Sleuthing skills and books resolve stamp identity problems

May 3, 2021, 8 PM

By Janet Klug

Buying a collection or small parts of collections often brings little surprises.

Sometimes pages in a collection will have stamps from one country mounted on pages for another. At other times, stamps might be mounted helter-skelter on blank pages. In a recent find, three pages in a collection were labeled "unknown," with dozens of unidentified stamps gracing the pages.

Undeniably, it is hard to tell the country of origin of some stamps, but giving up and marking them "unknown" is the easy way out. That solution does nothing to broaden one's knowledge, and the collector also has missed the fun of figuring out the puzzle.

Determining the stamp-issuing entity that produced any given stamp is the first step in looking it up in a catalog or placing it in the proper position in a stamp album. It is an essential skill for a stamp collector, and all it takes is a willingness to look carefully at stamps, access to a stamp catalog and a little detective work.

Figure 1 illustrates one of the "unknowns," and it is easy to see why an English-speaker would not be able to quickly identify this stamp and might relegate it to a page of "unknowns." Still, it is an interesting design, with a coat of arms in the center that could help with the identification. The calligraphic script is a good clue as well.

If you own any volume of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue containing listings for stamps from all over the world, flip to the back of the book to a section called "Illustrated Identifier." Pictures and written help will guide you through basic identification.

For this particular stamp, start with the calligraphic script. In the Illustrated Identifier there is a section called "Arabic Inscriptions," with stamps from countries that use Arabic. A careful look at this section, comparing scripts and images to the stamp in question, might reveal the identification.

This is precisely what happened with this "unknown" stamp: A similar red stamp with an overprint is shown under a listing for Saudi Arabia. Turn to the catalog listings for stamps from that country, and you will find this issue listed as a local issue from the Kingdom of the Hejaz, Saudi Arabia Scott L32, the 1/8-piaster red brown issued in 1922.

According to the catalog, the central image shows the Arms of Sherif of Mecca. That identification was neither difficult nor especially time-consuming, and answered all our questions.

The stamp in Figure 2 is even easier to identify because the country name is right on it in the standard English alphabet.

What might be confusing to the collector who mounted it as "unknown" were the words KLAIPEDA at the top of the stamp and MARKIU at the bottom. The fancy script Memel must have been overlooked.

Flipping to the Memel section in the Scott standard catalog, this stamp can be found with stamps issued during the Lithuanian occupation of Memel, a territory bordering the Baltic Sea that is also called the Klaipeda region.

The catalog identifies this stamp as a 100-markes carmine stamp issued in 1923 (Memel Scott N23).

It pays to look closely at every inscription on a stamp when trying to figure out its identity.

Figure 3 has the look of a postage due stamp and, in fact, it says "Postage Due" in plain English just under the top banner.

But where is it from?

This time the Illustrated Identifier in Scott did not help, so I consulted Linn's Stamp Identifier (available from stamp and philatelic literature dealers, or online

There are many illustrations of stamps in this essential book, but it was faster to just look up the words postas le n'ioc from the stamp's top banner, which quickly identified it as a postage due of Ireland.

The word pinsine in the bottom inscription is the monetary unit – equivalent to pennies – in the Irish Gaelic language.

Consulting the Scott standard catalog provided additional clues. After checking the stamp for a watermark (it had none) the stamp could be identified as the 5p postage due issued in 1978 (Ireland Scott J27).

Figure 4 pictures a stamp that should be easy to move from "unknown" status.

The bottom of the stamp says Provinz Sachsen. The top of the stamp saysBodenreform, which sounds like some improvement or reformation, and the date 1945 inscribed in the design would indicate something to do with World War II.

I have German ancestry and knew that Sachsen is Saxony, so that is where I began the search in the Scott standard catalog.

With its 1945 inscription, I knew the stamp could not be part of the German States listings for Saxony, which only include stamps issued before Saxony became part of the German Empire in 1870. I flipped to the back of the listings for Germany and found Saxony Province. A similar stamp is illustrated and identified as the Land Reform issues. The figure 4 stamp is the 12 pfennig red (Germany — Saxony Province Scott 13N14), issued in 1945. In this instance, making the educated guesses that the stamp is probably of German origin and refers to Saxony saved a lot of time.

While perusing the Saxony listings in Scott, I happened to notice another of the "unknown" stamps.

This stamp, in Figure 5, just has the word Post at the top and the numeral 12 in the center. This is not a lot of information to go by, and it was dumb luck to stumble upon it in the Scott standard catalog, although a similar stamp is illustrated in the Linn's Stamp Identifier and labeled "Germany-Russian occupation/East Saxony." And East Saxony is precisely where this stamp originated. It is the typographed 12pf vermilion issued in 1945 (Germany — East Saxony Scott 15N20).

Using these reference works published by Scott and Linn's makes the work of identifying stamps easier, but there are times when even these may not help.

In those instances, you might want to try the American Philatelic Society's Quick ID, a service that is available for a fee at