International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog/Introduction
The Four Basic Types of Postage Meters
- The first postage meters were Fixed Value, i.e. they contained either a single postage stamp die or a small number of dies with different postage amounts. Each die was a complete stamp.
- A technological improvement was to Limited Value meters which contained a single stamp frame die containing a slot into which a range of different small value dies could be inserted. Since value dies are much smaller than complete stamp dies, Limited Value machines were capable of printing many more stamps of different values than Fixed Value meters.
- A further improvement was to Multi-value meters which also contained a single slotted stamp frame die but instead of a set of different value dies it contained wheels with numbers embossed on the rim. The wheels could be rotated so the postage amount would appear in the slot of the frame die. A meter with three of these wheels was called a 3-bank multi-value machine, and it could print any postage value from 000 to 999. A 4-bank meter an inserted decimal could print any postage value from 00.00 to 99.99.
- Most recently postage meters have adopted digital technology which does away with solid dies altogether. The entire stamp is printed by a thermal, dot matrix, ink jet, or laser process. Solid dies have ceased to exist.
1. Fixed Value (FV or FV-n). The entire stamp is printed from a single die.
- Some FV meters contain a small selection of frank dies with different postage values.
- Such meters are designated FV-n with ‘n’ being the number of different frank dies.
- The earliest meters are of this type.
2. Limited Value (LV or LV-n). The stamp is printed from a frame die plus a value die.
- Such meters are designated LV or LV-n with 'n' being the number of different value dies available.
- Because a value die is much smaller than a complete stamp, typically LV machines have a much larger range of postage values than a FV meter.
3. Multi Value (MV). The stamp is printed from a frame die plus a postage value made from numbers embossed on the rims of rotating wheels.
- The wheels are located above a slot in the frank die and are rotated so that the postage amount appears inside the slot.
- Any denomination within a range determined by the number of wheels can be printed.
- Some MV machines are fitted with fixed zeros (or suffix) that print at the right of the value figures to accommodate inflation, currency changes, etc.
- In the descriptions for value figures, this catalog identifies all value places and does not differentiate between regular and fixed zeros, i.e. "000.00" could represent a five-bank machine that can print values up to 999.99 or a three-bank machine with two fixed zeros that can print values up to 999.00.
- The shape of value figures in meter stamps are nearly always a version of Angular, Gothic or Oval fonts. Many variations exist, and some typical examples are shown below.
- In the listings the catalog normally does not identify the shape of value figures unless more than one basic shape was used. In such cases “A” (angular) “G” (gothic), and “O” (oval) are used to identify the shape. As can be seen from the examples, variations exist based on size, slant and other features. Such varieties are not differentiated in this catalog but specialized catalogs often describe them.
- NOTE: For Egypt and most other Arab countries, many meter types have bi-lingual value figures, Eastern Arabic over modern Western numerals (١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩٠ above 1234567890). The catalog uses the abbreviated term ‘Arabic over Western’ to describe these value figures.
- The term town mark (or town/date mark) is not entirely accurate. The implication is the town is where the mailer is located, but in fact it is the name of the post office where the meter is licensed. Although the two are usually the same, they are not always. This catalog uses “Town Mark” instead of “Post Office Mark” because of its near universal use in the hobby.
- Although some meter stamp types have no town mark (nil), most do. Basically, they are either Straight Line (SL) or Circular.
- Circular town marks can be Single Circle (SC), Double Circle (DC), or Broken Inner Circle (BIC) with arcs in place of the inner circle.
- Many variations of SC, DC and BIC exist, and most specialized catalogs identify them. Below are shown some of these variations. This catalog indicates only if the stamp has SL, SC, DC or BIC town marks or no town mark (nil) without going into greater detail.
- Some meter models produce stamps that appear identical to those from other models except in minor details. One such detail for many stamps is the spacing (sometimes called the 'setting') which is the distance between the town mark and the frank. This catalog measures spacing from the right edge of the town mark to the left edge of the frank, with one important exception. Early Francotyp meter types are measured from the center of the date figures to the center of the value figures. This is the most reliable way to differentiate early Francotyp model A, B, C and An (D) stamps.
- If known, the first year of use or first day date is included in the stamp description. If the first year of use is not known, the earliest reported date or no date is shown.
- All postage meters are assigned an identity number by the manufacturer, and for many countries this number appears in the stamp. This manufacturer-designated number is called the Meter Number, and when it is included in the stamp, it is often preceded by a letter prefix identifying the manufacturer, model or distributor.
- Some postal authorities assign Identification Numbers to postage meters, and this too can appear in the stamp. This is not a meter number but a locally-assigned number. Identification numbers, just like meter numbers, can have prefixes.
- Most countries use a License (Permit) numbering system, which is assigned to the mailer rather than the machine, and this too occasionally appears in the stamp. A license number changes if the same meter is re-assigned from one mailer to another, but a meter number or identification number does not.
- Several countries have changed numbering systems over time. Some have gone from using license numbers to meter numbers, from identification numbers to no numbers, etc, etc. A few have required both a license and a meter number, and some even require the mailer’s name or initials to appear in the stamp.
- An additional number found on many meter stamps is an Impression Counter which this catalog sometimes calls a Serial Number. (Others have labeled this a Record Number.) The serial number or impression counter is a simple, incremental counter of stamp impressions made by the machine and is not an identification number. Serial numbers can appear at many places on a meter stamp and in several sizes. These are identified in the next segment.
Serial Numbers (Impression Counter Numbers)
- Serial Numbers, simple incremental counters of stamp impressions made by a meter, appear in some stamps.
- They were most often used with early Francotyp Model A, B and C machines and also with Komusina, and early Hasler and Krag models.
- Francotyp serial numbers are 4-digit and appear between the town mark and the frank, centered or high. The centered number can be large or small.
- Hasler serial numbers are uniform in size, 5-digit, and appear to the left of the town mark (either high or low) or between the town mark and the frank.
- Komusina numbers are 6-digit, vertical reading down at far left.
- Although specialized catalogs identify varieties based on the size and placement of the serial number, this catalog (at present) does not.
- Most meter stamps from the 20th century are printed in shades of red, but blue, purple and black stamps are not uncommon. Green and orange are uncommon colors, and yellow and brown are rare. Recent digital stamps, especially from Europe, are found mostly in blue.
- Some meter models are capable of printing the slogan in a different color from the stamp. A few creative users have manipulated non-capable meters to produce bi-color stamps.
- For stamp types and varieties with an estimated value of five U.S. dollars or higher a catalog value is usually given. These values are estimates of what a reasonable price would be for a clear impression on commercial (non-philatelic) cover in a transaction between a dealer and knowledgeable collector.
- Catalog values should not be taken literally. Meter stamps are not widely collected compared to traditional stamps, and buyers can be scarce even for rarities.
- In some cases clear impressions on full, non-philatelic covers may not exist, and values are given accordingly.
- Many illustrations have been graphically enhanced by elimination of extraneous markings. Those shown in black are scanned from the original 2005 paper edition of The International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog.
- An attempt was made to make all illustrations at actual size, but this proved impossible due to the wide variety of monitors and screen resolutions in use. A small number of sub-varieties are illustrated deliberately at reduced size, and these should be obvious.
Hints for Collectors
- No rules exist for how to collect meter stamps, but the following suggestions may increase your enjoyment.
- Ask yourself exactly what you want to collect. Is it the entire world, the stamps of a single country, those from one manufacturer or meter model, or something else? Once you know the scope of your interest, decide how deeply you want to collect. You can acquire one of each Type as listed in this catalog, or you can go a little deeper and add the listed varieties. Go deeper still and add all variations and value figure configurations. And finally, if your interest takes you beyond this catalog, you can collect essays, specimens, proofs, errors, usages, and minor varieties described in specialized catalogs. If no specialized catalog exists for your country or specialty, you have an opportunity to write one.
- What format do you want for your collection? You can collect any size from entire covers to small cut-outs or tapes. Each format has different advantages. By cutting out the stamps and soaking tapes off covers, you form a collection that is convenient in size but has been stripped of its postal history value. A collection of meter stamps on cover preserves the context of the use of the stamp but takes up much more space. Although a cover collection can be a problem to store, it is multi-dimensional and retains far more value than a collection of cuts and tapes. In practice most collectors accumulate a wide variety of formats. Although they may prefer covers, often they will find some stamp types are effectively unobtainable except as cutouts due to the hasty scissors of early collectors.
- Storing and Mounting. Boxes or albums are the two most common choices. Boxes are inexpensive but are inconvenient for viewing the collection. Albums can be amazingly expensive, but they compel you to organize your collection into a logical sequence leaving you with an organized and well presented collection. If you use albums, DO NOT use photo albums with sticky, waxy pages. The wax makes covers and stamps easy to mount (since you don't need hinges or adhesive mounts), but over time the wax will permeate and destroy any paper stuck to it.
A Short History of the Early Years of Meter Franking
- Not long after the introduction of adhesive stamps in 1840 it became apparent to volume mailers that a system requiring the purchase, moistening and affixing of small pieces of gummed paper to stacks of envelopes was too slow. Research into speeding the process gave birth to a machine which automated the application of postage, i.e. the postage meter.
- Carle Busch of Paris appears to have been first to devise a postage metering system. In August 1884 he received a British patent describing an apparatus for impressing and registering stamps. The Busch invention never saw service.
- Parallel to the efforts to streamline the franking of business mail, other inventors looked for ways to provide 24-hour access to postage for the general public. The first postage meter used to frank actual mail was of this type. It was invented by the Italian, Count Detalmo di Brazza Savorgnan. A small number of his public access, self-service meters were installed in New York City in 1896 and 1897. For reasons now unknown, they were removed from service after only a few months of use.
- In Norway, on 24 August 1900, another coin-operated machine, invented by Charles A. Kahrs, was installed in the lobby of the main post office in Kristiania (Oslo). After obtaining a frank, the customer still had to carry his mail to the post office window where the clerk applied an adhesive stamp over the frank. The machine stamp was thus used only as a receipt for prepayment rather than as the actual postage. The machine was removed from service after only three weeks of use.
- Another Norwegian, Karl Uchermann, has the honor of inventing the first business mail automated franking system. The company Krag Maskinfabrik manufactured Uchermann’s machines, and they were placed in seven post offices as well as the mail rooms of five private businesses in 1903. They are known used from June 15th of that year to at least January 2nd, 1905. Norway abandoned the use of postage meters at that time and did not employ them again until 1926.
- New Zealand has the record for continual use of postage meters. A coin-in-the-slot machine invented by Ernest Moss of Christchurch was tested on public mail in March 1904. The design was flawed, and Moss quickly submitted improved versions for testing. His first “credit” machine saw service in 1906, and by 1907 fifty of these machines were in use around the country. Several other models were placed into use between 1907 and 4 January 1921 when meter franking was first recognized by the Universal Postal Union. Until that date, the Moss stamps were valid for domestic mail only. Meter franked mail addressed to foreign countries was taken to the post office where clerks would apply complimentary adhesives stamps or “PAID” hand stamps to make them acceptable in international mail.
- Moss did not have the field to himself in New Zealand. Mr. Robert Wales invented a machine similar to that of Moss’s, and it was trialed outside the General Post Office of Dunedin from July 1904 to February 1905. The machine was considered inferior to that of Moss and was rejected for further testing.
- In Australia public trials of self-service postage meters took place as early as 1903. A machine invented by a Mr. W. Hollingworth was used on a trial basis in Brisbane for a few weeks of that year. No example of the Hollingworth stamp is known to survive today, and we do not know what it looked like. In 1908, machines invented by R.J. Price and H.A. Beswicke were live-tested in Melbourne over two periods lasting a few days. The trials were not successful. The only known copies of the Price/Beswicke stamps are proofs in Australian postal archives.
- Meanwhile, in the United States, Arthur H. Pitney with Eugene A. Rummler, designed and built a postage meter that the Post Office Department tested in Washington D.C. in March 1903. Authorities were not impressed, and no more official testing was done until May 1912 when an improved Pitney machine was placed into limited use, again in Washington D.C. At least eight of these machines were given a wider test in 1914 in Chicago. Despite its apparent success, the post office did not sanction use of this meter.
- At the urging of the U.S. Post Office Department, Walter H. Bowes, owner of a company that made high-speed canceling machines, formed a partnership with Pitney. They merged their products into a single postage metering and mail processing machine which was given official approval by the Post Office Department in September 1920. Over the next decade several small American companies entered the postage meter market only to fail under the intense competition from Pitney Bowes.
- Great Britain is the only other country to have tested a postage meter on actual mail before UPU approval in January 1921. In 1912 a single public access, coin-operated meter, invented by Mr. F. Wilkinson, was installed in a post office in London. Although interest at first was quite high, it was removed from service after only seven months for lack of use.
- The machines mentioned above are not the only postage automation devices to appear in the years before 1920. In Britain, at least three inventors submitted coin-operated machines to the Post Office for testing: David Lewis in 1899, Charles Ross in 1907, and E.E. Eyles in 1909. None of their machines were ever used to frank actual mail.
- During the 1920s, after the UPU approval of postage meter franking, large and successful meter companies were founded in Europe. Among them are Universal Postal Frankers and Neopost (England), Francotyp and Postalia (nee Komusina, Germany), Hasler (Switzerland), Havas (France), and Sima (Italy). Since then about a hundred other companies have entered the postage meter market with varying success. Click on Meter Manufacturers Worldwide for a comprehensive list of postage meter manufacturing companies.
Return to main page ⇒ International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog