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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Practical Advice: Color in Philately

Every once in a while, a collector may be confronted with the problem of classifying a stamp according to its color. While this is usually quite easy, there are certain instances in which rare color shades exist, and the price difference between a common shade and a rare one may be quite extreme. What does one do when it's necessary to figure out whether a stamp's color is rose, rose pink, pinkish rose, pink, or pigeon blood pink?

My solution is either to have reference copies on hand, or to show the stamp in question to an expert (and submit the stamp for a certificate if necessary). For masochistic philatelists who wish to read a someone dense article on the subject, I've copied an article which appeared in the July, 1945 article of India's Stamp Journal.

Color and Philately
by C.W. Bruce

To many collectors the subject of color is a perplexity and increasingly so when one endeavors to specialize in tones and shades. Descriptions of color can be very misleading, for the very good reason that so few people can agree upon the name to be applied in describing the color seen. This is generally speaking, so that when one refers to catalogue descriptions, so often are contradictory names applied that the result is often bewilderment.

One explanation is that in some catalogues the early descriptions that were applied have not been modified, and such names are applied to the modern colors of stamps, and owing to the increasing variety of tones and shades such names cannot be aptly adopted. In the days of the line engraved issues colors were more consistent and where shades emerged these were more or less followed. It was thus possible for the catalogue compiler to more correctly give the shade, it being over all a far smaller range. As time passed on and other methods of printing were used, also varieties of paper and gum, these added considerably to the shades of original color.

The study of naming color has not kept pace with the increasing variety and this seems to apply not only in the philatelic world but in every connection between mankind and color development. Various authentic color dictionaries have from time to time been issued, all very excellent in their intent, but nevertheless although produced by color experts, they too conflict in their descriptions.

Pure colors are of course the primaries known as the blue, red and yellow and should present no difficulty to anyone who is not color blind, but the problem starts in the mixing of these shades. Where such colors are equally mixed it is supposed that one would secure pure secondary colors. Fifty percent each yellow and red provides the pure orange and 50 percent each of yellow and blue provides the pure green, but it is when these percentages are not equal that one finds an endless variety of tones with a leaning towards that part possessing the greater proportion. Often one finds references to bluish green, dark blue green and so on and one can grade greens of the blue tone section by moderating the amount of blue from 51 to 99 percent and finally securing practically a blue, and of course the green tinge disappearing as the amount of yellow decreases. The same process can be applied in the opposite direction and withdrawing the amount of blue and increasing the amount of yellow and obtain yellowish green until the almost pure yellow is left; and so with the mixing of all primary colors.

Other causes of variety in shade are not always intentional, since if one made up a pot of dye, be it a mixture or a pure color, one would obtain different tones owing to the fact that, in the case of stamps, atmosphere, paper and gum can affect the color ultimately seen by the eye. A specialist in philately knows the vast range of papers and would have observed even in the current Colonial issues that the new white paper has contributed in altering the shades of the colors. A glossy paper can give a greater reflection of light and thus the color seen by the viewer is one of brilliance. On the other hand, exactly the same color used on a mat surface is more penetrating and gives deep but flat tones and chalky papers will show colors best described as somewhat “clotted.” Sometimes a white gum is used and sometimes a deep yellow and the latter seems to eventually penetrate the paper and mellows the colors considerably. It is somewhat difficult to make clear this deeply involved subject, but it is hoped that the foregoing has given a few examples of the various contributing factors that can render different shades even if the same pot of dye was used for the printing. From these circumstances it will be seen that no true color descriptions can be given very easily to a stamp and if at any time a color dictionary was created for the benefit of philatelic color specialists, then such printed colors would need to be shown upon the different types of papers used by the stamp printers, and at the same time provision made for the effects on paper by gum, incidentally the colors.

The next step in the writer’s mind in the creation of an ideal philatelic color vocabulary would be to print gradations of primary, secondary and third stages of color mixtures and these should be upon a cross reference, numbered graphed squares. For example, on the left-hand side of the page would be a square of pure green being made up of 50 percent each blue and yellow and along the side of this square would be the gradations leading to 99 percent blue. On another page would be the pure green with the amount of blue decreasing until 99 percent yellow was left. As the graphed paper would be numbered one upwards, one would be able to refer almost correctly to any shade be it green 23 or green 49, for example, and by such method some uniformity could be arrived at in the establishment of the catalogue color and descriptions. Other mixtures should be illustrated, for example the above green shades mixed with percentages of brown, red, etc.

Referring to the difficulty in naming color, one has only to see the latest color dictionary produced by the British Color Council, and most inconsistent is in the violet family. This comprises such description as violet, purple, mauve, heliotrope and amethyst, to name a few, and these descriptions are sub-divided by the additions of floral names. Such as in the purple family we have fuschia, cyclamen, orchid, petunia and such colors which are almost identical with many of the violet and mauve families, to which can be added the color described as magenta, practically identical to certain of the purple family. In describing colors one can assume that floral names are applied more than any other, but any person with a knowledge of color knows quite well the vast range of colors in most flowers, for very few are consistent. Perhaps the most reliable is the yellow crocus. Very misleading is the term “lilac,” which exists in the palest shade of mauve, yet is to be found in deep purple, almost black purple. It would appear then that until the creation of a color dictionary whereby such colors are described other than by any of the present names, confusion will continue to exist, and in the field on stamps the specialist must rely upon his own judgment. He must however study the subject of color, but even so he will be able to arrive at no safe conclusions. It is interesting to note that in Nature one of the widest range of colors is to be seen in the family of greens, this being the color of foliage and remains very consistent. Thus the leaves of the Lily of the Valley can be relied upon to be an established shade, and likewise the green of Cyprus, the Myrtle, Holly, Laurel and so on, probably because no attempt has been made at modification, whereas in the floral world man’s interference with Nature in producing hybrids has led to the production of shades and colors never in the original creation. One has only to look at the rose family to recognize this.

In conclusion, in determining a shade of a stamp one should hold this horizontally at almost eye level and should face a north light, and of course this means examining it in daylight. Much has been written on the subject for and against collecting shades and the writer would advocate all specialists to do so and to feature the range that exists. An excellent scheme is to finally rearrange the colors of shades of any one stamp in their graduated order from light to dark or vice versa and if anyone is interested a start can be made with the Indian so-called purple and magenta colors, but most noticeably with the British King George V 6d. In this issue the writer has a graded collection of well over 150 stamps from light to dark which covers the whole family of purples and violets, etc., referred to above. Carry on shade collecting.


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