Most of us hope to discover a rarity and often peruse extensive amounts of philatelic material at shows or online looking for items that have been misidentified or not fully understood and may be worth much more than the selling price. Philatelic knowledge can lead to finding bargains.
However, sometimes enthusiasm overrides common sense. This seems to especially be the case where a used stamp has a premium value over unused. Frequent examples include a few early U.S. stamps, especially Scott 39, and U.S. postal stationery released for international mail, many German Inflation issues of 1922-23, and early Italian area. The Scott catalogs indicate when a stamp has a used value considerably higher than the unused value; the used item must have a readable contemporaneous cancel.
I recently talked to someone who argued that because a stamp did not have gum on its back it must be used; not true. Another individual returned an item to us saying our experts clearly missed the specks of black on the front of the stamp. I have even seen German inflationary stamps with 1990s United States cancels. (It is possible to get a stamp from another country canceled by placing it adjacent to appropriate U.S. postage, but that does not increase its value.)
When the used value is considerably more than the unused value, there needs to be strong evidence that the cancel is genuine and appropriate. Items tied to cover are easiest to validate. Many items with smudges or no city or date as part of the cancel may be returned “Stamp genuine. No opinion on cancel.”
We try to provide explanations on our certificates. Actual phrases on recent certificates include:
Items with genuine out-of-period cancels may also be described as having a “favor cancel.” This could be based on the date in the postmark or cancel or when no date is included, but the device did not come into use until long after the stamp went off sale at the post office. In some cases the stamps had been demonetized or declared invalid for use prior to the cancel date or the country’s currency had changed and the former currency was no longer valid.
Expertization is not like a trial where an individual may be presumed innocent until proven guilty. To receive a good certificate we need conclusive evidence that the item is good.
Ken Martin is the Director of Expertizing for the American Philatelic Society. You can learn more about having your stamps authenticated through APEX.
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