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The issue.

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 Kans. or Nebr.

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 fakes.

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 stamps.

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)

Bibliography.

Micarelli, Charles. The Micarelli Identification Guide to U.S. Stamps. Regular Issues 1847-1934. Revised edition, 1991.
Schmid, Paul. How to Detect Damaged, Altered, and Repaired Stamps. 1979.
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.)

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