Italian Word of the Day: Francobollo (postage stamp)

When I was young, one of my favourite pastimes was flipping through my father’s vast collection of postage stamps, among which was the prized Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp.

The word for postage stamp in Italian is francobollo. Being a masculine noun, it takes the following definite and indefinite articles.

  • il francobollo = the stamp
  • i francobolli = the stamps
  • un francobollo = a stamp
  • dei francobolli = (some) stamps
Italian word for stamp

The etymology of the word derives from franco, meaning “free from expenses or taxes” (because the recipient did not have to cover the postage), and bollo, to indicate its authenticity and authority. It is a calque of German Franco-Marke o Frei-Marke.

Il Penny Black è stato il primo francobollo adesivo emesso al mondo.

The Penny Black was the first adhesive stamp issued in the world.

Person sticking stamps in an album
Una collezione di francobolli = A stamp collection

If you want to describe the act of sticking a stamp onto a letter or package, you can use the verbs attaccare (to attach) or applicare (to apply). To collect stamps translates as fare collezione di francobolli or collezionare francobolli.

Applica il francobollo sulla busta e mettila nella buca delle lettere.

Put the stamp on the envelope and place it in the mailbox.

Some different kinds of francobolli include:

  • francobollo commemorativo = commemorative postage stamp
  • francobollo espresso = express stamp
  • francobollo per posta aerea = airmail stamp
  • francobollo di posta ordinaria = second class stamp
  • francobollo di posta prioritaria = first class stamp

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