US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

Expertizing stamps that have been altered to fake an error

September 15, 2014 06:55 AM

  • A strip of three G-rate postcard stamps with yellow background, graphically cropped from a cover. The bottom stamp does not have any yellow, and the middle stamp is missing some yellow at the bottom.

  • Shown are a normal example of the 8¢ Copernicus commemorative (top) and one that has been altered to remove the yellow-orange sun.

  • These 10¢ Haym Salomon commemoratives have red as an important but difficult to see part of the design. At bottom is a normal example. In the center is one that is genuine, but with much of the red omitted. At top is an altered copy with no red, but the paper is toned.

  • Some Americana definitives from 1975 to 1979 were printed on blue paper. The blue paper (top) can be turned to white (bottom) with a common household product.

In an earlier column on expertizing, I discussed colors that can be removed to create faked errors. I received some disbelieving feedback, so this column includes two examples of artificially removed yellow to prove my point that expertizing is needed. Another two examples will look at missing red, and altered paper color.

The first example is shown through the courtesy of fellow Linn’s columnist Tony Wawrukiewicz, who found the cover at the recent American Philatelic Society Stampshow in Hartford, Conn.

The cover, which is shown here graphically cropped, is franked with a vertical strip of three nondenominated (20¢) G-rate Old Glory postcard stamps (Scott 2879) affixed horizontally. These stamps are distinguished from the first-class letter rate 32¢ G-rate Old Glory stamps (2881) primarily by a yellow background.

The strip has the yellow background on the top stamp and most of the middle stamp. However, it disappears below the words “Postcard Rate” at the bottom of that middle stamp. The bottom stamp has no yellow at all.

A collector might easily conclude that the press ran out of ink in the midst of the print run. But if the cover is held to the light just so, it is possible to see some discoloration of the right side of the cover that matches to the point where the yellow disappears. There are also some anomalies under ultraviolet light.

There is no listing in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers for a missing yellow error for the G-rate Old Glory postcard stamp, and that should serve as a clue. It is possible that a true error could turn up years after issue, but this stamp is nearly 20 years old, so it is not likely. Any example submitted for expertizing has to be looked upon skeptically.

Even older is the 8¢ Copernicus commemorative of 1973, which is known with the yellow-orange color missing from the sun at the center of the heliocentric model held by the scientist in the stamp design. The variety is listed in the Scott U.S. specialized catalog as Scott 1488a, with a value of $650.

Shown here side-by-side are two examples of the stamp. On the left is a normal example, and on the right is one without the yellow-orange. The missing color stamp is a fake.

The Scott catalog listing notes: “The orange can be chemically removed. Expertization of No. 1488a is required.”

The Scott Catalogue of Errors on U.S. Postage Stamps by Stephen R. Datz goes further: “Caution. Extremely dangerous fakes, including color changelings exist. Genuine examples of this error each have an APS certificate. Expert certificate absolutely essential. Examples without certificates should be avoided.”

No, I am not going to describe how to remove the yellow-orange. Suffice it to say that the lithographed color can be chemically removed, and if carefully done, it is very hard to detect.

Staff members of Jacques C. Schiff Jr. Inc., the now-closed New Jersey auction house, demonstrated the method to managers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in October 1973. The BEP managers were taken by surprise.

This is one of many cases where an expertizer needs not just genuine examples of the normal stamp, but also fakes for comparison. Verified fakes are often not easy to come by, but over the years, expertizers are well advised to add them whenever possible.

No stamp dealer can know everything about everything. And for that reason, both identified and unidentified fakes can sometimes be found in dealer stocks. Some will not be cheap, but they are extremely helpful to an expertizer, and usually worth the asking price when building a serious reference collection.

Missing red

A particularly troublesome stamp to expertize is the 10¢ Contributors to the Cause commemorative honoring Haym Salomon (Scott 1561). Examples that seem to be missing the red are shown here, along with a normal stamp.

While there once was a listing for a red-omitted error of this stamp in the Scott U.S. specialized catalog (Scott 1561b), that listing was removed because old opinions validating the missing red were found to be wrong.

This and some of the early certified 8¢ Copernicus stamps missing yellow-orange are examples of how old certificates can be wrong, and why, as the art of detection improves, a contemporary certificate is preferred.

There is red throughout the Salomon design. Under 30-power magnification it is visible, but it helps to have a normal example handy to see where to look.

I have two examples expertized in the mid-1990s that say “freak print with most of red missing” and “freak printing, light print of red.”

Both descriptions mean essentially the same thing, but one stamp has a good deal more red visible to the naked eye, while the other requires magnification to see. I would like to see some sort of standard phraseology for such situations.

Complicating this situation is the fact that man-made alterations of the red are what one mostly sees. They are most obvious when compared to a normal example, because the bright white margins have been dulled by whatever was used to remove the red.

Blue paper turns white

The altering of stamp paper color is not limited to white. A final example is demonstrated with a pair of plate blocks of U.S. stamps.

The 24¢, 28¢, 29¢ and 30¢ stamps in the 1975-81 Americana series were printed on blue paper (Scott 1603-1606). Shortly after issue, they began showing up as white-paper examples.

Some collectors who soaked these stamps from envelopes put a drop or two of household bleach in the water to help brighten the colors of the stamps and lighten heavy cancellations. On these stamps, it had the unexpected effect of removing the blue from the paper.

As far as I am aware, all known examples showing this effect are used or unused without gum, as there is no way to do this without removing the gum. Still, I marvel that some were sent in for expertizing and others are seen in dealer stocks, usually with question marks.

If any part of a print run of these stamps was done on white paper and not announced, there would have been a considerable stir in the collecting community. Believing that such a thing could exist would represent a triumph of hope over reality.

In next month’s expertizing column, I will look at more instances of common submissions of material believed to be in the error class that do not make the grade. The focus will be on perforations.