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.
- Many stamp descriptions include a catalog value shown between square brackets, e.g. [$25]
- No catalog values are given for most stamps since they have little market value on their own. For those with some rarity and/or apparent demand a catalog value is often provided. These catalog values are estimates of what I thought a reasonable price would be for a clear impression on commercial (non-philatelic) cover in a transaction between a dealer and knowledgeable collector. This was probably a mistake since my estimates were often guesswork and market values change over time. Estimates of rarity would have been more helpful.
- For these reasons catalog values should be taken with skepticism. Generally they are higher than what the market supports. To improve the situation I have begun changing dollar values to rarity indicators for various stamps in some countries and will continue to do so as time permits. Rarity indicators I have been using are: Scarce, Very scarce, Rare, Very rare, and Extremely / Exceptionally rare. Others indicators may be used where it seems appropriate.
- A word to the wise: Meter stamps are not widely collected compared to traditional stamps. Rarities often go unrecognized by the seller as well as the buyer. Bargains are available if a collector recognizes what he or she is looking at.
- 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
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