Below is a postal stamp with the... postal stamp on it.

enter image description here

It might sound weird, but a postal stamp on a postal stamp are the only terms coming to my mind when I refer to a used (redeemed?) postal stamp.

Is there any special word(s) in English to refer to an oval/circle/squared black imprint which a post office usually does on a postal stamp? How do you call a redeemed/used postal stamp?

I hate thinking that there is no special word in English to distinguish between a stamp and a stamp :-)

How do you call a process of... well... stamping stamps? Apparently it must be a verb, for example:

That USPS clerk has stamped all stamps on my envelope, so I won't be able to use them again.

UPDATE: (after John Lawler's comment)

May I use the term unstamped stamps referring to either new stamps or to those a clerk at a post office did not stamp for some reason?

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    Stamp terminology may be different in Britain (where they were invented) to the United States - to begin with in Britain they are "postage stamps". The mark which the post office "stamps" on them is known to philatelists, I believe, as the stamp's "cancellation". Try "That USPS clerk has cancelled all stamps on my envelope...". You may also be interested to know that under an international postal convention, Britain, is the only country in the world which is exempt from having to place the country's name on the stamp. But such non-identified stamps must carry an image of the Queen's head.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 11:58
  • @WS2, thank you very much for the excellent answer! Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 12:15
  • Note that stamp means both the instrument that makes a cancellation and the cancellation mark that it makes, as well as the small paper attachments that get marked by the stamp. It's quite a flexible word. This happens often to nouns formed from action verbs, which can get attached to all sorts of things and events that pertain to the action. Similar remarks (though different in particulars) apply to nouns from the verb press, which is another meaning of the verb stamp Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:43
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    Redeem is not used for postal stamps in the U.S. It's used for other kinds of stamps, like the ones that used to be given out in grocery stores in the U.S. as incentives. You pasted the stamps into books and then took them to "Redemption Stores" to exchange for various items. This was called "redeeming" the stamps. Google "S & H Green Stamps" for details. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:02
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    @JohnLawler I remember those. In the UK they were called "Green Shield Stamps". An enormous stamp-inflation took place, so that retailers were offering, triple, quadruple, quintuple etc stamps.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


The stamp shown in the question is franked.

Here are a few real-word example sentences that unambiguously show franked in use in the required sense:

The Facts About Unfranked Stamps

Robert Murray, www.stampshop.com

This article is presented here because of my unease about the present situation regarding the re-use and sale of UK stamps which have been through the post but escaped being postmarked ("cancelled"/"franked").

Royal Mail launches tamper-proof stamp

Daily Mail, 28 May 2009

The Royal Mail has launched a new tamper-proof stamp in a bid to stop people peeling off old ones and re-using them.

The fraudulent act costs the company tens of thousands of pounds a year. The problem has thought to have recently increased as credit crunch-hit customers try to get away without paying.

Although stamps are franked when they go through the sorting office, the markings on re-used ones are not always picked up by staff and so many slip through the net.

Royal Mail crackdown as crooks cash in on fake stamps ahead of price rise

Daily Record, by Jane Barrie, 25 March 2018

...we found fake and used first and second class stamps for sale for less than half their face value.

The counterfeits, which experts believe mainly come from Turkey and China, are missing the crucial ­phosphor bands printed on real stamps. Some also don’t carry date and source codes within the ­background lettering. The used stamps are unfranked and advertised as for collectors only – but head illegally back into circulation.

The relevant definition from Oxford Living Dictionaries follows:

frank verb [with object]

1 Stamp an official mark on (a letter or parcel), especially to indicate that postage has been paid or does not need to be paid.

‘Three were international mail franked by Bang Lamung Post Office on the 26th and 27th of last month.’

‘We had aggressively used computerized mailing lists in the Senate for our franked mail program and in our political operations for direct mail fundraising.’

‘Volunteers stuck labels, folded letters, franked envelopes and filed mail bags to send more than 10,000 copies of the new brochure out to the public.’

‘That form has since been well franked as Wild Passion is now one of the leading lights of the Noel Meade yard.’

‘Royal Mail introduces new requirements for franked mail to bear a return address for it to be returned when undeliverable’

‘Bargain hunters browsed around the vast array of stalls selling anything from sunglasses to framed and franked Adolf Hitler stamps!’


These example sentences are a little confusing when read together as there are several related but distinct meanings to frank here. The two example sentences I have italicised refer to franking in the sense most relevant to the question.

Franking does not just refer to the cancellation mark. As the definition above indicates, a frank could, for instance, be an imprint used in place of a stamp, such as those seen on direct mail or on automatically generated post, such as utility bills or bank statements.

Hence, a franking machine refers to a machine businesses which send a lot of post use in place of stamps. Mailmark is the (UK) Royal Mail franking scheme:

The latest, most sophisticated franking machines can process huge volumes of mail quickly and accurately – and even more basic models offer major time savings. It’s easy to drop your Mailmark franked mail at a Post Office®, or if you regularly send high volumes of Mailmark franked mail, you can set up a regular business collection.1

So franked mail nearly always means post bearing a frank for postage rather than a stamp, something like this:

enter image description here

But it doesn't end there. The Wikipedia rendering of the Universal Postal Union technical meaning of franking follows, though this does not fully accord with day-to-day usage, as, according to this definition, an uncancelled stamp is itself a frank:

Franking refers to any devices, markings, or combinations thereof ("franks") applied to mails of any class which qualifies them to be postally serviced. Types of franks include uncanceled and precanceled postage stamps (both adhesive and printed on postal stationery), impressions applied via postage meter (via so-called "postage evidencing systems"), official use "Penalty" franks, Business Reply Mail (BRM), and other permit Imprints (Indicia), manuscript and facsimile "franking privilege" signatures, "soldier's mail" markings, and any other forms authorized by the 191 postal administrations that are members of the Universal Postal Union.

Frank does seem to be a rather confusing word, but, putting the Universal Postal Union definition aside, which is odd and legalistic, in normal usage frank's ambiguities don't generally cause any trouble.

As the term has such complexities to it - much more than I realised in the first instance - while writing this answer I found myself beginning to doubt that franked is the right word to use when referring to stamps. However an eBay search for franked reassuringly turns up lots like this:

enter image description here

Whereas unfranked will find you this sort of thing:

enter image description here

(Having said that, I can understand how you might well prefer this answer which gives cancellation and postmark, both of which also entirely correct and completely unambiguous. If you need a verb, it would also be quite proper to say a stamp has been cancelled or postmarked.)

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    This is the answer of my choice. Thank you for the detailed explanations, Much appreciated. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 11:07

In the United states, the mark placed on a postage stamp to show that it has been used can be called a cancellation or a post mark.

A post mark often includes the date when the stamp was cancelled (used) and you may see the phrase "postmarked by [date]", to indicate that a letter has to be mailed by that date.

Send contest entry form to: 100 This Street, New York, NY. Entry must be postmarked by May 12, 2018

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    Yes, it is called both of those in Britain too. I should have mentioned "post mark" in my earlier comment to @Interface Unknown - if anything it is more common than "cancellation".
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 21:43

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