Recently a customer of ours wrote to us with the comments below about detecting the single NZ and star watermarks of early New Zealand and Samoa stamps. We thought they merited sharing with all our ‘faithful readers.’
A longtime collector of used stamps, Mr. Martin Kid Boyd of York, England writes:
The other week I was going through my stamps from Samoa, with a view to moving them from the stockbook where they had lived so far, on to album pages. I just collect used stamps, up to the 1960s (the end of recess printed ones), and it is only when I have enough that I feel that it is worthwhile transferring them onto pages. A stockbook is fine while a country is building up, but the stamps look so much better laid out on pages. For Samoa, I decided to start at the latter end, and work backwards, because I knew I had the 1886-1900 issues waiting for me.
This is a long set – in the British Gibbons’ catalog(ue) they go from number 21 to 64, and in Scott (laid out differently) from No9 to 19b*. I had quite a few of these stamps, but they were just grouped together loosely. The main problem (which I had given up on, before) was trying to distinguish between the different watermarks on these stamps, which are a single ‘NZ’ and a star on each stamp. Sure, there are lots of perforation variations in this set, too, but dealing with this is just a case of careful measurement. It is the watermarks which cause the problems – each type of star looks slightly different, and the spacing to the ‘NZ’ also varies.
Seeing the watermarks can also be a problem – on some stamps they can be seen clearly, just by looking at the back of the stamp, but on others, particularly those with a darker colo(u)r, such as the 6d or 2/6d values, this interfered with seeing the watermark. I had struggled with these questions before – and failed. The description in the Gibbons’ catalogue of the differences between the stars made sense when reading it, but not when looking at the actual watermarks – they all looked like slightly odd shaped stars to me, but telling one from another was beyond me.
So, as I felt happy measuring perforations, I decided to concentrate on the gap between the ‘NZ’ and the star – because this was a mathematical exercise, it should be possible to make a conclusive decision about a stamp. Then I came up against the next problem – my eyesight is not all that good. The difference in the gap between the ‘NZ’ and the star is either 4mm, 6mm or 7mm – to measure these I have to look at the stamp under a magnifying glass. In broad terms, the 4mm gap is ‘small’ and quite easy to distinguish, but the other two only have a 1mm difference, and with my eyesight I could make mistakes.
To complicate this, for the ‘hard to see’ watermarks I had to use detection fluid, then put the magnifying glass on the stamp, then bring the measurement gauge into action (under the glass) before the fluid evaporated, and the watermark disappeared from view ! I was making some progress, but it was slow going. Then I had an idea: once the watermark was visible (with or without fluid) if I just drew two little pencil lines on the back of the stamp, one just at the bottom of the ‘NZ’ and the other at the end of the top point of the star, then I could measure this gap in a separate operation – in some cases once the watermark had become invisible again. This has proved a successful method for me, in distinguishing that 1mm difference. Sometimes the lines I had drawn were midway (about 6.5mm apart), so in these cases I just had another go, and eventually it went towards either 6mm or 7mm. It also means that (even if the watermark is usually invisible) there is a permanent record. With regard to writing on the back of stamps, I do not usually do this, but in this case consider it worthwhile – I have lots of stamps with out of date catalog(ue) numbers written on the back – this is a lot more useful !
I hope this method may be of help to other collectors struggling with the same problems.
Many thanks for your contribution, Martin!