by Peter Torraca
In the first two galleries (check 'em out if you haven't already) we discussed how some people have tried to fake stamps by modifying or removing the perforations. Now we turn our attention to the underside of the issue: the gum. Stick with us and learn about the gooey underside of fakery.
If you've collected stamps for any amount of time, you know that collectors and dealers put a great deal of emphasis and value on the condition of a stamp's gum. Some collector's don't see the point in being picky about gum: they argue that gum condition is meaningless because one only sees the front of a stamp once it is mounted in an album. Nevertheless, the closer to post-office fresh condition a stamp is the more valued it is on the stamp market, and this is especially true of classic stamps. Given that gum condition affects the value, someone is going to try to fake it!
The process of applying new gum to a stamp is called regumming. It is typically seen on earlier stamps, but any stamps where there is a significant difference in value between a stamp with damaged or no gum and one with full or even perfect (NH or Never Hinged) gum is a candidate for regumming.
Separating a regummed stamp from a stamp with original gum (OG) is difficult unless one knows what the original gum looks like.
Experienced collectors and dealers can often tell a regummed stamp at a glance because the newly applied gum simply looks different from the original. The best way to acquire this skill is to examine all the stamps you can, especially stamps from reputable dealers where you can be certain a stamp is as described. Simply put, inexperienced collectors need to be especially wary. But even for the experienced, simple observation and a little philatelic knowledge can go a long way to protecting yourself from a bad purchase. Consider the illustration at the right and try to decide which stamp is regummed (only one is regummed!).
The Confederate stamp (C) is the regummed one, right? Well, actually, no, it isn't. That brown, ugly looking gum is natural to this stamp (the shortages of the US Civil War forced the Confederation to use things like molasses based gums on their stamps, thus brown goo). The regummed stamp is really A, the US #63.
So how do you tell? Well, the first stamp's gum is the wrong color for the issue. The original gum on this stamp is more like B (US 65). Another clue is that A is reperfed (on the bottom and right when looking at the stamp from the front, did you notice?). Often regumming is accompanied by reperfing and vice versa.
O.k., o.k., so it really isn't a fair question because gum is really hard to illustrate with a computer image. But I hope this little quiz did illustrate a couple of things for you. First, experience is everything in this game. If you knew that the gum on C was supposed to be that gooey-brown color, you knew it was real. Likewise, if you had seen an original gum 63 or even a 65 (stamp B) before, you would have had at least an idea that something was wrong with A. Second, even with experience, it is hard to tell sometimes when something is faked. Don't be overconfident. If you are going to make a large purchase where gum is significant, insist on a certification and guarantee from the dealer. The best dealers will be more than happy to guarantee their stamps against a certification.
Now, with those warnings in mind, there is one easy thing you can do to detect a regummed stamp, even if you haven't had a much experience. You'll need a good magnifying lens (a 10x jeweler's loupe works great) and some good lighting. What you will be doing is looking carefully at the perforations of the stamps; not the gum, the perforations.
When you look at the perforations of a classic stamp under magnifications, you should be able to see small fibers of paper sticking out from at least the perf tips and perf holes (if not, your may have been reperfed). What you are looking for is gum stuck to those tiny paper fibers. Consider the perforations at the left. This picture was taken of some characteristic perforations of a regummed stamp at 10x magnification with overhead lighting. Do you see the gum in the fibers? Does anything else strike you as odd?
This is the same illustration with the give-away features highlighted. The circle points out the gum caught in the fibers. The arrows are pointing to a place where the gum has gathered into an bulge at the edge of the stamp. Neither of these features would be present on an OG stamp. Here is a much closer picture of the gum stuck to the paper fibers, just so you can have a better idea of the feature (60x, overhead lighting).
Why don't genuine, original gum stamps display these features? Genuine stamps are usually gummed, printed and then perforated. Also, genuine stamps are separated from their sheets a the post office, long after the original gum as dried. Thus, the tiny paper fibers are exposed in the perf holes and on the perf tips, but there will be no gum on them! If a stamp is later regummed, that new gum often gets hung up in the tiny fibers left from the perforating process and being separated from its sheet. This tell-tale feature of regummed stamps is why regummed stamps are often reperfed: by reperfing, the faker hopes to eliminate the signs of the regumming job!
The majority of regummed stamps are easily identifiable with experience and careful observation. But there are some regummed stamps which are so skillfully done that they are extremely difficult to detect. Examine all the stamps you can, learn all you can about them and you will be safe most of the time -- but remember, if the origin of the gum is crucial and the value is high, be sure to get a guarantee and the written opinion of an expert committee!