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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Scott C3 Var Mint Vf Lh Arrow Single 24c Airmail 1918 Fast Plane Efo Nystamps Us Stamp # Mint Og Nh Errors Freaks Oddities Color ShiftUsa Stamp #1036 4c Statue Of Liberty 1954 Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt ErrorScott C81 21c Airmail 1971 Vlh Efo Pb4 Foldover Fully Captured Plate #35704Scott C104a Var 28c 1984 Olympics Airmail Pb4 Nh Efo Imperforate Between1920 "washington" Pair With Ink Blob Efo Mh Sc #528a1998 "pheasant" Coil Strip Of 6 Die Cutting Omitted Error Mnh Sc #3055a#1854 "alden Partridge" Misperfed Pair Mint Never HingedUsa Stamp #1030 1955 1/2c Benjamin Franklin Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt Error1982 "ralph Bunche" Perf Shift Efo Mnh Sc #1860Scott C81 21c Airmail 1971 Lh Efo Pb4 With Multiple Pre-printing FoldsUsa Stamp #1033 1954 2c Thomas Jefferson Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt ErrorMint Nepal Error Postage Stamp Rajdevi Temple 2013 Mint/mnh444 - Scarce Paste-up Pair With Pl# 6956 Mint Nh Est $720443 - Vf Paste-up Pair With Pl# 6975 Mint Nh Est $375 "read"651 - Huge Color/ Vignette Shift Error / Efo Pair Well Into Frame Mint NhAtomic Bombs End Wwii Hiroshima Japan Enola Gay Rescinded Banned Us Stamps Block#1059ac "paul Revere" Imperf Line Pair Mint Never HingedScott C83a Pair Mint Xf Nh 13c Airmail 1973 Imperforate Error Cv $65++Sc 2112c 22 D Rate Eagle Single, Tagging Omitted Error - Mnh - Scv = $300Us 915b Efo Reverse Printing Dark Rose Over Black, Mnh, Vf, Mint Never HingedU.s.a. No. 1768a Mnh Imperf. Error Block Of 4 With Imprint Mog Nh...2 Scans1614a Mnh 7.7c Strip Of 6, Lp And Gp Share Each Other "oil City Pa" Us Stamp 15 Different Zazzle Computer Vended Cpv Personalized StampsUs 917a Efo Reverse Printing Blue & Rose Over Black, Mnh, Catalog Value $40.00#1058a "lincoln 4" Imperf Coil Strip Of 41614a Mnh 7.7c Saxhorns Strip Of 7 , Precanceled " San Diego Ca " #2607 Var."presorted First Class" Peft Shift Coil Strip Of 6 Plate #1111Nystamps Us Stamp # Mint Og Nh Errors Freaks Oddities Perf Shift(4) Misperfed Coil Pairs Mint Never Hinged#1510 Var. "jefferson Memorial" Block Of 4 Perf Shift Change Of Design Mnh(4) Shifted Presidents Misperfed Stamps Mint Never Hinged(3) Transportation Series Misperfed Coil Pairs Mint Never Hinged#1305e Var. "oliver Wendell Holmes" Perf Shift Change Of Design Line Pair(4) Misperfed Stamps With Change Of Design Mint Never Hinged#1894 Flag Over Supreme Court Under-inked Blue Color & Normal Mnh#645a Mint Original Gum Never Hinged Lake Color#1304 Var. "5 Washington" Misperfed Strip Of 3 Mint Never Hinged#1213c Var. "5 Cent Washington" Miscut Booklet Pane Lightly Hinged#1596 "13 Eagle" Perf Shift Plate Block Of 4 - Shift Thru Plate Number4 Us Postage Stamps W/ Perforation Errors 1934 Yosemite 1 Cent Uncancelled 1981 "purple Mountains" Imperf Booklet Error Sc #1893bUsa Stamp #24791990 19c Fawn Color Shift Error Mnh/og #2128a Pair "ambulance 1860's" Misperfed Precancel With Broken Black Lines(4) Misperfed Single Stamps Mint Never HingedU.s. Oddity # 529 Mint Og...high Ink Variety#1906 Pair "electric Auto 1917" Misperfed Line Pair Mnh#1361 "john Trumbull" Misperfed Pair Mint Never Hinged#1393 Var. "6 Eisenhower" Misperfed Block Of 4 Mint Never Hinged#1818 "eagle Purple B Stamp" Perf Shift Strip Of 3 With Line Pair Mnh1960 "george Washington Credo" #1139 Perf Shift Mint Never Hinged#1400 "amadeo P. Giannin" Misperfed Pair Mint Never HingedScott 1895 20 Cent Flag Coil Of 3 Mint Nh Middle Stamp Is 49 Star Error #1556 "pioneer Jupiter" Red Offset On ReverseUsa Stamp #1035 1954 3c Statue Of Liberty Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt ErrorUsa Stamp #1032 1956 1 1/2c Mount Vernon Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt ErrorNoblespirit No Reserve Desirable Us 4x Warner Bros. Pane Of 10 Imprets Efo Scott 3049 Mint Never Hinged Mint Nepal Error Postage Stamp Prem Kansakar 2014 Nepal Mint/mnhUsa Stamp #1031 1956 1c George Washington Mnh/og Precancel "oiho" Ovpt Error