Original Gum & Regumming

When Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp, an integral part of his design was a “wash of mucilage applied to the back, which, when moistened would allow the stamp to adhere to paper.” In the very early years of stamp collecting, collectors primarily collected used stamps. After all, the reasoning went, why spend good money when stamps in the late 1860s was the height of folly? After all, what could they ever be worth?
Led by the Belgian stamp dealer Moens, collectors began collecting unused stamps in the 1870s and 1880s. True, they didn’t display the purpose for which stamps were invented (that is, postal use), but the collectors didn’t have disfiguring cancellations to worry about. So, they pasted the unused stamps in their albums, or if they received stamps with gum, they just licked them down. This is shocking to modern day collectors, but we must all be aware that gum was a meaningless annoyance until the turn of the century. And the hinge, which now seems so barbaric to so many, wasn’t even used by most collectors. Paste was used as often as not. Indeed, in stamp papers of the 1890s, one can page through an entire year’s run without encountering any references to gum, except for methods of removing it. Until 1930, controversy raged over whether to collect unused stamps with original gum at all. “Is it original gum?” may be the most common question in philately today, as it has taken on a much greater meaning than ever before. Due to the extreme rise in price of never hinged stamps, great emphasis has been placed on ascertaining original gum, as this is the only way that you can be sure of never hinged.
Determining whether a stamp has original gum is not an easy matter. So very many stamps are found regummed nowadays. When our firm was first started, only comparatively expensive stamps were regummed. But today, a regummer, armed with his pail and mucilage, can buy hinged stamps, wash off the gum, and regum them. An afternoon’s work will net this moral dwarf 300 or 400 percent profit. So it behooves collectors to know how to tell original gum. It is inconvenient, expensive, and time consuming to send every one of your purchases off to the Philatelic Foundation or the American Philatelic Expertization Service, and they just expertize using the technique outlined below.
Knowledge of stamp printing is required in telling regummed stamps. When stamps are printed, they are printed on a sheet of paper which is then gummed and perforated. This is the clue to expertizing gum. On genuinely gummed stamps, the perforations are applied after the stamp has been gummed. On regummed stamps, the gum is applied after the perforations have been made. If you take an ordinary 15¢ commemorative and break it from the sheet, you will notice the way the perforations slightly fray and how the gum does not extend around the perforation tips. On regummed stamps, the gum tends to glob on the perforation tips, extending microscopically beyond them, and making the perforation tips brittle to the touch.
This is the major test. Now, we are told, regummers are using micron sprayers to nearly duplicate the characteristics of genuine gum. More times than not, they wash the original “hinged” gum off the stamp and reapply, with no “hinged” characteristics. The best advice is to buy never hinged stamps, if it is important to you, back to about 1920, which is the period where reasonable stocks of philatelic material were available and so true “NH” material could surface from these stocks when the “NH” fad began. But, before 1920 (and this is increasingly true for each decade that you go back), a hinge mark is your surest guarantee that you are indeed buying original gum.
But what does “never hinged” really mean anyway? It does not only mean, as some literal graders would have it, “never hinged.” An “NH” stamp must, of course, be never hinged, but it must also be, to use the German term for “never hinged,” “Post Office Fresh.” The stamp may never have been touched with a hinge, and the gum must be, in all ways, pristine. A description such as “small gum soak” and “large sticky pieces of black gummed paper stuck to back, otherwise NH,” means no more than “Very Fine but for small hole” or “choice but for large disfiguring tear.” A stamp is either “NH” or it is not “NH”; there is not “NH but”!
Gum is a vital determinant to stamp value. It was not always so, but it probably will always be. But, consider this, early no gum stamps are beginning to rise as fast as original gum ones are. A perfect original gum set of Colombians would sell for about $8,000, never hinged about $15,000, and no gum about $4,000. It might be too much to go out on a limb and predict the renaissance of no gum stamps, but certainly this prediction is no more outrageous than was the prediction twenty-five years ago for the immense rise of “og, NH.”
Be cautious in your condemnation of regummed stamps though. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” Pope wrote, and he was right. Consider this: the advent of modern stamp mounts, sealed on 2, 3, or 4 sides has put severe strain on gum. Gum, especially in hot and humid climates, tends to sweat or run similar to the adhesive on Scotch tape. This is a natural process, but one that is hastened in its process when a stamp is in a mount. A mount is a miniature sweat box; so if you have your stamps in mounts, be sure there is adhesive ventilation and that the stamps are left cool all year round.
We have seen stamps that we know have original gum condemned by the unknowledgeable because improper storage has allowed the gum to “run” or “sweat” ever so slightly out over the perforation tips; this is criminal. In our opinion, it is just as bad to condemn a good stamp as to pass a bad. But, too often nowadays, stamps are sold by people whose parents weren’t even alive when the gum was being applied to them. The difference between regummer’s work and “sweated” old gum is small, but it does exist. Original gum bears cracks and seems to adhere to the stamp paper in a way that is different from a regummed stamp.
In the end, your surest bet is to buy your stamps from knowledgeable professionals. Apfelbaum’s, on all Public Auctions, offers an unconditional guarantee of genuineness, and we back our descriptions with a lifetime money back guarantee. We are the only stamp dealer in this country to do this, and we do what no other expertizing group does. We guarantee our opinions.
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