In general, each plate variety is one position on one plate. So it becomes a question of how many impressions were done with that plate vs. how many were issued in total, which is impossible to know accurately. Then you have to add the survival rate; since we cannot tell which stamps came from what plate without the plate number, we have absolutely no way of knowing what that rate is except as an overall number. If you take the 332 foreign entry for example, there were over 7 billion printed using 266 plates. Even if we assume that the plate with the foreign entry was used for 50,000 impressions, one could look at tens of millions of examples without ever finding one. Even if it was only 50,000 out of 200 million, the lack of specific data makes it impossible to create a real scarcity valuation list. Most fall into the "pretty scarce but low interest" type of collectible. I suspct that most other countries have both far less plate varieties and far fewer quantities issued, which makes it somewhat easier to find them when one wants them.

Statistically, a general rule of thumb for the survival rate of an individual plate position from a 200 image plate is .04%. Assuming 19th century stamps, of course.

I base this estimate on survival rates provided by Thomas Alexander in his historic survey of 1847 covers. Also, from personal experience.

Using all known examples of a double transfer variety for instance, one can work backward to get the total printing.

Example, If only two (2) copies of a particular variety are known, the total printing of that stamp would be around 5,000 stamps (25 sheets at 200 images/plate = 5000 stamps, and 2/5000 = .0004 or .04%)

For something other than 200 impression plates the rule should be scaled accordingly. I'm also not sure about using this estimate after about 1870 when collecting began to become popular.

thank you both. Revcollector, interesting thought, and I also think (see some posts above) that the number of minor and major plate varieties in US stamps is just very high. Couldn't it be even the category "very rare but low interest" for most entries?

To answer a bit also AJ's post which is talking about the 19th century: do you think this is also true for the stamps before BEP?

When I look at the bank note era in Scott specialized I only find the following stamps with plate varieties - if we don't look at the double transfers, there is only one plate variety type found: cracked plate in the stamps 147, 149, 156, 157, 158, 179, 188.

So beside double transfers and cracked plates the reader of the Scott specialized would say that there were not plate varieties at all during the total bank note era.

Although the French book breaks them down in a very specific terms, nearly all plate varieties generally fall into one of those two basic categories, "cracks and scratches", and "double transfers and foreign entries". There are also the varieties caused by the actual creation of the plate, such as layout lines and position dots. Those numbers might work for the classics, but they will not work for the later issues. It becomes less about the actual number printed and more about the percentage printed relative to the total printing. Even if it was 100,000 out of 7 billion the odds of finding one would still be extremely small unless one found a complete sheet from that plate.

If we assume (big assumption) that the 332 plate in question had an average life, it would mean one would have to look at an average of 26,000 stamps on average (255 plates times 100 stamps per plate) to find one example of a particular position on that plate. Lots of luck on that. Of course for issues with smaller printings the numbers that would need to be examined will fall proportionately.

The 332 was issued in plates of 400, and there were 266 plates. That's 106,400 possible positions. Only one had the foreign entry. So one would have to look at a LOT more examples then that. Many Millions, and even then one would have to be lucky. The FE also shows up on 344, 349, and 375, which means that even if we eliminate the coils and just look at sheet stamps we are talking about perhaps 12 billion issued, or possibly more. And since foreign entries happen only when the transfer roll overextends while entering in a position (there are always more then one design on a transfer roll), there is no way to know exactly when it occurred. Was it in the original production or in a re-entry?

The Scott U.S. "Specialized" catalog is only semi-specialized and semi-complete.

This is true throughout the catalog's coverage. Thus the need for the detailed monographs and catalogs of the specialty societies for plating the classics, perfins, precancels, plate numbers, tax-paid revenues, state revenues, postal stationery, first day cachets, cancelations, rates, routes, cinderellas, etc., etc.

Also, even if there were a pricing guide for the varieties listed by French, very few would merit values deserving separate auction lot status. Like most specialty areas, only years of experience will reveal what items are truly scarce and what a reasonable market value is. If you desire a price guide to French, please create one for us.

After all your answers I indeed think, too, that a price guide would perhaps not help as much as I would like to. The US stamps market has not developed in the last 100 years a feeling of rarity and value for the most plate varieties, and I even think that if somebody would find a new constant variety, which then would be existing in 2 stamps only, there would not be the same reaction and excitement like in Canada, Germany or Australia. My feeling is even, that many of French's entries would indeed get the rating "rare" or "very rare".

To continue the game about plates and positions and number of stamps to look at to find the variety:

What about the two stamps with "recut in hair" which I mentioned above? Is there a difference about in how many positions or plates they exist?

there must be, one would say, if you look at the price difference of the variety only: 499: about 2300 USD 546: 20 USD Is it that the 546 is the scarcer stamp and so less were issued and the variet`y is less scarce?

All double transfers are at least reasonably scarce. Obviously it's easier to find one like C7 where there were only 24 million issued using 8 plates of 200. But even that took some years to find. I have been looking for some for 10 years or more. I have been looking for one first issue revenue DT for at least 30 years. I have only seen one, in an exhibit many years ago. And it's still possible to find previously unknown plate varieties.

Rev, I stand corrected on the plate size being 400 not 100, which makes 106,400 positions, but you lose me when you say "So one would have to look at a LOT more examples then that. Many Millions, and even then one would have to be lucky."

stamperix - looking forward to seeing better scans of those stamps. How does one establish a 'variety. In my earlier post (1st page) I included a pic of a Sc #295 with an odd line through the writing near the top. I've ID's another with the same anomaly. Is that sufficient to show it was not merely a one-off error?

eyeonwall-Between the two sheet stamps there were perhaps 12 billion issued. And there were perhaps 100,000 foreign entry positions printed out of that 12 billion. Which means one might literally look at billions of examples without ever finding a foreign entry example. No one knows anything like a real survival rate for the basic stamp, except that it is comparatively huge. And it's impossible to know the survival rate of the FE. Even if we assume 10% for each the odds are still more then one in a million mathematically, but might be much higher for any given person. There is no law that says that the odds always occur exactly for every person looking. Most of us will not find one in our lifetime unless it has already been identified.

Your math is way way off. Assuming the FE plate had an average life, then one would need to look at an average of 106,400 (1 every 400x266) stamps on average, a far cry from "billions".

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