American Philatelic Society Black Blot


Very few collectors today remember the APS Black Blot program. Begun in the 1960’s and finally ending in the early 1990’s, the Black Blot was a Seal of Disapproval given to new issues from various countries, which the APS deemed exploitive of collectors. The goal was high-minded, and the criteria for the Black Blot were clear. Issues, that had no postal necessity, had excessive numbers of individual stamps and high values relative to the postal needs of the issuing country, as well as issues that included intentional errors or imperfs were given the Black Blot. The goal was to warn collectors away from collecting these postage stamps and for a time the Scott catalog refused to list stamps that had received the APS Black Blot (and indeed, to this day, many of the earlier Black Blot issues are still unlisted in Scott). The APS had a committee of volunteers, who evaluated the tens of thousands of the world’s annual production of stamps and applied these criteria to determine which stamps got Black Blotted. The list of blotted stamps was published monthly in the American Philatelist, the journal of the American Philatelic Society. By the late 1980’s the monthly list was long indeed.


Initially, when it was first proposed, the Black Blot had widespread collector support especially among the party elites. The elites were reacting to a serious change in the stamp issuing policies of many worldwide postal agencies. Until 1890, it was very unusual for a country to issue a stamp that had no postal purpose. However between 1890 and 1930 philatelic agencies became very exploitive, with issues such as the 1893 Columbian issues, the 1898 Canadian Jubilee issue and the hundreds of stamps issues by the French and Portuguese Colonies during the period of 1890-1930. These are all considered classics now, but were viewed with disdain by most of the serious collectors at the time. The 1930-1960 period, with the Great Depression, WW II, and the reconstruction after the war had calmed most nation’s philatelic new issue fervor (aided by the fact that most collectors worldwide had neither the time nor the money for many new issues during this period). But by 1960 many new countries existed in independent Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia and new exploitive postal issues began to appear again.


Collector reaction to the APS Black Blot was mixed. Many saw the Black Blot as an attempt by the philatelic elites to dictate what people should collect. Many felt that a stamp was a stamp, and it was up to each collector to decide what to put in his collection. This is true, but at the same time most collectors lacked the information to determine whether a new issue is valid or just a rip off. At its core, the Black Blot was a legitimate attempt to influence collector demand and help to curb exploitive issues. But the Black Blot was swimming against the tide. In the boom times of the 1960’s and 1970’s there was too much collector money around and postal agencies worldwide fought to scoop that money into their coffers. It was fine to most American collectors for the Black Blot committee to sanction the 1970’s issues of Sharjah. But by the 1990s, many of the issues of previously legitimate postal agencies met (and exceeded) the Black Blot criteria of excessive new issues. The Black Blot was pretty much closed down when it appeared that, it would have to start sanctioning the stamps of the United States as being exploitive of philatelists under traditional guidelines.


The incredible proliferation of new issues that has inundated our hobby is hard for newer stamp collectors to fathom. The year I was born, 1953, the United States issued 12 commemoratives stamps and no definitives, airmails or postal cards. The total postage value of the stamp issued that year was 36c. In 2014, our postal service issued 106 stamps at a postage value of over $85, this in an era of vastly decreased first class mail stamp usage. It’s a good thing that the American Philatelic Society did away with the Black Blot 25 years ago. Using their criteria nearly all US postal issues would be Black Blotted today.