Monday, February 18, 2008

Terminology - Definitive Stamps

When collecting stamps, it is important to know the various types of stamps that are produced. The most common stamp of all is called a definitive stamp.

In it's simplest definition, a definitive stamp is a stamp that is issued to serve as a handy, all-purpose stamp, and is produced for an extended period of time (weeks, months or in many cases, years). They are almost always part of a series of stamps, called a definitive series, where a wide range of denominations are issued. The entire series may be issued at one time, or they may be issued over a span of years.

Most definitive series of stamps concentrate on a specific person or office (such as a president, monarch, or prime minister) or a specific theme (such as flags, buildings, or occupations).

Most definitive series will be denominated in such a way that any combination of postal rates can be met. Think of them as the work-horse of the postal administrations.

In contrast to definitive stamps are commemorative stamps. These stamps are used to commemorate important events such as celebrated accomplishments or birth or death anniversaries of famous people. Usually, they are on sale for a short period of time, and once the supply of stamps is exhausted, they are no longer printed. As is self-evident, commemorative stamps typically command a higher price than the same denomination definitive stamps, simply due to the rarity of the commemorative.

Because of their long lifespan, collectors may find that there are several versions of a single denomination definitive stamps that can be collected. One of the most popular definitive stamp series is the United Kingdom's Machin stamps using a sculpted bust of Queen Elizabeth II and designed by Arnold Machin. There are an untold number of colors, printing methods, paper, and denominations for the entire series. The example shows two stamps from the Machin series.

Because they are issued in high quantities, the postal authorities want to maximize their profits. Typically this is done by issuing the stamps in a small size, so as to reduce the cost of paper. Some collectors refer to definitive stamps as small stamps; this however is not accurate, as some definitive stamps can be as large or larger than commemorative stamps. The two Machin stamps shown above are definitive stamps issued in the same series and vary greatly in size.

Many collectors focus on commemorative stamps because they are often rarer and have better, more intricate designs. However, it is also fun to try to collect every stamp issued in a definitive series, and most are very affordable.

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