US Stamps

The big four expertizing groups in the United States

May 4, 2020, 1 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

In the expertizing column in the April 20 issue of Linn’s, I wrote about when getting an expertization certificate is a good idea, and how a collector might spare the expense of expertizing by using other resources.

These other resources include asking an experienced collector in your local stamp club or a dealer friend at a show or bourse. They might be willing to offer an educated opinion as to whether the item you have has obvious features that make it unlikely to pass muster as what you hope it might be.

I left to this column the matter of where to send your potential treasure to have it reviewed and certified. There are several individuals who expertize stamps and covers and some specialty societies that will give an opinion on items in their areas. In no way do I want to denigrate their work or competence. That said, the most widely accepted and respected certificates are those from what I call the big four: the American Philatelic Society’s Expertizing Service, Philatelic Foundation, Philatelic Stamp Authentication and Grading, and Professional Stamp Experts Inc.

Why are the certificates of these groups more desirable? First they all have several reviewers look at any given patient (the item submitted for expertization). That means that the patient will get a more thorough examination. What one expertizer might miss, another will catch. Where one expertizer might be uncertain, another with more relevant experience may be able to come to a definite conclusion.

Often lone expertizers and expertizers for societies will also expertize for one or more of the big four services. In their fields they may be excellent, but the big four expertize the widest range of material and their multiple eyes on each patient have made their certificates instantly acceptable by professionals in the trade.

Let’s get down in the weeds for each of the big four.

The American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX) expertizes all U.S. and foreign stamps and covers. It is located at APS Headquarters, 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823; phone 814-933-3803. The website includes an archive of prior expertized items.

Application forms can be downloaded or requested through the website. Fees are based on the catalog value of the item submitted and start at $20 for APS members and $40 for nonmembers for stamps and covers valued at up to $200. For items valued at $1,000 or more, the fee is 3 percent of Scott catalog value for APS members and 5 percent for nonmembers.

APEX offers the opportunity to check the status of individual requests on its website. It also guarantees its opinions.

A flyer from APEX explains its guarantee: “APEX guarantees each opinion as follows. If you purchased this item with an APEX certificate describing this item as genuine, and it subsequently is proven to be counterfeit, altered, or misidentified, APEX will compensate you up to $5000 under the conditions listed below. The guarantee is valid for five years after the date of the certificate. …”

The conditions center on changes to the philatelic item that have taken place after the certificate was issued. Further details are specified on the website.

(The website included this message on April 27: “APEX is accepting new orders as of April 23, 2020. Outstanding orders will be completed as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”)

The Philatelic Foundation (PF) expertizes all U.S. and foreign stamps and covers. It is located at 22 E. 35th St. (on the fourth floor of the Collectors’ Club of New York) in New York, NY 10016; phone 212-221-6555; email philatelicfoundation@verizon.net; or visit the website.

Fees are 5.5 percent of catalog or fair market value, with a minimum of $27 and a maximum of $1,000. Grading of U.S. or British North American stamps is available at no extra cost, but must be specifically requested. There is an additional $10 charge for each request that asks for priority service (within 20 business days).

The application form is downloadable from the website. The website also includes a database of more than 400,000 certified stamps and covers and offers a variety of literature on the expertizing process. See the website for more details.

(On April 27, the website included an announcement dated March 18 that said “submissions of new material should be limited to FedEx or USPS Express Mail” during these difficult times and that “communications should be directed to our Executive Director, Larry Lyons, via email: llyons@philatelicfoundation.org.”)

Philatelic Stamp Authentication and Grading Inc. (PSAG) expertizes U.S. and Canadian philatelic items. The mailing address is Box 41-0880, Melbourne, FL 32941-0880; phone 305-345-9864; email info@psaginc.com. More information is available on the website.

Fees begin at $20 with a maximum of $500. Grading is included if requested. Also a 20-day express service is available at $30 per item for most categories.

PSAG offers the opportunity to track patients submitted. More details and a downloadable submission form are available on the website.

Professional Stamp Experts (PSE) expertizes U.S. and U.S. possessions, foreign stamps and postal history. The mailing address is Box 539309, Henderson, NV 89053-9309; phone 702-776-6522; email info@gradingmatters.com; or visit the website.

Fees are 5 percent of catalog value ($10 minimum). See the website for a detailed breakdown of fees and a downloadable submission form.

PSE offers grading, encapsulation and priority services. It also has a service for poorly centered or faulty stamps (PC/F service), recognizing that poorly centered or faulty stamps with very high catalog values cannot be sold without a certificate showing authentication. This service provides a certificate at reduced rates since the selling price of a poorly centered or faulty stamp will normally be a fraction of full retail for high quality examples.

See the website for details on these services. The website also includes literature on expertizing.

(As of April 27, the website included a “PSE Covid-19 Update,” which said in part “We will continue to process all incoming orders and shipping completed orders back, though there may be minor delays. … If you have any questions, please feel free to call our office at 702-776-6522 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday thru Thursday PST [Pacific Standard Time].”)

As a reminder, I want to mention a couple of things.

What you get from expertizing is an opinion. It is not an unassailable, final 100 percent guaranteed finding. It is the best that can be done given the experience of the expertizers and the technology available. There will be times when the experts cannot agree on an opinion; in this case, the fees you paid will be refunded or greatly reduced. See the aforementioned websites for more information on each organization’s policy.

Keep in mind that the turnaround time required to receive an opinion may run from 20 to 90 days. Some of the services address this on the websites and offer expedited service for a fee and the opportunity to track the progress of submissions.

The information on the certificate you receive is necessarily brief. Often more information can be obtained, especially when a patient has been certified as “not genuine” or the finding was “no opinion.” Call the service that did the certificate, provide the certificate or patient number, and ask the service administrator. (Keep in mind, however, that some offices are closed during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, and some mail also is delayed at this time. For current information, visit the websites.)

Beware

This column continues to receive inquiries about individual stamps that are thought to be imperf or partially perforated in ways that simulate a genuine catalog-listed imperf error, or varieties that are not listed in the catalogs and don’t exist.

We will examine two examples here.

First is the 1¢ Franklin Bank Note stamp shown graphically cut from a full cover in Figure 1. It appears to be a vertical coil stamp with no perforations on the left or right. The problem is that this stamp was issued more than 30 years before the first U.S. coil stamps were produced.

Pictured next to the 1¢ Franklin stamp in Figure 1 is a 3¢ Washington stamp that has a natural straight edge at left and is widely perforated on the right side. It would be a simple matter to clip the perforations to make another coil impersonator. In this case, the arrow at lower left would give it away, but there are other straight edge positions on the sheet that would make for more credible coil impersonators. But they would never be credible enough to fool an expertizer as no genuine coil versions exist of that stamp.

The second example is the used single of the 5¢ Lincoln from the 1902-08 Second Bureau Issue shown in Figure 2. It was submitted for expertizing as an imperf single — a stamp that does exist (Scott 315) valued at $1,250. That is quite a steep increase from the $2 value for a used perforated single (304). It is a good example of why imperfs are normally collected in pairs.

This one failed expertizing as perforations were clearly removed from a perforated example.

Also shown in Figure 2 is a genuine mint imperf horizontal pair. Note that this would be impossible to fake from perforated examples.

Apparently certified examples of singles do exist, but they are scarce and would have a better left margin than the single shown in Figure 2. As the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers says, “Single examples of No. 315 on cover must be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.”

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