Production errors and freaks add excitement

Dec 20, 1999, 9 AM

By Michael Baadke

Last week's Refresher Course column addressed the three major types of stamp-production errors: inverts, color-missing and perforation-missing.

Color-missing errors occur when one or more colors are completely missing from the stamp design.Inverts occur when at least one element of the stamp design is printed upside down in relation to the remainder of the design.

For a stamp to qualify as a perforation error, the perforations (or die cuts) separating one stamp from another must be completely missing from at least one side.

Notice how the word "completely" often plays a role in describing these major errors.

For a stamp to qualify as a major error, there must be an absolute production failure at some point.

Following are some additional errors that are recognized by stamp collectors.

Errors of color occur either when the wrong ink is used by the printer during stamp production or the wrong design element is entered into the printing plate.

About a year before the Inverted "Jenny" was discovered in 1918 by stamp collector William T. Robey, collectors learned that the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing had accidentally printed panes of 100 2¢ carmine red George Washington stamps that contained either one or two 5¢ stamps by mistake. The 5¢ designs, normally printed on separate sheets in blue, had been entered mistakenly into the 2¢ printing plate to correct earlier faults.

As is often the case, this stamp error commands a substantial premium. The 5¢ carmine red Washington stamp is listed in the 2000 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers as Scott 467 with a value of $550 unused. In comparison, the 5¢ blue normal stamp, Scott 466, is valued at $75 unused.

Watermark errors are classified by some collectors as paper errors because the stamp is clearly printed on a paper other than the one intended for the issue. Two U.S. stamps of 1895, the 6¢ (Scott 271) and the 8¢ (272), were discovered printed on paper watermarked "USIR" (United States Internal Revenue) intended for the production of revenue stamps.

Because these stamps were normally watermarked "USPS" with about one letter appearing on each stamp, only those single stamps clearly showing the "I" or "R," or blocks of stamps including those letters, are counted as errors.

Double impressions are identified when a second impression of the stamp design is applied on top of a stamp that has been printed once already.

Such errors are quite rare. They occur among some U.S. issues of the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s, including the 3¢ dull red of 1853, Scott 11.

A second type of double impression occurs when the stamp design is printed once on both sides of the paper. Again, this type of error is very unusual and on U.S. stamps can only be found on a few 19th-century issues.

On such an error, the impression, as it should appear on the front on a normal stamp, is printed instead on both sides.

A different variety known as an offset freak occurs when a reverse-image of the design is inked upon the back of the stamp. Offsets are not errors, but they are still very collectible.

The Scott U.S. specialized catalog describes errors as "stamps having some unintentional major deviation from the normal."

For nearly every type of stamp error that exists, there is some kind of production variety that a collector might mistakenly believe to be an error.

Some of these varieties are still quite collectible and may have premium value, but in some cases what is believed to be an error turns out to be nothing more than a shoddy printing job or a normal stamp altered by some means.

It may be hard to believe, but there's one U.S. invert that is actually a normal stamp.

When the 4¢ Dag Hammarskjold memorial stamp was released in 1962, a collector named Leonard Sherman discovered the stamp with the background yellow color inverted. When the United States Post Office Department learned of the mistake, a new printing of the stamp with the background color intentionally inverted was ordered by postmaster general J. Edward Day, destroying any potential premium value of the error.

The color invert, listed as Scott 1204, has the same minimum value as the normal printing of the same design, Scott 1203.

Collectors often find multicolor stamps that they believe are either color-missing errors or errors of color that are actually stamps with poorly registered inks. When stamp inks are properly registered, each color of the design is correctly placed and the design appears sharp and clear.

Even the smallest shift of a color printing plate or cylinder can create designs that look blurred or even doubled.

The 8¢ Tom Sawyer stamp of 1972, Scott 1470, provides an example of this problem.

At left in Figure 1 is shown a normal, proper printing of this multicolor commemorative. Each element of the design appears correct.

In the center of Figure 1 is a stamp of the same design but with some colors shifted slightly. Notice the name "Tom Sawyer" across the top is moved to the left, the lines defining the slats of the house extend into the left margin, and the two boys in the design appear to be doubled.

This stamp is not missing any colors, nor is it a double impression. It simply suffers from poor color alignment.

The stamp at right in Figure 1 shows the same problem taken to an extreme. The name and design elements are severely out of alignment, creating an almost abstract stamp design.

Even though they look very unusual, these are not error stamps because all of the colors are present.

Even though they are considered freaks rather than errors, misaligned colors may be of interest to specialist collectors of errors, freaks and oddities, or to specialist collectors of the Tom Sawyer commemorative stamp.

The third stamp in the illustration will probably fetch a premium on the stamp market.

Minor color shade differences also catch the eyes of many collectors, but unless there is an actual incorrect color used in the printing, these are classified as either freaks or oddities.

The freak, in this case, is a normal variation in the printed color as created by the printer. The oddity could be a color changeling, such as a stamp that has faded in color because of extended exposure to light.

In the July 5 issue of Linn's Stamp News, associate editor Charles Snee described how gray inks on both the 32¢ Benjamin O. Davis Jr. stamp of 1997 and one variety of the nondenominated (33¢) H-rate Hat stamp of 1998 turned shades of green following extended exposure to light.

Several varieties of perforation errors were described in the Dec. 13 Refresher Course, including fully imperforate stamps and no perforations between two stamps.

There are also many different varieties of perforation freaks.

Figure 2 shows a phenomenon known as "blind perfs." While this pair of 15¢ Flag coils from 1978 (Scott 1618C) may appear to have no perforations between them, a closer examination proves otherwise.

Viewed from the back (Figure 2, bottom), the stamps show perforation holes cut into the paper but the holes are not removed from the paper. Since evidence of perforation exists, the coil pair is not considered an imperforate error.

Figure 3 shows the 32¢ Marilyn Monroe stamp of 1995. This issue was created with star-shaped perforation holes in each corner of each stamp, but the example shown has one such perforation completely missing at upper left.

A single unpunched hole does not qualify the stamp as an error, but this variety is recognized and sought-after by collectors.

Shifts in perforations are also encountered on many issues. They can be very minor, cutting slightly into the stamp design, to severe, as shown in Figure 4 on the 1¢ Thomas Jefferson coil of 1968 (Scott 1299).

Because the perforation holes on the illustrated Jefferson coil split each stamp almost in half, it makes a more interesting variety, but because these freaks are not hard to come by, they have a premium of only a few dollars.

There are many other types of production varieties in addition to the few described and illustrated here.

Everyone who finds an error, freak or oddity wonders about its value.

The value of an error is usually tied to its scarcity. A new discovery may command great prices at first, but those prices can drop like a stone if additional examples are found.

On the other hand, the value of a new error discovery has also been known to increase as it becomes apparent that no other examples are known.

The values of other freaks and oddities are generally less than all but the most common errors. Collectors are often attracted by varieties that show a dramatic or unusual change in the stamp design, and the attractiveness of a freak may increase its value on the collector market.

In any case, errors, freaks and oddities make an interesting addition to any stamp collection.

They tell us a little about how stamps are produced and how mistakes can be made during stamp production.

Where to go for more information

Collectors interested in the specialty of stamp errors may enjoy membership in the Errors, Freak, Oddities Collectors Club. For information write to EFOCC, 138 East Lakemont Drive, Kingsland, GA 13548-6716. Please enclose a stamped, addressed envelope with your inquiry.

Many advertisers in Linn's Stamp News are active buyers and sellers of stamp errors and freaks. Watch for display ads throughout the paper, and classified ads in section 287, "Wanted to buy, United States."

The 2000 Catalogue of Errors on U.S. Postage Stamps by Stephen R. Datz includes listings of imperforate, color-omitted and invert errors, and it provides additional information about freaks and oddities. The 180-page book is available from dealers in philatelic literature, or direct from the publisher: Krause Publications, 700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990-0001.