by Peter Torraca
Perhaps the single most common fake in any collection is the reperfed stamp. A reperfed stamp is a stamp which has had perforations added or modified after leaving the post office or vending machine. Why would anyone want to reperf a stamp? Knowing a little philatelic history will be helpful:
Early US stamps were printed on a flat plate press. Sheets printed using this technique were separated into panes by cutting, not perforating. Thus, each flat plate pane has a row or two of stamps that have a straight edge (i.e. an edge without perforations) along one or two sides. Though these straight edges are a natural part of the printing process, many collectors consider them to be faults. Thus, a stamp may be reperfed to make it look like a "normal" stamp. In general, reperfing is done to make a less valuable stamp appear more desirable. We've met many collectors and dealers who have been duped by a dishonest person selling reperfed stamps. Fortunately, most reperfed stamps are easy to identify once you know what to look for. Let's start with some examples. Can you tell which of these stamps is reperfed?
My eye catches on the C6. To me it shouts "Hey, you! I'm reperfed!" You didn't hear it yelling? That's o.k., but hopefully you will catch it the next time you see a stamp like this one. The C6 is a "classic" case of reperfing. Look at the bottom edge of the stamp. See how dead straight the perf tips are? That bottom edge lacks the rough texture of paper separated by tearing. To my eye, those edges look like they were cut with a razor blade. Straight perf tips like this should make you immediately think about reperfing -- but you have to be careful! Some legitimate stamps were separated by scissors or a razor blade. (Start thinking about reperfing, but it isn't wise to be too hasty in judgement).
The straight edge is a clue, but there is more here. Just by looking at the image we can guess that this nice copy of C6 was printed on the margin of the sheet and thus had a straight edge. Someone along the way thought it would look better with perforations and had it reperforated on the bottom. How do we know?
Compare the perfs from the top of C6 (which we know to be genuine) to those on the bottom (which are suspect). Notice how the perfs from the bottom of the stamp are much smaller than those from the top? Did you also notice that the tops of the perf holes line up such that they seem to be slanted to the upper right? That is, the tops of the perforation holes are not even across the length of the stamp: the ones on the left side are farther away from the stamp image than those on the right. This effect simply would not happen naturally: someone has reperfed this stamp. Whoever did the faking, did a poor job of it. They did not take the time to align the new perfs to the old stamp's design and they didn't use the right size punch. Considering the straight perf tips, the misalignment the perf holes, and the wrong size perforations, it is fairly apparent that this stamp has been reperfed.
O.K., now let's consider the 78 with the same comparison technique. This stamp is also reperforated, but it is a bit more subtle than the C6. The edge in question is the left side. If you look carefully at the large image above (the one comparing the three stamps), you may notice that the shape of the perforations on the left side is somewhat different from the perforations on the other three sides. The close-up image on the left gives you a better look at these edges.
Because of the machines that were used to perforate early US stamps, perforation holes tend to be very distinct: genuine US perforations are not perfectly round. They are almost always out of round. In contrast, the left row of perforations on this stamp are almost perfectly round: they are too uniform for this time period. Whoever reperforated this stamp knew enough to keep the perf tips rough and jagged, thus avoiding the flag-raising straight perf tips we saw in the C6 example.
Now for the really tough one. The 289 above is also reperfed, but it is a lot harder to identify than either of the others. This stamp is a perfect example of why you should only buy your stamps from very knowledgeable dealers and use expertization services. Personally, I overlooked this reperf job. Our senior US expert (who actually serves on an expertising committee) caught it.
When the Trans-Mississippi set was issued, they were issued with perforations that measure 12 on a perf gauge. They were not issued in any other format. This fact is the key to identifying this reperfing job. Only someone who has looked at enough perf 12 stamps would notice without actually measuring each side.
The image above is a comparison of the left perforations (A) and right perforations (B) on a perf gauge. Genuine perforations for this issue should line up with the gauge at 12. Note how the left set of perfs (A) is does not line up. Such a variation on a issue known to have a single gauge of perfs is a very strong indication that the stamp has been reperfed on at least one side.
Notice how the perfs on the left side (A) of the stamp are ragged, as if they were genuinely separated from another stamp? Also notice how the perf holes are note quite round, just as a genuine stamps would be? An expert faker has methods to make genuine looking perfs and will rough up the perfs to keep your suspicions down.
But in this case, there is one little clue that probably caught our senior expert's eye: notice that the leftmost (A) perforations are rather shallow. Whoever reperfed the stamp was trying to keep a good margin on that side of the stamp, thus resulting in rather shallow perfs. Shallow perfs are not proof of reperfing, but like straight perf tips, they mean you should look at the stamp a little closer.
Learning these basics will greatly increase your chances of rooting out misrepresented stamps and protecting your purse. If you are interested in studying reperforated stamps further, consider building a reference collection of faked stamps. Reperforated stamps, once identified, can often be purchased from dealers as inexpensive faulty stamps and make a great study tool (just be sure to keep them separate from your main collection). There are also some great books on detecting altered stamps. Contact the American Philatelic Lending Library or your favorite supplies dealer for a help in finding these resources. (click here if you would like to continue with Reperfing 2)