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Stamp identification tricks and tips

Stamp identification tricks and tips

Way back in May I was asked/suggested to write an article about how to identify stamps ID.  Though the task may sound somewhat trivial for seasoned world collectors, it is definitely one area where everybody struggles at times. Instead of the usual ‘open the catalog and start browsing’ advice I’ll try to give a bit more concrete and more advanced tips on stamp identification.  Many of these will definitely require a bit more effort than typing ‘can you please id this for me’ – but if you want to master stamp identification on the long run, then all this is IMHO crucial knowledge.

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Polish Post Insured Mail Seals

Polish Post Insured Mail Seals

As some of you may recall, in addition of stamps I have got a side-collection of different types of postal labels such as airmail and priority etiquettes.  The limits of this collection are very shady, and instead of taking everything for the completions sake, I include only items that I feel good about. And when I encountered the below Polish label on mixed lot of world kiloware, I knew it was definitely a keeper. The only problem was that I did not know what it actually was.

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The Red and Black postage due stamps of Hungary

The Red and Black postage due stamps of Hungary

One of my all time favorite stamp series is the iconic 1958 Hungarian postage dues which the Hungarians call very descriptively as ‘Vörös Fekete Porto’ – meaning  ‘red and black postage dues’. The design and implementation of these stamps have got all the aspects of a classic: a simple yet elegant bi-colored design repeated with 16 different face values in two different perforations. Sadly a lot of advanced collectors show no love for these stamps as they, like most Hungarian stamps, are usually found as CTOs in stamp mixtures aimed for the new collector. What I am about to show will hopefully change your mind.

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Czechoslovakia 1976 Use Zip Code coil stamps

Czechoslovakia 1976 Use Zip Code coil stamps

In 1976 Czechoslovakia issued a 30 heller green ‘Use zip code’ stamp that can be described common as mud.  I remember this stamp being a part of the 100 diff world stamps packages I bought about 30 years back, and even today the very same stamps is part of cheapest world mixtures. Very likely all world collectors have got a copy of this stamp in their collections. To make matters worse, this stamp was built be efficient and unhappy:  it’s got appeal of brutalist architechture in miniature size, and mentality of Harry Potter’s dementor. So very few collectors have got real love for it. It fills a space and that’s about it. Therefore it is only appropriate that a stamp like this caught my interest, and some surprising observations started to come up.

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Fifteen-thousand different worldwide stamps for 40€ – a deal too good to be true?

Fifteen-thousand different worldwide stamps for 40€ – a deal too good to be true?

If you are not familiar with major auction house listings, the usual sales talk of worldwide collections/lots goes something like this: ‘{Spectacular BIG adjective} A to Z worldwide collection covering from {startyear} to {endyear}. {Some inaccurate way to describe that there can be anything from few hundred to tens of thousands of stamps} from all parts of the world housed in {some storage method}. Mostly of modest value, but a quick browse reveals there are {insert a list of baits here}. Fine to very fine condition {like always}. Estimate: some three to five-digit sum plus auction fee‘. Stamp auction listings like these make worldwide collectors crazy because they rarely give away anything truly specific (which really does not make any sense in this era of online listings), but the vague description and high estimate lets you anticipate it will be worth the money. I confess that I too drool for lots like these, but because of the high cost never bid or buy.

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Heaven and Hell – a stamp soaking experience

Heaven and Hell – a stamp soaking experience

As I placed three-hundred-and-something stamps to my soak tub and poured some hot tap water on top of the stamps, I knew I was undertaking a challenge too big for a late night project.  When I finally reached the end of the soak and rinse operation, about two-and-half hours later (and way beyond my usual bed time), my brains felt lobotomized, my shoulders and neck were stiff, and I was hugely exhausted from repeating same movements non-stop for the past few hours.   However, at the same time I felt extremely happy and peaceful. Does this experience of heaven and hell at the same time feel familiar to you? And how did I end up to this state first place?

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Indore stamps of 1904/08 – engraved, litho, or both?

Indore stamps of 1904/08 – engraved, litho, or both?

I’m not the easiest kind of collector to get confused but the below Indore stamps with portrait of young Maharaja Tukojirao Holkar III have got me perplexed. In 1904 Perkins Bacon won the contract for printing of Indore stamps from Waterlow, and from there onwards all Indore stamps were printed in recess by Perkins Bacon until 1940. Simple and sweet, except when going through my recent acquisition I noted that a couple of these stamps did not feel engraved to tweezer tip, but they had the appearance of genuine stamp. This marked the beginning of another trip down the rabbit hole.

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Charkhari pictorials of 1931

Charkhari pictorials of 1931

The 1931 pictorial stamps of Charkhari make an interesting set of stamps. They are among the most common stamps of Indian native states, and the fact that I found 50+ specimens (over one tenth of the total) from my recent Indian states purchase says a great deal on the easy availability of the stamps. The stamps are so common because the Charkhari State administration lost (or gave away) control on the distribution of the series, and the stamps were dumped on philatelic markets in large quantities of mint and CTO specimens at much below face value; thus they are very cheap even nowadays. Genuine postally used  copies, especially on cover are extremely difficult to find and totally different topic.  Another characteristic of the series is that it contains a range of high values from 1 to 5 rupees (equal to 1-5 days wage at State service) that likely saw little to no real postal needs. So in number of ways this series is a forefather of modern day philatelic wallpaper.

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Charkhari stamps

Charkhari stamps

Recently I’ve been bugging my head with a lot job of 300+ stamps of  various Indian feudatory states.  The stamps were ripped down from a number of vintage Big Blue remainders and other ‘junior’ stamp albums of the yesteryear, so I don’t have huge expectations to find any rarities or as such, but who knows what lurks in an oddball lot like this.  Needless to say the challenges of this lot are numerous. Some stamps of Indian native states are simply difficult to identify because they lack any comprehensible western characters.  Few stamps are in condition far worse than what I wish/desire to include into my collection, but as I’ve got no clue on what’s the ‘average condition’ for these is, I  don’t like to throw them out neither (at least yet). And then there’s the question of forgeries – for many Indian native states the forgeries are said to outnumber the genuine, especially with mint/unused. So all in all I’m having one fun summer project that will hopefully educate me a lot about this complex area in weeks to come.  As my first stop I’ve chosen Charkhari, a small (population ~120,000) princely state in Central India.

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Special speck of dust

Special speck of dust

Lately I’ve been entertaining myself by reading stories and interviews of other (mostly non-stamp) collectors; how they view and live the life of a collector. What I’ve come to realize is that all the collectors, despite what they collect (be it Barbie dolls, motorbikes, Nightwish memorabilia, video games or our precious stamps/postal history) share similar lifestyle and challenges.

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