The Kansas-Nebraska overprint
issue of 1929 was an attempt by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (the
US government agency responsible for printing currency and stamps) to curb
a series of thefts of postage stamps in the midwest. The attempt was stillborn.
The Bureau overprinted sheets of
the 1926-1927 runs of the regular denominations of the so-called 1922-34 series.
Sheets of denominations from 1 cent through 10 cents were subject to the treatment,
which consisted of imprinting the face of each stamp in a sheet with the overprints
In this two-state trial, the goal was to make it difficult
for thieves to dispose of stolen stamps across the designated states'
borders. Though Kansas and Nebraska were the first (and, as it turned out, only)
states chosen for this procedure, it was initially planned to extend it to all
48 states. The Kansas and Nebraska overprinted stamps were officially released
on 1 May 1929.
Any new technique, especially in
the age before computers ran everything, was susceptible to producing irregularity
in its product. The Kansas-Nebraska issue suffered from uneven vertical spacing
of the overprint due to a hand-cranked adjuster, and oddities such as two overprints
on a single stamp are known. This turned the Kansas-Nebraska issue into a collectable,
and the scarcity of the issue in other states compounded its value.
As early as June 1929 there were
reports of counterfeits (all it took was a typewriter and an un-overprinted
stamp), and fakes were reliably identified in early 1930. While most fakes
were attempting to imitate high-value oddities such as double overprints,
fakes of the garden-variety types also were produced. In 1973, Schoen estimated (6)
that "no issue of United States stamps is so
extensively imitated and over 60 per cent of the used copies are not genuine."
The scheme proved unfeasible, and
was only serving to provoke forgeries, and was dropped once the original
runs of overprinted stamps were exhausted.
How to identify Kansas-Nebraska
The overprinted issues are from the
1926-1927 printing runs (Scott numbers 632-642) with the often distinctive color
variants of that run. The Kansas overprints have Scott numbers 658-668; the
Nebraska overprints Scott numbers 669-679.
1 cent, green (Franklin)
1.5 cent brown (Harding)
2 cent carmine (Washington)
3 cent violet (Lincoln)
4 cent yellow brown (Martha Washington)
5 cent deep blue (T. Roosevelt)
6 cent red orange (Garfield)
7 cent black (McKinley)
8 cent olive green (Grant)
9 cent light rose (Jefferson)
10 cent orange yellow (Monroe)
The perforation is 10.5 by 11 and
all examples are from sheets of stamps which were perforated
on all four sides. Because the sheets of stamps had to be wet when printed
to improve adhesion of the ink, the sheets were gummed only after the overprinting.
The gum on genuine examples will not reflect the presence of the overprint,
whereas fakes will have disturbed gum, because the "typing" (or however
the fake overprint was applied) will have indented the letters and created an
"embossed" feature in the gum in the shape of the fake overprint
letters. (This explains why so many fakes are on used copies.)
While the vertical spacing between
repetitions of the overprints may vary (22 mm. is normal), there should be no
variation side to side, in letter spacing, or overprint width from one stamp
to another in unbroken blocks. Kans.
overprints should be 9.2 mm. wide on average, Nebr.
overprints 9.0 mm. Consistency is key to spotting genuine copies,
but the difficulty of lining up the "typewriter" correctly for more
than one attached stamp led to most forgeries being perpetrated on individual
These stamps were printed on the
rotary press, which imparted to them a tendency to curl badly
in humid weather. The Bureau countered by running the sheets once more through
a high pressure "printing" process to apply horizontal bands across
the sheets which fought curling. On genuine issues, there will only be one of
these thick "breakers" per stamp (just possibly there will be one
stradling the perforations at the top and one straddling the perforations at
the bottom). If you have more than one breaker running through the central part of a stamp, you
are dealing with a forgery made from a stamp not printed in 1926-1927. In addition,
the gum was laid on the rear of genuine sheets in a pattern of narrow ridges (14
vertical gum "stripes" per stamp in "portrait" orientation).
Sometimes the gum runs nearly together, but the pattern is distinctive.
A fairly nice set of (genuine) unused
Kansas-Nebraskas can be assembled for in the range of a few hundred dollars
at stamp shows. A dealer will almost always charge more in his shop, where an
attractive set might run well over five hundred dollars.
URLs for images
http://www.1847usa.com/GumBreakers.htm (illustration of gum patterns)
http://www.1847usa.com/Glossary/GlossaryK.htm (scroll down for overprint issues)
Micarelli, Charles. The Micarelli
Identification Guide to U.S. Stamps. Regular Issues 1847-1934. Revised
Schmid, Paul. How to Detect Damaged, Altered, and Repaired Stamps.
Schoen, Robert H., and DeVoss, James T. Counterfeit Kansas-Nebraska Overprints
on the 1922-34 Issue. 1973. (Printed by the American Philatelic Society
in their APS Handbook Series.)
The Scott Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps. (Issued yearly. I use
the 1997 edition.)