What is printer’s waste?
Imagine that you have just been offered the imperforate pairs of the United States stamps shown here: the 1969 6¢ Apollo 8 (Scott 1371) anBuy Stampsd the 1975 10¢ Pioneer-Jupiter (1556) issues. You would like to add them to your collection, but they have expert certificates stating they are “printer’s waste.” That sounds ominous.
What are we to make of this? Are these not, despite what you see, genuine errors? The first place to turn is the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. With this note, the catalog confirms what the certificates say, “Imperfs. exist from printer’s waste.”
The listings for these stamps do not assign a Scott number or value for imperf pairs, as one would expect for genuine errors; there is only the note.
The next step is to look through the explanatory material in the front of the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog to see how Scott defines printer’s waste. That definition should be in there, but I was unable to find an entry.
To get a good definition, we have to go to the Scott Catalogue of Errors on U.S. Postage Stamps, 18th Edition, 2021, which lists all known U.S. imperfs, color-omitted errors, inverts and a couple of other categories, one of which is printer’s waste.
Here is what is said in the introduction to the Printer’s Waste section: “Printer’s waste refers to error-like items that have reached the market through the back door rather than across a post office counter. An error sold across the counter is deemed legitimate. Printer’s waste is not. The term ‘printer’s waste’ implies that it was misappropriated from a printing plant or wastepaper destruction facility and illicitly sold into the hobby. The term invariably carries a negative connotation. Most collectors do not consider printer’s waste to be errors — and rightly so, because they are not.”
The section introduction includes a second paragraph with more information, plus there is a longer discussion of printer’s waste in the introduction to the catalog.
It needs to be understood that every printer produces waste: generally incomplete product that is removed from the production line for destruction because it was part of a start-up or shut-down of the printing or perforating equipment, or product that was flawed by an anomaly in production.
In the era when these 1969 and 1975 stamps were printed, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had a contract with an off-site paper disposal facility to haul away waste and burn it.
One would expect that values for such material would not be very high. And for most, it is not, but for the two printer’s waste pairs discussed in this column, that rule does not hold.
The Scott U.S. Errors catalog includes the same note for both items, “Pairs have traded in the marketplace in the $1,500-$2,000 range.” That is a good deal more than most legitimate imperf errors bring. Why?
I think there are several reasons.
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