Collectors using the Scott catalog will see the term ďvioletĒ used for two different stamps. They put those two stamps side by side and the colors are as different as night and day. Why arenít the colors consistent across all issues?

There are several reasons. First of all, different editors over the years use different terms to describe the stamp color. A deep orange to one person may be orange-red to someone else. Color descriptions have fluctuated over the years due to different people being involved in assigning the color names.

Second, there is no universally accepted color chart as far as I know. Yes, there are standard color charts in use, but none that I know are used universally and consistently. Without an accepted standard and without scientific analysis to do color matching, the process of determining a color name is somewhat subjective.

Third, and this is the most important point, when assigning names to a color in the catalog, the editors compare copies of the same stamp issue. They donít compare stamps from different issues. Letís walk through a simple example.

Take Scott #70c which is described as violet and Scott #302 which is also described as violet. Put the two together and the stamps do not have the same color. They will never even come close. Why?

Scott #70 is normally printed in a lilac or gray lilac. There are several different shades of this stamp. One of them merits a minor catalog number, #70c which is described as violet. Iím going to over simplify the situation, but catalog editors will line up many copies of Scott #70 and they will lump them into groups of various shades where copies within a group are identical or nearly so. One of the groups they will create is for copies of #70 that have more of a violet color than others. They call those stamps Scott #70c and put the term violet on that group. However, the base color of the stamp is a lilac or gray lilac color. To me, when I look at Scott #70c, I see a strong gray looking color with an added hint of violet. Whereas the Scott #70 is a gray looking stamp without the extra hint of violet. The catalog editors never put a Scott #302 next to a #70c and say, ďGeez guys, these stamps do (or donít) look a lot alike. Letís call them the same (or different) color.Ē

When the catalog editors evaluate Scott #302, they line up multiple copies of that stamp. They wonít bring out any copies of Scott #70c for comparison.

Thatís why you canít put a #70c and #302 together. Itís not how the catalog editors do it. When comparing the color of a stamp, you have to reference it against other stamps of that same issue. Not against stamps of some other issue. You canít see violet in the catalog and assume that #70c, #302, #537, and any other violet listed stamp will have the same color.

With pre-1900 US stamps, many issues are known with different shades. Pigments used to create the printing inks were hand mixed, so there is some variance in the way the pigments were added. Some issues saw multiple printings over a period of several years. Through the use of postal history, itís possible to determine approximately when stamps of a certain shade were printed. They didnít keep precise records in the 1800s. The formula for mixing pigments for a stamp one year may be a little different than the formula for mixing pigments for another run of the printing presses in subsequent years.

The standard bible for colors in early US stamps is the Roy H. White set of books, ďEncyclopedia Of The Colors Of United States Postage Stamps Volumes I-IV: Issue 1847-1919.Ē A set of these books will cost you about $500. If you are interested in shades of early US stamps, the books are indispensible. They will aid you greatly in determining the differences between shades of the early stamp issues. If youíre interested in color, I highly recommend a set.