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Thin Spots

on Stamps

Thin spots are usually created by the removal of stamp album paper or an accumulation of hinge remnants from the back sides of collectible stamps.

Philatelists and historians have collected adhesive postage stamps since 1840, however the knowledge and technology to properly preserve these collectibles did not exist until well into the 20th Century.  Many of these early collectors mounted their stamps on album pages by licking mint stamps and sticking them down on the page, gluing used stamps onto the pages, or sometimes, they used the gummed selvage-paper from the stamp panes, cutting it into small pieces, folding it, and then sticking one end on the stamp and the other end on the album page. 

I have seen albums made from as late as the 1930's that were sold with thin strips of gummed wrapping-paper to be used as hinges for mounting the stamps.  Actual pre-cut peelable stamp hinges and archive-quality plastic stamp mounts were not readily available to collectors until later in the 20th Century.

Sadly, for future generations of stamp collectors, these early collecting practices produced some very valuable stamps having a range of faults ranging from minor to monstrous.

Most of the images on this page feature the front of the stamp, the back of the stamp, and the back of the stamp, as it appears in watermark fluid (Benzene).  Sometimes, thin spots, which usually show up as lighter areas in the paper when the stamp is held in front of a bright light, are difficult to detect.  In a black watermark tray, using watermark fluid, these thin areas usually appear as dark spots in the paper.


Benzene, whether in the form of philatelic watermark detection fluid or common lighter fluid, is FLAMMABLE AND TOXIC!  Use it in a well ventilated area and take frequent breaks to avoid prolonged inhalation of the fumes.

All of the stamp images shown on this page, except for the images of the British Guiana One Penny Magenta stamp, are from the author's own collection.

Thin Spots that are Usually Tolerable
(Small Thins and Light Hinge Thins)

USA 1851 - Sc. #10A - Pos. 96L0
(2018 Scott Catalog $150.00)

Considering their age and the contemporary collecting practices, US 19th Century classical postage stamps are frequently encountered with faults, such as small thin spots and occasional short or missing perforations (on the perforated issues).  Many of the scarcer high-denomination classical stamps were used on registered mail, mail bag tags, or on parcels, and as a result they are more prone to faults than are the regular letter-mail stamps.

These stamps are discounted from the catalog price, but not drastically, as would be the case with 20th Century stamps.  Many US collectors are very happy with them, as long as the faults are minor and do not affect the appearance of the stamp.  A sound, fault free, used US #10A would sell for about $100.00, whereas the one shown above would probably sell for about $30.00 to $40.00.


Many of the known examples of some of the rarest stamps in the world, including the (very expensive) US 1875 - 1885 Special Printings, US 1923  Perforated 11 Rotary Press Printings and some US Revenue stamps DO NOT EXIST WITHOUT FAULTS!

USA 1917 - Sc. #519
(2018 Scott Catalog - $400.00)

Generally, faulty 20th Century stamps are not considered collectible by the majority of philatelists, unless they are scarce varieties, and then only as space-fillers, until sound examples can be located and purchased.

Authentic examples US Scott #519 are scarce.  During 1917, a small supply of the imperforate Two Cent denomination stamps of 1908, printed on double-line watermarked paper, was returned to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing perforated the sheets with the current perforation gauge (perforated 11), after which they were distributed to post offices and sold to postal patrons.  It does not appear that many of them were actually ever sold or used for postage, as the 2018 catalog price for a used example is $1,750.00!

The mint stamp shown above has disturbed gum and two shallow thin spots, caused by the removal of the hinge remnant.  This resulted in the reduction of its collector value, in today's marketplace, from $400.00 to about $100.00.

The stamp shown above has since been replaced by a certified, mint lightly-hinged example!


Removing hinge remnants from mint stamps is not recommended, and in most cases, the effort can cause damage to the stamp. 

An exception would be, if an old, hinge remnant accumulation has created a bulge in the upper part of the front of the stamp that could result in further damage to the stamp, such as paper cracking.  In that case, just soak it!  An attractive mint no-gum stamp is always preferable to one that has major damage!

Thin Spots that are Intolerable
(Large Thins)

Oldenburg 1859 - Mi. #14
(2012 Michel Catalog - €550.00)

These types of thin spots on stamps, sometimes referred to as "skinned stamps" are considered non-collectible by most philatelists.  Such stamps are basically worthless in the philatelic marketplace, and they are considered only as space fillers, until sound examples can be purchased.

This Oldenburg stamp was obviously partially stuck-down to an album page.  Instead of soaking the stamp away from the album page, the collector grabbed the stamp from the bottom and attempted to PULL IT off of the page.  This resulted in the loss of much of the paper of the upper corner of the stamp!  A sound example of this stamp would be worth about $350.00 in today's philatelic marketplace.  In it's present state, the stamp might be worth about $10.00 as a space filler, and that guess is very optimistic!


NEVER try to pull a stamp away from an album page.  A stamp album, no matter how nice or expensive it is, becomes completely worthless, as soon as the first stamp is mounted in it.  The money is in the stamps that are mounted in the album.  If a stamp is stuck down to an old album page, cut the page around the stamp and then soak it.

Sometimes People Make Mistakes!
(An Unintentional Windfall)

USA 1898 - Sc. #293
(2018 Scott Catalog - $1,100)

I purchased the US Scott #293 shown above from an online seller during 2018.  It was advertised as having a shallow hinge-thin, and it was heavily discounted from the catalog value.  At the time, it was also one of the best looking $2.00 denomination Trans-Mississippi Exposition Issues on the internet auction site.

When I received the stamp, something seemed odd to me.  When I held it up to the light, I could see the light spot that the seller had mentioned, but there was no trace of a previous hinge, and there were no noticeable abrasions on the paper.

When evaluating late 19th Century US stamps, there is something important to remember.  In 1895, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began using paper that was watermarked with the letters "USPS" (United States Postage Stamp).  These serif letters were very large, and they were repeated in rows throughout the sheet.  So, is that light spot that is barely visible a "thin spot" or a "watermark letter" ?

I decided to take a look at the stamp in watermark fluid (shown above).  What appeared to be a shallow thin was actually the upper serif of the watermark letter "U".  The stamp is actually fault-free!  Now, I don't feel bad at all about the $255.00 I paid for the stamp!

A Noteworthy Exception

British Guiana 1856 - Sc. #13
"The British Guiana One Penny Magenta"
(Actual Image)

(Enhanced Image)

The hideous-looking stamp shown in the images above could have a dual distinction, being both the "ugliest stamp in the World" and the "rarest and most valuable stamp in the world"! 

Were it not for this stamp's well known legacy, it might possibly be a candidate for the serious philatelist's closest trash can!

This British Guiana One Penny stamp (newspaper rate) from 1856 has the following MAJOR faults:

  • Originally a rectangular-format stamp, it has been neatly trimmed to an octagonal shape.  One could presume that the stamp may have possibly been glued to a page at the corners at one time and that the corners were possibly damaged or torn off, when the stamp was removed from the page.
  • The stamp design is faded and the magenta-tinted paper is smudgy.
  • There are two very large thin spots which seem to have been expertly filled in by paper pulp during a past repair.

This stamp's redeeming factor is that it is the only British Guiana Sc. #13 in existence! 

It last sold at a Sotheby's Auction in New York City on June 17, 2014 for US $9,480,000.00 (that's: nine million four hundred eighty thousand dollars) !!

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