Hall of Shame Reperfing 2: Coils
by Peter Torraca

Welcome to the second gallery in the Hall of Shame. In the first gallery (click here if you haven't read it) we discussed the basics of detecting a reperfed regular issue stamp. Stamps issued as coils are also susceptible to fakery. In fact, if buying a reperfed stamp is a danger with the classics, it is even more of a danger when buying early coil stamps!

The problem is that early in the 20th century, coils were hand-made by taking stock from regular issues. Coils were created by taking sheets of regularly issued stamps that had been perforated in only one direction (horizontally or vertically) or not perforated at all (imperforate), cutting them into vertical or horizontal strips, and then pasting the strips together to form a continuous coil. There are a few exceptions, but in general almost every early coil issue has a counterpart in a regular issue with the only difference being the perforations. Since most coils are more valuable than their regular issue counterparts, you can easily imagine the industrious faker created simulated rarities for any willing, gullible buyer.

Take these vertical pairs as an example. The brown 4¢ pair on the right is a genuine example of Scott #350 (and a rather well centered example too!). The green 1¢ line-pair on the left is a vertical pair of Scott #383 (an imperforate stamp, CV=$5.00/pair) that has been reperforated to look like Scott #385 (CV=$65.00/pair, $310.00/guide line pair). If you collect this issue, take special note of the catalog values -- you certainly don't want to buy this reperfed 383 pair as if it were a genuine 385 guideline pair!

How can you tell a reperfed coil? The first thing to consider is the printing method that was used to produce the stamp. The printing method is important because coil stamps that were printed on a rotary press are never faked. Period. There is one exception: but in that case, the regular issue is worth much more than the coil that could be created. Collectors need to pay careful attention to their flat-plate printed coil stamps created from flat-plate printed stamps are quite a different matter. For the remainder of this gallery, we will only be discussing flat plate coils.

Coils that have been faked from imperf sheet stock are as easy (or hard) to identify as any other reperfed stamp because the same ideas apply as discussed in the first gallery, Reperfing. A quick review might be helpful: Start by checking the gauge of the perforations. Do they suit the issue? (in this case, they do). Next, consider the perfs themselves (see the image below). Do they appear genuine? In this case, the perfs of the one cent coil are entirely too round and clean for genuine early US perforations. Also note that the perfs on the one cent stamp are not in a straight line -- they are lower at the left than on the right. The perfs of the four cent coil are genuine and typical of early US perfs.

Certain coils can be faked by removing perforations from stamps that share the same design and paper type as the coil variety. This is called "trimming" and, by strict definition, isn't "reperfing" but we can't talk about faked coils without considering it!

For trimming, it is helpful to understand how fakers find regular issue stamps to trim. A knowledgeable faker will try to find regular stamps which have a straight edge on one side and a wide margin on the opposite side. The faker might also look for a stamp with two opposing perforated margins. With an appropriate stamp in hand, the faker will trim the perforations from one or two sides, making the stamp resemble a genuine coil.

Perhaps the favorite target of fakers is the experimental coils of 1902-1903. With catalog values in the thousands of dollars, it is easy to understand why fakers are so attracted to them. (Genuine copies of these stamps tend to be so expensive that many honest collectors with no ill intent have trimmed stamps just to fill in the holes of their albums.)

The illustration uses the catalog numbers of the genuine stamps, but all of the stamps above are trimmed copies of regular, inexpensive issues. If each of these stamps were genuine used copies, the total catalog value would be $21,500! (The actual value would be much more because the Scott catalog does not even list a value for used copies of #317 and #318.)

So the question is, how can you tell a trimmed stamp from a genuine coil? When you see catalog values in the hundreds or thousands (and especially when you see the Scott catalog value listed in italics), you should become suspicious. Genuine examples of these stamps are valuable because they are very rare; it is unlikely that most collectors will ever see a genuine example, except perhaps at an exhibit, auction, or museum. Pessimistic, but true. However, genuine copies do occasionally turn up and the principles of identifying fakes applies to all similar stamps, so here is what you should do:

First off, check for reperfing. All of the stamps illustrated above have imperforate counterparts that fake coils could be made from. Next, look closely at the straight edges of the stamps. Are they reasonably straight? Look at the bottom edge of the #318 above and compare it to the top edge. The top edge is probably a natural straight edge, but the bottom has been poorly trimmed. In fact, the bottom edge is so out of kilter that this "coil" may have been created accidentally when a postal clerk used scissors to separate this stamp from the sheet.

The #322 has a similar problem to the #318, but it is a lot more subtle. The top margin is out of alignment, but it is not as bad as the bottom margin of the #318. In fact, the top margin of the #322 might be o.k. because some of these early coils were hand-trimmed and, as you probably know, the human hand seldom cuts a long, perfect line. But the #318 has another problem -- one it shares with the #317.

Consider the #317. The edges are reasonably straight and seem quite wide enough to have come from imperforate stock, but the top and bottom perforations show very clear signs of being genuine perfs. Anyone who has handled enough copies of #304, the fully perforated variety of #317, knows that copies with very large margins between the design and the perforation are not hard to come by, including copies with a natural straight edge on one side. This particular stamp was probably perforated on all four sides and happened to have a wide right and left margin.

Genuine coils have more space between the design and the edge of the stamp than regular perforated stamps. Thus, the faker will try to remove the perforations while leaving as much space between the design and new straight edge as possible. Usually this results in small traces of the perforations being left on the new straight edge of the stamp. With magnification, you can sometimes see two or three small dibits where the perfs used to be. One way to determine if the dibits are simply wear and tear or the remainder of perforations, is to use a perf gauge. If most or all of the dibits line up with what the gauge of the perfs would have been, you're dealing with a trimmed stamp!

Another way of telling if you have a trimmed stamp or a genuine coil is to measure the stamp from straight edge to straight edge. Genuine coils usually have a specific width (or height with horizontal coils) that marks them as genuine. The chart below gives the millimeter ranges of genuine coils. In case you are unfamiliar, horizontal coils are those with perforations at the top and bottom (like the fake #317 above) and vertical coils are those with perforations on the left and right (like the fake #318).

vertical coils: 24.5mm to 25.0mm
horizontal coils: 21.0mm to 22.0mm

(coils measuring over 25mm or 22mm do exist, but are very rare.)

A bit of a warning is need here: measurement is not always the key. There are many genuine coils that do not measure what the documentation says they should, but are genuine nonetheless. We have seen such stamps tied to cover and in long strips that receive certificates from expertizing committees attesting to their being genuine.

The problem with relying on measurements alone is that most of the early coils were cut apart by hand (as mentioned above). Like the rest of us, the technicians creating the coils couldn't always cut a perfect straight line, especially while trying to meet deadlines! But keep in mind, the slight variations from imperfect cutting are never as bad as the #318 example above.

When a coil does measure up to the documentation, it can be considered genuine beyond a doubt. However, when it does not measure up, it may still be genuine. Like suspicious perforations, a coil that does not measure up is an excellent reason to look closer, but not a death sentence for the stamp. Some collectors are absolutely determined to have only genuine coils in their collection. For these collectors, the only acceptable coil is one that measures properly. This is a safe, and sometimes expensive course for your collection.

Another way to ensure that your coil is genuine is to only purchase pairs or larger pieces that are difficult to fake. A single stamp is relatively easy to fake. A coil pair is difficult, but not impossible to fake. But a larger strip, like a strip of 4 or greater, is very hard to fake. Also, certain types of coil pairs, like this paste-up pairs are almost never faked:

"Paste-up coil pairs" were created before coils became a regular product for the US Post Office. At the time, sheets of stamps were usually composed of 100 stamps: 10 rows by 10 columns.Thus, in order to come up with a coil roll of 100 or more, these sheets had to be cut into strips of 10 and hand pasted together. Thus the creation of paste-up pairs like these. Paste-up pairs are rarely faked and look really neat -- a great combination for your collection!


(click here if you would like to continue with Regummed)

If you are interested in learning more about these early coils, we suggest the following texts:

  • United States Coil Issues 1906-38 by Martin A. Armstrong.
  • The Expert's Book by Paul W. Schmid.