Guest Post: The Secret Language of Stamp Placement

We live in an age where communication is simply a matter of typing a few lines of text and hitting the ‘send’ button. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, we can send our loved ones a few loving words whenever we want – in the knowledge that they will be received within just a few seconds. There was a time, however, when a message of love could take more than a week to arrive. The sending of letter may be a dying art these days, but it used to be a heartfelt, romantic gesture, and young lovers would often choose the placement of a stamp to convey a hidden message.

‘The language of stamps’ may now be consigned to the annals of history, but before the advent of digital communication, it was a used as a way of sending a clandestine message of love – or in some cases – rejection. In many ways, the placement of stamps on envelopes was one of the earliest forms of text speak, but instead of the now widespread use of LOL, LMAO and OMG, the orientation and location of a stamp told the story.

This mysterious cypher was developed in Victorian England, and for more than 100 years, the sight of oddly positioned stamps on letters and picture postcards was commonplace. The idea behind the secret language of stamps developed at a time when courtship and romance were subject to a strict code of conduct. Young men were expected to be respectful in their proclamations of affection, and it was incumbent on young ladies to act with chastity and dignity during the first throes of romance.

However, courting couples could send secret messages to one another through a series of stamp placements – which would usually evade the attention of suspicious parents. The secret language quickly caught on throughout the world, but the problem of seemingly arbitrarily placed stamps on letters and postcards became so bad, many national postal services introduced strict guidelines on where to position stamps. Indeed, some letters would simply be returned to the sender unless those guidelines were followed.

So, what were these mysterious stamp placements? And exactly what romantic messages did they stand for? Well, perhaps the most commonly used stamp placement was upside down at the top left corner of a postcard or envelope, which stood for: ‘I love you’. Any young lady receiving correspondence with a stamp positioned in this way would have either been giddy with excitement or filled with dread.

Unfortunately, the news conveyed by a stamp was not always positive. For instance, a stamp placed sideways at the top left corner of an envelope stood for: “My heart is another’s”. And many a broken heart has been caused by an upside down stamp placed at the top right corner, as this was the universally accepted stamp placement for: “Write no more”. While there were several secret messages that no smitten recipient ever wanted to receive, few would have been more heartbreaking than the “I hate you” placement, which was represented with a stamp placed at a right angle in the top left corner.

While there is undoubtedly an element of humour to be found in this quirky practice, there is also something charming and romantic about it. Illicit love has long been a subject of verse and play, and to know that young lovers communicated their feelings to one another in this way provokes images of romance during simpler times. If you are thinking of using the secret language of stamps to express your love for someone, a full list of the universally accepted stamp placements can be found at the Philatelic Database.

Company Profile:
Ace-Envelopes is one of UK’s leading suppliers of envelopes, over 25 million envelopes in different sizes, colours and shapes available for next day delivery services to meet your needs.


  1. Interesting.