The Expertizing of Stamps, Part 2

The Expertizing of Stamps, Part 2
By Hans Stolz

The German currency reform, which introduced the D-mark on January 25, 1948, required new stamps in the new currency. For Berlin the German 1947 definitives were overprinted in red. It is a simple overprint, easy to forge and a very tempting way to transform the nearly worthless 1947 definitives into real money. They appeared shortly after the red Berlin overprinted stamps were issued. It was soon discovered that the fake overprints under ultraviolet light looked black, whereas the genuine overprints light up in red. The reaction of the forgers was “sorry about that” and started using an ink that fluoresced red. However the genuine overprints are on a new printing of the 1947 definitives which fluoresce differently. For example, under ultraviolet light the genuine 1m olive green shows the basic stamp as a bright golden yellow. The forgery on the original 1947 printing shows the basic stamp as a dark brown.

Some inks for stamp printing were purposefully made water-sensitive. These are called fugitive inks. A number of early Russian and Bulgarian stamps, which were printed in St. Petersburg, tend to lose part of their design when soaked in water. Some issues of the Netherlands Indies are water-soluble and lose their image when immersed in water. And a number of Great Britain stamps change color in water.

From the beginning, postal administrations have been very worried that people may attempt to remove cancellations and cheat them out of a few nickels.

. Overprints are generally typographed. A few, such as the high values of the Krakau issues of Poland, or the first air post stamps of Japan are lithographed. Some are engraved, such as the Mexico corbata and barril overprints, or the pseudo-engraved Sokol and Olympic overprints of Czechoslovakia of 1925-26. Even handstamp overprints exist, such as the 1900 Tientsin provisional of the German offices in China, or the 1010 Faroe Islands 2o provisional.
The majority of overprints are not printed on the original issue, but rather on a second printing of that issue. There are two reasons for this. First, the original issue has been distributed to the post offices and no sufficient stock is available. The second reason is that a sheet of stamps is considerably weakened by the perforation holes and can not easily be fed into a printing press. Anyone who has handled, for example, a sheet of a 3¢ U.S. commemorative can easily appreciate this. These second printings of the basic stamps often differ considerably from the original printings.

Some examples follow:
Belgium: the October 1930 Labor Bureau overprints, seemingly applied to the July 1930 Independence Issue, have the names of the artists and the engraver at the foot of the stamp. The original stamps have not. For the 1918 Red Cross overprints the colors of the basic stamps were changed.

Iran: the first air post issue of 1927 appears to be overprinted on the 1909 Coat of Arms issue, except that the air post issue is perforated 1111½. The 1909 issue is 12½x12.

Italy and Colonies: all Servizio di Stato overprints are on stamps that have the same original design, but have different colors.

United States: the Kansas and Nebraska overprints were applied to a new printing
of the basic stamps. Not only are the colors slightly different, but the gum breakers are also farther apart.

Germany: the 1931 Polar Flight overprinted stamps have vertical watermark and vertical gum ridges. On the original Zeppelin stamps both are horizontal.

The normal sequence of producing an overprinted stamp is: gum is applied to the paper, the original design is printed, the overprint is applied, and perforating completes the process. This is of importance in expertizing when an overprint is a continuous web or band. Since perforating is the last operation, the perforating pins cut through the overprint, leaving a clean edge. A similar overprint on a stamp, already perforated, would show a spillover of the ink into the perf holes.

Typographed overprints are made with plates that are either typeset or made up of electrotype or stereotype cliches. In the typeset cases each individual overprint differs to some extent from any other on the same plate. When in 1941 the Free French administration in St. Pierre & Miquelon overprinted their available stock of stamps with “France Libre”, it was done with movable type in a setting of twenty five. This resulted in twenty five different types, which can be plated. In the more common method, using electrotype or stereotype cliches, all overprints on the sheet are identical.

Overprints that consist of words or letters, and virtually all do so, and that are made with a plate consisting of cliches, are by virtue of their manufacture all identical for each stamp. The precise line-up and spacing of the letters always show particular characteristics that are specific for that overprint. Some of these are quite pronounced. The 1943 German occupation stamps of Montenegro show the second “a” in the word “Verwaltungsausschuss” leaning to the left and quite close to the “s”. The strength of the impressions and the inks used are also always characteristic. When one looks through the stamp, the “framelining” and the relative transparency of the ink are distinctive for each particular overprint. This is almost impossible to duplicate. Some “framelining” is so strong that they are visible to the naked eye, such as the Iceland Balbo flight or the Spain 1950 25p Franco Visit.

SEPARATION. The stamps in the 1840s were imperforate and had to be separated by scissors or folded and torn. More efficient means of separation were soon developed. For example the second issue of Finland has serpentine roulettes of different sizes. This was not very satisfactory and was never tried again.

The first postage dues of Bulgaria have lozenges punched out in the margins between the stamps. Different forms of rouletting proved to be much better. But by far the most effective means of separation is perforating (punching out small holes, thus leaving small bridges of paper between the stamps which now can easily be torn from the sheet).

The early Portuguese India stamps were locally made and were perforated using steel bars with pins in the form of a comb, placed in the margins between the stamps, and hit with a hammer. Some of the holes are round, others are square, and some did not punch out too well. Japanese Cherry Blossoms were perforated a similar manner, using what is referred to as short tool or long tool.

With the advent of perforating machines, two distinct
methods were developed: line perforation and comb perforation. Line perforation was used for United States stamps. It accounts for the irregular perforations at the four corners of the stamp and also for the varying sizes of the stamps in the same sheet. Comb perforation produces stamps that are always the same size and have regular corners. Comb perforations can sometimes identify different printings of the same issue. A good example is the Great Britain Q.E. II first castle issue, which can be identified by the width of the top teeth on the sides of the stamp. The DeLaRue printing has the topmost tooth on each side narrower than the others. In the Waterlow printing the topmost teeth are wider than the others. Generally, comb perforation holes are cleaner and more perfectly round than the holes made by line perforation.

Some countries used different perforating machines at the same time, producing stamps with larger and smaller perforation holes. For example the Netherlands 1869 to 1891 issues, or the United States 1954 coils. The gauge of the perforation and the size of the perforation holes are of importance in expertizing. The Heligoland original stamps are perforated 13½x14¼. The Hamburg reprints are perforated 14. The Leipzig reprints have smaller holes than the originals. The most precise tool for examining perforations, and measuring its exact gauge and the size of the holes, is another stamp of the same issue.

A number of stamps exist both perforated and imperforate. There are different reasons for this. Some stamps were purposefully left imperforate to accommodate coil makers or for presentation purposes. Other factors were involved in some cases. The first issue of Russia was intended to be perforated. The contract called for the stamps to be available on January 1, 1858, Julian calendar. The delivery of the perforating machine, which was on its way from France to St. Petersburg, was delayed by the winter weather. To fulfill the contract about half of the already printed 10k stamps were issued without perforations. The United States Civil War revenues were also intended to be perforated, but constraints of time caused unfinished stamps, still imperforate or partly perforated, to be pressed into service.

GUM. The adhesive used for stamps is commonly called gum. An adhesive forms a bond by filling in the minute pits and fissures present in the paper. The effectiveness of an adhesive depends on malleability, cohesive strength and surface tension which determines how far the adhesive penetrates the tiny depressions in the bonding surfaces. In its simplest form the adhesive for stamps is made with gum arabic with an addition of glycerin to prevent excessive hardening. Other substances for making gum are agar, algin, animal based glues, dextrin, polyvinyl alcohol and many others. Many different gums were made. Some had disastrous consequences. In 1935 Germany issued the Ostropa souvenir sheet. The gum that was used contained sulfuric acid. It destroyed the paper, turning it into a dark brown substance that is not only unsightly but also very fragile. Hanover used on some of its stamps a red gum that is tenacious and difficult to remove. Some early Austrian stamps have a gum made with a formula that does not allow for it to be soaked off. It swells up in water and can be partially rubbed off but not totally removed. Some stamps were issued with part gum for the purpose of saving raw material, such as the Estonia 1923 air posts which show on the back ungummed circles, or the Madagascar Consular Mail stamps which have gum only on one upper corner. Many countries in tropical climates issued stamps without gum and had glue pots at the post offices.

Normally gum is applied to the paper before printing. Therefore, the layer of gum is of uniform thickness, even on deeply engraved stamps such as the 1951-55 German welfare semi-postals. If applied after printing, the gum would accumulate in the recessed areas caused by the engraving. To counteract the tendency for stamps to curl, gum breakers or gum ridges are sometimes applied. Some Swiss stamps have what’s called grilled gum. Many different gum formulas and the different gumming methods the paper make it seem that there are as many different gums as there are stamp issues.

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.

(Continued, Part 3)