The Hidden Language of Stamps


Once upon a time, before text messages and email that could be kept between two people, the art of communicating sometimes required secrecy.

If anyone feared their postcard being intercepted by a family member or friend, all they had to do was pull out their book of secret stamp language and figure out the code of the stamp’s placement.


Of course, such a code had its downsides – the message of the stamp based on its orientation changed from source to source. One code suggests that an upside-down stamp means “I am not free,” while another suggests that the same placement means “I love you truly” or “I am always true to you”. You can imagine what sort of misunderstandings this could cause.

However, the “language of the stamps” still strikes our fancy. If you want to write to a loved one and send them a secret message via stamp placement, here are some codes from the Philatelic Database:


Stamp Placement:

  • Upside down, top left corner: I love you
  • Diagonal on top left corner: My heart is another’s
  • Top center of envelope: Yes
  • Bottom center of envelope: No
  • Right side up: Goodbye sweetheart
  • Upside-down, top right corner: Write no more
  • At a right angle, top right corner: I hate you

…And these are just a few of them!


Some of these are excessively harsh – but at least they saved the recipient their dignity if anyone else were to discover the letter.

It’s possible that stamp language was actually barely used. Vintage novelty postcards tout the language of the stamps and show what certain placements mean, but doesn’t it kind of ruin the purpose if it translates it right there on the card?


But if the card gives no explanation to the placement of the stamp, it’s completely up to the receiver to determine what code was used.

If you used a secret stamp code, who would you send it to and what would it say?

Images from this source.


2 thoughts on “The Hidden Language of Stamps

  1. Thanks for this lovely post, which says so much about the innovative ways we humans found to communicate with one another before we were all facebooking and tweeting. As a collector of old postal history I was aware of the romantic connotations of upside down stamps but I didn’t know about the other messages in the placement of stamps. Once upon a time I used to send my wife cards with stamps upside down – your article has given me the thought that I must do so again soon. Thankyou!

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