US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

The case of the inverted and reversed 1¢ Washington coil stamp

February 05, 2016 08:57 AM

  • Shown front and back, this 1¢ Washington coil from the Liberty Series has a reversed and inverted image of the design on the back. How did this happen?

By John M. Hotchner

Every so often it comes time to throw one’s hands in the air and say, “I don’t know!”

I enjoy “How did this happen?” questions from Linn’s readers. Sending in what looks to be a production flaw on a U.S. stamp, the reader sometimes seems to be asking, “Can I stump you with this?”

While on occasion I am stumped by the item, usually consulting references and friends will lift the veil. Once in a while, though, an item comes along where the veil won’t come off.

Such an item is the 1¢ George Washington coil stamp (Scott 1054) shown nearby. Part of the Liberty Series of 1954, this 1¢ coil stamp was current until being replaced by the 1¢ Andrew Jackson of 1963 (1209).

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Both sides of this 1¢ Washington coil are shown, and yes, the image printed on the back is inverted with respect to the one on the front.

A clear image on the back, inverted or otherwise, should not occur during production — especially on stamps printed on long rolls of paper (called a “web”) on web-fed presses as coils are.

Picking up wet ink from a completed stamp below it on a roll would not result in an inverted image.

So that means this 1¢ Washington stamp image must have been created after production was completed.

How this normally would occur would be for a strip of stamps to be placed on top (and inverted with respect to) another strip of the same stamps, in a high humidity atmosphere.

If the strips were under pressure, for example in a stock book with other stock books on top of it, they might stick together lightly.

Pulling the strips apart might leave remnants of the design on the gum side of the stamps on top. But the result is not often as smooth and consistent as the reverse image in this example.

Still, I lean toward that as being the explanation because of the implausibility of it being a production flaw.

However, I’m not 100 percent certain, and I wonder if I’ve missed some other factor. So, I welcome the thoughts and opinions of other collectors. If you have any ideas to contribute, contact me, John Hotchner at, or by mail at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.

Thanks to Ed Silver of Medford, N.J., for coming up with this puzzler.