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This is Installment No. 1
Jack Nalbandian, Inc. is proud to offer visitors to our site a wonderful series of articles by renowned EFO expert John Hotchner. This EFO Guide was originally published and copyrighted by Mr. Hotchner in the pages of U.S. Stamps & Postal History Magazine beginning in the summer of 1992. The Guide is compiled in a number of separate installments, all of which will be uploaded to our site in the coming months. Visit here often as new installments appear!

"One man's turkey is another man's eagle " is an apt description of collector attitudes toward adding Errors,Freaks and Oddities (EFOS) to their album. To many, such stamps are in the same category as a factory fresh dishwasher that doesn't work: damaged goods, to be avoided at all costs. Others, me among them, find EFO collecting a challenge to broaden our knowledge of the stamp production process, and a means of enjoying the hobby by going beyond the printed album page to sail in less charted seas.

Note I didn't say "uncharted" seas. There are books to help the U.S. collector interested in EFO material:

Dr. Stanley B. Segal's Errors, Freaks, and Oddities on U.S. Stamps, Question Marks in Philately (Bureau Issues Assoc., 1979), and 1992 Errors, Inverts, Imperforates, Colors Omitted On United States Postage Stamps, by Stephen R. Datz, for instance.

In fact, there is a vast amount of literature (articles, monographs, auction catalogs, society journals, and books) that includes information on imperfect stamps. Some of those stamps are also honored by receiving listings in Scott and other catalogues. The problem is that EFO information is so dispersed in the vast quantity of wonderful philatelic literature that collectors have generated in the last 150+ years, that the collector of such material has had to cope with four knowledge gaps:

1. If you choose to hunt and collect a specific type of EFO other than an error receiving catalogue listing, say paper creases, it is likely that there is no reliable list of the issues upon which "your" EFO type is found.

2. If you prefer to collect by stamp or set, there are only a few for which references describing all known varieties are available.

3. Except for those errors receiving catalogue recognition, assigning values to specific EFO items has been more an art than a science; difficult at best unless one keeps up with auction realizations and the price lists and/or retail stock of several knowledgeable dealers.

4. There hasn't been a comprehensive listing of the types of EFOs along with a description of how they could be caused.

You might reasonably ask: "Why, with all these problems, would anyone set out to collect EFOS?" The answer is that they are often striking, they raise questions that many find compelling, and then, there is the thrill of discovery! To the serious EFO collector, the problems are only one more challenge. But there are legions of collectors who enjoy the occasional item they find and would like to be able to put it in context.

In preparing this piece, the first task was to organize the listing in some rational order. The obvious answer was to do it in the order of the acronym: Errors followed by Freaks, followed by Oddities. That should be easy, and might be except that there is enough disagreement on definitions of these three terms to provoke heated discussions among EFO collectors and dealers that might sound to the uninitiated like the modem version of "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

Therefore I want to make clear that the listings in this article reflect my opinions, that I recognize there are other opinions; and that I am happy to correspond with those who disagree. I will be happy to print factual corrections, but I do not intend to conduct that debate in these pages.

First, a few guiding principles that help me determine why certain categories fall into one or another group. Errors, are total: NO perforations, NO color, FULL stamps on either side of an interpane gutter, etc., etc.

Freaks, also called "varieties" by some, are generally defined to be of a lesser degree of production problem, and problems which are partial and not exactly repeatable. Paper creases, misperforations, or partially missing colors are examples.

An error may sometimes be found within or adjoining a freak. For instance, a paper fold (freak) may result in a miscut booklet pane containing a pair of stamps imperf between (error), or an inkwell running out of ink may deposit a minimal amount on one row of stamps (freak) and none on the adjoining row (error). This may sound complicated but you will see these simple principles at work as this series unfolds.

Oddities as a class include unusual issuances (e.g. stamps with a limited edition, nonerror variant), usages (e.g. bisects), variations stemming from stamp designing through the preproduction process (e.g. essays, design errors, and plate varieties), and cancel varieties. They may be normal for what they are, but not often found because of their nature.

Please keep in mind that any group from these listings can be collected as a specialty, or a collector can try to obtain examples of each. Some EFO collectors will restrict their collecting to a specific stamp, issue or era. Others simply accumulate and enjoy whatever comes their way with no particular rhyme or reason. Whatever your method, it's fine if it pleases you.

Remember the motto of the EFO Collectors' Club (1903 Village Rd. W., Norwood, MA 02062-2516): "To err is human-to find is devine! "

Section 1: Errors

1. IMPERFORATE. Meaning perforations entirely missing between stamps, or between a stamp and its normal-length margin. Even a single pin impression, no matter how light it may be, wherever it may be displaced from its normal location, disqualifies the item from being classified as an imperforate error. Such material will be covered later in this series under Freaks.

Imperforate errors come in three basic types. Stamps that are:

a. Completely imperforate.

Imperforate Sheet Issue.gif (23271 bytes) Sheet (Vertical Imperf Pr.).gif (16200 bytes)

b. Imperforate in one direction (horizontally or vertically). (Remember that a coil imperforate in one direction is fully imperforate!)

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Imperforate vertically.


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Vertically imperforate between.

c. Imperforate between stamps, or stamp and normal margin (horizontally or vertically).

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Imperforate on right margin

All such stamps, except the imperf margin single, are collected in at least pairs to establish that what you have is not just a wide-margin cut down copy. In the first two types, if you need to show that something you have is a sheet version of a stamp issued in sheet and coil form, then the pair must be vertical.

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Coil Pair - Imperforate Horizontally

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Imperforate coil due to tape splice

The causes of imperforate stamps are varied; from simple failure to put the printed sheet or roll of stamps into the perforator for one or both operations to malfunction of the perforator causing the pins to miss the paper or press on it with insufficient force to leave a mark. This might happen on modem material at the beginning of a roll because the perforator is not yet properly engaged, or because a paper splice disengaged the pins momentarily.

Much modern U.S. material is perforated using a so-called bulls-eye perforator; meaning that both vertical and horizontal perforations are applied in one operation by pins set in a grid for the shape of the stamps. Failure of this operation means fully imperforate stamps.

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Before bullseye perforating in the U.S., perforations were applied first in one direction and then the other, which explains the possibility of the part-perforated categories (see Defense Issue above). Since successive perforating operations were done with perforating pins set on wheels, with counterpart die wheels; it can be seen that a problem with a single pair of wheels might result in a pair of stamps fully imperforate between. The problem could be insufficient pressure, a mismatch between the pin and die wheels, or damage to a length of pins on the pin wheel.

An example of the latter is the National Defense issues of 1940, which can be found in blocks with adjoining pairs; one imperf between and the other only partially so.

One of the most fascinating of modern U.S. errors is the 20-cent Smokey the Bear in a block of four with no interior perforations.

These 1984 commemoratives were perforated twice in each direction, with the perforator set to do every other row in each pass. Because Datz notes only six reported blocks, it appears that only one sheet that missed a horizontal and a vertical pass escaped the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's quality control operation.

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There are a few instances of imperf between stamps that have come from booklet panes (see Goebel booklet above). The more spectacular take advantage of the fact that booklets are not intended to be perforated around the outside. If a foldover has affected a sheet of booklet format stamps, and that sheet goes into the booklet making process hidden between normal sheets, the result can be a booklet pane cut askew with an imperf between pair included, or a pane with a folded over appendage that allows for the presence of an imperf between pair.

The Bureau's new Goebel booklet forming machine began production in 1976, and with it a new imperf between variety came about. The pane looks normal at first glance but closer inspection shows an imperf center and perforations at the sides of the pane. In production, the panes were vertically miscut through the perforations instead of through the imperf margin.

2. PERFORATIONS OF THE WRONG GAUGE APPLIED. There are three examples of this error; all in the Washington-Franklin period into the early 1922 series.

The first is the perf. 10xl2's and 12xl0's created at the time that the Bureau was converting from perf. 12 to perf 10 in 1913. A small quantity of the one-cent, two-cent and five-cent values were perforated using unconverted equipment for one direction and perforators that had the new perf. 10 wheels for the other.

Several values of the 1917-19 perf. 11 issue, which was produced into 1922, and several values of the 1922 regular issue, also perf. 11, are known with all or most of the top or bottom row of perforations gauging 1 0, or nearly so, on vertical format issues. The 25-cent 1922 is known with perf. 1O at left or right. The most likely explanation is that a length of a single die wheel was repaired with a piece of the wrong gauge. These are great rarities, but the catalogue values don't reflect this because relatively few U.S. collectors actively seek them. I have found these one-in-a-million stamps in used accumulations. Expertization is essential.

The last items in this category are Scott No. 546 and No. 595, both two-cent perf. I 1 rotary press coil waste issues, with perf. 10 on the left side. One key to these is that the coil waste issues were perforated I 1 in sheet form after being determined to be unsuitable for coiling. Some of the two-cent coil waste had been perforated IO vertically. That portion was torn off at the last row of perforations when they coincided with the plate joint line used to define sheet sizes. It was expected that the sheet perforations would be inside the gauge 10 perforations, but some few landed outside, resulting in the error.

There are several other stamps, notably the 1923 two-cent Harding Memorial perf. 11 rotary press printing, and the 1979 15-cent John Paul Jones perf. 12xl2, that are termed errors by some. They are considered by this author to be in the Oddity category and will be covered later in this series.

3. INVERTED PERFORATIONS. This sounds like a tough one to prove, but it's really quite easy. Unless they turn up on the newly issued Columbian souvenir sheets, the only issue on which they can be found is the 1976 Bicentennial souvenir sheets, specifically on the 24-cent and 31 -cent values.

The set was perforated on a specially configured machine. The entire production of the issue could be looked upon as an experiment. And, as with any unfamiliar and highly complex process, a momentary lapse could have spectacular consequences. In this instance, the operator simply wasn't paying enough attention and inserted sheets upside down.

4. PAIR OF FULL STAMPS WITH THE INTERPANE GUTTER BETWEEN. A couple of definitions are needed here. U.S. sheet stamps produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing were first printed on sheets of paper. In the great majority of cases, the plate that printed on that sheet of paper was four times the size of what we buy at the Post Office (which is why plate numbers are usually found in the four different corner positions). The sheets were quartered into Post Office "panes" later in the production process.

At first, the quartering was done on printed guidelines. Later, toward the end of the Washington-Franklins, the interpane gutter was introduced to facilitate automating the process. This was the start of the error being reviewed.

If the slicing apart of the panes was too high, low or wide, the result would be two short panes and two panes that included parts of the perforations and sometimes part of the stamp design from the adjoining panes.

Termed "guttersnipes",the semis cuts are freaks. However, the miscut has sometimes been serious enough to create panes with a row of complete stamps from the adjoining pane included. To qualify as the error, and Scott does recognize them, the stamps on either side of the gutter must be complete with perforations all around.

Another way this variety can be created is as the result of a foldover or foldunder between perforating and slicing. If the fold affects enough of the sheet, the normal slicing operation can create partial panes with parts of another pane attached. This is an example of a freak event resulting in the creation of an error.

5. PAIR OF FULL STAMPS WITH THE INTERSHEET GUTTER BETWEEN. Rotary press printing resulted in the ability to use the much more rapid process of printing on long rolls of paper, called a "web", rather than on individual sheets of paper. However, the quartered plate format has largely been retained with web printing. The production process takes account of this by adding a step in which the sheets are cut from the web and stacked prior to the sheets being quartered. There are miscuts between sheets, but I know of none that created a full pair with the intersheet gutter between on normally perforated stamps. They do exist, however, as a result of paper folds, and typically are seen with "crazy perfs."

6. STAMPS PERFORATED SUCH THAT THE INTERPANE OR INTERSHEET GUTTER IS CENTERED WITHIN AT LEAST A PANE OF STAMPS. More often seen than the previous category are misperforated stamps, subsequently miscut, that result in a full intersheet or interpane margin centered within at least a pair of stamps; to show how the designs in the two affected panes were altered by the misperf and presence of the gutter.

7. PERFORATIONS INTENDED TO SEPARATE PANES ARE SHIFTED WITHIN A PANE, WITH A FULL STAMP WIDTH ON EITHER SIDE. This requires a major fold prior to perforating, or a major misfeed of the printed sheet into the perforator. Double row of perforations are supposed to define the interpane gutter.

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8. PERFORATIONS FULLY DOUBLED OR TRIPLED (see above). This has been a problem area ever since U.S. official perforating began in 1857. At first, hand insertion of sheets meant that the perforator operator could correct a misfeed by removing the sheet, reposition it and try again, and yet again if necessary. Stamps must show a full extra row of perforations to qualify.

Modern doubled perforations are very scarce. There are a few from the 1930s era that were probably caused by some sort of jam in the perforator. Between 1962 and 1979, a half dozen commemorative issues with double perforations in one direction came to light. All were perforated on a sheet fed L-perforator; so called because it was configured in that shape. The sheet went down the first leg for perforations in one direction, then traveled on a perpendicular leg to be perforated in the other direction, and trimmed. In a few instances, sheets missed the first set of perforations. Instead of being sent through that leg only, they were put through the entire process, causing a second set of perforations displaced by the width of the initial trim..

I know of only one modern triple perf: on the 20-cent Flag Over Supreme Court. The perforator head used for coils is stationary. Rolls of paper unwind into the head at very high speed, and the head rises and falls faster than the eye can The only re follow. The one strip recorded appears to be the result of a jam-up of the web. The perforating head chattered on oblivious.

One would expect such an event would not be that rare, but when it happened, it would be obvious to the operators, and the resulting waste would be identified and destroyed.

Go to Section Two of John Hotchner's EFO Guide