What better time than National Stamp Collecting Month to celebrate the wonderful discoveries that occasionally delight philatelists? My job is made even more satisfying when the American Philatelic Expertizing Service helps collectors uncover a gem hiding in their own albums.
Figure 1. The better part of two centuries old, this U.S. Scott 1 from the APEX Reference Collection is more typical, with the margin at left and near the top-left corner missing.
This is the story of one such stamp that emerged from a long-held collection, was submitted to APEX, and provided a very pleasant revelation for its owner.
APS members and others in the philatelic community often purchase new stamps for their collections and send their new acquisitions into APEX for authentication. When they fill in the application form, collectors generally believe they know the stamp’s identity, described by its catalog number. And more than half the time they are correct.
Sometimes, a stamp is not what it appears to be because someone has manipulated the stamp to defraud philatelists. Perforations are added or cut off, fake cancellations are added, or real cancellations are removed, all to fool collectors. Most often, however, when a stamp is misidentified the reason is simply that different varieties are very similar in appearance. In these cases, it takes an expert to tell the difference. Optimistic collectors tend to believe they have the more valuable stamp, but it does not always work out that way.
Figure 2. Sent in as a U.S. Scott 1, there was more to this stamp than met the submitter's eye.
Happily, there also are instances where clients submit what they believe is a relatively common stamp, but we get to inform them that it is an uncommon – and more valuable – variety.
In a typical year, we may receive several dozen submissions of suspected 1847 5¢ Franklins (U.S. Scott 1). The Scott Specialized catalog lists used single stamp values ranging from $300 to around $800 for most of the color varieties. Other than color, nearly every submission gets the catalog number correct. My records do not show any forged or faked 1847 Franklins submitted.
First issued in 1847, most 172-year-old stamps show their age. The example in Figure 1, from our own Reference Collection, is more typical, with the margin at left and near the top-left corner missing. Few of them are pretty.
One of the many collectors who sent in a U.S. No. 1 for authentication was recent new APS member Don Levine. Don is also a frequent APEX client, and his accuracy in correctly identifying the stamps he submits is above average. But he got it wrong with the submission shown in Figure 2. Our Expert Committee determined that he had sent us a Scott No. 1b-C. On his certificate, we described the stamp as “United States Scott No. 1b-C, Double Transfer variety, orange brown, used. Genuine. Red grid cancel.”
That may not sound all that impressive. But Scott records that stamp in very fine condition as having a catalog value of $10,500.
Figure 3. One can only imagine how long it took for some determined collector to find and assemble 48 imperforate 3c Washingtons of 1851-57 (Scott 10, 10A, 11, 11A) in a quest to show the full range of possible color and shade varieties available.
So, how did this very scarce stamp come into Don’s collection?
“My father was [a stamp collector] for his whole life, and after the war he was quite fittingly employed by the Post Office for many years. After he passed away my older brother continued the family collection for many more years. I have now inherited custodianship of this vast (to me at least) [collection].”
Don’s story is typical of many APS members. “[M]y father and my brother both went to auctions and bought albums and boxes, and just took them home. Most were never opened again, waiting for that someday. The someday is finally arriving, and as I open the old treasure chests, I keep finding wonders and mysteries. Some I send to APS for expertization.”
Every stamp we receive we treat as if it might be an unexpected treasure. For many submissions to APEX, a single member of our Expert Committee can identify the stamp, confirm whether it is genuine and describe its condition.
With Don’s stamp, a more extensive expertizing process was required. We sent the stamp to three of our Expert Committee specialists in classical U.S. stamps. Generally with U.S. No. 1s the discussion is about color. Scott 1 itself is described by the catalog as “red brown,” whereas 1a is “dark brown,” 1b is “orange brown,” 1c is “red orange” and 1d is “brown orange.”
Color and shade are obviously important. APEX doesn’t have a comparative study for Scott 1s. However, take a look at the painstakingly assembled color and shade varieties of the imperforate U.S. 1851–57 3¢ Washington (Scott 10, 10A, 11, 11A) shown in Figure 3. Even when you take your stamp and compare it to a thorough grouping like this, it is not necessarily a simple matter to match against a Reference Collection.
That is the job of our Expert Committee. While there was some discussion, of Don’s stamp, it concurred that his was orange brown (Scott 1b). Beyond color, detailed inspection of this stamp revealed that it was a double transfer, described by Scott as follows: “Double transfer shows best on bottom frame line and lower part of left frame line, also shows on top and right frame lines and in ‘5’s and ‘Five Cents.’” It is that characteristic that elevates Don’s Scott 1b to a 1b–C! A great example of the double transfer is seen in the Figure 4 close-up of Don’s stamp.
Figure 4. This close-up of Don's stamp, Scott 1b-C, shows the double transfer near the right end of the bottom margin, where a tiny error in transferring the engraved design to the printing plate added misplaced lines to the printed stamp.
What is interesting is that even though Don didn’t start out as a stamp collector, he did get the collecting bug: “You might ask, what is my philatelic passion. My interest is in completing the worldwide Queen Victoria Jubilee set [stamps marking the Diamond Jubilee, or the 60th anniversary, of her inheritance of the throne]. I tried to find the complete list, but it does not exist, even on those few websites devoted to the topic, so I assembled my own.”
As for U.S. and other material that doesn’t fall within his current collecting interests. “. . . in the day to day, I send stacks off to the StampStore, [some] to APEX, and once in a while I get inspired and open up the Scott album to put some new found prize in it.”
Figure 5. Don Levine smiles down on his 1847 orange brown 5c Franklin double transfer. He hopes to use it to ignite a philatelic flame "in one of the next generation as they mature."
By the way, Don’s use of these two important APS services – Expertizing and StampStore – is fairly common. Our members have several reasons for requesting an APEX certificate. The obvious reason is to confirm the identity of the stamps in their collections, or stamps they are considering buying. But these same collectors frequently seek to sell duplicates and stamps that fall outside of their collecting areas.
Many collectors send their better stamps to StampStore and request that we issue a certificate. That confirms in advance to StampStore buyers that they’re getting what they expect. Those APEX certificates also help StampStore sellers to sell their stamps more quickly. Don, for example, has sent over 1,500 stamps to StampStore. The APEX certificates seem to be helping, as he has sold well over 300 of his stamps already.
Figure 5 shows Don smiling down on the wonderful surprise he never expected. Might that stamp, too, go to StampStore? Don has other ideas: “This wonder, the 1b–C, will be part of the small collection that I hope to keep and pass on as a family prize. Perhaps I can ignite a flame in one of the next generation as they mature.”
I hope Don succeeds. And I’m really pleased that APEX might play a small role in perpetuating this lovely story of a family’s philatelic heritage.
As always, I’ll be pleased to answer your questions or simply chat about your collecting. Email me at Gary@stamps.org.
I hope each of you takes some time to enjoy National Stamp Collecting Month and reflect upon how fortunate we are to participate in the truly wonderful hobby. Happy collecting!
Editor's Note: The column was published in the October 2019 issue of the American Philatelist, available for members to read digitally. We will be posting the columns of APS executives on this website to provide updates about American Philatelic Society. Membership information is available through this link.
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