You enjoy jigsaw puzzles? Why not use your old stamps

Yes, the first reaction is probably, “thats expensive!” or “thats just too hard!”, but let me try to convince you otherwise.

Bookprint and flaws

In the early years of stamp production, the printers created sheets of stamps by using steampower or simply by force of hand. This bookprint method consisted of creating clichés of the stamp by engraving a “mother” cliché with the mirror image of it, and then duplicating this into enough copies to fill the printing plate. This process was always just “almost” perfect. It introduced flaws, small differences in the printing of each stamp on the sheet.

Such variants that occur across lots of sheets produced are often quite expensive. True. But on some stamps these variants are not very costly at all – you just need to pick the right stamp – a stamp massproduced in the early years of the production of stamps.

Norway nk4 1857, printed in 10 million copies.
Denmark 4 skilling wavy lines, printed in 38 million copies.
Sweden 4 skilling bco 1855, printed in 6.5 million copies

All these examples are the first mass-produced stamps in Scandinavia. There are lots of them around. And many of them are considered to be “normal” or “less desirable” copies that litter the stockbooks of collectors. They may have a short perforation, be a bit skewed, have small margins or the cancellation is dirty or almost missing. Such stamps are perfect for starting a jigsaw puzzle!

The NK 4 puzzle

For a NK 4 stamp from Norway you usually have to pay between 2 and 4 euro for a “normal” copy. The more you buy at once, the lower the price gets. And this makes it a perfect stamp to study for flaws that identify its position. Here is a tool perfect to use for identifying your stamps position: Plating tool for NK 4

You could go ahead and do the same with NK 1 – the first Norwegian stamp, but this would be more expensive. If you prefer that, you may use this plating guide: Plating tool for NK 1.

But for now lets go ahead with NK4. This stamp was produced in a sheet of 100 perforated stamps, each numbered from 1 to 100. So we have a puzzle of 100 pieces to find and place. Horray!

The image shows the first 25 stamps, since the litterature divides the plate into 4×25 stamps (A-B-C and D). Do notice the quality of most of the stamps, being skewed, having lesser desirable cancellations and so on. Its a way to use all those copies you have in your stockbook. 

To identify the position of each stamp, you need a guide that explains the key flaws on each of the clichés: Plating tool for NK 4

Plating guide

Example of how to puzzle a piece

Cliché without any flaws
Cliché with flaws

The second stamp has several flaws that occur regularly on the cliché. They are marked with red circles. Compare these flaws to the first cliché that contains no flaws.

If you find these flaws on your own stamp, or at least most of them, then you will know that you have the piece A1 – or rather a stamp belonging on the upper left corner of the sheet. Congrats!

By the way, all cornerstamps may contain fragments of the watermark on the sheet. Do check, since this will increase the rarity of your stamp.

Numeral puzzle

If searching for plate-flaws is not triggering your interest and curiosity, maybe you should consider puzzling out the numeral cancellations of a cheap classical stamp? The danish stamp AFA 7, or even a combination of AFA 4, AFA 7 and AFA 9 (unique prints of the brown 4 skilling stamp), has over 300 different three-ring number cancellations, making it a nice and interesting puzzle to play with. A few of those numbers are quite rare though, just warning you.

Good luck with your puzzles!

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