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    

Noblespirit No Reserve Major Color Shift Error Us 1611 $2 LanternNoblespirit No Reserve Major Color Shift Error Us 1610 $1 LanternUs 2870 Mnh Recalled Legends Of The West Error Sheet W/ Original Po Folder Rare!Noblespirit No Reserve Scarce Us 2281b Engraving Omitted Major Error Honey BeeNoblespirit No Reserve Dramatic Us 1610a $1 Lantern Engraving Omitted ErrorBrass Lock Padlock Rotary Number Canada Usa Post Office Bronze Postal 1950s MailUsa , Nice Lot Of Twelve Imperforated Pairs !! ( Instead Of Perforsted ) ,mnh !Noblespirit No Reserve Valuable Us 1610 Color Shift Error $1 LanternError 1940 Thailand 5 Satang Chakri Palace Green Cliche S# 239a Stamp Very RareNoblespirit No Reserve Dramatic Us 1610b Tan Orange & Yellow Omitted ErrorNoblespirit No Reserve Excellent Us $2 Jenny No Die Cut Error SingleNoblespirit No Reserve Major 100% Perf Shift Error Us 1671 $2 LanternSoutheast Asia - "sedang" Postal LabelsNoblespirit No Reserve Scarce Us 1611 Major Color Shift Error $2 LaternUsa ,1997, Bugs Bunny With Imperforated Single Stamp And Four Others More ,used Noblespirit No Reserve Dramatic Major Color Shift Error Us 1611 $2 Lantern !!!Noblespirit No Reserve Minor Color Shift Error Us 1610 $1 LanternAmerican Bank Note Company Sunken Die Proof (#14442)Error - #1863f 22c Audubon....imperf Between, Nh Cv$1400?? -- Start@99cNoblespirit No Reserve Scarce $1 Lantern Brown Engraving Color Shift ErrorNoblespirit No Reserve Excellent Major Color Shift Error 1608 50Stamp Xmas Blowout No Reserve 1 Cent Start!!! Usa 1959 Flag Misperf Error SuperbNoblespirit No Reserve Excellent 2x Us 2281 A Imperf Pair Error Honey Bee*1c Franklin Cut Square (u420) - Printed On Reverse ErrorError - #cvp31....3 Demoninations On 2 Stamps, Nh -- Start@99cC85 Single Olympics Skiing 11 Ct Yr 1972 Multi-color Shift Error MnhUnited States 1984 Dogs Misperforated Block Of Four Mnh"encyclopedia Of Plate Varieties On U.s Bureau-print" - Rare Book!!#u536 Franklin 4c Printed Inside Envelope; Impression In Wrong Corner, EntireNoblespirit No Reserve Unlisted Us 1608 Double Printed On Back 50Noblespirit No Reserve Major Us 1608 Color Shift Error 501610 Single Rush Lamp $1.00 Yr 1979 Mnh Multi-color Color Shift ErrorNoblespirit No Reserve Scarce Us B137 Double Gutter Snipe Error RevenueSc#wx63,76,80, Lot Of Errors: 3 Blks Imperf, Missing Color, Offset Mint (12 PicsError - #1856c 14c Lewis....imperf Between, Nh -- Start@99cError - #1297a 3c Parkman....xf Og Vlh/nh Imperf Pair -- Start@99cUs Stamp:#810 5c 1938 Presidential Stamp Ink Error Mnh/og Stamp Blk Of 4Noblespirit No Reserve Dramatic Us R135 Bullseye Gutter Snipe ErrorScott Bk121/1395a Us 8c Eisenhower (miscut Booklet) Unused Og Nh Vf2014 Rudolph Cvp - Test Vend Void PairIndia Surgana State Error Court Fee/revenue Stamp 8 Annas Perforation Error Used1954 "statue Of Liberty" Booklet Pane Of 6 Miscut Efo Mnh Sc #1035a#1895 - 20 Cent Flag Imperf Pair, Mint Nh#1509 Jefferson Memorial 10c Eegutter Snipe Block/20, 10 Snipes, Zip, Mint Nh Vf#1098 Whooping Crane 3c Gutter Snipe Plate#25867 Block/10 Mint Nh, 2 Snipes Vf+#525 Washington 1c Offset, Misperf Horizontal & Vertical Mint Nh Corner MarginUs Stamp:#807 3c 1938 Presidential Stamp Ink Error Mnh/og Stamp Us,1827-30,coral Reefs,plate Zip Block,vf, 1970's Collection,mint NhXmas Blowout No Reserve 1 Cent Start!!! Usa Stamp 1959 Flag Misperf Error SuperbUsa Error Stamp -32c Black Only Rose 1995 Missing Pink- Strip Of 3Teeth Perforation Error Portugal $30 Boat Ship Vf Used Pair Low StartUs Scott 1338f 8c Flag Issue Horiz.pair Imperf Between Mnh Stamps RareNamor Sub-mariner Gold Edition Usps Stamp First Day Issue Marvel Comics 2007Test Coil Line Strips Tagged & Untagged Dull Gum Cottrell Press Td107d & Td107e Scott Number 1460, Mint, Never Hinged. Full Sheet. W/cylinder Flaw In Red Ring2338 Mnh New Jersey Mis-perfed - Efo1972 U. S. Sc # 1472 8 Cent Santa Claus Plate Block Of 12, Mis-perf Error Mnh#296 Mng Usa Stamp Scott 805b 1 1/2 Cent 1938 Martha Washington Pair Imperf Vertically Scott 899 1 Cent Defense 1940 Block Of 6 Mostly Imperforate Vertical Row ::