Chapter 25 Technical info about stamps [PREV] [NEXT] [HOME]

This chapter was last modified on [10-12-96 (Tue) at 07:48:22] . Please send all bug reports, additions etc. to the Editor, Gert Bultman.

Section 25.1 Paper types

David Lee writes: This is in response to several recent postings regarding stamp papers and their preservation.. I found some information some time ago and thought it quite interesting.. For those who want literature on the subject, here are a few items which are inexpensive and quite good.. It is difficult to find anything which is considered `the reference' work on this subject as most of the work appears to have been done through the various museum restoration people..

1. Two pamphlets were published by the Collectors Club of Chicago in the last year or so and are available free for a SASE..The work was sponsored by the Arthur Salm Foundation.. Report Nuumber 1, March 1991 and "Report Number 2, 1992" are both devoted to analyzing various paper products used for mounting and protecting stamps.. Commercial products were purchased and checked for their acidity.. Popular brands are listed along with the pH values..Hinges and glassine envelopes are listed.. It has been known that glassines are NOT good for long term storage of stamps.. Most dealers however, continue to used them. Request copies of the above two reports from:

The Arthur Salm Foundation Collectors Club of Chicago 1029 North Dearborn St. Chicago, IL 60610

2. An excellent manual on paper in general and it's preservation is available from the Society of American Archivist.. Also ask for a list of their latest publications; they have a very interesting group of literature for sale.. The one I recommend for stamp collectors is Archives and Manuscripts: Conservation, A Manual on Physical Care and Management by M. L. Ritzenthaler. I've forgotten what it cost, sonething like $20 or's more than worth the cost. It deals with care, storage and repair of paper products.. It will surprise most of you regarding stamp care. It also covers cloth, animal skins, photographic materials and inks. Address is:

Society of American Archivists 600 South Federal Suite 504 Chicago, IL 60605

An excellent bibliography and reference section appears in the appendix.. BUY IT!!!!!

On the specific subject of stamps. Stamps are made from paper; paper has always been made primarily from plant fibers such as cotton, wood, ..etc. which are rich in cellulose. Besides cellulose, plant fibers contain sugars, starches, carbohydrates and lignin (naturally occuring organic acid). Also during the manufacturing of paper, `sizing' is added to make paper more receptive to receiving inks otherwise the paper would act like a blotter and the inks would spread and feather. In addition, bleaches are used to make paper whiter. Various sizing and bleaching compounds have always made paper acidic. However, beginning around 1850, with tremendous increase in demand for paper, alum-rosin sizing and groundwood pulp were used to make paper cheaply; both of which introduce a high degree of acidity in paper. Paper will natural deteriorate with age as the cellulose breaks down; the acidity accelerates the processes as does heat and ultra-violet radiation. A loss in strength occurs as the polymer chains of the cellulose molecules gradually break down and the paper becomes brittle, weak and stained.

Section 25.2 Perforations

Steve Schatz writes: I am hoping someone can explain to me what the different types of perforations on current US stamps are.

I think I know what `normal' perfs are, but what are

1. L perfs? 2. Bullseye perfs? 3. Slit perfs? (I think I know what these are, but I want to be complete) 4. Roulette? (Are these even perfs?) 5. Any others?

Steve Pladna writes:

I am not sure about the self-stick (I think it is true), but also the 1992 29[ FLOWER was issued in a stamp STICK that had 10 coils of 100 connected top to bottom with these blade slits side to side and longer slits top and bottom (this way the coils would come off the stick easily with only 2 or 3 tiny pieces of paper connecting them. The roulette idea was in response to customer complaints that perf'ed stamps were hard to separate.

David Lee writes: Re. Perforations on U.S. stamps.. For some of the early U.S. coils, private vending companies produced their own perforations for dispensing these stamps in their machines.. Although not commonly seen by most collectors, they are listed in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog... i.e. Schermack(sp?)..etc. These coils were made from Bureau imperforate strips.

Roulette perforations which have appeared recently on some U.S. stamps have in fact been around for quite some time as some early revenue stamps used them..

Alan Light writes: > 2. Bullseye perfs? Most commonly seen on Souv. Sheets. The perforations are only around the stamps and don't go into the selvege. > 3. Slit perfs? (I think I know what these are, but I want to be > complete) Same as roulette. > 4. Roulette? (Are these even perfs?) Little blades slit the paper instead of punched holes. For US issues I believe that there are only seen on a few self-stick stamps.

Section 25.3 Cancels

Martti Tolvanen writes: I sure appreciate authentically used stamps more than the ones cancelled at the counter, but I do find it hard to get all the semi-postal Red Cross stamps in neatly used condition, so I resort to having the stamps especially cancelled. After I've soaked the stamps nobody can tell whether the stamp was ever on a cover! Besides, when I send mail, I ask the same guys to do same kind of hand-cancellations on my letters so that all the stamps get cancelled and none gets wave-patterns etc. As to real covers, I find them much too bulky to store, so I prefer to collect singles only (nevertheless, I keep almost all of my incoming registered letters intact)

BTW, the main reason I don't collect US stamps is that I prefer used stamps, and it's just depressingly hard to find cancellations with date and place. (Not to mention issuing policies.) Would it be too hard to design automatic canceling machines that have the circular part on the right so that most often the stamp would get a nicer postmark?

Continuing the topic of machine cancellations, someone mentioned that (in US) by putting the stamp lower in the cover you can avoid cancellation alltogether. In Finland that's not possible, because if the stamp is placed anywhere in the upper right quadrant, the machine seeks it and hits the circular postmark right on the stamp, leaving the rectangular part (with commercial messages) on the left.

Francesco Cesarini writes: Speaking of pre-cancling, I have come across two stamps from the presidential series which look precanceled to me, eventhough the catalog doesnot mention them. They depict Martha Washington, and Abraham Lincon. The cancellation is as follows. Two lines, about half a cm apart, with the name of the state and the city. I doubt that this was the normal way of cancling the stamps at the time. I would apreciate any info on the subject. Another thing that I came across in the catalog, and among some older stamp is the 'grid' cancellation. Is it by any chance the stamps I have which are canceled by some round inkmark, with an X in the middle? From what I understod, the stamp, after a chemical treatment, absorbed the ink, leaving this X. If so, why does the catalog describe it as pyramid shaped?? I am unfortunately using the USPS catalog, which prefers dedicating quite a few pages to the Benjamin Franklin stamp club, instead of accurately describing older stamps.

Bob Swanson writes: I am going to try to clarify and discuss some cancellation issues here, so here goes. If I get a term wrong, please correct me.

The obliterator part of any canceller is called the `killer', and that name is chosen for good reason. It is the job of the post office to prevent reuse of stamps, and they are getting more serious about this issue these days.

In the early days of stamps, washing and reusing stamps was a big `business' (3 cents was a lot of money in the 19th Century US, for instance). With postal rates kept pretty low during the 20th Century, washing declined. Now that rates are back up, and better chemicals available to the perps who do this, washing has become a big `business' again.

You should be thankful, I guess, that you only get a stamp obliterated with some sort of slogan. The USPS has been experimenting with cancelling inks that contain dyes that will soak into the paper of the stamp, and spread out, covering the entire stamp, front and back (if possible). Also, I have covers that show the stamp being not only cancelled, but also scraped by what looks like a knife blade. In some cases, the surface of the stamp is nearly scraped off. This is not an accident.

I guess us postal history collectors can consider this to be a new, interesting, piece of postal history, but I am sure that stamp collectors are very disturbed about it. I have heard many, many complaints from first day cover collectors, who see their nice clean cover and stamp, ruined by machines and postal clerks. When in doubt, I suggest that you have all of your philatelic mail hand-cancelled by the window clerk (if possible).

When I collect stamps, I primarily collect used regular-issue US stamps. I can assure you, that it is very hard to find a lighly, cleanly cancelled stamp from most eras of US stamp production. The price can never reflect this fact, since used stamps are nearly always priced lower than mint. It is easy to spend a small sum on a used stamp, but it will be rare to find one with a light cancel. I agree that the higher values get worse cancellations. These are usually applied by a clerk to the package, and they often just smear the ink across the stamps. Also, the rough handling of parcels generally insures that the stamps will be ripped, scuffed, and otherwise hurt. To me, this just means that clean, sound used high-value stamps are more desirable. The stamp market may not, however, reflect my opinion.

I have set aside some stamps and covers in my collection, as `most heavily cancelled', and consider them to be part of the fun of collecting.

> One can try to get around this by, instead of placing the stamp at the top
> right hand corner of the letter, placing the stamp toward the middle of the
> top of the letter so that the CDS falls on the stamp.

This technique works well, and when the stamp gets the CDS portion of the cancel, it is usually called a `bullseye' cancel, or `socked on the nose'.

Happy collecting!

Bob Swanson writes: The Kansas/Nebraska stamps were not actually pre-cancels. They were overprinted regular issues, that were supposed to only be stocked in post offices of the appropriate states. The reason given was a rash of post office robberies that took place during that period. They figured that if the stamps showed up in a different state, they could be traced to the criminals.

Actually, according to an article I read, the PO was going to issue stamps to all of the 48 states, with each state's name overprinted on the stamp. The K/N issue was an experiment. The stamp collectors of the time objected strongly to the possiblity that a set of ordinary regular issue stamps would automatically have 48 different varieties. I gather that the `experiment' didn't fix the problem at hand, and so we collectors were spared the possibility of this incredible variety of issues.

I collect covers with the K/N stamps used on them, from the correct state. Actually, the stamps ended up in use in many states, due to people travelling between states. Many philatelic covers exist of these stamps from Washington, DC. I am trying to only collect from Kansas or Nebraska in 1929 (the year of issue). Very rich collectors (not me) own covers that were cancelled BEFORE the stamps were supposed to be issued, as some post offices jumped the gun and sold the stamps ahead of the issue date.

Michael Rys writes: At least in Switzerland and Germany the CDS are on the right so that they `hit' the stamp. Unfortunately, most of the time part of the slogan/ad hits the stamp as well.

In Switzerland a lot of the smaller villages have their CDS with special designs featuring a speciality of their region (e.g., a famous mountain or a church). They are nice and some people collect them.

Robert writes: Collectors want stamps cancelled with CDSs and not a slogan. However the GB post office state that they want the CDS to appear on the envelope and not on the stamp so that people can clearly see when the letter was posted; this information might be difficult to read if the CDS appeared on a multicoloured stamp.

One can try to get around this by, instead of placing the stamp at the top right hand corner of the letter, placing the stamp toward the middle of the top of the letter so that the CDS falls on the stamp.

Henry Dunsmore writes: Does anyone else feel frustrated at the destruction of Can-3 and US stamps by the P.O. obliterators!!!???

I cannot understand the need to totally deface postage stamps by Don't Forget to Use Your Postal Code..."Collect Stamps!"...or any other messy slogan that is thought of. GB isn't much better...but at least you can get a good percent- age of decent cancels there. As far as I remember the condition got worse when the postal code was introduced...the Canada Post people decided that a good way to educate the 'dumb' public would be to cancel stamps with a slogan to the effect..."Code it!".

Does anyone know if there is some self destructive plan afoot a in the postal system to losem4S6 collectors. I thought that stamps were a good form of revenue for the government(s)...why can't they do a simple thing like ease up on the ink and put the CDS on the right instead of the left(where the stamp usually isn't!)...

Henry Dunsmore writes: Subject: Re: pre canceled stamps I have often wondered why the US issues(ed) stamps with city or state names. The issues of 1929 with Kans. & Nebr. have always been a curiosity and they are quite pricey as well! What is the significance of these issues?

Steven G. Anderson writes: The US isn't the only country that precancels stamps, France and Belgium come to mind right off the top of my head, and I am sure there are others. They are used primarily by bulk mailers (you need a permit to use them). They cannot be deposited in normal mailboxes, and the USPS doesn't have to run them through cancelling machines, saving a ton of money and processing time.

Bruce Werner writes: Pre-cancels are (were?) supposed to be used for organizations and companies that have very large mailings. The company would bundle large quantities of outgoing mail with the pre-cancel stamps, and the post office would process them without going through the cancellation step. It was supposed to save time and money. I don't know how well it works, but I get several pieces of mail a week with a variety of pre- cancels: Bulk rate, non-profit organization, etc. So they are still used.

Section 25.4 Colours

Dean Goard writes: I've watched with interest the discussions on colour in philately and wondered when someone would bring to the attention of those who had questions about it, some factual information.

About ten years ago when I was just getting started in trying to identify the various printings of the colonial George VI definitives, I came across a book "The Printings of George VI Colonial Stamps in Table Form" by W.J.W. Potter. Here I found tables of all the issues which identified the various printings by: printer, date of release, perforation, paper(sometimes), varieties, Stanley Gibbons and Commonwealth catalogue numbers and colour. I thought I had it made. Unfortunately, Potter's colour descriptions did not always match either the Stanley Gibbons or the Commonwealth colours and he identified many more shades and printings. He made no reference to the Scott numbers or colours.

One of the collectors in the local club referred me to a reference book "Color in Philately". This book was published by The Philatelic Foundation in 1979. Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 78-66390. It is a most comprehensive text on the subject and goes into such things as the basic concepts of colour identification, a review of colour naming systems, printing inks, papers and non-destructive techniques such as reflectance spectrophotometry and X-ray spectrometry. It includes reports on studies on a number of classic stamps and their colours and shades. It is safe to say that definitive colour of a stamp can be determined. At the end of the book is also a set of colour charts that identify the major colour groups and variations on them.

In August 1981, the American Philatelist included an article entitled "APS Manual for Determining Color Designations of Stamp Colors". A committee of the APS and the Inter-Society Color Council proposed that a system that is based upon the Universal Color Language be used. This system is based upon the Munsell color-order system, Centroid Colors and the Color Names Dictionary. It's all very complex and for anyone who wants to get into the subject, it's worth looking at this article.

In June 1982, the American Philatelist included a report by Fred W. Billmeyer, Jr. entitled "Universal Color Language Designations for Some Philatelic Color Aids". Billmeyer tested two standardized and commonly used collections of colours(Methune Handbook of Color and Stanley Gibbons Stamp Colour Key) to see if they were useful in classifying stamp colours. He found that there was significant variations in the colours identified in the Methune Handbook of Colors and that the handbook is not useful for "critical application to philatelic color designation".

It was felt that the Gibbons colour key had significant variability between copies. However, as the key is inexpensive and easy to use, the article lists the Universal Color Language Designations for a 1979 copy of the S.G. Colour Key with the note that they must be considered approximate for any other printing of the key. The same identification is provided to the colour charts in Color in Philately but Billmeyer noted that the charts are not easy to use with stamps.

So what does all this mean? First, there is an accepted methodology for determining the colour of any stamp. Second, you can use the Stanley Gibbons 1979 Colour Key to approximate the correct name to the colour of any stamp. There does not seem to be any published relationship between the correct colour name and that listed in Scott's catalogue.

How do I address the issue of shades and different colour names by catalogue? I try to focus on the lower value stamps. They were the ones that were most often re-printed and so open to shade variations. They are often the cheapest as well. I get as many copies of the stamps as I can and put them side by side. Hopefully I can then see the variations. I now keep the shades in my stock books or on my exhibit pages without too much explanation as to which they are according to any catalogue. Some varieties are easy to pick out others are much harder and I keep looking for examples that will be different.

For those of you who are also searching for those elusive shades, good hunting. Maybe the articles I've mentioned will help you.

A comment from Martti Tolvanen:

Yvert & Tellier tries to address the color problem by assigning some common stamps with little variance in the shades for all the color names they use in the catalogues.

Michel also publishes a color key which I guess matches the color designations they use in their catalogues.

Chapter 25 [PREV] [NEXT] [TOP OF PAGE] [HOME]