The Expertising of Stamps, Part 3

The Expertizing of Stamps, Part 3

By Hans Stolz

The perforating process cuts through the gummed paper. Under magnification the edge of the perforation hole shows the layer of gum on the paper, neatly cut, exactly to the edge. The extreme perforation tips of a single stamp show the torn paper fibers and the splintered-off gum. Regumming can not reproduce this. Totally aside from this, a stamp that has been in water has lost part of its calendering because the pressed paper fibers, when in water, tend to revert to their original structure. More often than not, the front of the stamp will reveal if the stamp has original gum. Taking a pair of unused stamps, like the half-cent Presidential, separating the stamps, soaking one in water, and then, after drying it, putting the two stamps next to each other, will show the difference quite clearly.

WATERMARKS. Watermarks were in use long before stamps were issued. Watermarks can be seen when the paper is held up to the light. They were both a security measure for such things as bank notes or official documents, as well as signs of cultivation or elegance for such things as stationery.
Watermarks are formed in the process of paper manufacture. They are produced by a projecting design on the screen of the mold. Dies cut from metal are affixed or soldered to the wire mesh. This results in less paper pulp at these places. The finished paper is internally thinner there and more transparent. In many cases these thinner areas can be seen as depressions in the paper when holding the stamp at an angle. This is helpful with stamps printed on coated paper, where watermarks fluid is not very effective. The large-size George V and George VI high values of the British Colonies show this rather clearly. Stamps on the cover often reveal their watermark in the same manner.

Less common is the reverse watermark, where the designs are recessed in the mesh screen. The paper now has more pulp in these places, which are now thicker and less transparent. The first issues of Russia and the 1855 4sk of Norway are good examples. Germany, in the 1930’s, used a watermark that combined both watermark methods at the same time. Depending on the way paper is fed into the printing press, watermarks can be inverted, sideways or mirror-reversed.

Watermarks can be simulated. The first Swiss watermark, the cross in oval, is not a true watermark. It was impressed after the paper was manufactured. Latvian air post have a swastika watermark. The forgers of these issues imitated this by using a device similar to a cancel to apply a fatty substance to the paper, making it look like the watermark.

The visible mesh in the paper is technically the same as a watermark and shows as tiny dashes. Flaws in the metal mesh screen, and they do occur, can show some of these dashes as more transparent than the others. The mesh is sometimes of importance for identification. Some values of the first issue of Newfoundland were printed in scarlet vermilion. The same values in the second issue were printed in orange. After 140 years the colors have become less distinctive and are no longer a reliable factor for identification. However the first issue shows a mesh. The second does not. The first Kangaroo issue of Australia has a horizontal mesh. All other Kangaroo issues have a vertical mesh. The New Zealand Cowan paper has a horizontal mesh, the Wiggins Teape paper has a vertical mesh.

CANCELLATIONS and HANDSTAMP OVRPRINTS. Many devices for cancelling stamps have been in use over the last 160 years. They range from pen and ink or crayon to machine cancels and sprayed-on cancels. But the most commonly used device, and the most important in expertizing, is the old handstamp cancel with the ink pad. In fact it had been used for postmarks long before stamps were issued. This type of cancellation and the handstamp overprint are similar in nature. In both cases the stamp is struck with a handstamp. Cancelling inks are different from printing inks. They are more akin to writing inks. The inks used for cancelling are usually water-based. They are composed of dyes and a gum or glue in water, with enough glycerin added to prevent drying on the pad. The most permanent black ink is iron-gall ink. It is compounded of lampblack, an iron salt, usually ferrous sulfate, gallic acid and tannin to form ferrous tannate. The water-based ink penetrates the paper speedily and dries almost instantly. As the ink dries, the soluble ferrous tannate is oxidized by contact with the air and becomes insoluble black ferric tannate. Colored inks are usually water suspensions of natural or synthetic dyes plus gums.

A cancellation is normally applied to a stamp which has previously been affixed
50s. He was a world ranking expert on to a cover. The calendering and the sizing of the paper, plus the partially soaked-in gum, allow the cancelling ink to penetrate the paper only to a certain degree. This degree is characteristic for each issue, depending of course on the cancelling ink used and on the amount of ink on the cancel. Often the cancel can hardly be seen on the back of the cancelled stamp. The same degree of partial penetration can be observed on cancelled-to-order stamps and on handstamp overprints. However, a stamp that has been soaked in water has lost part of its calendering, part of its sizing and all of its gum. A cancellation on this stamp will show that the ink penetrated all the way through the paper, and the cancellation will be quite pronounced on the back of the stamp.

The first issues of Lubeck were issued and distributed ungummed. A yellowish gum was applied to the stamps before use, presumably by the postmaster. There is a difference in cancellation penetration between the stamps that were properly used on cover and those that were cancelled without having been affixed to a cover.

Shortly after Hanover had been incorporated into Prussia in 1866, a number of sheets of the King George issues were found. They were stuck together. The sheets were soaked, separated, and cut into blocks and large multiples. They were then cancelled with a still available genuine cancel. Genuinely used multiples on cover are rare. The backs of these multiples show that they were not used on a cover.

Certain kinds of substances will change the chemical composition of some dyes and render them colorless. Ink eradicator is very successful in “removing” pen cancellations. But it does not really remove them. It only changes them into another chemical which is not visible. The marking is still there. It will fluoresce under ultraviolet light and reveal its presence.

REPAIRS and ALTERATIONS. A repair, by definition, restores a stamp to its original appearance. The restoration of stamps has not yet received the same recognition that is duly accorded the restoration of paintings, etchings, rare books, antique furniture, etc. Considerable artistry and craftsmanship is needed to restore a damaged stamp that may have a tear, short perforation tips, a piece missing, a thin spot, a crease, or a stain. Were it not for repairs, very few Hawaiian Missionaries of decent appearance would exist. It is true that a repaired stamp affords the unscrupulous a means to defraud the public, but this should not lead one to equate a repair with the possible fraud that could be committed with it.

An alteration is the exact opposite of a repair. An alteration changes, rather than restores, the stamp’s appearance. This is done by altering certain parts of the stamp. Without exception the intent is deceit. One of the simplest forms of alteration is accomplished with scissors, trimming the perforation to make the stamp appear imperforate, or clipping only two sides to make a coil. Another alteration is perforating of an imperforate stamp to make it more valuable. The color of the paper can be changed by dyeing. Baden #4 becomes #1 in coffee, in tea the even scarcer #1a. The color of the design can be changed chemically. Mercury vapor turns certain colors a bright red, hydrochloric acid turns some greens into blue. Scraping off parts of the design is an effort to turn a U.S. two cent type III into type II. The list is endless. Even more dangerous are those alterations where the techniques commonly used in repair work are applied. Inverted centers are manufactured. Imperforate pairs are constructed out of two perforated stamps. Rare gutter pairs or tete-beche pairs are built using two imperforate stamps. And as a final refinement the specious item can be mounted on a piece to make it more plausible, or on a cover to make it even more credible.

Finally, to expertise a stamp, one more thing is needed: an example of the genuine stamp, or at the very least a perfect memory of all the characteristics of the genuine stamp. A popular branch of philately is the collecting of fakes and forgeries. In expertizing, this is of limited use. One may have ten different forgeries of a stamp which is to be examined. If the stamp does not match any of the ten forgeries, it still can not be determined if the item in question is genuine or an eleventh forgery.

An authentic expert is a person who has a thorough and profound knowledge of papers, printing processes, printing inks, overprints, cancellations, gums, usages, repairs, forging techniques, plus an extensive reference collection of genuine stamps as well as forgeries. He has these for each stamp he expertizes. He will issue certificates for only the limited area of stamps on which he is truly an expert. He stakes his reputation on his opinions by placing his signature on the certificates he issues. A knowledgeable collector who has specialized in a certain stamp or issue, has an extensive collection of these genuine stamps as well as forgeries, and has dedicated many years to the study of his specialty, would unreservedly qualify as an expert in his field were he to make his knowledge available. In a perfect world, certificates from an expert committee would be signed by the expert examining the stamp. This would instill confidence in the opinion and add to the commercial value of the certificate.

The cardinal rule of expertizing is to know everything there is to know about the genuine stamp.