Hopefully, the new year will bring better news than the past two years. We stamp collectors are lucky that our hobby can be enjoyed in a solitary manner as well as in a social situation. Covid-19 has had quite an impact on social and family gatherings, but we will always have our stamp hobby to give us a continuing sense of order amid the pestilence. I hope the holidays have treated you well.
I spent part of December on a cruise ship. When at sea, if the weather cooperates and all is calm, it is a nice time to sit down with a plating book and plate a batch of common stamps. As a Swiss specialist, if you are so inclined, it is fun to plate the UPU 1900 issue. That issue was done using copper plates, which generated lots of flaws from the start, and it got worse as time went by. But “worse” is relative, because a printer’s problem becomes a collector’s delight. Nowadays, there are errors, freaks and oddities to be found on modern issues. Yet most stamps these days cannot be plated, because there are not enough flaws in the various positions on the plate, if there is a plate at all, to enable identification.
Plating is not for the impatient. To plate an older issue, there have to be a pattern of tiny flaws on each stamp. The pattern of such flaws enables you to determine the particular spot on the plate that generated the stamp. This technique can work on lithographed issues and on some engraved issues as well. It does not work on typographed stamps, because they are assembled into a printing form using cliches, and as such there is no plate. However, an issue that can be plated can be fun to work on, because each stamp presents a little puzzle that challenges you to determine the origin of the specimen.
Unless you have freakishly good eyesight, a good magnifier is essential for plating. A microscope works as well, especially if it has a wide field. On some issues, plating can add value. For instance, a major flaw, even if corrected by retouching, will still show up on a plate. A fair number of older issues have been plated completely, and plating books published. These studies allow the average collector to plate a stamp in a secondary fashion, as someone else has had the patience to plate an issue from the start. To do an original plating, multiples, preferably mint, are required. If a plating book has been published on an issue, it is possible to reconstruct a multiple or even a sheet, if you have the patience, time, and a lot of specimens at your disposal.
Most collectors probably will never plate a stamp, but for the minority who do, the practice turns each plate-able specimen into a challenging little puzzle, and solving such a puzzle can be very gratifying. So if you are so inclined, Happy Plating! And if not, Happy New Year!
Switzerland Scott 98, one of the commemoratives celebrating the Universal Postal Union in 1900 – and a fun puzzle to plate.