US Stamps

New printing of U.S. 2023 Patriotic Block coil stamp with wider year date to receive major Scott number

Feb 13, 2024, 2 PM
A recently discovered printing of the United States 2023 nondenominated (5¢) Patriotic Block coil stamp from plate B222, right, has a noticeably wider “2023” year date compared to stamps printed from plate B111, left.

By Ronald Blanks

The latest reported printing of the United States nondenominated (5¢) Patriotic Block nonprofit-rate coil stamp (Scott 5756), from plate B222, bears a larger “2023” year date than the Patriotic Block coil stamp printed from plate B111 that was issued March 1, 2023.

Unlike some “small date” and “large date” varieties issued during 1995-2008 and listed in the Scott catalog, the Patriotic Block coils are easy to tell apart because no measuring device or magnifier is needed.

Stamps from plate B111 rolls have a compact (narrow) dark “2023” year date. Those from B222 rolls have a wider light “2023” year date showing noticeable space between the four digits.

Single stamps from the two printings and enlarged images of their respective “2023” year dates are illustrated here.

Credit for this discovery belongs to stamp dealer and Plate Number Coil Collectors Club member Michael Mules for first noticing and reporting the differences between the year dates.

The two Patriotic Block printings also differ in the size of the red and blue design elements. Stamps with the large year date have slightly larger red elements and blue elements.

Scott catalog editor-in-chief Jay Bigalke, on reviewing mint strips of both Patriotic Block varieties, confirmed that the wide date variety will be listed as Scott 5756A. The new entry will note a date width of 2¼ millimeters “with numerals farther apart than on No. 5756.”

A footnote accompanying the Scott 5756A listing will read, “Size from left side of left blue square to right side of right blue square, from top of left blue square to bottom of right blue square, from left side of left red bars to right side of right red bars, and from top of right red bars to bottom of left red bars: approximately 18mm.”

The Scott 5756 listing will be revised to note that the year date size is “approximately 1¾ mm [wide], with numerals close together.” The description also will mention a size of “approximately 17½ mm” for the respective left-right and top-bottom dimensions of the blue and red elements, as explained earlier.

The U.S. Postal Service stocks the Patriotic Block service-inscribed coil stamp in large rolls of 3,000 and 10,000 for authorized mailers. The self-adhesive stamps are spaced slightly apart on the liner paper for use in industry automated-affixing machines, called “tabbers,” that can apply stamps or stickers.

Myriad postage discounts are allowed to mailers, depending on the extent of their mail preparation. Mailers pay the USPS on account for the actual postage due, minus the affixed postage. Coil stamps inscribed “Nonprofit Org.” have a face value of 5¢ to simplify accounting. Two other service-inscribed coils have different face values: 25¢ for “Presorted First-Class” and 10¢ for “Presorted Standard.”

Many U.S. definitive (regular-issue) stamps issued since year dates were added beginning in 1995 have differently sized year dates among otherwise look-alike versions. But those differing date sizes usually are not a unique mark to tell varieties apart among different formats and/or suppliers.

However, given the different design dimensions that mark it as an entirely new printing from new plates, the Patriotic Block coil from plate B222 is receiving a major Scott number. The printer, Banknote Corporation of America (BCA), assigned plate number B222 to indicate that new plates were used.

Linn’s Stamp News asked USPS spokesperson Jim McKean if BCA made the date change intentionally or unintentionally.

“The Patriotic Block stamps were printed on two different gravure presses using different cylinder engravers, hence the B111 and B222 plate numbers,” McKean said in early February. “In BCA’s case, we have printed all stamps on the Alprinta press (offset) for several years. The Patriotic Block was the first stamp in several years that was printed gravure, and the first stamp issue in over a decade to be printed on two different presses.”

“There are inherent differences in cylinder engraving systems and the capabilities of a press that will result in slight differences even when using identical art,” McKean said. “The very definition of the plate number change identifies that different printing plates/cylinders were used, therefore you can expect to find slight differences when comparing the printed material.”

This is a major difference from recent printings of some coil and sheet stamps that show new plate numbers with “2” digits that followed printings that bear plate numbers with “1” digits issued during the past few years.

The repeated U.S. Postal Service explanation for those previous new plate numbers is that they are due to a paper manufacturer’s reformulation of the same specified paper used to print the stamps.

In those cases, the new printings gave off a bright white glow under longwave ultraviolet light, compared to their predecessors. A list of the printings with new plate numbers with “2” digits issued to date can be found in the article “New plate number discovered on U.S. 2023 Patriotic Block coil stamp” by Charles Snee in the Jan. 29 issue of Linn’s.

When viewed together, Patriotic Block coil stamps from rolls with plate numbers B111 and B222 do not show a difference under longwave ultraviolet light. Likewise, no difference is seen under shortwave ultraviolet light.

In the case of the Patriotic Block issue, the new B222 plate number conclusively reflects the printing press change.

Technical details in the Feb. 9, 2023, Postal Bulletin state that BCA used American Packing Corp. for the initial printing from plate B111 on a “Rotogravure Cerutti” press. Stamps printed from plate B222 were printed on BCA’s Alprinta 74 press.

Collectors now have the details necessary to find both Patriotic Block varieties, without resorting to paper-type analysis. My incoming mail from the past six weeks yielded three items franked with Scott 5756 and nine bearing 5756A.

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