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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stamps from Denmark: Paper and Stamp Quality

As a specialist collector, I spend a fair amount of time sifting through "large lots" of stamps, often looking at 100's of examples of the same stamp... searching for plate flaws, cancellations and so forth.

It is important to me that the stamps in my collection are in nice quality and without faults, so one of the "steps" in my sorting process is to check the stamps for defects-- tears, thins, missing or "pulled" perfs, heavy cancels. Unless I am examining very valuable stamps, any with defects go directly to my "junk pile."

One of the earlier Danish stamps printed on hard white paper
Recently, I have been working on a large batch of Danish stamps-- part of a fairly extensive former dealer's stock, containing 1000's of stamps, and sometimes 100's of copies of each stamp. As I worked with these, I noticed how much influence the type of paper used has on the number of faults you find with any given issue.

For the most part, Denmark has used a fairly "soft" paper for issuing stamps. This meant that the stamps generally separated fairly well along the perforations, as a result of which the number of faulty stamps reaching collectors was fairly low. Certainly, some stamps would get damaged by people who handled them roughly, but the "defect rate" was manageable.

Around 1968-70, however, the Danish postal administration started to experiment with "invisible" gum (Danish water-activated gum to that point was typically "shiny" and slightly yellowish) and the type of paper used for printing stamps was changed, as well. The new paper was a very "hard" white paper. Why this particular paper was chosen, I don't know-- possibly because the new adhesive could better be applied.

In any case, this new paper was very "unforgiving," when it came to separating stamps so they could be used on letters. Unless you "pre-folded" several times along the perf line, most stamps would not separate neatly at the center point of the perforations, leading to lots of short and "pulled" perfs. For many collectors, a row of pulled perfs renders a stamp faulty, and "not collectible."

As an example of just how "bad" the situation got, this morning I found myself going through a few hundred copies of Denmark Scott no. 491/AFA no. 525, issued in 1972 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Danish State Railways (DSB)-- pictured in the photo above.

Faulty stamps on the left, good quality stamps on the right
Keeping in mind that this was a dealer's stock I was sorting-- so the stamps must have been deemed to be in at least some form of "collectible" grade-- take a look at the two piles of stamps in the photo, at left. They are of about the same size. The pile on the right are all in good condition, without any minor faults. The pile on the left? All have one or more short/pulled perfs, or small tears! The detail photo, below, shows the "typical damage" I found while sorting, although many were in much worse shape. As a stamp collecting youngster in Denmark, I even remember how you had to be "very careful" when tearing apart stamps to use on the mail, so as not to damage the stamps.

This particular "problem" is actually present with many Danish stamps issued from about 1970 onwards. Then, starting in about 1976-77, the paper formula was changed again as a result of which the number of faulty stamps declined. By the mid 1980's, the problem was not nearly as significant.

Common perf "condition" on Danish stamps from the 1970's
As an interesting aside to all this, most Danish stamps issued between 1968 and 1978 have very low catalogue values, with most being priced at the "minimum value" various catalogue publishers use. I sometimes wonder if these catalogue publishers are aware that whereas "lots of examples" of the stamps issued during this period exist, finding one in "nice used condition without faults" is not nearly as easy.

So what happens to my piles of defective stamps? I used to throw them away, but these days I actually give them to my ex-- who's an artist-- who uses them to create art projects... from laminated bookmarks with stamps, to custom made journal covers with a "postal" or "letter writing" theme, or even collages that feature stamps. I like this particular solution because it means that the stamps still get enjoyed for their designs and will live on as a "reminder of stamps," but they will not live on as faulty junk in actual stamp collections.

Of course, that's a personal philosophy not everyone shares. I happen to be a strong believer in something my father once told me about "faulty stamps," namely that "Common faulty stamps don't become valuable treasures, just because they age. In 100 years, they will merely be old common faulty stamps."

Happy collecting to all!


Madbaker said...

Great post. I appreciate the detailed scan showing the pulled perf to get an example of what another collector sees as 'faulty'

In that scan, how many perfs would you consider 'short'? 1, 2 or 4?

I admit that I would likely add that 'faulty' stamp to my collection. Otherwise I fear I would start obsessing over perfect perforation alignment. But that's just me. I would certainly favour a 'perfect' specimen regardless!

Thanks for sharing your view on things (with pictures!)


Peter M. said...

Mark, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

On that stamp, I would say there were 4 "pulled" or "nibbed" perfs. If there had been just one, I'd probably have let it slide... but with three of them right next to each other, that corner of the stamp appeared visually "lower."