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Selected pages from award-winning thematic exhibits.

NTSS YearTitleExhibitorAward earned


Beavers: Nature's Engineers

Larry Davidson

Grand Award

The Sun: Myth, Science, Effects, Culture

Anthony S.

Reserve Grand Award

The Charter of the United Nations: A Document
for World Peace - San Francisco 1945

Fran Adams

Mary Ann Owens One-Frame
Grand Award

A Celebration of the Cockroach

Jean C. Stout

Most Popular Exhibit


The Olive: Olea Europaea

Vincent De Luca

Grand Award


Phil Stager

Reserve Grand Award

The Royal Palm

Phil Stager

Mary Ann Owens One-Frame
Grand Award


Tennis: From Game of Kings to King of Games

Norman F. Jacobs

Grand Award

The Olive: Olea Europaea

Vincent De Luca

Reserve Grand Award

How to Grow Tomatoes

Dawn Hamman

Mary Ann Owens One-Frame
Grand Award

Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Financier,
Statesman, Founder

Jack Congrove

Best Display Division Award


The Panama Canal Story

Raymond W. Ireson

Grand Award

Sailing Races — 1662-2012 Earliest Recorded
Race to Next Olympics

Clemens Reiss

Reserve Grand Award winner

A Trip in the Mail Car

Nancy & Douglas

Mary Ann Owens One Frame
Grand Award

(see right for further downloads related to thematic exhibits)
See also: APS Manual of Philatelic Judging, Chapter 19: Thematic Division

Philatelic Elements for Thematic Exhibits

Exhibits that reach the vermeil or gold award level contain a broad range of philatelic elements (postal stationery, covers, cancellations, postmarks, meter stamps, booklets, et al.). This listing is intended as a handy reference for preparing or judging thematic exhibits. It is by no means complete, nor would it be possible to have every element listed here in any one exhibit.

All elements used in a thematic exhibit should have postal connotations. The item must have been:

  1. initiated by the postal service
  2. introduced by the postal service (e.g. overprints, marginal markings, postal stationery, cachets, etc)
  3. or approved by the postal service
  4. if none of the above, their inclusion should be explained

Items should be selected for:

  1. the primary or secondary design
  2. the purpose of issue or circumstance of issue
  3. the relation of the design or issue to the theme

Items that should be avoided:

  1. Mixed subjects on covers (confuses the theme).
  2. Postmarks, etc. without indication of postage paid.
  3. Private information such as addressee or addressor, except for those granted free franking privilege.

Pre-production elements:

  1. Original drawings: submitted by artists and ACCEPTED for consideration by the postal authority for stamp designs
  2. Essay: proposed design, submitted to and rejected by, Postal Authorities, or adopted after changes have been made
  3. Photo essay: photograph of design with measurements and notations
  4. Proofs: trial impressions from the die or printing plate before actual production
  5. Engraver's proofs: impressions taken to check the progress of his work
  6. Die proofs: impressions from the completed die, submitted for final approval
  7. Plate proofs: impressions from the completed plate
  8. Color trials: proofs in selected colors to permit a final choice of color to be made
  9. Color proofs: impressions of the approved colors taken prior to printing
  10. Rainbow proofs: trials, to test various colored inks, cancellations and paper

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Stamps as Issued (most are catalogue listed)

  1. Booklet stamps (preferably full pane if all one motif or related se-tenants)
    1. booklet covers and labels (shown with pane or booklet)
    2. plate numbers (or other marginal markings)
  2. Coil stamps (should be shown in pairs)
    1. line pairs
    2. plate numbers (best shown in strips of three or five for U.S.)
  3. Sheet stamps perforate, rouletted, or imperforate when issued as such
    1. plate, zip, arrow, mail early, and copyright blocks
    2. other marginal markings (printed, handstamped)
    3. se-tenant pairs and blocks, tabbed issues
    4. triptych (three joined stamps of different but related designs)
    5. tete-beche pairs
    6. bisects, trisects, quadrisects
    7. watermarks
  4. Discount postage (stamps issued at reduced price, chiefly for publicity)
  5. Encased postage and other monetary usages
  6. Expedition stamps
    1. Scientific (e.g. Shackleton Antarctic Expedition, 1908)
    2. Military (e.g. Liberian Field Force, IEF of India)
  7. Express or Special Delivery
  8. Geometric shapes (triangles, diamonds, etc.)
  9. Local issues (valid within a limited area or postal administration)
  10. Occupation issues (for use in territory occupied by a foreign power)
  11. Revenue issues: government, departmental
  12. Special fees, late fees, railway letter fees
  13. Miniature and souvenir sheets
  14. Newspaper stamps
  15. Official stamps
  16. Parcel post stamps
  17. Postage Due stamps
  18. Telegraph stamps
  19. War tax stamps
  20. Joint issues
  21. Provisional issues
  22. Plebiscite issues
  23. Military franks
  24. Military telegraph stamps
  25. Marine insurance issues
  26. value inserted issues

Machine Generated Postage: Framas, Postal Buddy Cards, Meter Imprints
Official Varieties (Official Government issued)

  1. Perforations (different measurements, methods)
  2. Experimental perforations and roulettes
  3. Perfins (e.g. O.H.M.S.)
  4. Precancels (different types and styles)
  5. Tagged or otherwise treated for use in automation equipment
  6. Printed information on reverse, attached label, or selvage
  7. Specimens, black prints and other publicity items
  8. Surcharges (revalued issues)
  9. Overprints (geographic, commemorative, etc.)
  10. Mirror prints
  11. Gum, watermark, or paper varieties
  12. Test stamps (for testing of dispensing machines)
  13. Post office training stamps
  14. Carrier stamps (charge for conveying mail to or from local post offices)
  15. Shipping company stamps (prepaying mail carried on mail-ships or packet boats)
  16. Obliterated stamps (e.g., portraits of deposed or deceased rulers)

Unofficial Varieties
Perfins, business, charity, (preferably on cover with corner card)

Unplanned Varieties (EFOs)

  1. Errors (as a result of the production process, but not "favor" made)
    1. Imperforate in one direction
    2. Fully imperforate
    3. Imperforate between
    4. Perforations of the wrong gauge on one or more sides
    5. Perforations inverted on souvenir sheets
    6. Perforations fully doubled or tripled
    7. Complete color missing
    8. Tagging missing
    9. Inverted tagging
    10. Inverted design
    11. Inverted design
    12. Inverted embossing
    13. Design error
    14. Inverted or multiple surcharge
    15. Inverted or multiple overprint
    16. Overprint or surcharge on back of stamp
    17. Lettering errors (misspelled country, name, etc.)
    18. Double print
    19. Wrong value stamp
    20. Colors reversed
    21. Missing overprint, surcharge, or precancel
    22. Offset (printed on reverse)
    23. Paper errors
      1. Printed on wrong color paper
      2. Wrong, incomplete or changed watermark
    24. Other constant errors (worthy of catalogue listing)
  2. Freaks (minor production varieties, usually not repeated, rarely catalogue listed)
    1. Gutter snipes
    2. Ink smears, flaws and blots
    3. Set-offs (from flatplate printed sheet laid atop another)
    4. Misperfs (one direction, two directions, diagonal)
    5. Partially perforated
    6. Color shifts (misregistration of color)
    7. Miscuts
    8. Over or under inked
    9. Color partially missing
    10. Foldovers, foldunders
    11. Creases (pre-perforating or pre-printing)
    12. Minor shade/color differences
    13. Partial stamp printed on reverse
    14. Partially doubled overprint or surcharge
    15. Rejection markings (indicating printers' waste to be destroyed)
  3. Oddities
    1. Plate varieties (double transfers, layout lines, position dots)
    2. Design errors and ghosts
    3. Intentionally created varieties
    4. Local overprints
    5. Cancels that change the design
    6. Intentionally created errors
    7. Intentionally produced gutter pairs
    8. Provisional overprints
    9. Stolen printers' waste
    10. Unauthorized bisects
    11. Color changelings
    12. Altered stamps (attempts to create higher value stamps)
    13. Rotary coil end strips
    14. Flatplate coil paste-ups
    15. Private perfs

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  1. folded letters
  2. stampless covers
  3. air mail
  4. balloon post
  5. camp mail (concentration camp, POW camp, displaced persons, etc.)
  6. catapult mail
  7. censored mail
  8. combination franking (stamps of more than one country
  9. crash covers
  10. cross-border mail
  11. fieldpost
  12. first day or special event covers
  13. first flights
  14. free franks
  15. glider mail
  16. international organizations (U.N., Red Cross, etc.)
  17. military (APO, FPO)
  18. naval ships mail
  19. official government mail
  20. official cachets
  21. packet letters
  22. paquebot
  23. parachute mail
  24. pigeon post
  25. pneumatic post
  26. rocket post
  27. ship letters
  28. zeppelin mail

Postal Stationery:

  1. imprinted envelopes and postal cards
  2. letter cards
  3. reply paid cards
  4. aerogrammes, airgraphs, air letter sheets
  5. V mail
  6. wrappers for newspapers and periodicals
  7. printed-to-order envelopes, cards; produced/authorized by postal authorities
  8. folded advertising letters (e.g., France, Germany)
  9. formula cards (France, etc.)
  10. echo cards (Japan)
  11. postal telegrams (e.g. Germany, Great Britain)

Maximum Card: (a picture postcard with a stamp depicting the exact same subject affixed to the picture side of the card, and the cancellation having a direct relationship to the subject pictured on the stamp.


  1. air mail etiquettes
  2. charity (Christmas seals)
  3. fiscals
  4. official seals
  5. postal fiscals
  6. registration
  7. special delivery
  8. telegraph

Cancellations (should be tied to a piece or on cover, if possible)

  1. postmarks
  2. town circles
  3. fancy cancels
  4. pictorial
  5. slogan
  6. traveling post office (TPO)
  7. highway post office (HPO)
  8. mobile post office (MPO)
  9. railway post office (RPO)
  10. military (fieldpost, APO, etc.)

Auxiliary Markings:

  1. air mail
  2. registered
  3. certified or insured
  4. special delivery
  5. night delivery
  6. COD
  7. censored
  8. postage due
  9. postage not valid
  10. transit
  11. backstamps
  12. receiving marks
  13. forwarding comments
  14. refused
  15. undeliverable
  16. unmailable
  17. carrier comments
  18. directory markings
  19. weight markings
  20. return to sender: better address, proper postage, service suspended, etc.

Other Elements — these must be identified when used in an exhibit

  1. Bogus Stamps – a completely fictitious "stamp" created solely for sale to collectors, or an actual stamp with an unauthorized surcharge or overprint (these are not forgeries as the stamp never officially existed).
  2. Cinderellas
    1. Christmas seals (when tied to the cover)
    2. Propaganda stamps
  3. Facsimile – reproduction of a genuine stamp with no intent to deceive collectors or postal officials (e.g. illustrations)
  4. Fake – a genuine stamp that has been altered to make it more attractive to collectors (e.g. altered color, added or changed postmark, repaired, reperfed, regummed, etc. to make a more valuable variety)
  5. Forgery – completely fraudulent reproduction of a genuine stamp intended to defraud. They are generally classified into two types:
    1. Philatelic forgeries made to defraud collectors
    2. Postal forgeries made to defraud the postal service
  6. Postal Documents
    1. Official receipts
    2. Orders and bulletins
    3. Stamp shipment wrappings and labels

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