Dr. Ronald Lesher is presenting his course Collecting the Back of the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue - Revenues for the 2022 Summer Seminar.
Unraveling the Scott Specialized Descriptions
What is silk paper? The collector who is new to U.S. revenue stamps is immediately confronted with some terminology confusion in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps & Covers. There are five places that “silk paper” is noted in the revenue section of the catalog:
- The “d” variety found in the First Issue Revenues (Scott R1-102), which is described: “Some are found on experimental silk paper, first employed about August, 1870.”
- The paper of the Second and Third Issue Revenues (Scott R103-150) is described as “patented ‘chameleon’ paper which is usually violet or pinkish with silk fibers.”
- The “a” variety of Scott R152 and RB11-17 is described as silk paper.
- The “b” variety among the private die proprietary stamps (Scott prefix RO, RS, RT and RU) is described as silk paper.
- The “e” variety among the private die proprietary stamps (Scott prefix RO, RS, RT and RU) is listed as experimental silk paper and described as “medium smooth paper, containing minute fragments of silk threads, either blue alone or blue and red (infrequent), widely scattered, sometimes but a single fiber on a stamp.”
Two of these have distinctive colors and will not pose particular trouble for identification. The Second and Third Issue Revenues have a distinctive violet or pinkish coloring and the “a” variety of R152 and RB11-17 are blue in color. But the other three (or as we shall eventually learn, two) can be confusing.
Figure 1. Examples of the “b” variety silk paper found on the private die proprietary stamps. The back and front are shown (from top) of a Swift & Courtney Diamond Parlor Match stamp (Scott RO174b) and H&W Roeber (Scott RO160b) stamp.
Let us begin with the silk paper of the private die proprietary stamps, the “b” variety in the catalog, which was used from 1871 to 1877. The description of this paper in the catalog is “soft and porous with threads of silk, mostly red, blue and black, up to a quarter inch in length.” The best way to identify this is to examine the back of the stamp. Both of the examples shown (Figure 1) have multiple silk threads and some are quite long.
A suggestion is in order here. If the stamp has hinge remnants or paper adhering to the reverse, soak the stamp in lukewarm water to remove all the foreign matter. As a matter of fact, as I foraged through my collection to find examples of this silk paper on the private die proprietar stamps, I gave all of my examples the recommended treatment. A beginning collector can obtain an example of this paper at a very nominal cost. I recommend purchasing these from a reputable dealer, perhaps at an in-person stamp show where you can examine the stamp and perhaps learn about this paper from the dealer.
Figure 2. Example of the First Issue “d. silk paper” variety. The back and front are shown of 5¢ Certificate revenue stamp (R24d, above) and $1 Inland Exchange (R69d, below). Do not confuse the silk threads with the patented herringbone cancellation that penetrates through the paper on the two examples shown.
The remaining two varieties of silk paper, described in the First Issue as the “d. silk paper” variety and among the private die proprietary stamps as the “e. experimental silk paper” variety are indeed one and the same: a type of paper that came into use about August 1870 (Figure 2). A collector who looks merely at the catalog listings of the First Issue revenues will see that the listing says “silk paper”; and for the private die proprietary stamps, the listing says, “experimental silk paper.” It is only in the extensive introduction to the First Issue Revenues that the word “experimental” is added.
Collectors should be careful about purchasing these varieties online where you cannot always trust the images presented. This is especially true when you see these “experimental silk papers” with hinge remnants, pieces of the document from which they were removed, or portions of glue that have picked up extraneous bits of substances. These stamps must be soaked and free from all miscellaneous debris to accurately identify them as the “experimental silk paper” variety.
One final word about the word “experimental” used to describe this paper. It came into use by the Joseph Carpenter firm, which was printing both the First Issue and the private die proprietary stamps under contract with Internal Revenue. By the late 1860s, there was a growing concern over the documentary stamps of the First Issue that some users were soaking the stamps off older documents and reusing them and thus adversely affecting the tax revenue.
The Carpenter firm and other contract printers were beginning to experiment with methods to detect that users were using chemicals to remove the previous cancellations so they could reuse the stamps. This certainly led to the use of the patented “chameleon” paper on the Second and Third Issue documentary stamps and the first proprietary issues.
The “chameleon” paper changed color when it encountered the chemicals that were typically used to remove cancellations, making it much easier to detect the attempt to reuse the tax stamps to “defraud the government.” However, I have never seen any correspondence that would support the assertion that this “experimental silk paper” was a deliberate attempt to detect reusers of the documentary First Issue stamps.
If you want to delve deeper into these experimental silk papers, there is an excellent online resource that can be consulted: https://revenue-collector.com/1stissuesilkpapers.shtml. Dan Harding, the owner of this site, is an outstanding collector of these issues. His illustrations and descriptions are outstanding. The reader is encouraged to explore all sections of this website.
Happy collecting in the pursuit of all these paper varieties.
2022 Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers (Sidney, OH: Amos Media).