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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Modern Varieties in Danish Stamp Collecting

Just a few decades ago, specialist stamp collectors looking for plate flaws and minor varieties tended to spend hours poring over loose stamps, using magnifying glasses and even microscopes. Of course, there was a definite limit to "how much you could handle" before stiff necks and severe eye strain set in.

Denmark Scott 668/AFA 702 variety:
Part of the vertical line in wall is missing
In recent years, there has been a steady increase in the number of "varieties" reported, even on relatively modern stamps. This may sound a bit "backwards," given how technology and printing methods have improved, in this digital age-- stamps would be expected to have fewer faults.

So what gives?

I believe the invention of high quality photo scanners has made a huge difference in how we look for varieties. Let's face it-- I can now make a scan of a stock sheet of stamps and "examine" them (without eye strain!) on a scale previously unthinkable, as a single small stamp can be shown as an image that fills my entire computer monitor. Unlike using a microscope (which allows only one stamp at a time to be viewed), scans allow for lots of flexibility. Images can be cut and pasted, contrast enhanced for improved visibility and laid up next to each other for comparison-- something we couldn't even have considered, just 30 years ago.

For many years, I have kept a collection of specialized Danish stamps, with a focus on postmarks and plate flaws. Previously, I "ended" my collection with the year 1930, when Denmark switched from letterpress printed stamps to engraved stamps. I had two motivations for doing so:

One, plate flaws seemed to me to be something that was mostly "documented a long time ago," and I relied on traditional philatelic literature for Denmark (such as the AFA specialized and SAVA varieties stamp catalogues) to tell me what was a variety, and on which stamps I might be able to find it. Which was a result of....

Denmark Scott 561/AFA 578 with variety:
Missing frame line below "NISK"
Two, the thought of "finding your own plate flaws" was relatively unthinkable-- I had neither the patience, nor the eyesight, to pore over 100s of the same stamp, in order to find some minor variety. Until... my first high quality photo scanner made it possible to do so, more conveniently... and photo processing software made it much easier to compare stamps, side-by-side.

These days, I am back to looking at newer Danish stamps, with an eye towards finding plate flaws-- recorded, or not yet recorded. I have basically "expanded" my collection by 50 years, now including varieties on stamps issued up until 1980. The neat thing about this is that it opens the door for many new stamps I can add to my collection... yet at a low price (most stamps from this period are fairly common) I can afford.

Collectors of "Denmark, Specialized" also have a marvelous online research tool... in the form of the Danish online variety catalogue. Started in   the catalogue/website is created through the efforts of a volunteer "study circle" of more than 250 collectors who each contribute their finds (all with detailed images) to the catalogue database... which currently has almost 12,500 items listed. You can find the Denmark Specialized Catalogue and Study Circle here, and even though it is entirely in Danish, it is relatively simple to use, thanks to exceptionally nice graphics... and you can always use an online translator to get a sense of the text.

So, if you have a collection and have reached that "critical point" where filling the next empty space in your album will cost a lot of money-- consider starting a specialized collection of Danish stamps... the possibilities are almost endless!

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