Greg Meyer 149CL

Tagged stamps are an area of philately that has not been addressed in the Souvenir Page arena, except for one article, the $1 Seaplane. The Seaplane article addressed Souvenir Programs and not specifically Souvenir Pages and categorized Seaplane varieties based on plate number position and tag shifts (ASPPP Journal Volume 12, No. 4). I'll try to throw some UV light on this esoteric subject in a general manner and not address specific errors, oddities and freaks.

Tagging started in 1963 on a test quantity of airmail stamps treated with phosphor to determine if airmail could be automatically separated from regular mail. The following discussion leads you from the simple task of separating one class of mail from another to the total use of phosphor-tagged stamps on commemoratives, definitives, officials and Expedite Mail stamps. Since the discussion starts in 1963, it is imperative that the discussion centers around Stamp Posters as well as our Souvenir Pages. Hopefully, my discussion will be sufficient to generate interest and encourage ASPPP members to expand their knowledge and collecting interest to include this illuminating area.

For those who are unfamiliar with Souvenir Pages, in short, they are oversize philatelic informational announcements produced by the USPS for every regular and commemorative issue. In general these 8 x 10 informational pages fulfill what stamp albums leave out - specific information and subject history along with the stamp tied to the Page with a first-day cancel. When one starts to collect, one purchases an album which has squares provided to attach stamps. This after awhile becomes mundane and interest wanes. You look at your collection and say, each stamp needs some narrative telling about the particular issue. Wouldn't it be nice to have some sort of informational album page that addresses each issue and use this page in lieu of the standard stamp album page? The USPS announcements seem to be just the trick. I personally purchase Safekeeper albums which are self-contained dust covers with top-loading polyethylene plastic inserts which are sealed on the ring side, thus eliminating possible ring wear or damage from the page falling out. I then insert other philatelic material - mint stamps, souvenir programs, etc.

Now, what is tagging? Tagging is a luminescent phosphor applied to the surface of stamps; and, when used in conjunction with a bi-color sensing device, the phosphor is made to glow and activates automatic sorting and canceling machines. USPOD (the USPS was called then) first applied phosphorescent ink to the 8 cent carmine Jet over Capitol airmail stamp issued on 1 August 1963 as part of a two-year test program. USPOD touted this ink coating as "an invisible, inorganic phosphor commonly used in creams, ointments and medicines. Exhaustive tests [visions of stamps and employees panting and breathing hard] by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare showed that the phosphor was neither irritant nor toxic. HEW reported without reservation that it is safe for use by [their] employees and the general public." So there we have it; deja vu all over again and we're off on another grand experiment. Before commencing further, I should back track a little and look at some of the terms.


Luminescent is the general term for what the USPS now calls "tagging". Luminescent literally means "giving off light" which is kind of a misnomer. Under normal lighting conditions this luminescent property is not visible; however, in a darkened room and under proper lighting, this "giving off light" is visible. Proper lighting is a little more complex than it appears. There are two types of luminescents - phosphorescence and fluorescence; and you guessed it, two lighting types are needed to observe them:


PHOSPHORESCENCE - light emitted by a substance as a result of the absorption of short-wavelength ultraviolet light. A phosphorescent tagged stamp continues to glow for a short time after the light source is removed and without noticeable heat. U.S. stamps are of this type. The two types of phosphorescences used on U.S. stamps are:


Zinc-orthosilicate: produces a greenish-yellow glow (standard mail)

Calcium-silicate: produces an orange-red glow (airmail).


FLUORESCENCE - light emitted by a substance as a result of the absorption of long-wavelength ultraviolet light. A fluorescent tagged stamp continues to glow only as long as exposure to these rays continue. Fluorescence has the property of transforming radiation so as to emit rays of different wavelength or color when radiated on different material. This property of long-wavelength UV light makes it useful in detecting stamp defects, alterations, watermarks and optical brighteners (e.g. hi-brite paper).

To analyze tagged stamps, special equipment are needed. This fact alone turns many collectors off from pursuing tagged stamps and is understandable. There are those who collect and then there are collectors. Only truly dedicated collectors undertake the cost and use of new equipment (heaven forbid those who collect should have to dust off the old perforation gauge, watermark fluid bottle, stamp color key or trusty magnifying glass). Two ultra-violet lights are needed. A mineralogical plug-in lamp is available that has both UV light types. On a cheaper scale is the smaller AA powered pocket size UV lights. These small UV lights can be slipped into pocket and carried to shows to inspect stamps under interest. I use Lighthouse Ultra-Violet Lamps for Stamps (Ref: L80 -long and L85 -short).

A side bar about fluorescence mentioned above is the detection of watermarks. ASPPP member Charles Simmons has addressed this subject in the past but is worth mentioning it here again: How to verify un-watermarked Souvenir Pages. Watermarks on paper from which Souvenir Pages are made are separated far enough such that occasionally, just by the cut of the paper, will leave the Page with no apparent watermark visible. Mr. Simmons recommends that the Page under scrutiny and a known watermarked Page both be turned over (face down) and observed with a long wavelength UV light. If both Pages look the same under UV, then the Page is printed on watermarked paper; if not, there is a good possibility it is un-watermarked. The un-watermarked Page needs to be checked against several Pages to be absolutely sure.


In days of old, stamps were pretty drab - color and design wise. The early facer-canceler mail sorting machines equipped with sensing devices detected stamps by contrast of their darkness with envelope lightness. Facer-canceler machines locate the stamp, correctly position or "face" the envelope and apply the cancellation. If a stamp lacked sufficient contrast with the envelope to activate the sensor, it would pass through the machine uncanceled to be processed manually. Thus, the advent of phosphor inking or coating along with a phosphor sensing device would eliminate the problem associated with sensing contrasting colors, would be much more efficient (allow more mail to be automatically canceled) and would allow greater flexibility in the design and color of stamps. Under the tagged-stamp system, the phosphor coating activates the sensors, regardless of tonal contrasts - thus eliminating the concern of color and color contrast in stamp design. In STAMPS THAT GLOW (ref 1), Mr. Youngblood states that Pitney-Bowes researched and experimented with several tagging types - from a pink fluorescent to overall and bar tagging. "These tests were successful and the practice of phosphorescent tagging of U.S. stamps was born".


In 1963 the U.S. Post Office Department designated the Post Office in Dayton, Ohio as the post office of enLIGHTenment to carry out this grand experiment. In 1966 PMG O'Brien would make a momentous decision to move forward with the stamp "tagging" program by designating the Dayton field tests as a success (more about this later). The then "current" carmine 8-cent Jet over Capitol air mail sheet stamp was selected (C 64) for use in the first field test of luminescent tagged stamps. Calcium-silicate luminescent ink, which glows an orange-red color under short-wavelength ultraviolet light, was overprinted on this air mail stamp (Scott number C64a); this is a new run, tagged only.


The USPOD issued a Stamp Poster for this stamp and is readily available with an FDOI cancel at Dayton Ohio. This is a very nice item and does represent a small part of U.S. postage history in tagged luminescent stamps. I want to briefly mention here about observing this stamp on Poster under UV light. As mentioned, there are two distinct types of UV light - the long and the short of it. One should observe this stamp under short-wavelength UV. Under short-wavelength UV, the color of the tagged stamp looks normal - carmine and bright as it does in daytime viewing - not surprising since there is an abundance of UV light penetrating the atmosphere under normal daylight conditions. The untagged version (C 64 issued in December 1962), appears drab and maroon under short-wavelength UV light. Also, the carmine color of the Stamp Poster paper looks maroon under short-wavelength UV (same as the untagged stamp) and should assist in determining if the stamp is tagged (C 64a) or not (C 64). If the stamp color looks the same as the Page color, it's untagged; if the stamp looks red and the paper looks maroon, it's tagged. In general, if the stamp darkens in color under UV, it's most probably the untagged version. In 1964 a tagged booklet version (C64c) of the carmine air mail was released in late November. I have not seen this one on a Stamp Poster, but who knows what lurks out in collector land. The coil tagged version (C 65a) was released 14 January 1965. I haven't seen a copy of this either but also should be available with a Dayton cancel. A major disadvantage to the Stamp Poster with a Dayton test cancel is that it wouldn't have gone through the "regular" mail stream; cancels were either affixed by hand or had specially arranged cancels. Routine Dayton handling of covers is addressed in a following paragraph.

Jetting along, the second stamp in the luminescent saga occurs on the City Mail Delivery, a commemorative stamp (Scott 1238). However, this time the tagged stamp used a taggant that appears greenish-yellow under short-wavelength UV. No fanfare was made; all stamps were issued tagged and no untagged errors have been reported. So this one is a no brainer - if you got one, it's tagged. One interesting thing to note about this "full run" tagged issue is its being released tagged only. In PMG O'Brien 1966 news release, he stated that the initial cost of adding special luminescent ink is about eight cents per 1000 stamps. With a mintage of 128 million on the City Mail stamp, this comes out to a little over ten thousand dollars in additional costs, which makes sense if the $10,000 is offset by the BEP maintaining one less assembly line procedure. But we're in the experimental phase and R&D money comes from a completely full pot! Remember, only letters canceled at Dayton would use the phosphor sensing device which takes advantage of the taggant property. All in all, PMG O'Brien said that about 30 million "tagged" regular and air mail stamps passed through the Dayton specially- equipped machines between the initial tagged carmine Jet over Capitol and 1966. So, substantially few of the City Mail stamps were tested. Look for this tagged stamp with a Dayton cancel - one day after the first day; FDOI city was Washington DC. As with the initial air mail stamp, the USPOD tested this stamp to see if it could be separated from the normal mail stream using an automatic sensing device, faced and positioned in an upright position to the canceler and canceled.

On October 28, three 5 cent Washington definitives were reissued without FDOI and tagged only, in sheet, booklet and coil format. Collectors have reported untagged versions in all formats. Also the sheet and coil stamps have been reported on hi-brite fluorescence paper as was the City Mail Delivery. The hi-brite fluorescence paper is very visible under long wavelength UV light and looks "real white". The USPOD was obviously also experimenting with "brightened" paper during this test period.

One other Washington, a regular booklet, was issued in April 1964. The difference between the October '63 and April '64 booklet stamps is the slogan in the blank stamp area. Soooo to positively identify this one, you need to have a tab single or complete pane:

On 2 November, two tagged issues were released, a reissue of the 4 cent purple Lincoln definitive and a Christmas issue. First the Lincoln definitive. Lincoln was released in two tagged paper versions: hi-brite as well as regular paper. This version is a reissue of the November 1952 stamp. Later in December 1965 another Lincoln tagged sheet version was released; this time the format changed - 4 cent black, the first in the new "Prominent Americans" series of regular stamps. A non-tagged version was released first on 19 November 1965 followed two weeks later with the tagged version. Definitives have a longer distribution time and thus a higher manufactured number which justifies being produced both tagged and non-tagged.


The Christmas issue was also a non-tagged/tagged release; first the non-tagged version followed by the tagged version a day later. Christmas commemoratives are immensely popular and thus justify having both versions, one for test and one for the rest of the community. On the Christmas issue, we're talking about 1.3 billion stamps which would add a substantial cost increase if the complete run was produced tagged.


The DAYTON EXPERIMENTAL PHASE table above chronicles what we have been discussing. However, some explanation describing the fields needs to be given at this point. The table lists the tagged experimentals in release date order, thus the carmine Jet over Capitol is listed first. Then is listed pretty much standard data such as Scott number, denomination of issue, description of issue, First Day of Issue or release city and type, be it sheet, coil or booklet. The next column gives cancellation numbers (as reported in Scott's catalog) for the FDOI city or Dayton if released there following the FDOI. This column is sparse and indicates the scarcity and difficulty of finding these items. The next columns give a check list for inventory purposes. MNT stands for mint (do you have a mint stamp or not and is it the normal version or the hi-brite phosphorescent paper version). I use mint stamps in assisting in checking which version I have on Page or cover. Without a standard to check against, it is very difficult sometimes to determine which one is which. The next two major columns give check lists for the First Day of Issue or Release (Other than Dayton) and the last for Dayton only. DC and FDC stand for DC and First Day City; CVR, Page and Reg stands for FDOI cover, Stamp Poster and Dayton regular cover. This last column is valuable for history buffs whom collect copies of covers as used in the routine everyday operation of the Dayton experiment. These would be one of the 30 million processed by the equipment as designed.


Two other tagged Christmas issues, 1964 and 1965, were issued in the trial period. Both were issued tagged and untagged because of the large printing and the small percentage of Christmas stamps to be processed through the Dayton facility. The one remaining issue, Goddard C69, had its full run tagged. All subsequent air mail stamps were issued tagged. Small air-mail mintage justified "tagged only" runs.


This completes the Dayton tests as PMG O'Brien declares the tests successful at the end of 1965.