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COUNTING NUMBERS

Coils come in different roll formats (lengths): 100, 500, 3K, 10K and 30K. There might be exceptions but these are the formats I’m familiar with. Late in 1994, the USPS put into Stamp Venturers (now Sennett Security Products - SSP) contract the printing of counting numbers on the backside of coil stamps sold in rolls of 500 or more. These counting numbers assist clerks in selling stamps from these larger rolls as well as assist clerks in taking inventory. Counting numbers were to be printed and spaced in either 10- or 20-stamp increments on the backside (gum or liner). However, there is one SAD case that has counting numbers printed on the back of every stamp! ... check the charts below and see if you can determine which one it is.

(0.05) Mountain – 15June1996

Now, how can this involve or affect us in pursuing Page differences? Cylinder plate-numbers imprinted on the stamp's front side have always been a collectable as well as tell us what printer was used - but - not necessarily the coil format that the individual coil stamp came from. In addition, very few Pages have cylinder plate-numbers - BUT - with the advent of counting numbers on the back of stamps from larger stamp rolls (counting numbers not used on rolls of 100), we can have coils affixed to our Pages

with observable counting numbers

Counting numbers can help further separate or distinguish coil varieties, gives us another tool and possibly defines another Page collectable area. However, don’t get too overly excited; coils with liners cannot help us since the counting number on the liner is removed upon affixing the stamp to the Page. So ... us Page collectors need only concern ourselves to the world of water-activated (W/A) gum adhesives only.

... counting numbers started on December 13, 1994, with the G coil ...

 

 

above shows 4-digit violet back-counting number (C# 2520) centered on the back

of a "G"-coil PS5


... the cylinder plate-number (CY# S11111) is in the same position on the front ...
this unique positioning is referred to in my tables as C#/CY#

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The first 8 coils to have back counting numbers all have W/A gum - to our good fortune.

 

CLICK ON GRAY BAND TO SEE ITEM'S PICTURE

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I’m a collector of stamps, all stamps including coils, and use USPS- and collector-serviced Stamp Announcements (FDC Poster Bulletins, Souvenir Pages and now American Commemorative Cancellations) as my stamp-album page and store these Announcements with all stamp stuff for each issue in dust-proof boxes in polyethylene inserts. I have over 120 of these albums. When purchasing stamps through the USPS’s USA Philatelic, coils can be purchased from rolls of differing lengths and shipped in enclosed sleeves and marked appropriately. I hesitate to remove my coils from these shipping enclosures because they are the only proof of the roll format they came from. However, using the counting numbers, all this is about to change, I hope.

Coil stamps that have only one format (roll length) and one counting-number color pose no problem. However, coil stamps sold in differing formats (roll lengths) and/or colors, font sizes, etc. pose a problem. I’m trying to scan into my database all the counting numbers I have to make some sense out of this forest of differences (the charts I've included go a long way in gathering the data available). Maybe someone has come up with a proofed write-up that identifies the scheme that the USPS uses for each coil; what coils have counting numbers on the back and which ones do not; what are the characteristics of the numbers and their look; the number of digits used; etc. to assist some of us struggling coil collectors in differentiating between coil formats – and therefore allowing me (and others) to remove our coil strips from their awful shipping cards.

An area that Bruce Menia, fellow ASPPP member and Page collector, has identified and is pursuing are coil stamps with back counting numbers found on Stamp Announcements. This is a challenge in just seeing these counting numbers as well as trying to photograph them. Firstly, counting numbers occur on both water-activated gum stamps as well as self-adhesive (SAD) coils on liners. Counting numbers on liners are of no interest to collectors of Stamp Announcements since the number would be removed with the liner in the process of affixing it to the Announcement. So our counting-number universe is greatly reduced to water-activated gum coils. Secondly, observing the numbers from the front as well as the Page back – which will show up better? From the front, the numbers have to be viewed through the stamp paper and ink on the stamp paper, whereas trying to view counting numbers from the backside requires one to view through the Announcement paper and color ink applied to the Announcement. I’m looking though my collection now to see if I have one good example that I can assess – more on this when I get one - see What's New below; also, read my ideas and insight (?) at the very end on

                HOW COMPLICATED CAN COUNTING NUMBERS BE?

 

    

 

... coil counting number 04810 clearly visible from Page back ...
note how the counting number got slightly blurred
when USPS applied water to stamp back before affixing

 

HERE

 

Click on HERE above to see photographic setup (jerry-rig) I use for observing and photographing back counting numbers

 

Bruce emailed me the following picture to illustrate a very collectable position with
the plate number and counting number on the same stamp:

 

 

... counting number (in red, not discernable) on back of coil

having front cylinder number 111 ...
this is a very desirable and unique combination for us Announcement collectors

front/back numbers on same stamp

This process of finding counting numbers is slow since I’m in the process of updating my collection, getting it ready to put on my website as well as getting it ready to be released in DVD format. All this takes time.

On the issue of finding counting numbers, assuming that counting numbers are applied in 10- to 20-coil increments, and if numerous coils are applied to our Page, then it seems reasonable that there should be numerous Announcements to look at – that is, if five stamps on a 10 stamp coil increment are affixed, then every other Announcement should carry a counting number. There’s a curious thing that occurs on counting numbers – the back counting numbers are spaced at 10-stamp increments whereas the front cylinder plate-numbers normally are spaced at different increments; this produces a floating or variable relation between the two numbers. Thus at times, the two numbers can appear on the same stamp – a highly collectable item in mint form and if found on an Announcement would be quite unique. And since unique items are nice to have, they have questionable value as to a true collectable. Collectors are trying to fill known holes in their collection; dealers are trying to identify these known holes and will gladly sell these items to us collectors, if available. I personally do not consider unique (exceptions) collectables but like to have them in my collection to write about and verify the principle I’m talking about.

Hopefully in the near future, Bruce will have some good examples with photographs to see if these "back" counting numbers are really an alternative collectable in our Stamp Announcement world. This new area puts it in the realm of watermarks - you have to go out of your way to observe them - they're just not readily visible and this is not always acceptable to Page collectors. As mentioned, counting numbers can occur on coils with or without front cylinder plate-numbers, which gives us another coil collectable, should be quite available and not expensive.

WHAT'S NEW NOW

I went through my collection looking for water-activated gum coils and found a very high number of these coils since the inception of the USPS’s Souvenir Page Program – in fact, there have been 111 W/A coils through 1993 when the advent of the Self Adhesive (SAD) coils started to come onto the scene in earnest. Don’t fret – none of these will have counting numbers printed on their back. Counting numbers did not start until December of 1994, with the G coil produced by Stamp Venturers.

The first reference to counting numbers on the back of coil stamps I could find is in Linn’s U.S. Stamp Yearbook, 1994. Here, for the non-denominated G coil stamp manufactured by Stamp Venturers, Linn’s says: Stamp Venturers’ coils had a unique feature: a sequence of accounting numbers were printed on the reverse side of the 10,000-stamp and 3,000-stamp coils, on every 10th stamp, across the stamp and on top of the gum”. Linn’s gives more detail (which is slightly in variance with the above): “Counting Number Detail: on rolls of 3,000: 1 counting number from 10 to 3000 printed in black or violet by dot-matrix printer on back of every 10th stamp, at top or bottom”. So, I’m a little confused to whether the counting number was used on 3K rolls only or 3K/10K rolls. HOWEVER, data indicate (as pictured for this stamp) that back counting numbers were applied to both 3K and 10K rolls.

Linn’s reports that Richard Sennett, retired managing partner of Stamp Venturers, said the company’s current contract requires back numbering on all coils of 500 or larger, but that no such requirement existed when the G stamps were printed. “It was just something we did because we had the capacity”. Also Sennett said “the ink-jets that apply the numbers to two rolls at a time, one at the top and one at the bottom. Only one font was used for the numerals; their size and shape are a function of the speed of the numbering process – the numbers may look narrow or broad, depending on the speed of the process”. So, now we have another collectable in the mint coil world – but what about carrying this over into the USPS serviced Stamp Announcement world?

I started looking through my collection of Stamp Announcements and THERE ARE BACK COUNTING NUMBERS – AND VISIBLE! There is an interesting similarity between us collectors of mint coil plate-number strips of 5: we are trying to get all 5 counting positions on the back of our PS5 mint strip as we collectors of Stamp Announcements trying to get all cylinder plate numbers for all positions of the strip on the front. However, there is one slight difference - us mint plate-number strip collectors always keep the cylinder number (CY#) on the front in the center of the strip.

HOW COMPLICATED CAN BACK-COUNTING NUMBERS BE?

This is a very interesting question - and depends on the fanaticism of the individual collector. We see this in Page collecting where some individuals may want to collect all the combinations available for all cylinder plate numbers, on all different Page watermarks, in all coil-strip positions! This fanaticism infuriated some Page collectors who are just trying to get a number for each issue, many of which are in very limited supply to start with. Anyway, we must first define all the variables and then investigate how many of these combinations are really viable and deemed appropriate. Right off the bat, I think we can discount collecting all back-counting numbers as being ridiculous - same as saving all stamps for each roll format - and in some cases, many rolls! What I'm saying is - the back-counting number itself isn't important; it's just having a back-counting number that COUNTS and don't worry about matching up the same back-counting number across the strip. Now that would be an impossible task.

1. cylinder plate-number (CY#): does one want to collect back-counting numbers for each cylinder plate-number? Some coils have a never ending number of cylinder plate- numbers which brings cylinder plate-numbers into the realm of impossibility; however, for coils with two or three cylinder plate-numbers, this just might add a little variety to the collecting field. This is left to the judgment and discretion of the collector;

2. strip lengths: back-counting numbers are spaced along the strip - usually in 10- or 20-stamp increments, thus making collectable strips of lengths 11 and 21. However, the ideal collectable length would be based on a configuration of the cylinder plate-number in the center of the strip (reference point) and a counting number on the reverse side to be also on the center stamp (with the cylinder plate-number) and counting numbers at the two extreme ends. This would require the ideal collectable strip to be of lengths of 21 or 41 stamps - too big for my collecting habits. I'm a collector who will be sticking to coil lengths of 5 - with the counting number floating to the left or right side of the reference-point cylinder plate-number, such that five positions are covered. As for us Page collectors, the strip length (W/A only) affixed dictates strip length - be it one or more. But ... for us mint-strip collectors ... the present acceptable coil lengths are: 5, 11 and 21 (excluding 41). Listings should make inventory space for at least three lengths - 5, 11 and 21. That is, if counting-number intervals are 10 (the majority of the counting-number coils), items should have inventory space provided for 21 max to handle all cases. A further subdivision would be by gum adhesives: W/A coils and SAD coils on liners; and as mentioned above, only W/A coils will have counting-numbers on Pages. An additional note - not all coil strips will have counting numbers - that is, linerless SADs and SADs without spacing are exempt because the imprinting of counting numbers would result in a mess to the roll; this defeats the idea of inventory control for some self-adhesives;

3. direction of counting: either the numbers are ascending left-to-right or right-to-left. I prefer to use the terminology: ascending LR or RL. This is only an info column unless the printer uses both directions - then it should be noted and a legitimate collectable variable and collecting would follow in these two categories;

4. perforation hole size: this is a wild variable caused by wear and tear of the perforation rollers. As the perforation roller wears (impression of dimples get rounded), the roller has to be re-ground to make the impression-dimples pointed again, thus changing the size of the dimple holes. Measuring the size of holes and categorizing holes sizes as small, large and jumbo, etc. are considered by some collectors as a viable variable. Not for me - it's like us Page collectors grouping our Pages for a specific issue by color, sorting them by shade and saying this is a dark variety (the one farthest to the left) and this is a light variety (one farthest to the right)! It's all relative and every issue will have variations which in my opinion are not important;

5. counting-number font size: which - by looking at the counting number, can be classified as small, medium and large (or even more categories based on how one measures the font size). I tend to do this by eye but some criteria needs to be established so there is consistent reporting. For each specific issue, we separated out into classes if there is a significant (noticeable) difference. We do this on stamps for the date or cylinder plate number, BUT the difference has to be noticeable by eye;

6. counting number position on stamp back: either at the top, bottom or in the middle. Again, there needs to be criteria. I favor breaking the stamp into three sections, equally spaced - top third, middle third, and bottom third; again, this may not be important if the middle is never used. In this case, top or bottom should be used since the dot-matrix printers spray counting numbers in pairs, one number would be the bottom of the top row and the other the top of the bottom coil stamp. The separation of the counting numbers in this case is fairly small and appear very close to the edge of each respective row. Again the distance isn't important but rather it's top or bottom;

7. counting number color: this seems to be pretty straight forward - but is it? and what is accepted? There are times that the colors are quite close - as with deep purple and black. I tend to compare colors between issues/printers to determine differences as well as consistency. I've seen the same colors referred to by different names - does carmine/pink/magenta represent the same; are blue/cyan/aqua the same? what about black/purple/violet? Then there's thin/heavy/bold shades? Does each printer use the same colors? and even this - is this that important other than just agreeing on consistent names? I've tried to use a standard color approach used in philately for years - Stanley Gibbons Stamp Colour Key. This helps but maybe there are other/better color wheels we could use. Presently, I'm using my color key by Stanley Gibbons and have settled on six colors:

BLACK, PURPLE, MAGENTA, CYAN, BLUE, AQUA.

Letting the computer determine color by putting in these six colors does a good job, except for one: AQUA.

MAGENTA: MAGENTA... PINK ... CARMINE

PURPLE: PURPLE... VIOLET ... BLACK

CYAN: CYAN... AQUA ... BLUE

The computer has a difficult time distinguishing between cyan and aqua! So ... maybe these two should be combined into one - cyan? I'm giving this some thought before I get a good feel on color; in the meantime, I'm open to other ideas.

8. printer: there are about five different printing companies manufacturing and printing stamps for the USPS. Cylinder plate numbers reflect the printer; I do keep track of cylinder plate numbers as this is the collectable way in the coil arena;

9. coil format: that is, roll size - 500, 3K and 10K; this is important as coil size can determine the value of the stamp. Also, roll size uses different colors/font sizes/etc and this gives a good collectable variety;

10. counting number digits: info only and generally classified as: three-digits for rolls of 500, four-digits for 3K rolls and 5-digits for 10K rolls. For us Page collectors who get single coils applied to our Pages, the digits tell us what roll size the coil came from and gives us another collectable variety, if more than one roll size was used.

11. water-activated gum/self-adhesive: this is extremely important for us Page collectors; when stamps are removed from their liner and affixed to our Page, the counting number is lost. We Page collectors need only to look at Pages with W/A coils applied and the counting number isn't lost upon affixing the stamp to the Page.

12. spacing between cylinder plate number and counting number (distance between the two numbers): this can be expressed as either being even or odd; that is, is there an even or odd number of stamps between the two numbers. This distinction is very important in determining weather all counting-number positions will be generated. If the spacing is odd at any time along the strip, anywhere, then all positions will be generated; if the spacing is always even, then there will have to be more than one roll used to generate all positions about the cylinder plate number; that is, a shift relative to the previous roll used earlier is necessary to get all positions. In two cases 20/10 (five different shifts) and 10/10 (ten different shifts), many rolls with many shifts will have to be used - and do they exist! Some authors are reporting on each issue if "all positions exist" which is a very nice piece of data. To date there have been very few CY#/C# combinations:

Even - 36/10, 24/10, 20/10, 14/10, 10/10; 24/20, 22/20;

Odd - 27/10, 21/10; 21/20

I have put together what I consider the "World of Counting Numbers" that occur on all coils stamps issued to date. From this list, We need to just look at water-activated gum stamps (those in gray) and not pay attention to the Self-Adhesive (SAD) stamps - those highlighted in yellow. These charts just goes up to 2005 - a work in progress.

One important thing - charts are generated for a purpose - in this case to assist collectors of Pages. In reality, I generated these charts as a coil enthusiast who is trying to straighten out his collection - specifically counting- number aspect. Charts that I have seen usually cater to the plate number aspect and get really out-of-hand fast. I'm trying to cater to counting numbers primarily. In doing this, I first have listed data that helps identify the coil: date, Scott#, value, adhesive type and name along with some other data such as cylinder plate-number intervals and format of coil roll (500, 3K and 10K). Then comes identifying trade marks of the counting number: digits, color, font type and size (just large and small at this time) and position of counting number (not too important and left off my charts below). Then comes major and minor subgroups, such as cylinder plate number, perforation-hole size, tag/untagged, etc. I also am interested in collecting all coils with cylinder plate-number in the same position as the counting number; so ... I have a space for this combination. I also recorded what the counting number is so as to give some credence/validation/uncertainty to the item.

One item that has perturbed me over the years - the USPS mis-categorizing coil items. I have ordered over the years from the USA Philatelic catalogue and items received did not always match that what was advertised/ordered. At times, I believe the USPS sent whatever was available and didn't care that us collectors are interested in a certain specific items - not just any ole item. I have some coil strips of 25 that the USPS claim come from a roll of 100 (which counting numbers do not exist on) which have counting numbers on the back, 5-digit and with actual numbers in the 9000's! So ... I'm in a quandary on some items to what they really are. Buyer be ware!

Back to the charts - after I finish inventorying my collection and input all the data I have on each candidate for coil counting number, I will go through a list I recently got from Scott Adams and input all the items he lists that I didn't. I hope his list is proofed and validated with items he or someone else has in their collection. I also have tried to scan in each counting number as a visual check in what I have and so others can see if they have the same or is of a different persuasion.

A note on ordering - there are essentially two ways to order coil items on my charts: by date and by denomination. Since my lists are generated for Pages, I ordered my coils by date; however, for mint stamp collectors, date order is meaningless. I will eventually have two listings based on both orders. One thing I like about date ordering is that as updates occur, items are appended to the end and the listings previous to the update are left unchanged; whereas, on denomination order, all lists will have to be re-generated, a small inconvenience.

Eventually, I'm going to come up with a numbering system for each unique coil - an almost impossible task. Scott started out with this concept - a number for each face-unique stamp - and got diverted on stamp 4! This way, my list can be cross-referenced to any coil and easily found and not worry about date or denominational order.

I've not included all field data that some collectors consider collectable - but I've included some data that I have for information only; e.g. - I did not include hole size which I find repugnant but have included font size (Large, Small), font position (Top, Bottom, Middle), cylinder plate number, counting number, and Tagged/Untagged stamp type. I did not sort (order) my chart data on these field data - just kept to the basic field data. I did include my inventory for #/#'s as a record for my information only.

... charts are in the process of being updated and cross-checked with my collection ...

 
                 
CLICK ON ITEMS THAT ARE HOT TO SEE EXPANDED VIEW OF
                ... COUNTING NUMBER AND CYLINDER PLATE NUMBER ...