By Rick Miller
Chapter 11 of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible tells the story of the Tower of Babel. In the story, all of humanity spoke a common language and worked together to achieve more than if divided by language.
God, seeing the pride and arrogance of the people, confounded their speech into many different languages, so they could never again work together as one. In the ensuing chaos, construction of the tower halted and the people were scattered over the Earth.The people of Babel (Babylon) decided to build an immense tower glorifying man rather than God.
Parallel stories can be found in Sumerian myths and in the Koran.
An Iraqi 25-dinar International Conference on the Tower of Babel and Ziggurat of Borsippa stamp (Scott 1553) is shown in Figure 1.
Stamp collecting has its own language with special terms. When dealers and collectors use these terms without prior agreement on their definitions, a Tower of Babel-type chaos can result.
One term that many stumble over is mint. Some use the word mint to describe a stamp that is unused and still has some of its original gum. Linn's and the editors of the Scott catalogs use mint to describe a stamp that is in the same condition as it was when it first arrived at the post office: an undamaged, unused stamp with full original gum that has never been hinged or otherwise suffered disturbance to its gum (if it was issued with gum).
For example, you can see that the Iraqi stamp shown in Figure 1 is unused. But you could only tell if it is mint by examining the back of the stamp.
Some collectors confuse the terms grade and condition. These are defined very clearly in the introduction to the Scott catalogs.
Grade refers solely to how well a stamp is centered: for example, fine-very fine, very fine or extremely fine. The Scott catalog values are for stamps in the grade of VF.
Figure 2 shows two Azores 2½-reis King Carlos stamps (Scott 101). The stamp at left is in the grade of F-VF: somewhat off-center on one or two sides. The stamp at right is in the grade of XF: close to being perfectly centered. See the grading illustrations in the introduction to any Scott catalog.
Condition takes into consideration the state of the stamp gum and other factors, such as exceptionally wide margins, fresh color and attached selvage, which enhance appeal. Aspects of condition that can detract from a stamp's value include natural inclusions, natural straight edges, and notations on the back of the stamp.
Gum conditions for unused stamps include: mint, never hinged; lightly hinged; and hinge mark or remnant. For older classic stamps whose gum is less likely to have survived undamaged, there is large part original gum, small part original gum, and no gum.
Faults or damage are also part of condition. Faults include tears, pin holes, scuffs, thin spots, creases, toning, pulled perforations, clipped perforations, oxidation, bleaching, soiling, staining and reperforation. The stamp shown at left in Figure 2 has a pulled perforation on the top side.
For used stamps, the placement and nature of the cancellation are part of the condition. Many collectors prefer stamps lightly canceled in one corner, but a clear bull's-eye cancel or a legible cancellation from an unusual place can enhance the value of a stamp. A smudged or heavy killer cancellation greatly detracts from a stamp's value.
A Namibian $2 Lion stamp (Scott 867) with an Olympia, June 17, 2000, bull's-eye cancel is shown in Figure 3.
Many collectors and dealers confuse the terms sheet and pane.
A sheet of stamps is the complete unit of stamps as printed. A pane of stamps is the unit into which a full press sheet is divided before sale at post offices
Stamps are usually printed in large sheets and are separated into two or more panes before shipment to post offices. One exception is the 1918 United States 24¢ Curtiss Jenny airmail stamp (Scott C3), printed and sold in sheets of 100.
Collecting modern U.S. stamps as mint panes is growing in popularity, but collectors and dealers alike often refer to "full mint sheets," when what they really mean is "full mint panes."
Confusion often exists between errors and freaks.
An error is a major mistake in the production of a stamp or postal stationery item. Production errors include imperforate or imperforate-between varieties, missing or incorrect colors, and inversion or doubling of part of the design or overprint. Major errors are usually far scarcer than normal varieties of the same stamp and are highly valued by collectors.
An error of color stamp, the Swedish orange 3-skilling banco Coat of Arms stamp (Scott 1a) is currently reckoned to be the single most valuable stamp in the world, with a Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue value of $3 million. The unique orange stamp was supposed to be green.
Inverted center error stamps are a visually striking and usually valuable type of error stamp. An Estonian 5-mark Viking Ship inverted center error stamp is shown in Figure 4.
A freak is an abnormal, usually nonrepetitive occurrence in the production of stamps that results in a variation from the normal stamp, but falls short of producing an error. Most ink misregistrations, paper folds, overinking and perforation and die cut shifts are freaks. Freaks are avidly sought by some collectors, but they are generally less valuable than error stamps.
The terms souvenir sheet and miniature sheet are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are really two different things.
A souvenir sheet can contain one or more stamps. A souvenir sheet usually has ample selvage and an inscription describing an event being commemorated. Stamps of the same design might also be issued in other formats or they might be found only in the souvenir sheet.
A miniature sheet is a smaller-than-normal pane of stamps that is issued in that form, in addition to being issued in larger panes. A miniature sheet is often without marginal markings or text saying that the sheet was issued in conjunction with or to commemorate some event.
Most stamp issuing entities of the world have issued souvenir sheets, but many have never issued a miniature sheet. New Zealand has been one of the most prolific issuers of miniature sheets.
In stamp discussions and transactions, it is best to make sure that all involved are singing from the same page of the hymnal.
blogIn this column in the Aug. 24 issue of Linn’s, I referred to the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pa., as a “gift to stamp collectors.” The BNAPS library and the APRL are two of many libraries available to stamp collectors, and some philatelic libraries are available online. Read More ›
blogIt’s often been said that one of the salutary benefits of collecting stamps is the friendships made along one’s philatelic journey. If I were asked to place a value on the bonds thus forged with collectors in locales near and far, I would be rich beyond measure. A few of these hobby friends I have never met in person. Read More ›
blogToday, Nov. 11, 2015, is Veterans Day. Over the years, a number of United States stamps honoring those who have served in our nation’s armed forces have been issued. Read More ›
blogMy previous blog post focused on a mystery: the apparent indentations of paper clips on United States Purple Heart forever stamps that were used to mail payments to the circulation department of my employer, Amos Media in Sidney, Ohio. Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Denise McCarty discusses Great Britain’s final stamp issue for 2015, a Star Wars prestige booklet, and reveals what is included in its stamp program for 2016.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses a registered 1967 cover from Qatar that recently sold for almost $1,200 and the latest discovery of an Upright Jenny Invert pane.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News editorial director Donna Houseman announces that Linn’s has been named official daily publisher of World Stamp Show-NY 2016 and provides an update on the reorganization of the Scott catalogs.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Marty Frankevicz reports on the suspension of Canada Post’s cluster box conversion plan after the election of a new prime minister.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.