How do coil stamps fit into your collection?

Apr 28, 2003, 6 AM

By Rick Miller

Linn's World Stamp Almanac defines coil stamps as "Stamps processed in a long single row and prepared for sale in rolls, often for dispensing from stamp-vending and affixing machines."

Many coil stamps, including those issued by the United States, have imperforate parallel sides, either vertically or horizontally. However, as this column shows, not all coil stamps have imperforate parallel sides, and not all stamps with imperforate sides are coil stamps.

The world's first coil stamps were privately produced in the United States by stamp vending- and affixing-machine companies from imperforate sheets of stamps produced and sold to them for that purpose.

At first, the vending and affixing machine companies attempted to make coils from normally perforated sheet stamps. These stamps separated too easily, however, and the coils fell apart at the perforations before the stamps could be properly dispensed.

On Oct. 2, 1906, the U.S. Post Office Department began selling imperforate sheets of postage stamps from which the private companies could make coil strips.

The imperforate sheets were also sold to collectors who cut them into pairs and blocks and multiples with markings and guidelines, as well as using left over singles and others for postage.

The coils from different companies and different types of vending and affixing machines are distinguishable by the number, size and pattern of the privately applied perforations they bear.

These privately perforated stamps are listed in the Vending and Affixing Machine Perforations section of the Scott Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps and Covers.

The stamps are listed by the company that applied the perforations. These include the Brinkerhoff Co., the Farwell Co., the International Vending Machine Co., the Mailometer Co., the Schermack Co. and the U.S. Automatic Vending Co.

A pair of 4¢ brown Ulysses S. Grant imperforate stamps, Scott 314A, with Schermack type III perforations is shown in Figure 1.

In 1909, the Attleboro Stamp Co. of Attleboro, Mass., also used an affixing machine to stamp its newsletters with privately perforated stamps. These stamps came late to the catalog listings, probably because being produced by a stamp company made them suspect in the eyes of some collectors. The Attleboros were first listed in the 1991 edition of the Scott U.S. specialized catalog.

The issuance of imperforate stamps for private perforation and use in vending and affixing machines came to an end in December 1927 when the last user switched to government-produced coil stamps.

The first government-produced coil stamps were issued in 1908 by the United States. The stamps were perforated gauge 12, either vertically or horizontally, for used in vending and affixing machines.

A vertical pair of 1¢ blue-green Benjamin Franklin coil stamps, Scott 316, is shown in Figure 2.

While the gauge 12 coil stamps still tore apart too easily, they had the advantage of having two sides without perforations so the stamps would not get caught in the machinery. The gauge of U.S. coil stamps was changed to 8½ in 1910, but the holes were so far apart that the stamps often did not tear apart cleanly or easily.

In 1914 the gauge was changed to 10, which has been the standard gauge for U.S. perforated coil stamps ever since.

U.S. coils that are perforated horizontally or vertically are usually collected in pairs.

This precludes having a sheet stamp that has had the perforations trimmed from two sides, but it does not guarantee that a pair is a genuine coil pair.

A pair of coil stamps that shows a printed line between the stamps is called a line pair. To quote from Linn's World Stamp Almanac "Stamps produced on a flatbed press have a line from the guideline between the panes. Stamps produced on a rotary press have a joint line from the space where ink collects between the sections of the curved rotary press."

Coil line pairs often command a premium. A guide line pair of 5¢ blue George Washington coil stamps, Scott 396, is shown in Figure 3.

In about 1980, the United States Postal Service inadvertently revolutionized American coil stamp collecting when it started issuing coil stamps with the plate number within the stamp design area. The number was not cut off with the scrap selvage.

Plate numbers are numerals or alphanumerics that identify the printing plate from which the stamp pane was printed.

Coil stamps that show the plate number are called PNCs, and they form a specialty collecting area.

U.S. PNCs are collected in mint strips of three or five with the stamp showing the plate number at the center position, or as used single stamps. A used single 25¢ Flag Over Yosemite PNC stamp, Scott 2280a, is shown in Figure 4.

Collectors interested in PNCs will want to join the Plate Number Coil Collectors Club. Membership is $12 annually, plus a $2 initiation fee for new members. Write to Andrew M. Jakes, 2303 Horseshoe Court, Grayslake, IL 60030-9327. Visit the club's web site at

Great Britain began producing coil stamps in 1912. British coil stamps are perforated on all four edges, so other methods have to be used to distinguish the coils from sheet and booklet stamps.

British coil stamps issued from 1912 to the mid-1950s have the watermark sideways in relation to the stamp design. British sheet stamps from this period normally have the watermark right-side-up, and booklet stamps often have the watermark up-side-down.

The back of a British ½-penny dark green King George V coil stamp, Scott 210a, is shown in Figure 5. The stamp is shown sideways, oriented to the watermark.

British coil stamps produced after Great Britain stopped using watermarked paper for stamp production can sometimes be distinguished by other methods, such as a unique multiple configuration.

The coil strip of five Queen Elizabeth II Machin Head-design stamps shown in Figure 6, Scott MH7f, are distinguishable as coil stamps, because this se-tenant arrangement of five stamps exists only in a coil strip. Once the stamps are separated from the strip, they can no longer be distinguished as coil stamps.

German coil stamps are so complex that the German catalog publisher Michel publishes a special catalog just for them, Handbuch-Katalog Rollenmarken Deutschland.

German coil stamps issued during 1954-79 have a black control number on every fifth stamp. Collecting coil stamps with control numbers is quite popular in Germany. They are collected mint in strips of five with the stamp having the control number in the center, or as used singles with the control number.

The back of a German 50-pfennig Schloss Neuschwanstein coil stamp, Scott 1236, is shown in Figure 7.

In the 1920s, Sweden began using an American Stickney press to produce coil stamps that were perforated on only two sides. A rare tete-beche pair of 10-ore green Heraldic Lion Supporting Arms of Sweden coil stamps, Scott 118a, is shown in Figure 8.

Since the 1920s, the bulk of Swedish stamp production has been in coils or booklet stamps with very few sheet stamps issued.

Most Swedish coil stamps are perforated vertically or horizontally and have imperforate parallel edges. But not all Swedish stamps with imperforate parallel edges are coil stamps. Stamps from booklet panes with a single strip of stamps can also have imperforate parallel sides. Most Swedish booklet pane stamps issued after 1938 are imperforate on one side, or on two adjacent sides.

Like some German coil stamps, some Swedish coil stamps also have control numbers on the back. Initially, the numbers were printed on the back of every 20th stamp in coil rolls of 500 stamps. Since the 1970s, every 10th coil stamp has a control number.

After experimenting with coils made from pasted up strips of sheet stamps, the Netherlands began issuing coil stamps with syncopated perforations.

These syncopated perforations were accomplished by removing perforating pins from the horizontal rows of the perforating machines so that each stamp had two groups of four perforations separated by unperforated paper at the tops and bottoms of the stamps.

Dutch stamps with syncopated perforations on only two edges are listed in the Scott catalog as having type A perforations. Stamps with type B perforations have syncopated perforations on all four edges. Stamps with type C perforations have syncopated perforations on two edges and at the four corners.

A Dutch 1¢ red Gull stamp with type B syncopated perforations, Scott 165a, is shown in Figure 9.

In the United States, the emergence and eventual preponderance of self-adhesive stamps brought changes to coil stamps.

Most self-adhesive stamps are a laminate. The face paper is on top of a coated paper release liner from which they can easily be peeled. Most self-adhesive stamps, including coil stamps, are separated by die cuts.

Die cuts are a type of stamp separation made by an edged tool that cuts through the paper between adjacent stamps. Unlike perforated stamps, no paper is actually removed when the stamps are die cut.

Die cuts can be straight or in wavy lines that simulate perforations.

Linerless coil stamps are die cut self-adhesive stamps that are issued in rolls without the release-paper backing.

A vertical pair of 33¢ Berries linerless coil stamps with die cut perforations is shown in Figure 10.