United States Postage Meter Stamp Catalog/Essays/Specimens/Proofs
Essays / Specimens / Tests / Proofs
Many meter stamp collectors are confused about essays, specimens and proofs because the terms have slightly different meanings when applied to traditional press-printed postage stamps.
Generally speaking, a meter stamp ESSAY is an experiment, a trial impression of a stamp design. In practice the term has come to mean only those trial impressions that are abandoned and never reach production. Essay designs that reach production are called pre-production proofs. Meter stamp essays are almost universally rare.
A meter stamp SPECIMEN is an impression from a die that has been designed or modified to show that it is not meant for postage. This is done by incorporating "SPECIMEN", "SAMPLE", "VOID" or similar wording into the die or by eliminating all references to “U.S. Postage". Most, but not all specimens also have no meter number or an all zero number. Many have the generic "CITY / STATE" in the town mark. Specimens are not experimental nor are they rare except in a few cases. They are used mostly for promotional purposes, handed out at office equipment shows and in similar venues.
TEST stamps are similar to Specimens but are used internally by meter companies to preview town marks, slugs and slogans. They are not meant to be seen by the public.
A meter stamp PROOF is a pre-production impression of an approved stamp design. Such proofs can be distinguished from regularly issued stamps by a pre-release date (if known), unusual postage value such as all nines or all zeros, or by the item being on an unaddressed card or envelope with the return address of the manufacturer. Some proofs have the word "PROOF" or "SPECIMEN" printed or handstamped on or near the impression. Such pre-production proofs are uncommon to rare.
Stamps from regularly issued meters can have these features and are easily mistaken for pre-production proofs. These so-called "favor proof" impressions are not true proofs and have less value than postally used meter stamps.