How to identify world stamps

Written by carl hose | 13/05/2017

Many world stamps include the name of the country or symbols that clearly identify their origin, and many countries are members of the United Postal Union, which regulates identification of postage stamps. Most of these countries adhere to the union's regulations, making it easy to identify stamps. But in some cases, postage stamp origins can't be identified without extensive research. With a little practice, you can begin to identify world stamps by symbols and other identifying features.

Look for specific identifying marks with a magnifying glass. Look first for the name of the country on the stamp written in an alphabet you know. If you can't find a language you recognise, look for other markings that might give a clue to the origin of the stamp. Besides the specific language of a country, you may recognise one of the most frequently used alphabets by many postal organisations. These include the Cyrillic and Arabic alphabet letters. The United Postal Union requires that all countries registered with the organisation, not including the United Kingdom (Royal Mail provides the UK's universal postal service), display the country's name in Latin letters.

Look for symbols that may hold a clue as to the origin of the stamp in question. Symbols often give hints as to religious and ideological traits of the country from which a stamp originates.The Ottoman Empire stamps, listed under Turkey in stamp identification guides, can be identified by inscriptions in the Arabic alphabet as well as by two symbols, the crescent moon and star and the Tughra; all Saudi Arabia stamps can be identified by the palm tree and crossed swords crest.

Check watermarks. Many symbols that can give clues to a stamp's origin are hidden in stamp watermarks, such as the New Zealand 1925 definitive stamps with "N Z" and star pseudo-watermarks printed on the backs of the stamps, typically in blue ink. Watermarks can be hard to spot but are excellent for identifying world stamps.

Consult Scott Stamp monthly or one of the Scott catalogues for information that will help you identify world stamps. The Scott guides also include articles on stamp collecting and current value of collectable stamps. The Stamporama website also offers informative articles and a community of stamp collectors who can help with difficult stamp identification (see resources).

Things you need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Stamp identification book

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