Questions and Answers


Disclaimer: We welcome questions of general interest concerning Postal History collecting, exhibiting and judging. Please note that we have to forward your question to all our Bureau members who live in five different continents and are not always available. Therefore, it may take several weeks until we can publish our answer together with your question, name and country on our website. Inappropriate questions shall neither be published nor answered.

10 November 2013

What is the status of privately carried mail in a postal history exhibit?

7 January 2014

The Bureau at it’s meeting in Rio during Brasiliana 2013 agreed that Postal history items carried privately or outside the official mail by a private company is acceptable in a postal history exhibit.

Paper by Chris King FRPSL following presentation of Streamlined Seminar SS2 in Yokohama during Philanippon 2011

Response from the Commission is shown below.

25 August 2011

Judging Criteria for Postal History Exhibits

If you exhibit in any of the postal history classes, and you haven’t seen the Postal History Commission’s PowerPoint, which explains and illustrates the judging criteria, then it’s time that you did.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Postal History seminar at Philanippon in Yokohama, 30th July – 2nd August 2011. The speaker here was Peter McCann RDP, but the Commission has produced this PowerPoint so that it can be given by any member of the Bureau or suitably qualified FIP judge.

What follows is a purely personal opinion, but I believe that there are a number of points worth reporting to a wider audience concerning this excellent project, and several suggestions for the Bureau.

The seminar addresses each of the criteria for Judging Postal History Exhibits and offers guidance in current thinking for both judges and exhibitors, whether new or experienced.


The first notable aspect of this seminar is that out of 91 slides, 28 are concerned with presentation. There are many challenges in exhibiting postal history, but one of the qualities that international competition demands is that an exhibit stands out from the crowd. It has to insist, by its excellence, that it is worth looking at. It may be that either the rarity of the material, or the magnificent quality of the items shown, is compelling in its own right, but this is only one way in which an exhibit impresses itself on the judging team. There may be only five points for presentation, but if an exhibit looks ugly, uncared for, and carelessly mounted, it’s almost certain to lose points in other areas.

The seminar goes through presentation making comments that may seem blindingly obvious. Nevertheless, a tour around any exhibition will reveal entries with pages and frames that are ill balanced, with texts too extensive to read, or too unclear to fathom.

Also evident will be exhibits without page headings, or worse, with the same space-wasting heading repeated on every page. Pages with inappropriate colours, unfortunate matting, and off-centre covers will also appear in too many frames.

Presentation might appear to be about attractiveness, but if an exhibit is poorly presented, it is hard for a judge to get a clear appreciation of its treatment. It’s worth attending the seminar for this point alone.

Condition and Rarity.

A further 23 slides address the question of rarity. One piece of advice is for the exhibitor to tell the judges why a particular item is rare, as is a reminder that an exhibit with many rare items should get maximum points even if a few rarities are missing, since missing items should be evaluated under treatment.

Condition is covered by six further slides making the point that condition needs to be judged in the light of what is available. If an item in poor condition is displayed, it needs to be explained, and if the judging team knows from personal experience that better condition is available, points will be lost.

Knowledge and Personal Study.

While the selection of material, and its inclusion or otherwise, is a function of financial resources, knowledge and personal research are largely a matter for the exhibitor to acquire, and then to demonstrate.

During the exhibition the exhibitor is not available to make explanations to the jury, and if the exhibit doesn’t speak for itself, then the material is silent, and the jury members are left to work things out for themselves.

Explanation and analysis in writing-up is essential, and if the write-up states only the origin and destination of a cover, the total amount of the franking without explaining the rate, the visible postmarks and nothing else, it will not score well for knowledge.


One of the most significant aspects of this seminar is its definition of importance.

In class 2C, importance points are divided equally between “philatelic importance” and “historical and social importance”, although what material is acceptable in this class still remains the subject of debate. The comment is made that while significance relates to world postal system development, subject significance is also important, that is in relation to the overall development of an exhibit within its own chosen subject or topic.

Curiously no points breakdown is offered in guidance concerning this issue, and it may be that an equal division of points between these two qualities would be helpful.

Certainly, the comment is made that when assessing importance the judge should be aware that the postal history of a country founded within a later time period is just as important as the postal history of an earlier one – such as Israel, the Peoples Republic of China or Vietnam, and surely this only emphasises the need for further guidance on assessing significance.


Several excellent suggestions are made concerning how it is essential for the exhibitor to provide sufficient information to allow the judges to assess which postal history aspect (rates, routes, markings or usage) is the theme of the exhibit; to consider the scope of the exhibit and assess how clearly and logically the exhibit’s scope is set out, and finally to assess if the subject development matches the scope.

Surprisingly the role of the introductory page is not considered, and since many exhibits fail to make their intentions, structure, development and scope explicit at the outset, it is an omission which may need consideration in a later version of the seminar. Watching a judging team going backwards and forwards to read and re-read a poorly constructed introductory page is a sure sign that the exhibit lacks clarity, and that it is likely to be penalised.

Exhibiting isn’t only about money, although Grand Prix exhibits almost invariably demonstrate deep pockets; however exhibiting is also a craft, and any exhibitor wishing to demonstrate mastery should work hard at the points where finance is not the decisive factor, and which in some cases are virtually free.

This production in the Streamline Seminar series from the Postal History Commission is both informative and thought provoking. Try to see it if you can.

Chris King FRPSL

Bureau response to the Paper by Chris King.

12 September 2011

Comment of the Bureau of the FIP Postal History Commission on the paper of Chris King

Above all we have to consider the valid FIP SREV’s and Guidelines which have been drafted after eight years of discussion (2000-2008) consulting delegates and other Postal Historians around the World.

38 written reports with comments and suggestions had been received during that period. Therefore, it is understandable that not every personal opinion could be considered. The result is a fair compromise which was accepted by the FIP Congress in Bucarest in 2008. Since then we have discussed many detail aspects within our Bureau and our Seminars are the result of this effort representing the opinion of the majority of Bureau members.

After I realized that we had a few slides in our Seminars which were not in complete accordance with the valid SREV’s and Guidelines, we have adjusted SS2 (Judging) and SS3 (Exhibiting) accordingly so that these are now fully corresponding.

Only SS1 needs some more time as we have to discuss a few details concerning the new sub-class 2C before we can adjust it too.

Our Bureau decided at the Rome meeting 2009 that our SS3 can be given by everybody who wishes to do so (in fact all the delegates to our FIP commission are invited to do it), however, the SS2 can only be given by a few which have to be approved by our Bureau like Peter McCann as this serves as qualification seminar for future jurors.

Since 2009 Peter McCann has presented our SS2 seminar in London, New Delhi, Paraguay (38 attending) and Yokohama (45 attending).

Based on the reports received we have now about thirty who are interested to become FIP jurors for Postal History (either apprentices or cross accredited) which is reassuring for the future of the Postal History Class.

Title page.

Twenty years ago we were happy if there was a title page and very happy if it contained some sort of introduction plan at all. As we have achieved this goal, some tolerance of the jurors is now required because it is certainly much more difficult for a Japanese or Russian exhibitor to create an outstanding introductory page than for an American or Australian just because of the language problems.

One of our Bureau members gave a seminar a few years back just on the “introduction page” alone.

The Intro-page is something that will make or break the exhibit. However, one must bear in mind that not every (or even many) exhibitors can write in a scholarly manner. But as long as the essential information is there to help judging, we should not penalise the exhibitor too much on the introduction page alone.

One point worth noting is to compare the introduction pages sent to the jurors before and what actually appeares at the frame. 20%+ are not the same because changes had to be made when preparing the exhibit. Therefore, judges should be reminded to read carefully on what’s in the frame and base their judgement on the frame-version rather than the first “home” version of the intro-page.

Please note that SS2 is for “FIP Judging Seminars” only and we expect participants to have read our SREV’s and Guidelines. To educate exhibitors our Bureau has compiled SS3 which devotes 4 slides to the title page.

Our SREV’s and Guidelines are sufficient so that the SS2 does not need to explain this any further:

3.3 The plan or concept of all sub-classes of postal history exhibits shall be clearly explained in an introductory statement (ref. GREV, Article 3.3).

4. Introduction 4.1 All Postal History exhibits must contain an Introductory Statement showing the scope of the exhibit. The Title of the exhibit must correspond to the Introductory Statement.

4.2 The Title Page should be used as follows:

  • To give relevant general (Postal History) information on the subject being developed in the exhibit.
  • To include a plan of how the structure of the exhibit is shown – chapters or sections etc., which have postal history relevance – rather than a “frame by frame” or “page by page” description.
  • To indicate areas of personal investigation.
  • To include details of important documentary sources and references.

4.3 The judges will evaluate the material shown, and the associated text, in the exhibit against the information included on the Title Page (Title, Introductory Statement, information relevant to the whole exhibit; the way the exhibit is structured; research and references).

A well thought out Title Page will assist both the exhibitor and judges.


There is no splitting of “significance” in our valid regulations:

5.1.2 When evaluating the treatment and importance of the exhibits, judges will look at the general development of the subject, the completeness of the material shown in relation to the scope of the exhibit and the relative philatelic, or historical significance of the subject shown, as well as the difficulty in duplicating the exhibit. Exhibitors should ensure that their exhibit is cohesive and avoid combining largely unrelated subjects; such exhibits are likely to lose marks under the treatment and importance criterion.

5.1.3 The importance of an exhibit will be gauged in relation to the general postal history of the country, area or subject shown, and to philately in general or importance to history, mankind or geographic area with respect to sub-class 2C. It will usually be easier to adequately treat and provide completeness to unimportant subjects than to important ones in the space available.

5.1.4 For example, the postal history of a capital city may generally be more important than that of a provincial town or a rural area. A postal rate study of postal agreements between two or more states would generally be more important than the domestic internal rates of an individual state over the same period. An exhibit (e.g. of rates) which spans the preadhesive and postage stamp eras, but omits reference to the first postage stamp issues, will inevitably be downgraded under importance and rarity. This is equally applicable to exhibits of all periods which omit the most difficult sections.

We know that there are two schools on how to evaluate “Importance” and that the “British school” considers the significance of the material in the exhibit too. After discussing this many times, the majority of our Bureau decided to follow the “Paul Jensen school” that Importance is the challenge of the subject which the exhitor has chosen. How well he has done it is considered under Treatment.

Massagno, August 25

Kurt Kimmel, Chairman

Questions from the late Paulo Comelli R.D.P. (FIP Director)


Postal History Commission responses included under the Questions in bold and represent the majority view of the Bureau Members

January 17 2011.

Q1: What is meant by the term “overwritten” in Postal History?

The valid SREV’s and Guidelines regulate this as follows: SREV Article 4: Criteria for Evaluating Exhibits (ref. GREV, Article 4)

The importance of understanding a postal history exhibit can mean that more text is included or that non-postal history or non-philatelic material is included as supporting documentation. However, all text must be concise and clear and the inclusion of related non-postal history or non-philatelic material must improve the understanding of the postal history subject and the attractiveness of the exhibit.

GL 2.5 A general rule should be that a Postal History exhibit should show interesting material (Philatelic and where permitted non-philatelic) to the best advantage, and not appear to be a manuscript for a monograph.

GL 5.2.3 The proper evaluation of philatelic and related knowledge, personal study, and research will be based on the relevant description of each philatelic object shown. Judges and exhibitors should bear in mind that the information given should not overwhelm the philatelic material shown. A well thought-out plan (see 4. Introductory Statement above) may avoid otherwise lengthy descriptions later in the exhibit. Although we think that these regulations are clear, we add a few remarks to answer:

Too much text might be caused by different reasons:

a) the exhibitor’s knowledge is so deep that he or she really wants to teach everybody about the item and cannot stop the flow of information.

b) the exhibitor’s knowledge is so superficial that he or she tries to cover this behind a huge amount of words hoping that nobody will read this. A difficult or relatively less well known subject would need more text to describe while one which is well known or well researched would need less text. Beware of exhibit pages using excessive text or huge fonts (like size 13+) for the text to fill up the blank spaces where another related item could be placed. Non-postal history information stating details about the traditional aspects of a stamp (like printing or perforation varieties) or catalogue numbers should be avoided because they detract from the main postal history subject of the exhibit. Historical or Social information about the sender or recipient, etc. might be given in a different or smaller font above all in 2C exhibits.

Q2: What is meant by the term “too much blank space” in Postal History?

Normally too much blank space indicates lack of material or knowledge. Blank space can and should be used to highlight an item which is extremely rare and important for the exhibit, but such pages should only appear a few times throughout an exhibit. One small or medium sized cover per page requires the cover to be very special. Too much blank space could be the result of:-

1. Small cover(s)

2. Underwritten pages

3. Insufficient material.

Jurors usually look at those exhibit pages with one cover closely. Is it a very rare or unique item? If so, one cover per page may be warranted, otherwise, the exhibitor better finds a “mate” to occupy the blank space. A “mate” meaning a related item or something that would add to the development of the exhibit without being just a duplication. Then the jurors will check if the item is adequately explained considering what we said to answer question 1.

We should not define how much of the page means too much blank space, otherwise some judges might start to measure the % of blank areas on each page!

Q3: What is meant by the term “duplication” in Postal History?

The valid Guidelines regulate this as follows:

2.4 Exhibitors should avoid large-scale duplication of similar items, large chronological gaps where possible and the inclusion of expensive items not directly relevant to the subject shown. For rates and routes exhibits to show the same single, double or triple rate on several pages just with different frankings might be considered duplication. Sometimes a multiple rate may not be the scarcest! This mainly depends on the chosen subject.

If single rates are common, it might be better just to show the cover depicting the rarest rate to gain knowledge and rarity points.

On the other hand if only two or three single rate covers franked with a single stamp are known such a single franking should be exhibited proving why this value was issued and it should not be considered a “large-scale duplication” if shown together with a multiple franking even if both are with the same rate and the same route.

An even better “mate” would be a registered or an insufficiently prepaid letter carried on the same route.

However, jurors have to consider what exists e.g. there are only three registered letters known from Venezuela during the period 1859-1880 and certainly should be exhibited alone without a “mate”.

Two covers posted in different towns (therefore, with different handstamps) both traveling on the same route can be judged as duplication in a rates and routes exhibit.

For marcophily exhibits two covers showing essentially the same marking, unless demonstrating the period of use or the changing appearance of such a postmark, would be duplication.

In judging a marcophily exhibit, exhibit pages with stamps and cover(s) showing the same mark often get penalised for duplication. The reason being why bother to show partial postmarks on stamps while one can show a complete strike on cover. However, for example a page with postmarks on stamps and a postcard showing the same postmark may be tolerated if the exhibitor is talking about the usage of the postmark during a period.

Questions from Dr Robert Bell, Arizona U.S.A.

Postal History Commission responses included under the Questions in bold


2 October 2009
Q: Are there any other FIP Classes, other than Postal History and Traditional, that have gone or plan to go to Three Periods?

It appears the only other classes that might consider the Three Time Periods are Postal Stationery and Revenue. We do not know if these classes will look into adopting the three periods. For Postal Stationery the pre-GPU (pre 1875) period is very limited in material and for the Revenue class the Three Time Periods year ranges are not nearly as relevant as for the Postal History class or even the Traditional class.

Q: Are there any publications or links that give information/overview on the Three Period changes?

The PHB is not aware of such publications or links on the Three Time Periods.

Q: Who was the originator of the Three Period idea in FIP, and what year was that?

The Three Time Periods were successfully implemented for the first time at the FIP World Stamp Championship 2004 in Singapore, however, only in the Traditional Class and divided as follows: Class A) up to
1900 Class B) 1900-1940 Class C) after 1940. Class B had one Large Gold and five Golds, Class
C had four Golds.

-Q: Are you aware of other countries that are accepting the FIP rules as it pertains to the Three Periods for national exhibits? I have heard the Germany and New Zealand have or are introducing.

Most countries (the United States is an exception) use the FIP rules to judge their national exhibits and since the FIP Postal History judging rules have the Three Time Periods, ***** these countries may apply them. In 1995 our Chairman Kurt Kimmel introduced two time periods in Switzerland for the Traditional Class and the Postal History Class:
A) mainly before 1900 B) mainly after 1900 and these are judged by different Jury teams.

Q: What do you think are the advantages of the Three Periods?

As the 2004 Singapore experiment has shown, exhibits after 1900 if really well done have a better chance to achieve Gold and Large Gold if they are not compared with the “heavy-weight” Classic exhibits. Therefore, the grouping in Time Periods only makes sense if judged by different Jury teams. From a practical point of view we do not have enough jurors for three time periods. Also from a practical point of view, there are only few exhibits after 1945. With these practical limitations in mind the best solution is to let one Jury team judge the pre-UPU exhibits (pre – 1875) and another Jury team judge all the exhibits after UPU (post – 1875). It is easier for a juror to compare Inflation rate exhibits of Germany, Hungary, Poland, China (post – 1875) with each other than with German States or Austrian Empire exhibits (pre – 1875).

Q: What are the disadvantages?

The disadvantages of the Three Time Periods will be found once we have some experience in using the Three Time Periods.

Q: Do you think that the Three Periods level the playing field a little as it pertains to money in exhibiting?

The PHB will be interested in the evidence on this question once we have some experience. Over the last 25 or so years the Postal History class has risen from non-existence to high prominence in the exhibiting world and the PHB hopes the rule changes passed by the FIP Congress in Bucharest, Romania in 2008, including the Three Time Periods, will continue this favorable trend. Since the 2008 Congress most interest for the PHC has been about the new 2C subclass.

Q: Does FIP have period prizes?

The answer to your question is No. But the PHB would be in favor of the best exhibit of each sub-class and each time period receiving a Special prize if there are at least ten exhibits in each sub-class and time period. However, this will only be possible if the exhibits are grouped accordingly ad this can only happen if the exhibitors learn to send the application forms indicating clearly which sub-class and time period their exhibits belong to.

Q: Will it in time tend to take money out of exhibiting?

Certainly not. It is an established economic fact that whatever is popular becomes more expensive. Since Postal History has been introduced as an Exhibition Class it has become more popular than any other Class. We are convinced that with the new sub-classes and three time periods Postal History will attract even more collectors and exhibitors than currently.


Question from Dr Robert Bell, Arizona U.S.A.

12 December 2008

Dear Sir,

Some questions relating to the FIP Postal History exhibiting rules:

  1. Presumably the Grand Prix will not go to post 1945 exhibits very often and importance will still be a factor in those awards. Am I correct?
  2. Is postal history the only exhibiting category doing this so far?
  3. Is this experimental or permanent?

Response from the
Postal History Commission

11 January 2009

  1. 1. If postal history exhibits are to be grouped into the three periods and separate jury teams for each period are formed to judge them, we are very hopeful that postal history exhibits after 1945 will get better awards in future if they merit them. We agree with Dr Bell that to assume the Grand Prix will go to post 1945 exhibits very often would not be realistic. If the GPN (Grand Prix National) system is maintained, a well prepared post 1945 postal history exhibit shown in the national class of “modern countries” such as Israel, People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc. might have a chance of winning a GPN. Nevertheless, we favour the new approach to give awards to the best of class or sub-class if there are at least ten exhibits in competition in the same sub-class according to our proposition to the FIP Board dated November 26, 2008, as published on our website under News. Importance remains at 10 points (or 10%) which we feel is appropriate. 20% was too much and 0% would lead to strange results which nobody could understand. The division into time periods should eliminate the obligation to compare post 1945 exhibits with important exhibits of the pre UPU period. The importance should be considered only within the same time period.
  2. No, in fact the Traditional Class had these time periods before the Postal History Class. We adapted the same time periods as the Traditional Class although Postal History starts much earlier so that the pre UPU Postal History sub-class covers a very long and important time period. In fact at the Singapore 2004 exhibition the Traditional Class experimented successfully with these time periods and different jury teams. Actually both FIP Commissions (Traditional and Postal History) favour this new grouping of exhibits and have confirmed this in writing to the FIP Board and to the Operating Committees of the forthcoming International Exhibitions.
  3. Who would have thought twenty years ago that a Thematic exhibit would proposed as candidate for the Grand Prix? Philately is alive and developing still. Therefore, we should not assume that this new grouping in time periods will be permanent. However, the time periods were accepted by the Postal History Commission at the Singapore 2004 Commission meeting and have been confirmed by the FIP Congress in 2008 so that they are in effect as from January 1, 2009. It is now up to the Federations and Organising Committees of Exhibitions to implement them.


Question from Darryl Kibble,
Queensland, Australia

29 August 2008

Dear Sir,

Regarding the new FIP postal history rules:

  1. Given exhibits are now judged by time periods rather than geographic, does it mean that a good modern exhibit can now achieve FIP Gold/Large Gold? In other words, philatelic importance and rarity are weighted against the time period being exhibited in, not against other time periods (as modern material naturally cannot compete with the classics in importance and rarity).
  2. In terms of sub-class 2C (Historical, social, special studies), should the postal material still detail traditional rates, routes and markings, or is it not necessary except when deemed interesting to do so etc.?

I am now preparing a postal history exhibit for 2009 given the new rules are in play (I would not have done so under the old rules). My period is after 1945 so is modern (hence my question one above). But the exhibit is more about the social and political climate that gave rise to the postal history being displayed over a 60 year period (basically it is on mail that has been interrupted in the Middle East due to war & politics, almost exclusively related to the existence of Israel). So for instance, of importance to me is why a cover was rejected by one country to be delivered, and the markings if any applied by the rejecting country. This is more important that the rate of the mail (although the route can be important, and the markings). To include the rate, would require a knowledge of every postal authority in the world for the past 60 years, as the mail is coming from everywhere!! Hence my question two. For my exhibit, the social climate + markings are the most important thing, followed by routes, and rates are meaningless as none of my interrupted mail is due to incorrect rates!

Your thoughts would be appreciated, thanks.

Response from the
Postal History Commission

3 September 2008

  1. The new division of Postal History exhibits by time periods should lead to better results of exhibits covering the postal history of the 20th century. As Mr Kibble correctly assumes the philatelic importance and rarity should be considered against the other exhibits of the same time period. Therefore, the goal remains that the Jury team of the period up to 1875 should be different from the one judging the period after 1945 & However, that does not mean that such exhibits shall get Gold and Large Gold easily. To achieve such medals with exhibits of the period before 1875 has been and shall remain a real challenge too.
  2. We are pleased to learn that the new rules encourage Mr Kibble to prepare such an interesting exhibit. At this experimental stage, we feel that his approach should prove to be the best e.g. to mention rates, routes and markings when deemed interesting to do so. If Mr Kibble decides to show in the sub-class 2A (rates and routes) he has to study all the rates and routes in order to achieve high points for knowledge and research. Therefore, we feel that he should do better in the new class 2C if he can present his exhibit in a way which will be easy to understand by including related non-philatelic material in a moderate way in order to demonstrate the reason for a rejection of an exhibited letter or to illustrate the historical background leading to such a rejection e.g. at the begin of a new chapter. The chapter title with explanation and illustration should not exceed half a page so that also a related letter can be shown on the same page. We assume that the markings concern the rejections and, therefore, should be researched and commented.