I have a challenge for you if you collect plate blocks or plate numbers.
Plate block collecting is very popular. There is still strong demand for plate blocks. But there are some plate numbers that were never meant to be collected. Finding them can be pretty challenging.
Iím talking about plate numbers on certain coil stamp and on all booklet panes. Let me explain.
The USPS started printing plate numbers on coil stamps with the Transportation series coils. A few other issues such as Scott #1891 also had plate numbers. This started around 1981. Prior to that, all coil stamps came from one or more printing plates. Each plate had its own plate number. But during the coil making process for rotary press printed stamps, the plate numbers were trimmed away under normal circumstances.
In some cases though, the cutting was skewed. Some coils were miscut to show some or all of the plate number. The plate numbers are where the joint line is at on rotary press issues. The joint line is where two different rotary press printing plates meet (i.e., the edge of the printing plate) and that is where the plate numbers are at. If the coil is miscut, you can see traces of the plate number present. When you only see parts of the plate number, it can be hard to guess what the number is because the 3, 6, 8, and 9 all look similar when all you see is a tiny part of the curvature of the top or bottom of the number. Sometimes you canít be sure what the number is.
Plate numbers exist on flat plate printed coils too. When the stamps were cut apart, operators had to paste the ends of the coil strips together to form a full roll. Therefore, some of the margin was left over on the ends of each strip. The margin created a small tab where the glue was applied in order to paste the coil strips together. Sometimes the margin leftover had a plate number on it too. If you find paste-up pairs, as they are called, check the tab to see if there is a plate number present or not.
Booklet panes were also printed from different printing plates than the sheet stamps. These printing plates also had their own plate numbers. Again, in the 1980s, the USPS started adding plate numbers on the tabs of booklet panes. Prior to the 1980s though, the plate numbers were cut away when the booklets were formed under normal circumstances.
Iím not going to get too detailed here, but when booklets are formed, they were usually formed many at one time. That is, a booklet has a cardboard cover, a cardboard back, and one or more panes of stamps in the middle. These large sheets of stamps and cardboard covers were stacked together several inches thick so that when they were cut apart, multiple bookllets were made at one time. Sometimes, the stamps on the bottom of the stack were a little loose and could shift slightly as the booklets were made. Or sometimes the sheet of stamps was improperly placed. The end result is that some or all of the plate number is present.
Again, these numbers were to be trimmed off during normal production. Many booklets are known showing varying percentages of plate numbers.
What are these items worth?
For flat plate coils where the plate number is on the tab of the paste up pair, the plate number is usually worth a few tens of dollars unless itís a really scarce coil. For example, if a normal coil pair is say, $20 in catalog value, then a paste up pair with a plate number could be $40 or so. If it was a really scarce plate number for whatever reason, then maybe the price shoots up to $100 or more depending on demand. In general, Iíve found prices to be around 2 to 10 times the value of a normal pair when itís a paste up pair with a plate number.
In my experience, prices for rotary issues are based largely on the percentage of plate number present. Because plate numbers are so small, they are measured in differences of 5%. So the scale goes from 5, 10, 15 Ö up to 100%. Percentages less than 50% are uncommon, but not rare. Items in this range usually bring a few dollars up to a few tens of dollars. The higher percentage of plate number that is showing, the higher the value. Again, scarce plate numbers will command higher premiums.
If 50% or more of the plate number is showing, weíre into the scarce and rare category. While 100% of the plate number showing is rare, it is not unheard of. Prices vary from a few tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars per item. The more of the number that is showing, the higher the price.
When someone tells me that they have a complete collection of plate numbers from, say, the 1950s and 1960s, Iíll ask if they have plate numbers on coil and booklet stamps too. People look at me as if Iím from another planet. But these are plate numbers that do exist in many cases and they are obtainable.
Miscut coils and booklet panes are in the freak or oddity category to the collector of Errors, Freaks, and Oddities because they are not normally produced items.
If youíre looking for a challenge in plate number collecting, try collecting the plate numbers on coils and booklet panes. Itís hard work trying to track many of these down. But itís a lot of fun too! Good luck!