Refresher Course

Keys to cataloging a stamp: check watermarks and measure perforations

By Janet Klug

This Refresher Course continues a discussion of cataloging begun in the Aug. 27 Refresher Course.

Many stamps exist with identical designs, colors and denominations, but differences in watermark or gauge of perforation make them different stamps.

Figure 1. Two United States 15¢ pale ultramarine George Washington stamps perforated gauge 12. The stamp at the left is on double-line "USPS"-watermarked paper, which makes it Scott 340. The stamp at the right has the single-line "USPS" watermark, which means that is it Scott 382. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. The author purchased this sheet of Australian 1d and 2d King George V stamps at her stamp club. Gauge of perforation and watermark type must be used to catalog and identify the individual stamps. Correctly identifying each stamp aids in valuing it. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. Australian "wide crown and narrow A" watermark, Scott watermark 9. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. Figure 4. Australian "multiple crown and A" watermark 11. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 5. Australian "small crown and A multiple" watermark, Scott watermark 203. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 6. Australian "small crown and C of A multiple" Scott watermark 228. Click on image to enlarge.

Figuring out those differences is key to correctly cataloging a stamp to assess its value, mount it in a collection and compile a want list.

The two United States 15¢ pale ultramarine George Washington stamps shown in Figure 1 are a good example. By measuring the perforations with a perforation gauge, I quickly determined that they are both perforated gauge 12 (12 holes or teeth per 2 centimeters).

But a check of the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers reveals that the stamps might still be different, depending on the watermark.

A dip in watermarking fluid reveals that the stamp shown in Figure 1, left, has the double-line "USPS" watermark (Scott watermark 191), while the stamp at right has the single-line "USPS" watermark (watermark 190).

That means that the stamp at left is Scott 340, valued unused, hinged at $70. The stamp at right is Scott 382, valued unused, hinged at $275.

Not only is the watermark crucial to correctly identifying each stamp, it makes a significant difference in its catalog value.

In comparison to the stamps of some other countries, very few U.S. stamps were issued on watermarked paper. That is probably a good thing, because U.S. watermarks are notoriously difficult to see and correctly identify.

Often only a small part of one letter of the "USPS" watermarks can be found on any single U.S. stamp on watermarked paper.

In the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue and the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940, watermarks for most countries are illustrated at the beginning of the stamp listings for that country.

For some British colonies, however, the British colonial and Crown Agents watermarks are listed near the beginning of the Scott Classic specialized catalog and the beginning of each volume of the Scott standard catalog, following the section headed "Colonies, Former Colonies, Offices, Territories, Controlled by Parent States."

I purchased the page of 1-penny green and 2d red Australian King George V stamps, shown in Figure 2, at my local stamp club.

These stamps are listed in the Scott standard catalog, Vol. 1, that contains countries beginning with the letters A-B. Because they were issued between 1840 and the end of the reign of King George VI in 1952, the stamps are also listed in the Scott Classic specialized catalog.

In all of the Scott catalogs, stamp designs are assigned an illustration number. Different stamps with the same design will all be listed with that illustration number, but with different Scott catalog numbers.

Australian stamps with this King George V design are assigned illustration A4. This illustration number will help you identify all of the stamps with this design.

Skimming through the Australian listings and looking only for stamps with the A4 illustration, I found an enormous number of stamps. In trying to identify the King George V stamps on my page, I can quickly identify the stamps that look like illustration A4 that have denominations other than 1d and 2d.

There are 1d stamps listed as red, violet or green. All of the 1d stamps on my page are green, so this eliminates even more stamps in other colors.

Through this process of elimination, I determine that my 1d green stamps could be Scott 23, 62, 64, 67 or 114 and that my 2d red stamps could be 28, 71 or 116.

How to tell the difference?

That's where perforations and watermarks come in. Information at the beginning of the listings for the set tells me that the 1d stamp listed as Scott 23 and 2d stamp listed as Scott 28 are on watermarked paper with Scott Australia watermark 9 and are perforated gauge 14.

Watermark 9, shown in Figure 3, is illustrated at the beginning of the Australia listings and is described as a "wide crown and narrow A" watermark.

The description and illustration of the watermark show that you can normally expect to find one complete crown and an A on the back of each stamp.

The "perforation 14" annotation means that the stamp is perforated gauge 14 on all four sides.

The 1d green stamp listed as Scott 62 was issued in 1924. This stamp comes in several different gauges of perforation: 14, 14½ or 14½ by 14 (top and bottom perforations gauge 14½ and both sides gauge 14).

According to the Scott standard catalog, the stamp listed as Scott 62 is on paper with watermark 11, shown in Figure 4, is described as "multiple crown and A." The description and illustration show that you can expect to find parts of three or more crown and A symbols on each stamp.

The 1d green stamp listed as Scott 64 is on unwatermarked paper and is perforated gauge 14 on all sides.

The 1d green stamp listed as Scott 67 and 2d red stamp listed as Scott 71 are on paper with watermark 203, shown in Figure 5, which is described as "small crown and A multiple." The stamps have perforations that gauge 14 (by 14) or 13½ by 12½.

The 1d green stamp listed as Scott 114 and 2d red stamp listed as Scott 116 are on paper with watermark 228, shown in Figure 6, and described as "small crown and C of A multiple." The stamps have perforations that gauge 13½ by 12½.

Correctly identifying the stamps requires checking both perforations and watermarks. Such repetitive checking will help any beginner or intermediate collector become more proficient at cataloging, watermarking and measuring the gauge of perforations.

So what about the stamps on the page I acquired at my local stamp club? There are 12 1d green stamps, 10 of which are Scott 114 with a small crown and C of A multiple watermark and perforations that gauge 13½ by 12½. One stamp is on unwatermarked paper and has perforations that gauge 14. It is Scott 64.

The final stamp of the 12 is Scott 67, with small crown and A multiple watermark and perforations that gauge 13½ by 12½.

There are 16 2d red stamps. Twelve turned out to be Scott 116, with small crown and C of A multiple watermarks and perforations that gauge 13½ by 12½.

The remaining three stamps are Scott 71, with small crown and A multiple watermarks and perforations that gauge 13½ by 12½.

It pays to look.

The stamps with the small crown and A multiple watermarks are worth four times as much as those with the small crown and C of A watermarks.