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Philatelists love errors on stamps. Every one heard about the inverted Jenny. What about varieties, though? What is actually the line between error and variety?
I believe in many cases there is a thin line between both. Known errors may significantly increase the value of a particular stamp, while variations would not. Well known errors are usually listed in specialized catalogues, which provides us with great information on what to look for. Many of the listed errors, however, are not so grotesque like the Inverted Jenny example, but rather come in the form of missing lines and displaced colours.
That is where things actually get complicated. Some stamps series present greater varieties than others. The Swiss Standing Helvetia series, for instance, is very rich on colour tones. It is also not uncommon to find pieces where the perforation touches or even slightly cuts the design. The question then becomes how big does the variation to the norm have to be to be considered an error?
Another example is the 50 Year Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union from 1924. The stamp to the right has three times the catalogue value of the one to the left. Both are very common stamps and very much affordable, but the price difference relies mostly on the black shaded background of the denominators and the written box, and the left line of the left side triangle under the denominator. This error (that could well be a variation) in not in the Zumstein or Scott catalogues, but may be found in a philatelic store (being referenced as Zr. 166A.2.01, according to the Zumstein store).
Furthermore, if a catalogue describes an error, other variables still may affect the value of the stamp. In th Peace Stamp of 1945 bellow the well known plate error increases the value of the stamp Mi. 448 by 250 times (according to the SBK Catalogue). Before celebrating the finding of such a stamp in your collection, however, take a careful look at your cancel. These peace issues were valid until the 31st of May of 1946, and if the specimen in question was canceled a couple of days after this date, the value diminishes again.
Mi. 448/ ZNr. 263 to the left. Error ZNr. 263.2.01 to the right with cancellation date post validity expiration.
Collectors like dramatic errors: inverted prints, albino stamps (dry printing error), imperforated stamps that should actually have perforations. Are colour shifts and perforations that cut into the design only welcome as long as they approach the absurd, though?
I particularly enjoy varieties that make stamps unique, and may be one of the reasons I am such a big fan of the classic philatelic period. Different tones and small plate errors tend to find place in my collection as curiosities and even if they don’t bring up it’s overall monetary value - they are what makes stamp collection an interesting hobby.
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