Kevin Blackston
PO Box 17544
San Antonio TX 78217-0544
United States of America

Philosateleian Blog

How to identify the 2012 Four Flags stamps

If you live in the United States, you’ve no doubt seen quite a few of the Four Flags stamps issued earlier this year. The set features four stamps, each with an identical American flag, but different wording: Freedom, Liberty, Equality, and Justice.

Complicating matters is the fact that each of the three different printers contracted to supply these stamps to the USPS has issued the stamps in two different formats, coil and booklet. 4 designs × 3 printers × 2 varieties per printer = 24 different stamps!

Those who collect only face different stamps don’t have to worry about such things, but for the rest of us, how do we identify which stamp is which? We’ll break down the set here and explain which stamp is which.

Coil stamps

We’ll begin with the coil stamps, as they’re the easiest to identify. Coils of 100 produced by each of the three printers all went on sale on February 22.

First up are the Avery Dennison coils (Scott 4629–4632), which are die cut 8.4 vertically. The big round die cuts make these the easiest to identify.

Avery Dennison Liberty coil stamp
Avery Dennison coil stamp (die cut 8.4 vert.)

Next are the Ashton-Potter coils (Scott 4633–4636), which are die cut 9.4 vertically. The die cutting ends 2–3 millimeters from the top and bottom edges of the stamp, which makes this variety appear to have square corners.

Ashton-Potter Freedom coil stamp
Ashton-Potter coil stamp (die cut 9.4 vert.)

Finally, we have the coil stamps printed by Sennett Security Products (Scott 4637–4640), which are die cut 11 vertically.

Sennett Security Products Liberty coil stamp
Sennett Security Products coil stamp (die cut 11 vert.)

And that’s it for the coil stamps! As mentioned before, there are four different designs repeated in each coil.

Booklet stamps

The booklet stamps are, unfortunately, a tougher nut to crack. While you should be able to identify each of the coil stamp varieties simply by eyeballing them, each of the booklets has the same gauge of die cutting, which looks like this.

Equality booklet stamp
Equality booklet stamp (die cut 11¼×10¾)

Positive identification therefore requires a millimeter gauge and a magnifying glass—unless you have excellent eyesight, of course.

The first two booklet varieties, printed by Ashton-Potter and Sennett Security Products, were also issued on February 22 in booklets of 20. There are apparently numerous minor differences, but the sure way to distinguish these is size. The Ashton-Potter stamps (Scott 4641–4644) are slightly narrower than the Sennett stamps (Scott 4645–4648). The Ashton-Potter booklet singles measure 18½ mm from the lower left corner to the lower right corner of the flag, while the Sennett stamps measure 19 mm from corner to corner. In this case, size does matter.

Portion of Four Flags booklet single with small USPS microprinting
Booklet single with small microprinting (measure from lower left corner to lower right corner)

Notice the microprinted “USPS” pointed out by the blue arrow in the above illustration? Both the Ashton-Potter and Sennett booklet stamps have this microprinting, but it will help us identify the third booklet variety, those printed by Avery Dennison.

The booklet stamps printed by Avery Dennison (Scott 4673–4676) were not issued until June 1, and were produced as booklets of 10. As pointed out by the blue arrow in the illustration below, the Avery Dennison stamps use a much larger but less bold microprinting than the other two booklet stamps.

Portion of Four Flags booklet single with large USPS microprinting
Booklet single with large microprinting

And that’s it! For now, that is. According to the Virtual Stamp Club, the USPS has already announced that booklets of 18 printed by Ashton-Potter will be made available starting on September 14. If stamps from that booklet differ from the earlier Ashton-Potter booklet stamps, we’ll be up to 28 different varieties from just four basic designs! As it currently stands, however, we’re at just two dozen.

Letter Writers Alliance

Several weeks ago, I received an unexpected letter in the mail. The return address indicated that it was from an outfit called the Letter Writers Alliance.

The Letter Writers Alliance is, to put it in their words, dedicated to preserving the art form of writing handwritten letters—not just e-mail (though they’re not against e-mail), but real, sent through the mail letters. As a stamp collector, I can appreciate this sort of thing!

It turns out that the folks in charge of the LWA heard about Philosateleia because one of their members sent them a postcard via Philosateleian Post. Now I’m an honorary member, and one of the founders, Donovan, wrote up a very nice review of Philosateleia on the Letter Writers Alliance blog.

At $3 (plus postage), lifetime membership is probably about as affordable as anything I’ve ever seen, so if you’re a fan of letters, consider joining. Tell them that Kevin from Philosateleia sent you, and happy posting!

Philosateleian Post plans Ruby Falls stamp

If you collect local post stamps, or stamps picturing waterfalls, you might be interested in Philosateleian Post’s newest stamp: a stamp picturing Ruby Falls near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Private local post stamp picturing Ruby Falls, Tennessee
Ruby Falls, Tennessee, stamp

The Ruby Falls stamp will be issued on Thursday, September 13, and you can request a free copy for your own collection. See Philosateleian’s Post press release for details.

Stamps by e-mail

To many non-collectors, stamps are apparently becoming an amusing relic of the age before Internet, e-mail, and electronic bill payments. Even much of the real mail I receive bears no stamps. That made finding this image in a commercial e-mail that I received last week a special treat.

Header from commercial e-mail message sent by World Market
World Market E-mail Header

This header image from a message sent by retailer World Market depicts a fantasy stamp from “Kingdom Animalia.” What appear to be elephants are the stamp’s subject, while the reddish-orange design (with its English “Post” and French “Postes” in the margins) is reminiscent of Canadian stamps from the first few decades of the 20th century.

To the best of my knowledge, this “stamp” has never existed in printed form, but it’s nice to see a stamp—even an imagined one—used as a major design component in a piece of modern advertising.

Stamps & a haircut, two bits

Several months ago, Dave S. shared his story about how he got started collecting stamps. Dave’s father was responsible for sparking his interest in collecting. For another reader, Vince A., the story was a bit different. His first brush with stamps involved a paintbrush:

I was about six or seven years old and our school had a lot of activities that we could take part in on wet days instead of playing outside in the rain. On one occasion we were told that we had to draw, paint, or color pencil a picture of a stamp of our choice.

I spent quite a lot of time on my painting as i wanted it to be the best of the lot and for my teacher to be proud of me. My picture came fifth and although I did not come out on top, I was still very happy with the result. This gave me an idea and i started to take an interest in any envelope or parcel that came to our house. I did not actually collect the stamps, but instead decided that I would draw and paint them in an exercise book that I had been given. It was soon filled with my artwork and I did not have any more room to draw anything else and stopped drawing stamps anymore.

It was about two or three years later that I came into our living room and on the TV was a static black and white picture of a library. There was a voiceover saying that someone had been assassinated in Dallas. As I listened to the commentary, I heard the name of John F. Kennedy and that he was the president of the USA.

For some reason that I do not even understand today, it made me take an interest in American history. I read books from our local library and started asking questions about the history of anyone who would listen to me. Some people thought that I was a bit strange wanting to know about American history when I was an English person born and bred in England.

From art class to history, the stage was set for Vince to start collecting stamps, but it was a trip to a barber shop that put him over the top.

I was at our local barbers’ having my hair cut and had a few pennies left over from the price of the cut. While I was waiting for my brother to have his haircut, I started looking around as the barbers sold all manner of other items. I noticed that they had packets of stamps on the back of the door. They were from lots of different countries, some really amazing pictures on many of them. I then spied a medium sized packet with the title of United States of America on the cardboard backing and it said that there were 75 stamps in the packet, for a price of sixpence (two and a half pence today). I bought them instead of any sweets. I could not wait for my brother to finish having his haircut, so that I could race home and open the packet of stamps.

I was amazed at what was in that packet. Stamps with past presidents’ heads, military battle commemoratives, American wildlife and much more.

This was the start of something really special to me and I realised that not only could I collect American stamps, but I could also learn a great deal of their history from the stamps. Collecting American stamps is still my first choice. I do collect world stamps as well, but for me there is nothing better than the American stamps that I manage to collect.

Vince goes on to say that U.S. stamps are difficult to come by in his country these days, and he depends primarily on online purchases for new additions to his collection.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Vince, and keep on collecting!

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