It is always a great pleasure when we can verify that a collector has submitted an uncommon or valuable stamp. But how, exactly, does the American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX) go about the process of authenticating a stamp? This month we will pull back the curtain on the expertizing process and show you how our Expert Committee applied several areas of expertise to confirm a stamp’s identity and reveal a bit of its history.
Recently a used stamp arrived with the usual green APEX application form. Normally, owners include the stamp in the small glassine envelope that we provide with the form. But this stamp was mounted — glued down, actually — to a complete custom stamp album page (Figure 1).
Figure 1. In 2019, APEX received a stamp, identified by its owner as a potential U.S. Scott 594, glued to a custom album page. In order to properly authenticate the patient, APEX experts had to “lift” the stamp from the page — with the owner’s permission, of course.
The stamp was also torn at the right side, with holes consistent with a perfin. Between the tear and the perfin holes, the stamp was slightly separated and distorted. (I’ll talk about the perfin aspect later in this column.) Normally, collectors would not choose to obtain a certificate for a stamp in such poor condition. But the owner suspected that this stamp was a U.S. Scott 594 with a catalog value, used, of $10,500. Thus, even in it’s damaged condition, he considered it worthwhile to authenticate the stamp.
The Scott Catalogue describes a 594 as having the image of an A155 Identifier. (The Scott Specialized has a section “Identifier of Definitive Issues” in the front of the catalog that should be referred to by all serious students of philately. The Identifier pulls together stamps bearing the same image, in this case that of a 1¢ Franklin, with the details necessary for telling them apart: perforation number, measurement, color variations, printing variations, and more.)
Image A155 is associated with 16 different stamps, ranging in catalog value from 25¢ to $250,000. So proper identification of the stamp is of great importance. Scott describes the number 594 as “perf 11, rotary press 19¾ x 22¼mm.” Measurement of the dimensions and the perforations are critical to proper identification of this stamp.
The visit to the first Expert Committee member
APEX is blessed with an Expert Committee nearly 180 members strong. We “expertize the world” but our greatest “bench strength” is in U.S. material. My first task is to assign every stamp to its initial Expert Committee member.
We sent this stamp (on its original album page) to S. Unkrich, one of the members of our Expert Committee who specializes in 20th century United States philately. He performed a thorough workup on the stamp, noting the condition issues resulting from the tear and the perfin. In particular, he stated that the separation and distortion prevented proper measurement of both the size and the perforations on the damaged side.
Given the value of these stamps, fakes of the 594 are all too common. Unkrich needed to be certain before he could confidently opine on the stamp. He requested that the stamp be removed from the album page in order to perform more accurate measurements.
APEX, of course, expertizes stamps on covers, post cards, and pieces all the time. Stamps also arrive, as this one did, mounted on album pages or in folios. In a significant majority of cases, a stamp’s identity can be determined from its appearance and various measurements (e.g., dimensions and perforations). Experts will usually only “lift” a stamp from the paper it is attached to if the stamp’s identity is dependent on a watermark for proper authentication. In this case, Unkrich requested that the stamp be lifted for reasons of condition.
We have a procedure for lifting stamps. First, we must request permission from the owner, which in this case we received. After all, what did she have to lose?
Now, on to Expert number two
We then brought the album page to Dennis Gilson to lift the stamp. Gilson is best-known as a senior expertizing specialist in the Washington/Franklin series of stamps. He has been a collector since the early 1950s and has decades of experience in the proper handling of philatelic artifacts. Gilson lifted the stamp from the page without any impact on its already-damaged condition (Figure 2). Significantly, he noted that after lifting, a partial hinge remained attached to the back of the stamp (Figure 3). This was used by a previous owner to “repair” the tear in the stamp and prevent further damage. Accordingly, Gilson left this hinge remnant in place.
Back to Expert number one
We then returned the stamp along with Gilson’s notes to Unkrich. In continuing his examination, Unkrich noted that both the tear and the perfin interfered with confirming the perforations on the right side of the stamp. But perf measurements along the three other margins all matched the 11 count that characterizes a Scott 594.
The key, however, rests with the stamp’s dimensions. Recall that Scott states the dimensions as “19¾ x 22¼mm”. A simple ruler will not suffice when a quarter of a millimeter can make the difference between 25¢ and ten thousand dollars. Fortunately, our expertizers’ philatelic laboratories include the necessary tools to obtain such precise measurements.
After a significant amount of examination and testing, Unkrich was satisfied that this was, indeed, a Scott 594. He completed the green certificate application form and returned the “patient” to us. (And, yes, stamps submitted for certificates are called patients. I have no idea where the term originated; if you do, please let me know.)
Next stop, Expert three
Unkrich’s confirmation notwithstanding, this patient was not finished with the expertizing process. APEX’s policies state that a very high degree of certainty must be present for us to issue a certificate of authenticity. For most patients, this requires more than one expert’s opinion before the process is complete. There are frequent cases where three or four experts offer their services. APEX is the only expertizing authority that guarantees its certificates, so we take care to be right.
The next expert in the journey was Ken Lawrence, one of the Expert Committee’s most senior members. Lawrence has published extensively on many subjects in U.S. philately. Indeed, his 2015 Linn’s article, “Is your 1¢ green Franklin stamp Scott 594 or 596? If it is, you have a winner” is quite definitive on this complex topic. I urge you to read it for a complete treatment on the topic, aps.buzz/1cFranklins.
Lawrence went through a similar process to Unkrich’s. Fortunately, he came up with comparable results and we determined that the stamp was a genuine U.S. Scott 594.
About Scott 594
What makes a stamp like this so valuable? Well, in the classic supply/demand view of “value,” the combination of limited production (and limited survival rates) plus collector interest yields high catalog values and market prices.
The challenge with the 594 is the uncommon production process that produced the stamps and the lack of discrete records from postal authorities. Here’s what we know.
According to Gary Griffith in Linn’s United States Stamps 1922–26, these stamps were produced from what is called “coil waste.” Griffith’s book goes into admirable explication of this topic and I won’t duplicate it here. Suffice it to say that most of the used 594 stamps are from three New York City post offices, with at least one known cancelled in Cleveland, Ohio. Since the stamps were issued in sheets of 170 subjects, and likely shipped in bundles of 100 sheets, that yields a minimum original population of 17,000 per bundle times three, or 51,000 stamps.
Figure 4. A few known 594s in the Siegel 1¢ Franklin census have perfins. The one pictured here is record number 594-OG-08, courtesy Siegel Auction Galleries.
Over the years, experts have confronted numerous purported examples of 594s that have proven to be either simply misidentified or overtly faked. For example, a Scott 632 was reperforated to imitate a 594, as was a Scott 578. There are people out there seeking to steal from philatelists. Caveat emptor means “buyer beware” and the best way to beware is to get a certificate!
Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. maintains a census of known examples of the 594. It cites 121 examples, including ten pairs, coming to 131 known singles, pairs, and covers. Other examples are also documented that do not appear in the Siegel census (aps.buzz/Siegel594Census). The 594 most recently certified by APEX experts does not appear to be in the Siegel census, so we will be notifying them of the discovery.
Also appearing in the Siegel census are a small number of stamps — perhaps five or so — that contain a perfin, as exemplified by Figure 4. So, let’s consider the subject of perfins.
On to the Perfin Maven…
Another member of our Expert Committee is a specialist in worldwide perfins. We reached out to Brian Freeman, who helped us identify the perfin on this stamp. He provided extensive documentation about the perfin’s history. I’ll let Freeman continue:
The perfin pattern is based on the letters “C” & “W” with the “W” being inside a larger “C.” This particular pattern is listed in the Catalog of United States Perfins as pattern number C360 (Figure 5), and the primary user has been identified as P.F. Collier & Son.
U.S. perfin pattern C360 has been reported as being found on stamps that were issued during 1902–1923, with postmark dates ranging from 05/06/1909 to 02/15/1915. The primary location for the use of C360 is in New York City … In 1924, the magazine’s printing operations were moved to Springfield, OH. Therefore, Springfield would be a likely candidate for another secondary location for use. However, the editorial and business departments remained in New York City, and the perforator likely stayed in NYC as well.
I earlier cited that a 594 was known cancelled (although not perfined) in Cleveland, nearly 200 miles from Springfield. It is unlikely that a Collier-Ohio connection might be found on a 594, but new discoveries are made all the time.
Freeman makes two other important points:
Often, an uncancelled perfin was salvaged from a business’ self-addressed stamped card (or envelope), and that may possibly be how the stamp ended up getting treated so roughly. If the stamp was salvaged, then it could have been postmarked anywhere in the U.S.
Regardless of where the stamp was postmarked, it most likely was purchased from a post office in New York City, since NYC is where it would have met up with the CW perforator.
You might note the “E” at the bottom of Figure 5. C360 has a rarity rating of “E,” meaning that it is a commonly-found perfin. There is a certain irony to the confluence of a common perfin on one of the most sought-after 20th century U.S. stamps.
Completing the Expertizing cycle
With all of the important elements of this stamp’s identity documented and authenticated, the next step was for me to write up the APEX certificate of authenticity. APEX also includes a quality control step in the certificate production phase. Ken Martin, among his many other talents, is a highly-respected philatelist (and in exhibiting, a Chief Judge). He adds his final review and ensures that our certificates are complete, correct, and communicated effectively (Figure 6).
Krystal Harter, our amazing Expertizing Coordinator, has been involved with the APS expertizing process for about 35 years. She is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of certificate requests, from the day a client’s mail arrives until the final certificate is returned to the owner with the stamp. With so much experience, she’s seen it all. As a result, Harter also winds up being our “final line of defense.” If something is not quite right, she always seems to spot what others have failed to observe.
So, there you have it. The expertizing process at APEX depends upon the expertise of many individuals, all of whom are dedicated to making philately more fun, educational, and safe for collectors.
If you’ve not already done so, why not send us your more interesting or more valuable stamps for certification? You won’t be disappointed.
Are you interested in becoming an expert? Here's how!
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Editor's Note: This webstory originally ran on 3/20/20. The column was published in the March 2020 issue of The American Philatelist.