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maintained by . Last update May 30, 2021, 7:14 pm EST
Return to Index to FAQ's


Welcome to the stamp descriptive terms FAQ! We've added this page to help SOR members and visitors sort through some of the mysteries of the many terms and abbreviations we tend to use to describe stamps as we post messages on the discussion board and as we post items in our Stamporama auction. What follows below is a list of terms that are commonly used to identify a stamp's "condition" (mint, used, etc.) as opposed to its "condition" (VF, F, VG, etc.). Confusing, isn't it? That's what we thought too...

It is our hope that SOR auction sellers and buyers will use this page as a common reference as we list and bid on the many different stamps and covers that are on our auction page on a daily basis. Having a common language as we list and bid on lots will go a long way towards improving our auctions and avoiding potential disappointments and disputes between buyers and sellers. As you'll see from the definitions below, there are many common terms for the same type of stamp. We hope, with everyone's participation, that this list will help to shed some light on the many stamp terms that we see from day to day and give us a common language to use on this and other sites. As always though, if a bidder has any questions at all, just link on the seller's name on the lot page to ask that question. Asking a question in advance saves more questions later.

We invite comments and ideas to help improve our list. The work done here represents the results of a discussion on the SOR Discussion Board over which terms are the correct ones to use when describing stamps. Out of that, Randy, Ralph, Ken, Dan, David, Tim (our intrepid weblord) and I sat down to actually read the front sections of our old catalogues (the boring part without any stamp listings in it) and consulted other stamp sites to see if we could come up with a usable and easy to access list for Stamporama visitors. This is the result. We hope that you will enjoy our collective efforts.


Mint Never Hinged (MNH)

Also known as -

  • Post office fresh
  • Mint (for modern issues)
  • **
  • Never hinged
  • Unused (a term used in different ways by different people, which can mean any type of Mint stamp or MNH. It is best to check with the other party for a specific definition when a stamp is described in this way.)
A Mint, Never Hinged stamp is generally described as a mint stamp with absolutely no disturbances on the gum on the back of the stamp. It also has not been retouched or regummed in any way (in general, older, classic stamps may have been regummed after they were issued to give the impression that they still have their original gum intact).


Mint Hinged (MH)

Also known as -

  • Unused (see above)
  • *
  • Light Hinge/Lightly Hinged (MLH)
  • Heavy Hinge/Heavily Hinged (MHH)
  • Hinge Remnant (MHR)
A Mint Hinged stamp is one that shows disturbance on the gum of the stamp due to a stamp hinge being used to mount the stamp at some point in that stamp's lifetime. The degree that the hinge mark is noticeable is often used to refine the term into light or heavy hinge. Whether or not the whole hinge or part of the hinge is still attached to the stamp is not important - the fact that a stamp hinge was once applied to that particular stamp and is noticeable is all it takes to place it in this category.


Mint - Disturbed Gum (MDG)

Also known as -

  • Disturbed original gum
  • Damaged gum
  • Unused (see above)
This category is for stamps that have faults in the original gum that are not the result of stamp hinges. Humidity, contact with moisture, and stamps sticking to old album pages and then removed are common examples of disturbed gum. Once again, the amount of original gum left (most refer to +/- 50% of the original gum) on the stamp is a distinction that's made amongst some dealers and collectors. M-DG stamps are also sometimes described by collectors and dealers as MH stamps, with no distinction being made between the two categories.


Mint - No Gum (MNG)

Also known as -

  • Ungummed
  • Unused (see above)
The stamp has not been postally used; however, there is no gum left on the back of the stamp. Some early stamps were issued without gum; and these are usually noted in catalogues. Some collectors describe M-NG stamps as having little value; there is an aftermarket for unused (uncancelled) stamps sold at deep discounts from face; for high-face stamps, this could be significantly more than its used value. In addition, many early US stamps, including US Columbians, would retain significant value as MNG copies.


Used (U)

Also known as -

  • Postally used
  • ¤
  • Cancelled
These are stamps that have found a purpose in life and have been "used" to send mail through the postal system (or on revenue documents, etc.). On used stamps, the overall quality of the stamp determines its value more than anything else. Factors such as centering; perforation quality; colour freshness (these first three are also determining factors in all mint stamps); heavy, light or normal cancels; and the type of cancels found are factors to take into consideration when selling or buying used stamps. Some examples of specific types of cancels are SON (socked on the nose), Bullseye, Fancy cancels, Cork Cancels and Ring Cancels.


Used - Cancelled to Order (CTO)

CTOs are mint stamps cancelled by postal authorities or authorized agents and have never seen postal duty. Most CTOs have gum on the back, but some are sold mounted on paper or with special cancellations on envelopes or paper. Notable CTO countries are the former Eastern Bloc countries and Middle Eastern states. German inflation issues are a common example of early CTOs. CTOs are usually not considered desirable by collectors, but, with some issues of stamps, postally used examples are very hard to obtain; and some catalogues like Scott's will list values for CTOs and place a premium on postally used copies.


Used- Precancel (PCL)

There are several types of precancels. They include those with some type of cancel (often city/state or numeral representative of a city) applied by the post office before sale; as well as “service-inscribed” stamps, with the intended service (pre-sorted first class and non-profit being two examples) either part of the stamp or applied after printing but before sale.


Other Resources

Here are some sites which have more information about stamp collecting terms and stamp collecting in general:

AskPhil from the Collectors Club of Chicago
Plate Number Coil Collectors Club

Final Word

Most stamp catalogues will only list a few of the above terms with their stamps. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists MNH, MH and Used for early issues and only MNH and Used for modern issues. Michel (a German catalogue) lists MNH, MH, M-NG, M-DG and Used for earlier issues and only MNH and Used in modern issues. Ceres (a French catalogue) lists MNH, M-NG and Used for older issues and MNH and Used for modern issues.


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