This article originally appeared in the February issue of the NWISC newsletter, and has since been edited and re-formatted for the web.
During the Northwest Illinois Stamp Club meeting on January 9th, I gave a quick presentation on identifying U.S. Scott #500 stamps, and specifically how to tell them apart from Scott #499s. In an effort to provide more clarity and thoroughness on the subject, I am writing this article as a follow-up to my presentation.
#499s are often mistaken as #500s, which is no surprise considering the minute details which differentiate the two and the many common factors they share.
First, here are how #499s and #500s are similar:
- They depict George Washington
- They have a denomination of 2 cents
- They are perforated 11
- Their printing type is flat plate
- Neither are watermarked
- Their color is very similar
And now, here are the differences and how to tell them apart:
|Scott #499 (type I)||Scott #500 (type Ia)|
|Toga Rope||Weak and usually incomplete||Heavy, usually complete|
|Toga Button||Weak and usually border-less||Clear, strong border|
|Plating Mark (in right ribbon)||None||Small speck, visible under a magnifying glass|
Here’s a more thorough explanation of each differentiating feature:
#499s come in many different colors, but by far the most common is rose. #500s also come in a variety of shades, but are almost always darker and richer than #499s. In my observation, #499s are bright, with lots of the white paper showing through, especially on Washington’s forehead. On the other hand, #500s tend to be more thoroughly inked, and not show as much of the paper.
Impression is used to describe the thickness, completeness, and uniformity of the lines and the strength of the color. #499s usually appear more inconsistent, and oftentimes weak. However, unless under-inked, #500s almost always have an outstanding impression and appear to have more of an “HD” quality than #499s.
The toga rope (circled in blue) is one of the first places to look when trying to determine whether you have a #500. That’s because in most cases, #499s have a very weak toga rope, with an incomplete top border. #500s are usually the opposite – strong, with a complete border.
Another thing to look for is the thickness of the lines within the toga rope. On #499s, the thickness is rarely uniform. Notice how one line has a blob at the bottom, while the rest of the line is very thin. #500s usually have very uniform lines, without much variance in the line width.
With all that said, the toga rope still cannot be the main differentiator, because there are a number of #499s with a complete toga rope. These do not get any recognition in the catalog and they have no formal name that I am aware of, but I have heard some people call them “full Type Is”.
The toga button, circled in yellow above, is usually weak and has an incomplete border on #499s. On #500s, the toga button is very striking, with a thick, complete border and clear, vertical lines within. Some people describe it as “donut-like”. I also think it looks kind of like a white wall tire.
Plating Mark (or Partial Line)
The plating mark (also called the “partial line”), is probably the tiniest differentiating feature, but it is without a doubt the most important. In fact, in an article titled The 2c Washington Type la Identifier – Its “Partial Line” by Dr. Richard Prothero, the author states: “…Thus, the differentiation of the Type Ia from the Type I on the basis of strength of the design characteristics is subjective, relative and often inconsistent.” Then later in Dr. Prothero’s text he states “The completely objective (it’s either there or it isn’t) finding of the ‘partial line’ should become the primary identifier.”
As you can see in the image above, #499s do not have this special line. #500s do however, and as shown in the two images of #500s, that line can be just about anywhere in the ribbon fold. Most often it is at the very bottom or the very top.
Flat plate vs. Offset
As I said earlier, Scott #500s were printed with the flat plate method. However, because of their strong impression, they look very similar to the offset-printed 2 cent Washingtons, Scott Nos. 526-528B. See for yourself:
Although these two stamps look quite similar, Scott #500s have a much deeper impression than offset stamps like the one shown at the right above. The lines are thicker, they appear more 3d (in my opinion), and not nearly as much paper shows through. Of course, #500s also have the plating mark, while offset stamps do not.
It is no surprise that #500s are difficult to identify, especially for those who are new to the Washington/Franklin series. They share many of the same characteristics of #499s, offsets, and a variety of other 2 cent reds. But if you keep in mind what makes them different – especially the plating mark – you should have no trouble with identifying this issue.