US Stamps

Precision and the use of philatelic terms for errors, two types of freaks

Oct 12, 2017, 6 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes — By John M. Hotchner

Philatelic orthodoxy can be annoying, but words do have specific meanings and it drives me a bit nuts to see them misused. Take for instance the word “error.”

Some collectors and dealers like to use the term to apply to any variation from normal production, no matter how minor.

Doing this is thought to give the item a certain prestige because errors are generally thought to be especially desirable. A minor variety labeled as an error may well be overvalued when offered for sale.

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The precise meaning of “error” in a philatelic context equates to what you would see listed in a general catalog such as the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: imperforates, missing colors, inverts, color varieties caused by use of the wrong ink, etc.

Everything else is a freak, variety or an oddity. (A much more detailed exposition of what printing mistakes and flaws fall into which classes can be found on the website of the Error, Freaks and Oddities Collectors’ Club,

It follows that errors are total. In lot descriptions, I sometimes see the words “almost imperf.” There is no such thing; it is or it isn’t.

The same goes for colors. Any printed spot or dot of color disqualifies a stamp from being considered to be a missing-color error.

The left-hand stamp of the pair of 1973 10¢ 50-Star and 13-Star Flags stamps (Scott 1509) shown here looks to be a blue-omitted example. However, the 2017 APEX expertizing certificate states, “U.S. Scott No. 1509 pair with just flecks of blue present on left stamp, unused, full original gum, never hinged, genuine in all respects.”

The flecks of blue prevent this from being properly called an error.

Another misuse of philatelic terminology is the difference between a fold and a crease, both of which are considered freaks. (Linn’s defines a freak as “an abnormal, usually nonrepetitive occurrence in the production of stamps that results in a variation from the normal stamp, but falls short of producing an error. Most paper folds, overinking and perforation shifts are freaks.”)

Both a crease and a fold are shown on the block of 2¢ George Washington stamps. A paper crease is an interior phenomenon where the paper folds in on itself.

A fold almost always involves a corner, as can be seen at lower right of the block of 2¢ stamps.

A much scarcer example of an interior paper fold is shown on the block of the 1967 5¢ “Search For Peace” Lions issue (Scott 1326).

One more problem area, a bit on the technical side, is use of the term misperforation when it does not really apply.

Take a look at the 1976 13¢ Ben Franklin commemorative pair (Scott 1690). At first glance, it looks like a misperf.

However, this is an example of a stamp containing both lithographed and engraved elements. The lithographed map and the light blue background were properly printed, and the dark blue engraved elements were misregistered on them.

When the final product went to the L-Perforator, it keyed on the properly printed lithographed colors, and they are framed by the perforations correctly. But, because the perforations go through the dark blue on the stamps, an initial look can result in a quick judgment that this is a misperf. Not so.

I will end this rant with the term “imperforated.” There is no such word! A stamp is perforated or imperforate.