All inquirers hope they have the next big find of one of the very valuable versions of this little 1¢ stamp, which can sell for prices in the low six figures. It’s a fact that there are unidentified rarities at large in the albums and stock books of the world, but it’s also a fact that genuine rarities are rare because there are few of them. Needless to say, most of those looking for a big payday actually have common stamps.
In this column, we will help you review these 1¢ Franklin stamps, to enable you to determine whether yours is worth having certified. The chart at the bottom of the page will provide some comparisons to be made for narrowing your possibilities:
One Cent Ben Franklin
The first inspection you should make is to look at the back of the stamp. If there are any green specks of ink, the stamp is a flat plate printing and therefore is Scott 552, the unwatermarked 1¢ Franklin issued January 17, 1923. The most common of all the “penny Franklin” stamps, more than four billion of these were issued. An example is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 2 shows the horizontal and vertical coil stamps, Scott 597 and Scott 604. These are not the expensive versions of this denomination, so you can eliminate coil stamps at this point ...
Figure 1. The most common of the 1¢ green Franklin stamps is this flat plate-printed unwatermarked perf 11 definitive issued on January 17, 1923 – Scott 552.
Figure 2. The horizontal and vertical 1¢ green Benjamin Franklin coil stamps, Scott 597 and Scott 604, are not the expensive versions of this denomination, so you can eliminate them from your search for rarities.
Figure 3. If the perfs measure 11 by 10½, your 1-cent Franklin is this common rotary press-printed stamp produced in 1927, Scott 632.
It’s time to measure perforations, and please do your best to measure them without expectations. Confusing perforations that gauge 10½ for genuine gauge 11 perfs can set off such a thrill as to cloud the minds of collectors and befuddle even the best of us.
If the perforation measurements are gauge 11 by 10½, go no further: your stamp is Scott 632, a common rotary press-printed stamp produced in 1927, shown in Figure 3.
If you still have a stamp or two in the running at this point, as the British say, “Steady on!” (That’s the Queen’s English for “Calm down!”) However, if the perforations do indeed measure 11 on all four sides, that should lead you to turn at last to checking the dimensions of the stamp’s printed design.
An easy and reliable way to do that is to find a copy of the first stamp we eliminated, that unwatermarked flat plate-printed Franklin (Scott 552), and carefully cut a square out of each corner of the design. This will leave you with a cross-shaped checking guide (Figure 4) that you can use to detect the dimensions of any other of these 1¢ Franklin stamps, like the one shown next to it below.
Figure 4. To create a reliable checking guide for rarities, make certain you have a copy of the first stamp we eliminated, that unwatermarked flat plate-printed perf 11 1c green Franklin (Scott 552), and cut square the four corners of the first stamp as shown here. Then get a plausible test subject − this unidentified rotary press-printed 1c green Franklin.
Figure 5. Hold the checking guide directly over the 1-cent Franklin you wish to check so that the outer framelines of the two stamps align. The checking guide’s framelines will be shorter in one dimension, as seen horizontally here. This is not one of the perf 11 rotary press-printed Franklins, Scott 594 and 596, but a 1923 stamp from coil waste perforated 11 by 10, Scott 578.
Lay the cross-shaped checking guide over any other stamps of the same design you have that are not flat-plate printed. The chart will give you the dimensional parameters to narrow the possibilities for the stamp you are checking.
Because flat plates had to be carefully bent in order to fit snugly onto a rotary press, they became slightly longer in the direction in which they were bent, which is why the inked images of stamps printed from such plates are slightly longer in the direction in which its plates were bent.
Figure 5 shows the flat plate-printed guide laid across the rotary press-printed test subject from Figure 4 so that the outer framelines of the two align. The checking guide’s framelines will be shorter in one dimension, as seen horizontally here. This is not one of the perf 11 rotary press-printed Franklins, Scott 594 and 596, but a 1923 stamp from coil waste perforated 11 by 10, Scott 578. It’s no retirement-worthy rarity, but it’s not a stamp to be sniffed at either, cataloging $75.
Figure 6. The difference in the size of the designs between a flat plate-printed and rotary press-printed 1¢ Franklin is ¼ millimeter. That’s about the same as the width of the foot of the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial on a pre-2008 Lincoln penny like this one.
Since a quarter of a millimeter may be what decides whether your stamp has stupendous value, you should use a measuring device that will be precise enough to render a clear reading of that very tiny distance.
How tiny is it? A quarter-millimeter is 0.00984 of an inch. If you can’t readily measure that, you can use another 1-cent guide: the foot of the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial on a pre-2008 Lincoln penny, shown in Figure 6. That is about the width of the difference in design between a very few rare and the very many common 1¢ green Franklin stamps.
A digital microscope with a millimeter scale may provide that accuracy, as would a digital or electronic caliper or sliding millimeter gauge. Work slowly and carefully and for goodness sake, avoid sharp edges. The joy of finding a valuable gem will be no consolation if you discover that you just cut a gash in it.
If, after all this, you effectively narrow the choices of what one of your stamps could be to one of the valuable varieties, then you should definitely consider having it authenticated by APEX.
Note that we have not mentioned in this column how fakers may try to alter these stamps, resulting in a “this looks like Scott 596” stamp. We let the experts make the call on stamps with such alterations.
What Benjamin Franklin actually wrote in his 1758 Almanac was “A penny saved is a penny got.” But precisely the right 1¢ Franklin sold for $190,000, Kansas City precancel and all, at the Siegel Galleries in New York City in 2018.
Note: Column revised as of February 2020.
This column is featured on page 1166 of the December 2018 issue of The American Philatelist. APS members may view the entire issue online. The monthly magazine is just one of the many benefits of membership in the American Philatelic Society. Learn more and become a member today: stamps.org/Join-Now
Are you interested in learning how to identify Washington-Franklins? Consider attending Summer Seminar (June 22-25) at the American Philatelic Center, where Washington-Franklin expert Guy Gasser will instruct an introductory and advanced course on how to identify these stamps. Click here to learn more.