Recently we have had some inquiries about the best method for detecting hard-to-see watermarks. There are quite a few different tools available, but I find the most reliable to be good-old watermark fluid and a black plastic tray (to increase the contrast). I have used a fancier backlit watermark detector in the past and it does often provide greater clarity, but it can be cumbersome and often doesn’t help enough with the most difficult watermarks.
There are some issues where the watermark is especially hard to detect — as for example in the case of many of the QEII definitive issues of Hong Kong —
There are three watermark types for this stamp that can be very difficult to see.
Occasionally, secondary characteristics can be helpful to tell the difference between different watermark types. Looking at the back of the stamp you can often notice differences in the color or consistency of the paper and the gum. For example, in the South Georgia QEII surcharged wildlife issue, the watermark type can clearly be identified by looking at the surface of the back of the stamp.
On one set the gum is rather patchy, and on the other it is smooth.
Another challenge presents itself with the New Zealand single vs. multiple NZ and star watermarks. It is not necessarily difficult to see some portion of the watermark on any given stamp, but you can often see repetitions of the single watermark and not always of the multiple watermark. Here are some tips:
- The NZ and star in the single watermark repeat in a regular manner so that they are in straight rows and columns, directly above and next to one another but with significant spacing.
- The multiple NZ and star are spaced differently so that the rows are staggered, as:
So if you only have portions of the watermark, look for the way in which they repeat.
- Another useful tool for the New Zealand watermarks is paper curling. For example, in the matching pictorial sets of 1935 and 1936-41, the paper curls differently when placed gum-side up on the palm of your hand and allowed to warm slightly. Depending on which set it is, the paper will either curl up from the right and left sides, or up from the top and bottom sides. The larger format stamps in the issue allow you to see the watermark fairly easily, so using one of those as a reference for the curling, you can then check the remaining stamps without having to squint. (The watermark on the smaller stamps is often nearly impossible to see due to the heavy engraving and small size, though fluid does help significantly.)
- Margins and multiples are always useful for seeing a watermark:
- The New Zealand Arms postal fiscal stamps also have single and multiple watermark issues, but be careful using the paper curling method as both paper types were used for the single watermark issues and do not curl the same way. It is always best with these stamps to try to see the actual watermark for positive identification.
We welcome any further tips or strategies for detecting watermarks among our readers, and we invite your questions as well. We will post any comments we feel would be useful additions to the blog.
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— Posted by Kathryn Wright
Managing Director and Philatelist
Aron R. Halberstam Philatelists, Ltd.