Once in a while, it’s good to rehash some basic concepts and terms regarding certain collecting areas. This month I’d like to take a look at those associated with the collecting of errors, freaks and oddities (EFOs).
In virtually any other area that utilizes the printed product, what we collect is considered trash or printers’ waste. But among EFO collectors, anything that’s not quite right is a treasure that frequently sells for far more than its normally printed counterpart. There are a number of commonly held misconceptions about what constitutes an error, freak or oddity, so let’s first look at the definition of each.
Although frequently misused by collectors and dealers, the term “error” — at least in its philatelic sense — has two very specific meanings. The first refers to stamps or postal stationery that have one or more inadvertent, complete and consistent printing or production errors; that is, a missing or botched step. This includes omitted colors, perforations, tagging or any other completely missing step; inverts of color, paper, or overprints; improper color or tagging type caused by the wrong ink; doubled printings, perforations, or grills; improper perforations or paper; wrong embossing die on a stamped envelope; and others.
Again, to be a true error, a printing or production step must be completely missing or botched. For example, a “color omitted” error must have absolutely no trace of the missing color remaining. An “imperforate” error may not have even the slightest paper indentation of a perforation pin. Otherwise, such stamps are considered freaks, which are still quite collectible, although they do not carry the same cachet as a major error. Catalogue editors usually list most errors, but seldom list freaks. In general, errors are worth considerably more than freaks, although that is not always the case. Many imperforate errors of modern coil issues exist in such large quantities that they may be purchased inexpensively. Another example of a common error is the reversed yellow plate number on the 8- cent PTA issue of 1972, which is distinguishable only on plate blocks and exists on the entire press run of that specific plate (#33656). As a result, it, too, is very inexpensive. Even some inverts, such as the inverted “I.R.” revenue overprints of 1898 (Scott R154a and R155Ah), won’t break the bank.
The second philatelic definition of an error deals with stamp design. Misspellings, typos and incorrect factual or design information on a stamp give such issues design error status. Most design errors affect the entire press run of certain stamps and usually do not increase a stamp’s value. Unless there is a normal or corrected version of a design error they are not usually noted by catalogues. Examples of both unlisted and listed design errors include the 2-cent Red Cross issue of 1931 (Scott 702), where Greenland is entirely missing from the design, and the two versions of the 29-cent Legends of the West issue of 1994 (Scott 2869 and 2870), where the wrong individual was pictured as Bill Pickett and a corrected version was issued.
Freaks comprise by far the largest collecting area of the entire EFO spectrum. These highly collectible forms of printing or production problems are often the most spectacular in appearance, and many are unique. A freak is differentiated from an error because it is a more random occurrence; may occur inconsistently on numerous stamps, envelopes, or postal cards; and may involve one or more printing and/or production steps. Because of their inconsistent and usually random nature, there are countless types of freaks. This is what makes cataloguing them an impossible task. In most cases, freaks are more affordable than errors, although the more spectacular examples have values consistent with their appearance.
Typical printing freaks include color shifts, over- or under-inking, smears, blobs, nearly missing colors, and ink contamination. Typical production freaks include misperforated or miscut items, gutter snipes, set-off s, and a host of other odd-looking things that would cause the affected stamps or postal stationery to have been withdrawn and destroyed if noticed during production. Less typical freaks include pre-printing paper creases, slime spots in paper, tagging ghosts, gum skips, and many others.
Oddity is a catch-all term to describe those desirable and collectible items that don’t fit comfortably in the error or freak categories. Such items can include all types of plate varieties, odd or unusual cancels, postal counterfeits, color changelings, local precancel varieties, test and dummy items, cinderellas, and a host of other unusual items.
Printers’ waste in the printing trade simply refers to the unusual-appearing items created during the make-ready process or any form of substandard printing or processing. Although technically every form of stamp error or freak (and many oddities) is printers’ waste, there is a specific application for the term in the collector community that affects how these items are treated.
Printers’ waste generally refers to stamps that appear to be errors but are not, due to their origin. Most valid EFO material has been sold over a post office counter and is later sold to collectors and dealers. Printers’ waste, however, is just that; misprinted material that was not only intended to be discarded, but was (usually illegally) retrieved from the trash. Such items are not as desirable to collectors as those sold properly.
Printers’ waste frequently is crumpled or has gum faults or other tell-tale features of its origin. Due to the nature of printers’ waste, it usually sells for comparatively less than legitimate errors. The most famous printers’ waste involves the 29-cent Richard Nixon inverts sold a few years ago. Most were later recalled and presumably destroyed. When an item is known to be printers’ waste it is not listed by catalogues, although it might be noted as such. Without question, there are items that are printers’ waste being sold as legitimate EFOs, but unless its origin is known it cannot be considered as such.
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Register today for Adding EFOs to Your Collection!
During this introductory course, you will discuss reasons for including Errors, Freaks, and Oddities (EFOs) in your collection, explore different types of EFOs, identify where to get additional information, and acquire tips for obtaining these production miscues.
- Session 1 (May 4, 2021) – What are Errors, Freaks and Oddities (EFOs)? Why should you add EFOs to your collection? Overview of major types of EFOs.
- Session 2 (May 11, 2021) – An overview of errors, freaks & oddities by category
- Session 3 (May 18, 2021) – Where to find EFO-related information. Tips for acquiring EFOs.
Click here to register for this three-session seminar. Registration closes May 4, 2021
May 4, 11, 18, 2021 (7:30 – 8:45 p.m. Eastern Time)
Cost: $25 APS Members/$50 for Non-Members
Instructor: Cemil Betanov
EFOs — A Great Part of Philatelic Alphabet Soup by Wayne Youngblood was reprinted from the American Philatelist, January 2008. Figures and examples that were included with this article viewable to members only, click here. Not a member? Join us here. Membership rates are discounted as of April 1, 2021