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“RW13a” is a Chemically Induced Color Changeling

After the Federal Home Page was launched, we received a couple of emails from collectors asking: “Why was “RW13a” not listed in the federal catalog?” This question will answered in today’s blog.

One of the harsh realities all hobbies face is that there tends to be a few unpleasant truths interwoven into the culture. While it is tempting for those in the know to avoid discussing negative subjects in the hopes that they will simply “go away” – we at Waterfowl Stamps and More are of the opinion that a policy embracing a high level of transparency will best serve our hobby going forward.

With this in mind, I will periodically use this forum to address issues which are consistent with one of the goals of the website – that is to guide the revitalization of our hobby following an extended period of economic adversity better known as the Great Recession – whether they are pleasant or not.


The Opportunity Cost Factor

Although personal finances for some segments of the population are now greatly improved from just a few short years ago, it is apparent that a near depression-era mentality may pervade our society for years to come. This mindset has the ability to shape the future our hobby and must be dealt with in a straightforward manner. This is the first in a series of blogs which will attempt to do so.

Whether or not to purchase a collectible has always been a choice which has an opportunity cost associated with it. In the aftermath of the recession the economic forecast may periodically seem less than clear – a valid and relevant concern for those who were significantly affected.

In fact, full economic recovery for our nation as a whole now seems likely to entail a two step forward, one step back process that may bridge generations. In this environment – pessimistically referred to as the “new normal” –  the opportunity cost factor may be closer to the forefront of our conscious decision-making process than at any other point in our lifetime.

Those of us at Waterfowl Stamps and More believe that in order to make the best choices, you need access to as much factual information as possible. That is where this website can make a difference. When equipped with an extensive frame of reference – a measure of uncertainty is alleviated and the choice to collect may be made with confidence in a greater percentage of instances.


Unpleasant Truths are Part of Reality

Viewed as a microcosm of our society – our hobbies are a mix and we hope that, on balance, they contribute to a pleasurable experience. When confronted with negatives in any aspect of your life, it is rational to evaluate them in the context of the mix before deciding whether to participate or to carry on. The same applies to our hobbies.

The vast majority of our blogs deal with upbeat stories and anecdotes demonstrating what an extraordinary and rewarding experience collecting fish and games can be. It would be unreasonable to avoid the occasional unpleasant truths that are included in the mix. We can acknowledge them and learn from them – and then choose not to allow our experience to be defined by them.


An Innocuous Origin

Back in the mid 1980s, Michael Jaffe purchased an accumulation of duck stamps which included numerous blocks, partial panes and full panes. One group of multiples, consisting of Scott Catalog numbers RW13 – RW17, were attached to album pages with tape.

At a subsequent stamp show, Michael was talking to another dealer, Jim Huston of Issaquah, Washington. Michael mention the taped stamps and Jim told him he could probably remove both the tape and the residual stains for a nominal fee.

When Michael got the stamps back from Jim, the RW14s, RW15s, RW16s and RW17s appeared perfect – the tape stains no longer visible. However, the RW13s were, in Michael’s words, “ruined”. The chemical solution Jim used to remove the tape stains had changed the color of the stamps from red brown (see Figure 1) to rose pink (see Figures 2-7).



Figure 1. 1946-47 federal waterfowl stamp (RW13), red brown color as issued.



Jim felt bad about ruining Michael’s stamps and waived his restoration fee. At this point, Michael made what (in hindsight) could be considered a poor decision. Instead of disposing of the stamps, he offered them for sale at a discount in an attempt to recoup his money.

The multiple of RW13s consisted of nine stamps but only the outside edges of the block were affected by the tape. He gave Jim eight stamps to restore and, after getting them back, sold all of them at stamp shows over the next couple of years. Michael recalls his retail price for unused RW13s averaged $35.00 at the time and he sold the discolored stamps for $25.00.


What Happened Next

Just exactly what happen next is unknown. When the collections that included the altered stamps were resold years later, none off them were offered to Michael (or myself). I have been told that other dealers who were not aware of the altered stamp’s background obtained them and guessed they might be a legitimate error. Examples were submitted to the American Philatelic Society and Philatelic Foundation for expertization and these inexplicably received certificates stating they were “genuine”.

The altered stamps were then sold as legitimate errors to collectors for substantial amounts of money. Michael and I started to hear about isolated incidents in the the 1990s and did not really know what to do about it. We discussed the issue with a representative of the Philatelic Foundation on at least two occasions and were told that the technology available to them at the time indicated the stamps were good. This was frustrating since we knew for a fact they were not.

The stamps were then listed in the Scott Specialized Catalog as “RW13a” in 1992 and we attempted to have them removed. The dealers that sold the stamps then lobbied Scott to maintain the listing – on the basis of the genuine certificates – and were ultimately successful. Really frustrating.

An example was sold to Will Csaplar in July of 1995 for $4,500.00 (see Figure 2). When I informed him the error was actually a chemically induced color changeling, he responded by telling me that he had a good relationship with the dealer who sold it him and did not wish to cause him any trouble.



Figure 2. The stamp sold to Will Csaplar in 1995.



It seemed as though nobody cared that the stamps were altered – at least not enough to do anything about it – so I began to focus even more of my time and energy on non-pictorial waterfowl stamps.


Heritage Auctions an Altered Example

An internet search reveals that on December 10, 2009, Heritage Auctions (Dallas, Texas) sold an altered RW13 for $32,200.00. Auction lot #31838 was described as “RARE DUCK STAMP ERROR, 1946, $1 Redhead Ducks, Bright Rose Pink Shade (RW13a), lower right corner margin single, well centered, fresh and crisp with distinctive pastel color and never hinged original gum; a choice, Very Fine example of this little known Duck stamp rarity.” (see Figures 3 and 4).



Figure 3. The example sold by Heritage Auctions for $32,200.00.



Figure 4. American Philatelic Society Certificate which accompanied the stamp shown above. Issued in 2009.



A Heritage press release on December 30, 2009 stated: “Heritage New York Rare Stamps Auction brings $1.8 million plus – Leading the way was a newly discovered, and exceedingly rare duck stamp color error, a 1946 $1 Redhead Ducks, Bright Rose pink shade which realized $32,200.

“This is the first time that this beautiful stamp had ever been offered at public auction, said Steve Crippe, Director of Philately at Heritage Auctions, and collectors responded with great enthusiasm and strong bidding, as we’d expect for such a piece.”

Subsequent to the Heritage auction, rumors began to circulate that some collectors were paying even higher amounts of money for the altered stamps. Not only was this issue not going away, the horses were now completely out of the barn – and barely visible on the ridge.


Website Brings the Issue to a Head

When Waterfowl Stamps and More was launched in April of 2016, we stated to get inquiries from collectors and dealers about RW13a – a lot of inquiries. At least three different collectors informed us they were each sold two copies of the “error” and they wished to sell one or both of them.

By our estimation, the original population of eight altered stamps has now doubled or tripled in size. After some of the original eight stamps were able to get good certificates, people must have begun experimenting and eventually figured out how to “manufacture” them for sale to collectors.

In other cases, certificates were issued on used stamps (previously affixed to a hunting license) where chemicals were introduced to remove the required ink signature. A by-product of this process was that the stamp, itself, became a color changeling (see Figure 5).



Figure 5. An example with a chemically-removed ink signature was able to get a certificate in 2010.



Michael Jaffe and I Take Action

Prior to World Stamp Show New York 2016, Michael Jaffe and I decided we needed to try and put a stop to this situation, once and for all. I asked Michael to take two normal RW13s out of his stock and send them to Jim Huston –  asking him to duplicate his chemical treatment of thirty years ago (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. One of the stamps Michael Jaffe sent to Jim Huston in 2016.



When Michael received the altered stamps back we presented them to Jim Kloetzel, editor of the Scott Specialized Catalog of United States Stamps and Covers and also to representatives of the Philatelic Foundation at the New York Show. Jim Agreed to permanently delete the listing from the Scott Catalog. In its place is the following statement:

“The previously listed No. RW13a in a bright rose pink shade has been determined to be a chemically induced changeling.”

Then Michael submitted one of the stamps to the Philatelic Foundation (and paid the fees). The Foundation used new technology to evaluate the stamp. It received a certificated rubber-stamped: “WARNING – IN OUR OPINION THIS ITEM IS ALTERED OR COUNTERFEIT – READ YOUR CERTIFICATE CAREFULLY” The certificate further stated  “The color [has been] chemically altered” (see Figure 7).



Figure 7. Finally, a bad certificate! Issued on the stamp shown above in 2016.



The Philatelic Foundation will no longer issue genuine certificates on RW13a. The “error” formerly known as RW13a never really existed in the first place. Unfortunately, it took decades to establish this fact.

One last comment, I have heard some say that the color of today’s changelings does not exactly match the ones from 30 years ago. There is a good reason for this – over the years some of the original chemicals Jim Huston used have been banned and they have been replaced with others that are not exactly the same. Try matching a paint color from 30 years ago. If you live in California –  try matching a color from five years ago!


What Can We Learn From This?

While it may sound bromidic, we do not live in a utopian world. If you are passionate about something (or someone) you may eventually reach the point where you are faced with a choice  – are you willing to accept the good with the bad? As someone who taught Critical Thinking at the University level for two semesters as a TA, I would offer this advice; carefully evaluate the mix and then decide if, on balance, this is something you can feel good about.

With regard to our passion for collecting fish and game stamps, RW13a – while perhaps the most lamentable “bad” example – is not an isolated incident. We live in a real world. However, I believe that you will find that for every negative instance such as the one discussed in this post – there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of positive ones. To view a gallery with images of dozens of legitimate federal duck stamp errors and varieties, click here.

I, for one, feel quite strongly that we should not for a moment allow a few “bad apples” to undermine our enjoyment for a hobby which is principally wholesome and intellectually nourishing.






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