US Stamps

Some war savings dollar-value conundrums

Aug 8, 2023, 8 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes Adventures in Expertizing by John M. Hotchner

Dollar-value war savings stamps can be attractive collectibles because of their imposing size and intricate designs. I will present two examples in this column.

In 1917, the U.S. government began to issue war savings stamps to help finance the mobilization effort for World War I by involving the public in the cause. The public would buy the stamps at $4.12 for a $5 stamp as an investment. The stamps could be accumulated in a special booklet provided by the government, and at maturity, the booklet could be turned in for the $5 face value of the stamps or the money could be reinvested in savings bonds.

Shown front and back in Figure 1 is the first such dollar issue: a $5 war savings certificate stamp with the note “WS2 philatelic counterfeit” in ink on the back. That note turns out to be only partially true.

The “WS” refers to the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers designation for these stamps, and “2” is the first 1917 issue (Scott WS2), perforated gauge 11, with the inscription “Will be payable January 1, 1923.” It is valued at $125 in the 2023 Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

The next war savings stamp is Scott WS3. It is the same color and has the same design as WS2, but it is rouletted 7 and valued at $1,200 in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

The stamp in Figure 1 was presented for expertization as a Scott WS3 candidate. I had to use expertizing methods I have learned as an American Philatelic Society expert on 20th Century U.S. stamps to determine whether it was certifiable as that stamp.

This was not a stamp where I could compare it to a known genuine. I don’t have any of those lying around the house.

First, I went to the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog, which was of some help. It shows a WS2 with generous margins — large enough that they could be trimmed in an effort to make a WS3 that might pass. Unfortunately, Scott does not picture a WS3 to show what its margins should look like.

Luckily, there is an excellent book, United States Savings Stamps by Harry K. Charles Jr. (published by the United States Stamp Society in 2012), that shows a genuine Scott WS3. Charles said the margins of WS3 are not much shorter than the perforated WS2.

“… Scott WS3 is a roulette version of WS2,” Charles wrote. “It was apparently rouletted by the American Banknote Company at the request of the Assistant United States Treasurer of New York. Approximately 308,000 sheets of 80 were sent to the ABNC for finishing (to be gummed and rouletted … .)”

Figure 2 shows genuine examples of Scott WS2 and WS3.

So, given the evidence, I determined that the stamp in Figure 1 is a genuine but altered Scott WS2, not WS3.

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