The invention of printing was as much a technological revolution a few hundred years ago, as the onset of the internet is today. One big difference is that proofreading was of paramount importance to printed material but is almost non-existent in e-mails, blogs, and chat rooms.

When stamps entered the printing field 160 years ago errors crept in even though they were scrutinized before printing. Trial color proofs, proofs, and essays were made, but only concerned themselves with the design of the stamp. Sheet and coil test stamps were developed to test the production and commercial equipment which included printing presses, gumming machines, separators,  stamp affixers, and vending machines, Private companies also dispensed stamps and they developed test stamps to see how they would work in their machines before they risked making mistakes with postage stamps.

Around the turn of the twentieth century stamp booklets arrived. They presented additional problems in the printing and manufacturing processes. Clearly they were bigger than  stamps, had to be bound, the interleaves had to be inserted between the panes, the printing on the interleaves had to be oriented for legibility, the interleaves had to be made of material that would eliminate sticking, and the booklets had to be sealed properly. Dummies also  function as training materials for postal employees and promotion by printers to increase sales. My guess is that the most important function was to perfect production equipment to be able to handle new booklet formats. Therefore, booklets were only tested when the format changed to be sure the machines were be accurate and reliable.

It certainly wouldn’t do for you to receive an extra booklet pane or a valuable variety caused by the machine functioning improperly.. When you used a vending machine you might not mind getting two booklets for the price of one but you would be furious if the machine took your money and crushed the stamps at the same time. Machines had to work every time a customer made a purchase. If they didn’t work correctly, many customers would be unhappy and the Postal Service would have extensive repair bills. The amount of money involved in each vending machine transaction is different from that of an automatic teller machine, but the principle is the same – neither shortchange the customer nor give the customer more than he/she is entitled.

Suppose you purchased a booklet and it became separated in your purse so all you had was a bunch of small pieces of paper mixed in with your keys, cosmetics, and handkerchief. Clearly the booklet you bought had to stay bound. Should one or two staples be used? Or is a little adhesive more economical? When producing many millions the cheapest form of production that will do the job will be used. Why use two staples if one will do? Or maybe two small staples are cheaper than one long one? How do you prevent the stitches from unraveling?

Naturally, many tests had to be devised and carried out. As a result many new collectibles were developed before the actual postage stamps could be used, Sometimes the proposed stamps never were produced, but the test stamps and booklets were. They weren’t supposed to reach the hands of collectors, but many did. They have become eminently collectible.

What do dummy booklets look like? Specialized catalogues picture the many varieties of dummy booklets and booklet pane layouts. The catalogues  also provide a great deal of technical information about the booklets.

There are also a couple of dummy stamp newsletters on the worldwide web that show dummy stamps and booklets. Both these newsletters are devoted more towards dummy stamps than booklets. One of the groups, The Dummy Booklets Study group, has changed its name to Dummy Stamps Study Group because the previous name was too limiting. Their URL is Their first newsletter was issued in the Fall of 2005. You can view and, if you wish, download any or all of their eleven newsletters including the one issued in the Spring of 2008.

The United Kingdom also has a Dummy Stamps Newsletter. You can find it at The first newsletter was issued in the Summer of 2006 and the eight newsletters through the Spring of 2008 can be viewed on this site. Though it is directed mainly to dummy stamps you can find a little information about dummy booklets (called books) on this site. Unlike the site of the United States Stamp Society, which is devoted only to the dummy  issues of the United States, the UK site covers issues from around the world even though in its masthead it says it looks at the “World of British Dummy Stamps Material.” Both sites are profusely illustrated.

I have never seen definitions which would enable you to distinguish among dummy, test, and experimental material. The first two issues of the UK newsletter devote a little space to the uses and definition of such material. A later issue discusses what the American Dummy Coverage is. The definition has been slightly modified since some material  “ simply not applicable to the British stamp scene.” I do not want to get into a battle of definitions. I am merely trying to acquaint you with and tell you where to find written articles about this unusual field of collecting.

Here are some illustrations of non-stamp booklets and stamp packaging and you can decide on where they fit in the competing definitions. (As an aside, I also have trouble deciding whether a non-postage stamp is a poster stamp, a cinderella, or just a pretty label. I have consulted experts from both sides of the Atlantic and I haven’t found agreement among them.)

Back to the illustrations.

There is another web site ( which shows early dummy booklets and mentions and pictures the “poached egg” test coil stamps from Great Britain. There are no pictures of the poached egg booklet pane but here’s one —

and the booklet which followed it. The inside and outside covers are printed exactly the same in both booklets. But one contains test stamps and the other valid stamps. It is interesting to note that the test booklet cost 20 times what I paid for the postage booklet.

The words on the poached egg test stamps are repeated on some United States test stamps. The cover of this test stamp booklet calls them “labels.” The stamps themselves are called “self-adhesive labels.”

stamp-great-britain-poached-egg-booklet-pane-Poached egg


Test stamps

If it weren’t for the word DUMMY printed in red on the front of this United States booklet you would think it was a real postage stamp booklet. Until you opened it. The stamp paper inside is blank. There is gum on the back of the blank “stamps” and there are horizontal gum breakers also. The gum is not smooth. The interleaves are blank. There are two staples binding the booklet together.

The covers are printed on both sides in exactly the same manner as the booklet that was eventually made. The postage booklet contains four panes of five, 5¢ stamps plus a label. The dummy booklet contains four panes of 6 blank stamps.

us-dummyUS dummy

There is a very short article in Wikipedia about test stamps. There are 3 lines about German test stamps and booklets which says that they were used between 1915 and 1930 to show advertisers in stamp booklets how their advertisements would appear.

I believe the dummy booklet shown below is from Germany. It is a mystery because there is no printing, either on the cover or the pane of “stamps” attached inside. The stamps are medium green and the cover is tan. How can one tell where this dummy booklet originated?

There are 5 reasons why I believe this booklet is from Germany. First, because I bought it from a dealer who said it was from Germany. Second, the green paper shows the same mottling as other German dummy booklets. Third, the gum on the back of the “stamps” is the same as in other dummy booklets from Germany. Fourth, the stamps and covers are exactly the same size as other German dummy booklets. Lastly, the perforations are the same size as in other German booklets.

What I don’t know is if this booklet is a forerunner of a booklet from Deutsche Bundespost or Deutsche Bundespost Berlin. The other booklets I have were printed in the 1970’s so I assume this one was also.

german-dummyGerman dummy

There is a fairly common test booklet from Sweden. It contains the test stamp Uppsala Cathedral. It was printed in 1963. The most interesting thing about this test booklet is that the stamps were designed by Czeslaw Slania. He was born in Czeladz, Poland in 1921, moved to Sweden in 1956, and died in 2005. He designed stamps and banknotes for over 40 countries, including test stamps for Denmark and private works for movie stars, boxers, and world leaders.

There is another test booklet  from Sweden with the same stamp design but it is multicolored.

sweden_dummySweden dummy

It too was designed by Slania.

Experimental booklets have been issued to see how the public reacted to some change. For example, a booklet was issued by the United States Postal Service (USPS) with silicone interleaves. The public was asked to return a form, provided in the booklet, to express their reaction. Unfortunately, I was told that the USPS didn’t keep any records of the public’s responses.

From what I can tell, dummy and test booklets were made to help postal services to better design their product, and experimental booklets changed parts of the booklet to see how the public received the change. It is interesting to note that the first self-adhesive stamp issued in the United States in 1974 (as an experiment) was poorly received but in recent times, self-adhesives are preferred by the public worldwide.

Many other dummy booklets from the U. K. and the U. S. were issued, are shown in catalogues, and are in collector’s albums. Besides the countries mentioned here, there are a few others that have issued test booklets which can be found. The real challenge is to find new dummy booklets either companions to those already known, or from countries that have kept them away from the public. Maybe there are some in postal archives which will be found if the postal service will allow someone to search the stamp material.

Published Stamp Lover – London, England  – December 2008