US Stamps

Expertizing subtle color varieties of U.S. 19th-century stamps

Jul 15, 2014, 3 AM

Stamp colors are troublesome to the expertizer, but no less so to the collector. Witness this question from Linn’s reader Todd Hause.

First, he provides a little background: “As a collector of 19th century U.S. stamps, stationery and postal history, one area that has and continues to plague me, perhaps more than any other area of identification, is color.

“I used to think I had a pretty good eye for color and then I started collecting stamps. I now own six or more different color guides that vary in cost from $10 to $100 each. To make matters worse, the colors in and between these guides are as varied as the item I seek to identify.

“This leads me to my question. How does an expertizer determine the color of a stamp or envelope?”

I embark on an answer with a large degree of humility, as Hause has identified one of the major problems with which expertizers must deal, and I would not claim infallibility here.

Each stamp is its own problem, and there are no unalterable rules that apply to all United States stamps.

So let’s consider the case of a 19th-century problem child that many of us have agonized over. In the next expertizing column, I’ll look at a 20th-century color problem that poses difficulties.

Comparing a stamp submitted for expertizing — what I’ve referred to as a patient — to reference examples is a good alternative, but it is also imperfect: For every stamp color, there are usually several gradations.

Further, the human eye is not a reliable gauge, as perception differs somewhat from person to person, even in excellent lighting

Color charts, as Hause indicates, do differ from one another, and are sometimes internally inconsistent.

So what are we to do?

Our 19th-century example is U.S. Scott 10 and 10A, the 3¢ 1851 orange brown stamp on the cover in Figure 1, to be distinguished from Scott 11 and 11A in Figure 2, which is identified in its major listing as dull red, but which also has minor listings of orange red, rose red, brownish carmine, claret, deep claret, plum and pinkish.

How to make sense of that? Well, the first thing to do is to carefully read the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. If you do that, you will discover that both Types I and II of the orange brown variety were first issued in 1851.

The dull red variety of the Type I stamp, with its inner framelines not recut (Scott 11) was not issued until March 1855. Type II of the dull red variety (11A) was released between 1851 and 1855, depending upon the plate used to produce the stamps.

So, this tells us that Type I imperforate stamps canceled before March 1855 are orange brown.

Considering the issue dates of the Type I stamps, any imperforate associated with an 1851 date is orange brown, and many others with 1852-54 dates could be the orange brown.

If the stamp is on cover, one needs to pay attention to the cancellation date and docketing.

It was the practice in many cases to write the date of receipt on covers, especially if the cover was business mail of some sort.

Off-cover examples will also sometimes carry a year date in the cancellation.

Those who work with these stamps often, including expertizers, specialists in the issue and stamp dealers, develop the faculty of being able to recognize orange brown in a heartbeat.

For the rest of us, reference examples are a helpful guide, even if not entirely reliable given the fact that there is variation even in the orange browns.

The Scott U.S. specialized catalog, for example, also lists a deep orange brown for both Scott 10 and Scott 10A, and a copper brown variety for Scott 10A, but not Scott 10.

There is also a color chart that is a highly satisfactory aid. It is the Encyclopedia of Colors of United States Postage Stamps by R.H. White. There are four volumes that cover U.S. postage stamps from 1847 to 1917, and a fifth volume that covers postage due issues from 1879 to 1916. The color plates are professionally and accurately done, and while there might be some quibbles with the color terminology, this is the best reference that exists for the stamps it covers.

The color plate from White’s book addressing Scott 11 is shown in Figure 3.

The book is almost too good in that it lists and illustrates, for example, 10 different colors of Scott 10, and nine different colors of Scott 11. (The book was published in 1981, before there were separate listings for Scott 10A and 11A.)

An article published with the plates also provides critical information about the dates of appearance of the various colors.

The books were not cheap — more than $300 when first released — but every expertizer who looks at U.S. 19th century, Washington-Franklins, and early postage dues, needs to have it. It does come up periodically in the stocks of philatelic literature dealers.

Returning to the item pictured in Figure 1, it does not appear to be a particularly desirable cover. The cancellation is indistinct. The stamp is cut close and pen canceled. But it has its original letter inside, which matches in salutation the addressee on the envelope, and the letter is clearly dated July 12, 1851.

What makes this cover special is the note on the back in the handwriting of Dr. Carroll Chase (1878-1960), the premier early researcher on the issues of 1851 and 1857: “Fine copy Plate 1E orange brown, red Rockton, NY canc. Dated July 12 (1851) in the cover. Early use.”

How early? The earliest known use for this stamp is July 1, 1851.

Now, if I have an example submitted to be expertized as an orange brown, I have several resources at hand: the Scott U.S. specialized catalog, the color plates and write-ups in the White encyclopedia, and my own reference collection that includes an example annotated by Chase, the master himself. I also have my experience with handling this stamp over many years, and additional philatelic literature.

And remember that I am going to be only one of three or more experts looking at the submitted stamp and rendering an opinion.

So, to repeat what I have said earlier in this series, expertizers strive to get it right. There are checks and balances built into the system, including multiple informed eyes looking at the patient.

This does not ensure that the final opinion will be right in 100 percent of the cases, but every effort is made to make it so.

Cartoon winner

It does seem I struck a nerve with the cartoon caption contest stamp for June using the 22¢ Public Hospitals commemorative stamp shown in Figure 4. A dozen or so entries submitted were in the class of political statement — mostly without an element of humor. I am glad to have given those readers an opportunity to get their opinions off their chests, but those entries will not be used in this report.

The administrative aspects of health care — especially in the realm of insurance cost and process — was the target of several entries for the June contest. This is nicely typified by “Mr. Smith, have you finished filling out our streamlined 351-page health insurance form? Mr. Smith? Mr. Smith? Oh my goodness, he’s dead!” submitted by T. Ryan from San Francisco, Calif.

Next in popularity was the subject of self-adhesive stamps. An example, from Frank Schmitt of Rockford, Ill., is “We have to tell the doctors to stop using these new forever stamps in place of Steri-Strips. The patients are complaining that they don’t soak off.”

A different approach to this issue was taken by Bill Kriebel of Philadelphia, Pa.: “Hey, forget those other medical problems; this is one item we can lick!”

Nina Jackson of Culver City, Calif., represents a group of entries that focused on the ills of the U.S. Postal Service, with a doctor saying, “I doubt if I can cure what ails the Postal Service.”

The nonphilatelic winner shown in Figure 4 plays off the unusual architecture of the hospital shown on the stamp. It is from David Schwartz of Commack, N.Y.

The philatelic line winner channels the future with a reference to the nondenominated stamps that would not be issued for 12 more years. It is, “What a rip-off! H stamps are supposed to be worth 33¢!” by Mildred Barylski of Alexandria, Va.

Both winners will receive Linn’s Stamp Identifier published by Amos Hobby Publishing, or a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). The book has a retail value of $12.99.

Here are a few of the runners-up:

“Just because I collect duck stamps doesn’t mean I’m a quack!” by Edgar Dunlap of Gainesville, Ga.

“Hey Doc, is it a boy or a girl?” “Yes, both!” from May Aginsky of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Pull over here … I need to get my back regummed,” sent by Pete Brozik of Madison Heights, Mich.

“What the H is going on in here?” by Bryan McGinnis from White Bear Lake, Minn.

“Looking at this building makes me dizzy — I need to see a doctor!” from Michael Margolies of Commack, N.Y.

“A room with a view, please,” by Donnella Rod of Starwood, WashingtonValley Stream, N.Y.

“No, I’m not a hospital, but I portray one on a stamp … ” sent by R. Fabian of Needville, Texas.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to all who entered.

The next cartoon caption contest will be announced in the Aug. 11 issue of Linn’s.