The Detection of Regummed and Reperforated Stamps
1. What is a regummed postage stamp? Why would someone regum a stamp? A regummed stamp is one that no longer has 100% original gum. Original gum is applied when the stamp is produced by the originating postal authority in the United States (U.S.), Canada, or Newfoundland. When an individual applies their own blend of gum to the back of a stamp, the stamp has been regummed. This is done to enhance the appearance of the back of the stamp and/or the potential value of the stamp. The element of fraud enters in when a collector purchases a stamp with the understanding that the gum is original when, in fact, the stamp has been regummed.
How does one tell a regummed stamp from one with original gum? The easiest way is to compare the gum of the stamp in question with one of known original gum. What are the clues to look for? Often times the regummed stamp will have a dull, textured appearance with minor inconsistencies in gum thickness or in its reflection of light. Some regummed stamps, though, do have a glossy surface. This is especially true with imperforate stamps. Even then there is still the slightly textured surface to the regummed stamp rather than the smooth even gloss of original gum. If a stamp has a watermark, it is sometimes easily visible on a regummed stamp. With an original gum stamp a watermark is normally visible only by dipping the stamp in a watermark tray using watermark fluid, or by holding the stamp up to a strong light. If the watermark appears impressed into the gum, then be very suspicious of its origins. Another clue to be aware of is that a regummed stamp will often curl if placed face down in the palm of your hand for a few moments--not so with an original gum stamp. Also with perforated stamps, an often tell-tale clue is in the perforation tips. They feel sharp on a regummed stamp and soft on an original gum stamp. Sometimes the regummer will file down the perf tips to soften them. One must look carefully then at the perf tips under magnification for the tell-tale signs of filing. Still another clue regarding regums would be gum that extends into the perforation holes. This does not occur with original gum stamps because they are perforated after the gum is applied. A clever regummer will try to file out the perf holes to eliminate excess gum, but they often miss a spot here and there. Another clue to look for with stamps printed by a rotary press process (rather than flat plate printing) is that the original gum stamp will usually possess vertical gum ridges, whereas the regummed stamp will have smooth gum with no ridges. Below are enlarged photo images of perforations of a regummed stamp and one with original gum. Note the crystalline appearing gum on the perf tips of the regummed stamp.
Perforations of a Regummed Stamp
Perforations of an Original Gum Stamp
2. Reperforated stamps: This is more prevalent than most collectors, and even some dealers, imagine. Simply stated, this means that a stamp has been privately perforated, as opposed to the U.S. Postal Service performing this operation. The reperforator's intention is to enhance the value of the stamp in a number of possible ways: (1) transform a 'straight edge' copy into one with four perforated edges; (2) improve the centering of a stamp by reducing or 'bringing-in' a side with a large margin to better conform to the stamp's opposite margin; (3) eliminate a perforation fault such as a pulled perf by 'bringing-in' the perforations closer to the stamp design, thereby providing a whole new set of perforations on that particular side. Discriminating between a stamp with legitimate perforations can often be a challenge. Different methods of perforating stamps are used by different country's postal administrations. A Newfoundland stamp that might appear to be reperforated by U.S. standards would probably be genuine. Their perforating methods were less refined and exact than those used by the U.S. Postal Service. The clues to detect privately perforated stamps mentioned below apply only to stamps produced in the U.S.
The U.S. Postal Service used 'rotary perforators' to perforate early U.S. stamps. These machines used a series of perforating wheels with equally spaced pins that would roughly puncture the paper as it was fed through. A private perforating machine uses a 'stroke' perforation method where the pins on a head plate descend vertically through the paper into matching holes in a counter plate. Because of these different methods of perforating stamps, official perforations have a different appearance than private perforations. Official perforation holes are more oval in shape and less clean cut than private perforations. Real perforations normally have tufts of paper fibers extending into the holes that were not cleanly cut away. Also, holes created by the rotary perforating wheel were in the shape of an ellipse or oval rather than a perfect circle. See photo illustrations below. Another characteristic of genuine perforations is that the rows of perforations applied to a sheet of stamps were always parallel. They may have not been always perfectly aligned with the border of the stamp design, but the perforation rows were parallel. If a row of perforations was slightly askew at the top of a stamp, it would be equally askew at the bottom also.
There are two general categories of private perforating machines. The first category I would label 'crude' and the second I would call 'refined.' A refined reperforator will create holes with the correct size hole (as in diameter) and the correct 'gauge.' The gauge refers to the number of holes per inch. Fortunately, even a 'refined' reperforator will create circular rather than elliptical holes and holes that are also clean cut. So although the size and gauge will be exactly correct, the appearance and shape of some of the holes themselves will not be. A professional reperforator may use tiny cylindrical files to rough up the hole's edges so they don't have such a clean appearance, but they are still distinguishable from real holes in most cases. In a series of real perforation holes the tufts of extending paper fibers are usually in the same relative position in the holes, e.g., left, right, top, bottom, etc. On the other hand, a 'crude' reperforating machine often produces rows of holes that do not form a perfectly straight line. In addition they often do not create holes of the correct size or gauge. They are easy to detect using a "U.S. Specialist Gauge" or by aligning the 'suspect' perforations next to a stamp of the same series with known genuine perforations. If they do not match exactly, then the perforations in question are probably not genuine. The graphics below show stamps with private perforations and some with genuine perforations that will hopefully illustrate the differences.
The holes on the left stamp are not genuine--the holes on the right stamp are genuine. Note the poor hole alignment on the left stamp vs. the straight hole alignment on the right. The hole size on the left varies whereas the hole size on the right is uniform. Note how clean the holes are on the left, whereas on the right there are a few paper fibers extending out on the left side of most of the holes.
The two stamps on the left are reperforated at top whereas the right stamp has original perforations. Note the poor hole alignment of the middle stamp. Note the tops of the perf tips on the two left stamps have a flat appearance. That is because the left stamp was formerly a straight edge copy and the middle stamp was a #490 coil that was reperforated at top to resemble a #538, a stamp with much higher catalogue value. The perf tips on the right stamp have paper fibers protruding from the tops of the perf tips as do most genuine perforations.
Fake US Stamps Made by Reperforating Various Straight Edges on a Stamp
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