US Stamps

Expertizing column anniversary

Mar 6, 2023, 8 AM
Why is there no red plate number on this 1968 6¢ Christmas stamp plate strip? That question from a reader is answered in the column.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

When Charles Snee, who was my Linn’s editor at the time, asked me to devote one of my weekly columns each month to the general subject of expertizing, I was dubious. I thought I might be able to maintain that for a year. But here we are eight years later, still going strong and now continuing as a column in the Scott Stamp Monthly.

Part of the longevity is because Linn’s readers have had a great many questions about the subject that deserve answers. But it is also true that expertizers face a great many situations where the evidence is subject to interpretation. Thus, what we would all like to be a science is, in fact, an art.

Indeed, two equally qualified experts may reach different conclusions on the same stamp or cover because they see elements of findings differently or weigh them differently. I have looked at several such examples in past columns.

An example is the 1923 2¢ perf 11, rotary-printed black Warren Harding stamp (Scott 613), which must be definitively differentiated from the flat-plate version of the same stamp (610).

The rotary-printed stamp is valued in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers at $35,000 (the value is in italics indicating an item that is difficult to value accurately); the flat-plate version has a catalog of 25¢ used. You would think the task of differentiating would be easy, and sometimes it is, but not always.

Another example is the 30¢ Theodore Roosevelt stamp of the 1938 Presidential, or Prexie series, which has two cataloged color varieties that differ from the normal deep ultramarine (Scott 830), valued at $3.50 mint. The varieties are blue (830a) with a catalog value of $20, and deep blue (830b) valued at $375 in italics.

Start with the question, what do these color names even mean? And proceed to what color the patients (items submitted to be expertized) exhibit. An individual patient can generate a discussion worthy of trying to solve the debate of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

If you would like copies of one or both columns that discussed those stamps, send me a stamped, addressed envelope at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.

While such cases constitute a small percentage of the situations an expertizer faces, they are the ones that confound experts and submitters alike.

In other columns, I have tried to explain why the production of a given stamp was so complicated that it is virtually impossible to expertise some aspect of it.

A recent example is the problem of the missing yellow on the 1968 6¢ Christmas stamp showing the angel Gabriel from The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck (Scott 1363a), which I dealt with in my column in the Jan. 16, 2023, issue of Linn’s.

I went into considerable detail on how production that began with two different yellows ended up with the yellows being interchangeable and perhaps one being eliminated.

A reader still had a question, “Why is there no red plate number or only one yellow plate number if there were two yellows?” That’s a reasonable question. See the plate strip pictured here. It normally has black, blue and yellow plate numbers, but no red number.

The answer is that the Huck press commemorative-sized products such as this Christmas stamp were only two subjects tall, so the margin had room for only three plate numbers in addition to the “Mail Early” admonition.

This was enough because there were three printing stations on the Huck press, each capable of printing up to three colors (similar to the Giori press introduced in the mid-1950s).

In this case, the first station printed the two yellows by offset, both represented by a single plate number (which could be light yellow or dark yellow), as can be seen in the Figure 1 plate strip.

The second printing station printed red and blue colors from the same plate. They are represented by the blue plate number. Since those two colors were never interchanged, the plate number is always blue, and there is never a red plate number.

The third printing station printed the brown and dark green colors, represented by the very dark green plate number that almost looks black.

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