What can be learned from sheets?

The manual overprint process in combination with a wide variety of ink(s) used, based on what quality and ingredients were present, lead to quite a range of different overprint appearances. T&A describes is a the “human factor”. This can be seen as a thing of beauty that well documents how the work of the postal organization was done in the difficult times of war, hunger and inflation. On the other hand, it proves be a hurdle when to distinguish between genuine overprint and forgery.

A lot can be learned from larger multiples and sheets. An easy and useful start is to understand, that the variety in ink is a sign of a genuine overprint. Overprints need to vary from stamp to stamp. A multiple with identical overprints is most likely digital forgeries. Genuine overprints vary in:

  • Position on each stamp
  • Ink density – reinking was applied after two or more print processes
  • Ink distribution – characteristics of the usage of real ink like oiliness, dust particles adhering to the handstamp, unequal distribution of the color (e.g. prominent borderlines)

Here are scans of two half-sheets of the 500 ruble Essayan pictorial issue, one with and one without overprints. Both are the lower half of a full sheet. Full sheets were normally cut in half right after the printing process, since the large size was cumbersome to deal with. As a result tête-bêche items are quite rare.

Lower half of 500 ruble sheet with overprints
Lower half of 500 ruble sheet without overprints
Example of ink getting weaker before reinking the handstamp
Example of double overprint
Example of weak and clear overprint

This is excellent to study the characteristics of the genuine overprint. Most prominent ones:

  • gaps a bit left of the center on top and bottom of the zero
  • oval shapes inner part of the zero
  • ball shaped serife at top of the two
  • narrow part at the bottom of the “swan nack”
  • upward looking serife at the end of the baseline of the two, slightly tilting to the left
  • straight and kinda thick horizontal base of the two

Typically, not every imprint of the handstamps allows to see all these characteristics. This means, when provided as single stamp, a lot of overprints can not safely be checked as genuine. This is just part of the nature of these overprints and reduces the amount of genuine stamps of a given catalog number below what was historically produced. Typical and well shaped (impressed) overprints are a quality sign of especially collect-worthy stamps. And may be more expensive.

Plate markings and field positions

With the lithographed stamps from the picture issues another interesting option arises: the possibility to check the position of a certain stamp regarding its place in the sheet (field position).

The most prominent plate mark of the 500 rubles stamp is the “lightning”.

Plate mark “lightning”

Within the lower sheet its position is here: 4th row, 5th stamp.

Position of the “lightning”

Since I got two different sheets I can also see which “plate flaws” are generally present and which are “random” or perhaps happened during the print run – e.g. when the stones were damaged after the printing process started. Of course these are only two examples but when comparing this with the described plate flaws in the literature, the results seem to be valid enough.

Here I put an red arrow on each characteristic “flaw” I could find on both sheets. The blue arrows show “flaws” that are only present on one of the sheets.

Plate flaws in red

Scans I got from Rafael that belong to the comment below:

500r A tree on the mountain variety
500r A tree on the mountain variety reverse
500r A tree variety, Zakian marks
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1 Response to What can be learned from sheets?

  1. Dr. Rafael Nagapetiants says:

    Interesting comparison. However important to mention that stamps in two parts of the complete sheet (81 stamp in each, 162 total) are not fully identical, there is certain defference between them. The most known is a variety ‘a tree on the mountain’ which is seen only on one part of the sheet (73 stamp). I gave the name of this variety by myself but the initial discover was done by Kh.Zakian in his book 1988, p.213. I attach a block of six with this variety and a single stamp. The glue used was white (block of six) or yellow (single stamp).

    Most probably during the turning-over the already printed half sheet to make tete-beche printing something got into the printing machine, too small to be removed and thus we got another variety.

    I also attach original handwritten marks of Zakian and two used stamps, one from Karaklis, another from Echmiadzin both with surcharge ‘2’ gold kop (Forth Issue of SSRA). The variety should exist also with ’20’ gold kop. surcharge, on perforated and on lilac color versions of 500r but I did not see then so far.

    Another comment that I would like to make is about the flaws indicated by the blue arrows. There are many spots, scratches and other marks on Essayan and later Erivan Issues which are not repeating from sheet to sheet. I do not consider them worth to mention from the philatelistic point of view saying nothing that some of them could be produced at a later stage.

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