Glossary: P

Philatelic and postal history terms from "A" to "Z."

Parcel Post - a service provided by the Post Office Department which accommodated packages weighing over four pounds. Parcel Post service, finally made available to U.S. citizens on January 1, 1913, was received with enormous enthusiasm. Farm families used it to convey produce at standardized, understandable, and lower rates than they had received from express companies. Marketers were thrilled with the promise of this new sales frontier. The growth of Parcel Post service was phenomenal. During the first six months of operation approximately 300 million parcels were handled. When Collect on Delivery (COD) Service was introduced seven months later (July 1, 1913), the popularity of Parcel Post service went through the roof as mail order companies' profits exploded. COD and Parcel Post service pushed the development of industry tied to the creation and development of unique parcel mailing containers, including those built to hold eggs by the dozens.

Part-perforated - a stamp perforated in one direction only, either horizontally or vertically, and cut apart in the other direction.

Patronage - the distribution of appointments to people based on their political or financial support. Patronage reforms began in 1883 with the Pendleton Act, but postmaster and rural letter carrier positions remained essentially political appointments until the reorganization of the postal system in 1970.

Perforation - a process involving the removal of small bits of paper in various shapes to allow for easy tearing. The number of perforations (each consisting of a depression and a projection) in two centimeters is called the 'gauge' of that perforation.

Personal delivery stamp - a triangular stamp inscribed with a D representing fee paid by addressee for mail to be delivered to him/her personally. Stamps inscribed with a V insured personal delivery to the addressee and were affixed by the sender.

Photogravure - a printing process in which a design is photographed on the printing plate through a fine screen. The process breaks the copy into very fine, square dots, and the depressions formed around the squares hold the ink, also known as 'gravure'.

Pillars - repetitive decorations or lines printed in the pane margins of watermarked paper to prohibit its being counterfeited.

Pin roulette - tiny punctures that do not actually poke through the paper.

Plate number - the serial number engraved on a plate which usually appears in a corner of a sheet of stamps. Single digit suffix numbers instead of the whole serial number are printed on coils.

Plate Proof - Certified plate proofs are the last printed proof of the plate before printing the stamps at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. These plate proofs are each unique, with the approval signatures and date. For postal scholars these plates provide important production information in the plate margin inscriptions, including guidelines, plate numbers, and initials of the siderographer, or person who created the plate from a transfer roll.

Playing card stamp - a revenue stamp paying a tax on packs of playing cards. The revenue paid depended upon the value of the pack. Opening the pack usually destroyed the stamp.

Plebescite stamp - a stamp issued by a temporarily independent postal administration intended to influence a popular vote.

Pneumatic tubes - a transport system that carried mail under city streets. The service, which began in 1893 in Philadelphia, used canisters that could carry up to six hundred letters each and travel at an average of thirty-five miles per hour.

POD - abbreviation of the term used by Postmaster General John McLean (1823-1829) for the administrative entity of the U.S. Postal Department. The title was used for the postal system until the postal reorganization act of 1970. The Post Office Department became the U.S. Postal Service on July 1, 1971.

Porte de mar stamp - a stamp used to indicate the amount to be paid to the captains of the mail steamers taking outgoing foreign mail. The phrase means 'Carried by Sea', and is associated with Mexican labels.

Post Card - a card used to send a message via the mail. The Post Office Department authorized the use of privately-created postcards in 1898. These cards usually included an image on one side and space for a message and an address on the other. Postcards were popular collecting items in the early twentieth century.

Post Office - the location at which mail is received, sorted, and delivered, and where stamps and other postal materials are sold.

Post Office Department - term used by Postmaster General John McLean (1823-1829) for the administrative entity of the U.S. postal system. The title was used for the postal system until the postal reorganization act of 1970. The Post Office Department became the U.S. Postal Service on July 1, 1971.

Post Roads - any transportation network designated to carry mail. The Post Office Department designated waterways as post roads in 1823 and railways during the late 1830s.

Post-A-Book stamp - a self-adhesive stamp specifically issued for the mailing of books from retail bookshops.

Postage currency - postage stamps used as small bills during a shortage of metal coins.

Postage due stamp - a fee paid by the recipient of mail for underpaid postal charges.

Postal Card - a card which is similar in look and function to post cards but which is produced by the postal service. Postal cards include pre-printed postage on the card.

Postal fiscal issue - revenue stamp later authorized to be used postally.

Postal Inspection Service - In 1772, postal inspectors (or 'surveyors') were first contracted by Deputy Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin to conduct audits on various postmasters and their accounts. As the Post Office Department matured, the postal inspector's responsibilities greatly increased. Some of the duties they have performed over the years include: establishing new mail routes and post offices; appointing postmasters; hiring contractors to carry the mails; assisting in setting-up and establishing efficient military postal systems; protecting the mails in times of natural disasters and transportation-related accidents; and investigating mail fraud, mail thefts, and lost letters. Inspectors from this service were among the first on the scene after the 2001 9/11 attacks. In New York City, they secured the mail at the Church Street post office, located just across the street from the World Trade Center. Others were present at the crash scene of United flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to recover mail if possible. The service also has a strong program that helps people fight identity theft.

Postal Note Stamps - Unlike regular postage stamps, which are used to pay the rate for mail delivery, postal note stamps together with the postal note cards, were created to send small amounts of money up to ten dollars to anyone on the mainland of the United States. Similar in use to money orders, the stamps were created to send small amounts at a lower cost per transaction than money orders which were cost prohibitive for small values. The stamps were issued from February 1, 1945 until March 31, 1951. Not only did postal notes prove to be more affordable than money orders for small value transactions, they resulted in less paperwork for postal clerks, as demanded by the Post Office. With postal notes the clerk had only to affix the stamps and cancel them, a normal postal handling. The paperwork was completed by the customer who filled out the form himself. Each postal note contained three parts. On the left was the payee’s coupon. The middle contained the paying office coupon upon which postal note stamps were affixed. This portion was left at the post office when the money was paid. On the right was the purchaser’s receipt. The stamps came in eighteen denominations and the postal notes were printed in eleven denominations. Up to two stamps per note could be combined to reach values between 1-cent and 10-dollars. Patrons could insure the note for a fee of 5-cents. At the top of each stamp are the words "United States of America" in white against a black background. The words "Postal Note" are printed in the novel font against a grey background. The value is also in white against a black background. Curled laurel branches are engraved around the value on both sides. The word "cent(s)" has been printed below. The stamps were designed by William K. Schrage and engraved by C.A. Brooks. The words were engraved by Axel W. Christensen. The numbers were engraved by John S. Edmondson (1,3,4,10,30,50,70,80 and 90 cents), Edward H. Helmuth (7 and 20 cents) and Axel W. Christensen (2,5,6,8,9,40 and 60 cents). Printed by the American Banknote Company on a rotary press printer, the stamps have no watermarks and are perforated 11 x 10.5. The stamps were printed on two types of paper. The oldest paper was thick and gray in color and the newer paper was thin and white, the so-called melamine paper. The number of stamps actually printed is unknown. The amount is estimated around 660 million stamps total, resulting in approximately 40 million of each value. The stamps were destroyed after use but a limited number were offered for sale to collectors in 1951.

Postal reorganization - the transformation of the Post Office Department into the United States Postal Service. In 1970, President Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act, which went into effect on July 1, 1971.

Postal savings stamp - a savings stamp redeemable as a credit to postal savings accounts. The purchaser filled a book with the savings stamps, which could be redeemed for a certificate. The Postal Stamp Savings program spanned 1911 to 1970.

Postal Savings System - a system for saving money which the Post Office Department operated from 1911 to 1967. Begun as a way to encourage individuals to create financial savings accounts, immigrants found it particularly useful since it resembled similar systems in their native countries. The system reached its peak in 1947. In 1967, unclaimed deposits were turned over to the U.S. Treasury Department. Some money was kept for future claims, but legislation ended all claims after July 13, 1985.

Postal Service - a national, usually governmental, system of transmitting written communications. The U.S. postal system was reorganized in 1971. As a part of the transformation the Post Office Department, it was renamed the U.S. Postal Service in that year.

Postal tax stamp - a stamp used to raise funds for a specific purpose. Though not valid for postage, it has been required on mail at certain times.

Postal telegraph stamp - a stamp issued for use on telegrams but subsequently permitted to be used as a postage stamp.

Postcard stamp - an adhesive postage stamp affixed to a postcard and then overprinted. Such a stamp was used in the Orange Free State, 1889-1897.

Postcard tax stamp - a stamp issued as a tax on picture postcards sent through the mail. The postcards must also carry normal postage. Used in Russia ca. 1922.

Postmark - an authorized mark printed over a postage stamp that makes reuse virtually impossible while recording the date and place of mailing.

Postmarking device - a tool for marking the origin, date, and transit of mail. Another use was to deface stamps, making them impossible to reuse. Such devices first appeared in Italy about 1454, but two centuries elapsed before they were widely used. Mechanical cancellers were developed in 1876 to speedily process the growing volume of mail. By 1880, power-driven units could postmark 15,000 cards or letters per hour.

Postmaster - the individual in charge of the operations of a local post office. A little-used nineteenth-century variation of the term to address women functioning in this position was 'postmistress'.

Postmaster General - the executive head of the U.S. Postal Service.

Postmasters' provisional stamp - a postmaster-issued stamp used before the introduction of government issues, especially during an interregnum.

Potato tax stamp - a revenue stamp issued in 1935 which was mandated by the Potato Act. The Supreme Court declared the stamp unconstitutional, and it was consequently never used.

Precancel - a stamp cancelled prior to affixing on mail matter or before being deposited at the post office which allows the item to bypass the usual canceling process.

Printing plate - any printing base used to print a sheet of stamps. The term 'subject' designates a complete stamp design on a plate. Plates of four hundred subjects have been used for printing most of the U.S. stamps since 1890. Before that, smaller plates were generally used.

Private die - the engraving of a stamp design by a manufacturer for exclusive use by that manufacturer. This was allowed under the Revenue Act of 1862. Stamps printed from such dies are known as 'private die proprietary stamps'.

Private die proprietary stamp - a revenue stamp used to seal a container of, for instance, matches and playing cards. The stamp pays the tax on the item and often advertised the company's name. They were widely used between 1862 and 1883.

Private perforation - a perforation applied by individuals or companies instead of being officially perforated by the issuing authority. Some companies use special perforations to operate more efficiently in their vending and mailing machines.

Provisional stamp - a stamp produced, often issued during an emergency to meet an immediate need, whose value or purpose has been altered after printing by means of a surcharge or overprint.

Publicity envelope stamp - a stamp sold to veteran's organizations at reduced rates for use to raise funds for disabled veterans.