With Full Gutter At Left Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 499 Mnh 2c Vertical Imperf Between Pair Cv$900 Efo #776Unopened Legends Of The West" Error" Sheet/in Never Opened P.o. PackagingUs #1297 Mnh 3c Francis Parkman Coil Strip Of 74 Strong Offset At Back EfoUs Airmail Stamp 6 C 1938 Error MisperforatedMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1893b Booklet Pane Mnh Vert Imperf Cv$60 Efo #792Mr Fancy Cancel R9a Imperf Sound Express Revenue Large Preprint Paper FoldScott 425 2 Cent Margin Pair Mint Error Diagonal Perforations !Good Selection Of Switzerland - Fake Or Forgery - 1849Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 2422a Mnh 25c Black Missing Cv$80 Efo #797Scott 946 3 Cent 1947 Pulitzer Mnh Error Strip Of 3 Dry Printing Ink Smeared1024 (3¢) Future Farmers Of America Perf Shift MnhWx105 1941 Christmas Seal Reverse Image On Back NgMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1804a Mnh 15c Imperf Between Pair Cv$300 Efo #781Us 1510 Block Of Stamps W/crazy Perfs - Mnh 10 Cents Jefferson Memorial EfoNcr "flying Flag" Atm Test / Demo PaneMr Fancy Cancel Scott 499 Mnh 2c Block 4 Misperf Efo #759Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1703a Mnh 13c Imperf Pair Cv$75 Efo #783Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 2265a Mnh 21c Imperf Pair (2) Cv$70 Efo #786Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1742a Mnh 15c Booklet Pane Horizontal Misperf Efo #765U.s. Postage, E.f.o. (13c Eagle & Shield ) Mnh. Cat. # 1596a Mr Fancy Cancel Scott 1595 Mnh 13c Strip 3 Imperf Between Efo #780Major Perf And Color Shifts - All Mnh - Penny Start#1596 Americana Eagle & Shield 13c Misperf W/ Mail Early Banner Inside Perfs MnhMr Fancy Cancel Scott 1789 Mnh 15c Imperf Selvage Efo #798Us Stamp Scott #1286 Andrew Jackson 10 Cent Block Of 3 Perforation Error