SCADS - Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers

Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers

"Late" $2/$5 Second Bureau Designs (Scott 479/480)

The most commonly misidentified US stamps on eBay?

October 7, 2002:

Sellers and buyers alike commonly misidentify two high-denomination U.S. definitives issued in 1918 as their more expensive look-alikes. Actually, telling them apart is as easy as counting to 12.

The stamps in question, Scott 479 and 480, were issued in the middle of the Washington-Franklin period. But they don't have the Washington-Franklin designs. They are the last-issued stamps bearing the ornate Second Bureau designs, the $2 Madison and the $5 Marshall, with 10-gauge perforation. They are very frequently confused with their more valuable perf 12 counterparts issued in 1903, Scott 312 and 313.

The stamps of the Second Bureau issue [the second issue printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing] were introduced from November, 1902, to July, 1903. They all had 12 gauge perforation and were printed on paper with the double-line USPS watermark. There are very few special varieties bearing these designs, and the only one that the ordinary collector will ever own is the 1c Franklin imperforate, Scott 314, valued at $15 used, $19 unused. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that there are no identification issues with the Second Bureau designs. But this is not quite true.

When the Washington-Franklin designs were introduced in 1908, the $2 and $5 denominations were not included. The Post Office Department explained that "there was little need for these high denominations, since the reduction of rates of letter postage to certain foreign countries and the increase in the unit weight of international postage." [Post Office Department, Postage Stamps of the United States 1847-1961]

However, for whatever reason, the Department eventually decided that $2 and $5 stamps were necessary. In August, 1918, they issued bicolor stamps in a distinctive horizontal format, with Franklin in the vignette. But earlier, in 1917, they had reissued the Madison and Marshall 1903 Second Bureau designs. These 1917 issues, Scott 479 and 480, had 10-gauge perforation, like the Washington-Franklins being printed during that year, and were printed on unwatermarked paper.

Although the 1917 $2 and $5 issues were replaced a year later, they were apparently accumulated by collectors in much greater numbers than the 1903 issues. As a result, the "late" perf 10 Madison and Marshall are much more affordable than the "original" perf 12 stamps of 1903.

If one leafs through the catalog carelessly, and makes the natural assumption that all stamps with the Second Bureau designs were issued from 1903 to 1908, one can be completely unaware of the existence of the less valuable 1917 issues. But once one knows there is a problem, they are very easy to tell apart, as the pictures below illustrate.

Both issues have a design height greater than two centimeters. This means that the perf 12 issues must have 12 complete perforation holes next to the design, that is, between the yellow marks on the images below. This does NOT count the top and bottom margins of the stamp. If there are 12 or more perf holes adjoining the design, it is the 1903 issue.

The perf 10 issues of 1917 cannot have this many. If there are 11 or fewer complete perf holes adjoining the design, the $2 Madison must be #479 and the $5 Marshall must be #480.

Scott Catalog # #312 #479
Perforation Gauge 12 Gauge 10
Watermark Double-line USPS Unwatermarked
Catalog Value (2001) $2500 MNH
$1250 unused
$190 used
$525 MNH
$300 unused
$40 used
Scott Catalog # #313 #480
Perforation Gauge 12 Gauge 10
Watermark Double-line USPS Unwatermarked
Catalog Value (2001) $6000 MNH
$3000 unused
$750 used
$425 MNH
$240 unused
$42.50 used

Unfortunately, our experience is that sellers very often sell the 479 and the 480 as the 312 and 313. In fact, the 479 and 480 above are, at this writing, being sold as a 312 and a 313. [Note: the seller added a note to the descriptions on October 8, giving the correct catalog numbers.]

Every couple of weeks we encounter another example of this misidentification. Sometimes we are sure it is innocent. But some sellers make this "mistake" over and over. We intend to inform you of who they are.