US Stamps

Misperf color errors: true errors or not?

May 31, 2018, 2 PM

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

Although I am not much into celebrating anniversaries, I do want to mention that this is the 50th U.S. Stamp Notes column devoted to matters related expertizing.

In the words of Tom Lehrer in his 1950s song Lobachevsky, “One man deserves the credit, and one man deserves the blame.” And, who is that in this case? The answer is Charles Snee, who more than four years ago asked me to write a monthly column as part of U.S. Stamp Notes with expertizing as the focus.

I would not have guessed that I could write 25 columns on the subject, let alone 50, but here we are with no end in sight. It is a tribute to Linn’s readers who have kept this column going by sending in their comments, sharing their experiences and asking questions.

So, it seems appropriate to devote this column to reader input.

First, Jay Smith of Snow Hill, N.C., writes with a tip that ought to be self-evident but is easy to forget when a collector has a much-wanted stamp on the hook. Full disclosure: Smith is a specialist dealer in Scandinavian material and does expertizing.

Here is his tip: “The best time to have your stamps expertized is before you buy them (i.e. while you can still get a refund if there is a problem). In the age of on-line auctions and sellers cloaked behind internet identities, this could not be more important. ‘Buyer beware’ has never been more true!”

Misperf color errors

In the age of the internet, Linn’s readers span the globe, so I was not surprised to receive an email from Ian Billings of Norfolk, England. Like Smith, Billings is a dealer.

In the email, Billings referred to my April 16 column that discussed colors missing from stamps that have been misperforated. Two examples, the 1974 10¢ Energy Conservation stamp (Scott 1547) and the 1977 13¢ Lafayette (1716), are shown nearby.

Another more spectacular example, the 1976 31¢ Bicentennial souvenir sheet picturing Washington reviewing his ragged army at Valley Forge from a painting by William T. Trego (Scott 1689), also is shown. The perforations are shifted up 12 millimeters, and, as a result, the denominations are missing from the first through fourth stamps.

The Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamp and Covers lists this as 1689w, “USA/31c missing on a, b, c and d. (PS)” The PS means that the missing colors are because of a perforation shift.

Billings wrote: “Your column shows me interesting differences in the way we look at errors/varieties on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

“To my mind the absence of a colour purely because of misperforation is not a true missing colour variety.”

He then gave the following instances when a “real” color error occurs:

“The colour was not printed on the sheet at all — the sheet was not presented for that ink to be applied.

“The ink ran out or the cylinder was lifted from the press during web printing resulting in fading, a dry print, and colour omission for that part of the web only.

“There was a paper fold resulting in the ink being printed on the back of some stamps and not on the front of those, nor on the ones that the paper was folded over.”

Billings further explained, “The last of these, while producing a true variety is a freak occurrence only. The first two, and only they, produce genuine missing colour errors.

“Misperforation does not. For the colour to be missing it has to be not there where it ought to be. In this case as in all misperfs cited, the colour IS there, but misperforation has caused it to be shifted into the next stamp or to the margin.”

In the case of the Bicentennial souvenir sheet, the “USA/31c” colors are clearly present below the misperforated stamps. There is nothing missing on the sheet, but Scott considers this to be an error because those colors are not on the misperforated versions of the stamps.

I mostly agree with Billings, but as an expertizer, I am bound by what the catalog lists. If a collector submits one of the illustrated stamps or souvenir sheets asking if it is Scott No. X, it does not matter whether I agree with the Scott catalog editor’s decision to list these as errors or not. I have to say it is.

It happens that I don’t agree with the Scott catalog in this instance. I wrote objecting when the decision was made to list missing colors because of misperforation several years ago, and Scott catalog editors ignored me. Win a few, lose a few.

Where I don’t agree with Billings is on his third point. If a paper fold results in a color missing on the front of a stamp, I do believe that is an error, even if the color is printed on the reverse side.

An outstanding example is Scott 702a, the 2¢ Red Cross stamp of 1931 with the red cross missing. Only one example is known, the result of a corner fold between the application of the engraved black and the addition of the engraved red. This example is mint and is listed at $40,000.

When it’s too good to be true

Speaking of which, Jerold Backstrom of Brainerd, Minn., recently sent me an eBay listing for the red cross missing stamp. It and a variety with a high red cross (both shown here from the listing) were offered in March for a starting bid of $35. The listing ended April 8 with zero bids.

Why? There are a few reasons. The seller was in Russia and the point of mailing was China/Hong Kong/Taiwan (both tips to be wary), and the seller made no claim that this is the one and only missing red cross. The fakes (for that is what they are) are too clean, too well centered for this stamp, and the background is too white.

Finally, the return policy stated, “Seller does not accept returns.”

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I’d like to think that potential buyers also looked at the $35 price tag and said, “Too good to be true!”

This is not the first fake stamp I have seen on eBay, and it won’t be the last. But it is a good rule of thumb that if it is too good to be true, it almost always is. And be wary of any seller who will not allow you to return an item if it proves to be not genuine.