US Stamps

Joann R. Lenz, 1938-2023

Jan 10, 2024, 11 AM
Joann R. Lenz, a devoted and passionate collector of U.S. plate number coil stamps and test stamps, died Nov. 19, 2023. The “Lenz paper” variety of the 1991 29¢ Flag Over Mt. Rushmore coil stamp is named in her honor. Image courtesy of the Detroit News.

By Charles Snee

Joann R. Lenz, whose name became synonymous with her discovery of how certain paper types affect the appearance of tagging on some United States stamps, died Nov. 19, 2023, at the age of 85.

Mrs. Lenz, fondly known to her fellow collectors as the Purple Lady because she regularly wore purple, was a fixture at stamp shows across the country. She was a passionate supporter of the hobby who always had a smile on her face and a kind word for anyone who came to her with questions.

She was a 33-year member of the United States Stamp Society, serving as secretary of the society’s board of governors for more than 20 years. From 2007 to 2011, she served as a director at large for the American Philatelic Society, of which she was a member for 50 years.

In addition, she was a charter member of the Dummy Stamps Study Group and formed an impressive collection of test stamps.

According to the obituary published in the fall 2023 issue of Dummy News and Views, “Joann and her husband Kurt (who passed in 2021) exhibited portions of their test stamp collection and won several major awards for their single frame exhibit.

“They won a vermeil medal for their exhibit titled ‘Early U.S. Dummy and Test Stamps of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’ at the 2009 APS ‘AmeriStamp Expo’. In addition to the vermeil award, they also received the ‘Most Popular’ exhibit award. After expanding the exhibit, it was a Gold Medal winner at the 2011 APS show.”

Mrs. Lenz also methodically assembled an award-winning exhibit of the U.S. 6¢ Theodore Roosevelt stamp (Scott 1039) in the 1954 Liberty series.

Among her numerous philatelic passions was U.S. plate number coil stamps, which were first issued in 1981.

The so-called “Lenz paper” variety of the 1991 29¢ Flag Over Mt. Rushmore coil stamp (Scott 2523d) is named in her honor.

On her informative website, Mrs. Lenz explained the importance of her discovery.

“Since August 1991, collectors of modern US stamps have known of two distinct types of the intaglio printed Mount Rushmore coil stamp,” she said. “These stamps primarily have been differentiated by the tagging seen under short wave ultraviolet light.”

“The commonly found type exhibits tagging which looks mottled/non-uniform under short wave ultraviolet light,” she said. “The second type shows a solid/uniform tagging on whiter paper and is often referred to as ‘Lenz’ paper.”

Mrs. Lenz referred readers to a detailed article by Ken Lawrence in the June 1999 issue of the United States Specialist that explains the differences between the two stamps.

The following excerpt from Lawrence’s article provides context:

“Intaglio 29¢ Rushmore coil stamps as originally issued in January of 1991 are printed on prephosphored paper that gives a mottled appearance to the glow when examined under shortwave ultraviolet light. Until August of 1991, that was the only type known to specialists. But at a meeting of the Plate Number Coil Collectors Club during APS Stampshow 91 at Philadelphia, Joann Lenz distributed examples of a variety that had a smooth, even glow under UV, which she had obtained from a stamp vending machine in Michigan. She called it ‘solid tagging,’ in contrast to the normal ‘mottled tagging.’

“Collectors promptly dubbed the discovery ‘Lenz paper’ in her honor.”

In his article, Lawrence made a critical distinction that ultimately led to important changes in the terminology used to describe tagging types in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.

“The true difference between stamps that show these [tagging] features is not in the ingredients or placement of the taggant,” he wrote. “It is a difference in paper types, with the apparent tagging glow textures [mottled versus solid] as a consequence.”

The Lenz paper variety of the 29¢ Flag Over Mt. Rushmore coil was first listed in the 2000 edition of the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

Mrs. Lenz was born June 1, 1938, in Detroit. She attended Valparaiso University in Indiana, where she met Kurt Lenz, her future husband. They were married for 60 years. She is survived by her son Mark Lenz, son-in-law Matt Huggin and five grandchildren.

Connect with Linn’s Stamp News: 

    Sign up for our newsletter
    Like us on Facebook
    Follow us on Twitter