Postage Meter Stamp Basics
10. What We Collect
Everybody gets mail that has these red postage meter stamps. Virtually all of the envelopes get thrown out. These days at least some get recycled. However, these stamps (and they are postage stamps) offer an interesting area for stamp collectors. The question is what should be collected? The answer to this question is simple. Whatever you want. We include some possibilities here.
The postage meter was developed to help businesses prepare mailings in an efficient manner. The need for this was recognized more than a hundred years ago and the first commercial installation occurred in the early 1900’s. However, before that time there were some experiments.
The first experiment was conducted in 1897 by Di Brazzi who placed three coin operated machines in New York post offices. The machines accepted coins and printed a meter stamp, Figure 1, on an envelope. These vending machines were removed after a few months and only two examples of the meter stamps exist today.
Similar experiments were conducted in Norway in 1900 and 1903, in New Zealand in 1904 and in the US in 1912 and 1913. The first commercial postage meter installation was accomplished in New Zealand in about 1907 and New Zealand stands as the country that has continuously used postage meters for the longest time.
The first commercial use of a postage meter in the US occurred in Pitney Bowes offices in December 1920, Figure 2, with a square indicia design. The design was so similar to the permit design of the time that the US post office required a change in the design. In January 1922 a new oval design was introduced by Pitney Bowes, Figure 3. Very soon a number of other manufacturers began to offer postage meters as well.
The postage meter itself is seldom the entire piece of equipment that is sold by the postage meter suppliers. The meter prints the stamp on the envelope and keeps track of how much postage remains and how much postage has been used.
The meter is usually attached to a mailing machine that is designed to facilitate mail preparation. The simpler units stamp and seal one envelope at a time. More complex units can print a billing statement, fold it, stuff it into an envelope, stamp and seal it and do that 10,000 times an hour. In the early days the meter had to be taken to the post office where the clerk would accept money and set the meter. Today the addition of postage to a meter is automated and generally accomplished over the phone.
Postal services around the world are concerned that older postage meters can be subject to tampering, thus depriving the postal service with revenues. Most countries have set up a timetable that obsoletes older meter types in favor of digital meters that can be set for postage remotely (over a telephone usually) and that print the meter stamp with a computer-like printer. The schedule for migration to the digital meter type for the US and Canada is shown in Table I.
Meter Migration Mandate Phases
Other countries have similar schedules. The meter types that are mentioned in this table will be described later. Once a meter type is obsolete the user has to obtain a digital meter to replace it. The effect is that many meters that are seen on the mail have been replaced and will never be seen again.
The early postage meters were entirely mechanical. The counters that kept track of postage were generally mechanical wheels that were advanced one notch each time the meter printed a meter stamp. There were, of course, electric motors on many units, but some were operated by a hand crank of some sort. Some mechanical models eventually had digital displays but they were largely mechanical in nature. The postage was accounted for mechanically, the meter stamp was printed using a die and the postage was printed with mechanical numbers. Figures 1-6 show examples of meter stamps printed from mechanical meters.
As electronics developed some electronic features were added to the postage meter and the mailing machines. The first really fully electronic meters appeared in about 1969 with electronic displays and telephone like keypads. Eventually some electronic models were provided that allowed postage to be added to the meter remotely, over the phone, rather than physically taking the unit to the post office for resetting. While the postage was accounted for electronically, in general the meter stamp was printed with a die and the postage was printed with mechanical numbers. Figure 7 shows an example of a meter stamp printed from an electronic postage meter.
In the same fashion, as digital electronics were developed some digital features were added to the units. Early digital postage meters still used a mechanical printer, but eventually computer-like dot matrix, laser or mylar film printers were added. In addition, fully digital meters print a laser readable data block that will allow post office sorting equipment to read and sort the mail more easily. The fully digital meters will be the only types allowed once the Meter Migration Mandate is completed. Figure 8 shows an example of a meter stamp printed from a digital meter.
Methods of Printing Postage
Early meters were single denomination meters that could print only one value. If another value was needed another meter was placed in the mailing machine that could print that value. During this time some countries required that each value be printed in a different color, green for 1 cent, red for 2 cents, etc. (See the complete color scheme) Figures 2 and 3 show examples of stamps from single denomination meters.
Soon meter manufacturers developed multi denomination meters that could print a limited number of values. Some could print 3 values, some 5 values, some 10 values. These multi denomination meters were developed in two ways. First, the "double rate" indicia were arranged such that each value was represented by a different indicia on a wheel inside the meter. Figure 4 shows such an indicia. This type was called "double rate" because the value was show twice in the design. Soon meter manufacturers simplified the meter by providing one indicia that had an opening through which the values could be printed. The wheel inside the meter only had the 3 or so values that the meter was empowered to print. This type is called the "single rate" meter, Figure 5, because the stamp’s value was shown only once in the indicia design.
These designs were somewhat cumbersome. While the single and multi denomination meters were used for a long time, by 1930 early versions of omni denomination meters, Figure 6, began to appear. These meters can print any value within a range, usually $0.00 to $9.99 or $99.99. All modern meters are omni denomination meters. Figures 6, 7 and 8 also show examples of omni denomination meters.
Disclaimer: There really isn't a standard set of terms. Each publication listed in our bibliography uses slightly different terminology, and sometimes the same pair of authors will change how they describe items from one book to another. We have to be a little flexible.
Mailing Machine: The entire mechanism, whether operated by hand or by mechanical means, which houses a postage meter unit and all other devices needed for the operation of the meter unit by which the unit imprint is placed upon envelopes or tapes.
Postage Meter Unit: The unit housing the printing and recording mechanism which is contained within the postage meter machine. The postage meter unit is detachable (except in the desk-type model) and when detached, it is then carried to a post office for setting upon prepayment of a specified amount of postage. The postage meter unit imprints by a geared process the die member upon envelopes or tapes and is used on all classes of mail. Digital postage meters now obtain postage via the telephone or internet connection and are not carried to the post office.
Types of Machines:
Die Head Member: the unit within the postage meter unit which prints the primary meter stamp design. Changes in postage value and in dates are caused by the setting of dials or levers by the operator of the postage meter machine.
Slug Type: the movable letters or figures which are readily changed for printing essential data, namely, the month, date, time and year of mailing.
Postage Meter Stamp: the postal marking imprinted by the die head member upon tapes or envelopes having a distinctive mark or design, which, when used with the proper date and postage acts as a postage stamp and becomes invalid or cancelled upon proper mailing. The stamp includes the Indicia, the Townmark and any advertising or postal directional slugs.
Postage Meter Indicia: The portion of the postage meter stamp that shows the value. Some Indicia designs also include the Townmark.
Townmark: the name of the town and state or province usually within a circle. This usually includes the datemark. Townmarks may be single circle, double circle or single circle with arcs, as well as a wide range of other designs.
Ratemark or Figure of Value or Value Figure: The part of the indicia which shows the value or denomination, the amount of postage prepaid.
Setting: The distance in millimeters between the indicia and the townmark for designs in which the two are separated.
Slogans and Slugs: any design, art work, legend or slogan imprinted to the left of the postage meter stamp in combination with the imprinted postage meter stamp which contains advertising material, or a slogan. Some slugs are used as postal directives such as First Class, Airmail, Registered, Presorted First Class, etc.
Adhesives or Tapes: Strips of gummed paper are sometimes used to print the meter stamp. These are generally used for larger envelopes or parcels. Manufacturers sometimes provided tapes with their own imprints and the post office issues adhesives in some cases.
Permits: These stamps usually come from machines that do not meter, i.e. do not maintain a record of the postage used, although they often provide a count of envelopes processed. Permits can resemble meter stamps and are often confused with them.
Varieties: any intentional or unintentional change from an approved basic postage meter stamp design, such as spelling errors, inverts, spacing between letters in town or state names, postal rates, color of inks and paper tapes.
Mailers' Errors: an error caused by incorrect or improper usage of the postage meter machine, such as incorrect dates, double impressions and similar errors.
Essay: a design or meter postage imprint which has not been approved by the Post Office Department by which may have been submitted for such approval.
Proof: a postage meter stamp which has been approved by the Post Office Department but has not been through the mails. Used solely for demonstration purposes. Sometimes seen on souvenir covers.
Margins: The space between the design and the edges of a metered-tape and/or between a design and the edges of an envelope, or edges of a cut. While it is best to save the entire cover, a cut that is smaller than 2"x4" is very undesirable.
Figure of Value: The various denominations (to the right in most designs) complying within a proper classification of postal rates, as set over the years on mail matter of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th classes.
Indicia: The entire postage meter stamp impression (with added or deleted portions thereof) that composes the invalidated payment of postage.
Country of Issue: Usually found at the right in any design.
Townmark: Usually found at the left in most designs. Usually contains the town name, state, date and sometimes time of mailing.
Slogan: Meter slogans are messages found to the left of many postage meter stamps. They are used to promote public service projects, worthwhile charity or other drives or for illustration or advertising of the manufacturer's product.
Time of Mailing: The date, hour, and year of mailing, may or may not be shown within the postmark circle proper, or at the left of design.
Postal Slugs: These postal inscription slugs, when used on bulk or catalog mailings, may be found in various styles of lettering. They are found in several positions as part of a design but may be deleted from a design for the most part, when not in use.
Printing Inks: The standard colors of ink used for printing postage meter stamps are: Red, Blue, Purple, Green, Black, Orange, and Lilac.
Meter Number: All postage meters are assigned a meter number by the manufacturer that the Post Office can use to trace the user. The indicia contains the meter number somewhere in the design. Initials of the manufacturer of the meter are usually included with the meter number. Early on, there appears to have been an attempt by meter manufacturers to avoid overlapping number ranges with competitors. If that was the case, this soon became impractical. When there were few meters in operation collectors attempted to collect an example of each meter number that existed.
Computer Vended Postage (CVP) is postage vended by machines placed in high foot traffic spots and is popular in most areas of the world outside of North America. These stamps are also known as Frama postage after one of the vending machine manufacturers. The user enters the value of stamp and pays using currency or credit card. The vending machine prints the stamp on preprinted paper. The designs for the preprinted paper are varied often in every country where CVP stamps are sold and this gives collectors a considerable variety to collect. The basics for this group is provided on this website's Library.
Personal Postage (Photostamps is a brand name of this from one vendor) are stamps that can be purchased over the internet. These stamps can be provided with an image selected from a large number of images in some cases, or the image can be uploaded by the user. In some cases the stamps are printed by the vendor and mailed to the user. In some cases the stamps are printed on a standard computer printer, and in some cases the stamps are printed on a special printer sold by the vendor. These stamps are often called Computer Postage. Some examples of Personal Postage are shown on the Photostamps page and on the PC Undated page. While the US has the most varieties of Personal Postage similar products are available in Canada, Germany, Switzerland and other countries.
Postal Kiosks are becoming popular around the world. While these may seem to be similar to the CVP vending machines, they generally have greater capacity. The Kiosk is usually capable of weighing the package or letter, and can provide the choice of a wide range of postal services for mailing the package or letter. The Kiosk accepts currency or credit card and prints a stamp or a complete mailing label. Some US kiosks are shown in the Computer pages. At this writing in late 2008 several vendors are placing kiosks in many European countries. Some are in post offices but many are designed to be used at commercial locations and workplaces.
The collecting of meter stamps is up to the collector, just as it is for adhesive stamps. A clear impression on a complete envelope is best. However, the stamp can be cut from a cover if desired. Early collectors almost universally saved meters as cuts, and thus today full covers of classic meter stamps are very hard to find. Never cut the meter stamp close to the design. Most good cuts are 2"x4", or longer if there is a slogan. It can also be quite desirable to have the "corner card" or return address on the cut as well.
What to Collect
Meter stamps can be collected by the type of the design. Meter catalogs have been written that show all the known design types. Three catalogs that might be of interest include:
1. United States Postage Meter Catalog, 2nd Ed.,
Joel Hawkins, Richard Stambaugh, 1994.
2. The International Postage Meter Stamp CatalogJoel Hawkins, Richard Stambaugh 2005.
Originally Availabe in Book form. Contact Rick Stampbaugh (rickstambaugh(a)gmail.com
Now being expanded at Wikibooks as http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/International_Postage_Meter_Stamp_Catalog
3. Canadian Meter Postage Stamp Catalog,Ross W. Irwin, Longley Auctions, 2004. Availability: www.longleyauctions.com/ Longley Auctions, PO Box 620Waterdown, Ontario Canada L0R 2H0.
All three of these catalogs are available at the American Philatelic Research Library, a part of the American Philatelic Society, in Bellefonte, PA,www.stamps.org.
Other catalogs are available for most countries in the world. The International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog references all known catalogs.
Meter stamps can also be collected by the Topical Slogan. There are a wide range of slogans used with meter stamps. The problem is choosing which slogans to collect.
As with adhesive stamps, a great international collection can be assembled.
Here’s a quick outline of:
Meter Stamp Society Quarterly Bulletin, www.meterstampsociety.com.
All images and logos are the property of the Meter Stamp Society unless otherwise noted.
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