Refresher Course

Frequently asked questions and answers

By Michael Baadke

Stamp collectors are always asking questions.

Figure 1. Plate blocks can be collected for United States sheet stamps with water-activated gum (top left) or self-adhesives (top right), but not from convertible booklets (bottom). Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. Mailers must obtain a permit to use U.S. service-inscribed postage stamps on regular first-class mail.
 
Figure 3. The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee considers suggestions for United States stamps. The postmaster general has final approval of stamp subjects and designs. Click on image to enlarge.

Where is this stamp from? When was it issued? How much is it worth?

It doesn't take long for the collector to find references that help him answer such basic questions on his own. Stamp catalogs and Linn's Stamp News are just two references that often provide the answers stamp collectors look for.

Collectors learn about stamps mostly on their own, from reading reference books, magazines, journals and so on.

Collectors may also learn by interacting with other collectors, including friends or acquaintances, or members of a local stamp club.

Staff members at Linn's Stamp News encounter many collector questions every day, ranging from the most basic to very specialized and complex.

What follows here are just a few of the questions readers regularly ask of Linn's Stamp News.

If a specific stamp question has you stumped, you may find your answer online at www.linns.com.

the home of Linn's online Internet site. The "Collecting Basics" section (listed on the site under the heading "Reference") provides answers to many common stamp collecting questions.

There is also a search function, so collectors can check the Linn's site for online articles for additional information.

For articles at other Internet locations, www.stampsites.com.

from Linn's Stamp News is a search engine that checks only stamp-related sites on the Internet.

Collectors who do not have Internet access can submit general collector questions to Linn's Question Corner, which appears from time to time on this Collector's Workshop page.

More specific questions may be addressed to Linn's Collector's Forum, which appears in this issue on page 46 (in print).

Collector's Forum questions are published with the reader's name and address so that other readers may offer responses to the query.

Additional important information about submitting questions appears at the end of the Collectors' Forum column.

Address questions either to Question Corner or Collector's Forum, Linn's Stamp News, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365.

Unfortunately, because of the high number of questions received, not all can be answered.

How do I collect plate blocks of self-adhesive stamps?

A block of stamps is any unseparated multiple of stamps consisting of two or more rows.

Plate blocks are multiples of stamps with margin paper attached that includes a number identifying the printing plate (or plates) or cylinders used to print the stamps.

Plate block collecting was once a very popular stamp hobby specialty in the United States. It suffered terribly during the 1970s, when format changes made by the United States Post Office Department (later the United States Postal Service) resulted in plate blocks of 12 or 20 stamps, rather than the traditional block of four stamps collectors were used to seeking.

Many collectors still collect U.S. plate blocks, but the increasing popularity of self-adhesive stamps has created new questions.

Traditional plate blocks of stamps with water-activated adhesive are still often available as blocks of four. The water-activated 33¢ Year of the Dragon stamp issued Jan. 6 is shown as a plate block at top left in Figure 1.

The block consists of four stamps with margin paper on two sides.

This same format can be followed for self-adhesive stamps that come in panes with margin paper attached around the outer edges.

Since mid-1996, these panes have small cuts through the liner paper that allow individual stamps or blocks to be removed from the full pane.

Shown at top right in Figure 1 is a plate block of the self-adhesive 60¢ Grand Canyon stamp issued Jan. 20.

The self-adhesive stamps that are causing more questions among plate block collectors are what the Postal Service refers to as convertible booklets.

As an example, the 33¢ Coral Pink Rose stamp was issued Aug. 13, 1999, as a convertible booklet, which is simply a flat pane of 20 stamps with no margin paper around the outer edges of the pane that the customer can fold (convert) into a booklet.

The full pane is shown at the bottom of Figure 1.

On this issue, a plate number appears on the vertical peel-off strip separating the two stamps at far right from the stamps on the remainder on the pane.

Collectors ask what should be saved from this type of pane to constitute a plate block.

The simple answer is that there is no plate block on this pane. Plate block collectors generally save the full pane of 20 stamps, intact.

Plate block configurations are listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. No plate blocks are listed for convertible booklet stamps.

The Scott listings are helpful to collectors, for in some instances plate blocks of more than four stamps are needed, particularly for issues with multiple designs, such as the six 33¢ Broadway Songwriters stamps issued Sept. 21, 1999.

Can I use precanceled coil stamps on my first-class mail?

The answer is yes, but there are specific guidelines that must be followed.

Many collectors save strips of five coil stamps with a small plate number on the center stamp in the strip. To obtain this strip of five from the Postal Service, however, the collector usually has to purchase as many as 25 stamps, sometimes more.

Leftover stamps with 33¢ denominations printed on them can be used for postage, but what about the nondenominated coil stamps for bulk rate, nonprofit mail, and presorted mail? These stamps are each assigned a nominal value, which is the cost the collector pays to purchase the stamp.

Shown in Figure 2 are two such stamps used to pay postage for a first-class letter, along with a 2¢ Woodpecker stamp.

The Butte stamp in the center of the illustration, with the service inscription "NONPROFIT ORG.," has a nominal value of 5¢. The Juke Box stamp at right, with the service inscription "Presorted First-Class," has a nominal value of 25¢.

Together, the three stamps pay 32¢, the first-class rate in effect when the pictured envelope was mailed in 1997.

To use the nondenominated stamps, the collector must obtain a free permit from the Postal Service by completing USPS Form 3615, "Mailing Permit Application and Customer Profile."

The collector marks the form's section B, box 2, which is labeled, "Precanceled Stamp or Government Precanceled Stamped Envelope Authorization (No Fee)."

Once the permit is issued by the post office, the collector may use these nondenomianted coils on his mail, provided they properly pay the first-class rate.

Regulations require that each envelope mailed with these stamps must be handed to a postal clerk in the office where the mailer's permit is kept on file.

It is also a good idea to clearly mark each item "first class," as shown in the Figure 2 illustration.

Sometimes postal workers are not familiar with the regulations that allow collectors to use these service-inscribed or precanceled coil stamps. The relevant regulations are published in section P023.2.1 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual.

Who do I contact if I have an idea for a United States stamp?

A group known as the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee fields all requests and suggestions for United States stamps.

Twelve CSAC members are shown in Figure 3. One additional member, I. Michael Heyman, was named to the committee at the end of December (see Linn's Stamp News, Jan. 10, page 10).

The committee members come from various backgrounds. Some are stamp collectors, while others work in the fields of art or graphic design. The committee chairman, Virginia M. Noelke, is a college history professor.

The committee selects stamp subjects that it recommends to the postmaster general, who has final approval on stamp subjects and design. The committee also commissions artists to create designs, working with USPS project managers and art directors.

Stamp subject suggestions may be addressed to Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, in care of Stamp Development, United States Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza S.W., Room 4474E, Washington, DC 20260-2437.

The committee meets four times yearly. The Postal Service recommends that suggestions be submitted at least three years in advance of the proposed date of issue to allow sufficient time for consideration and for design and production, if the subject is approved.