A Colorimetric Analysis Methodology for Philatelic Studies

David L. Herendeen
Executive Summary

Many philatelists of the “baby boom” generation began the hobby as collectors of U.S. stamps. Beyond blue, red, and green, colors were not a major consideration. In many cases, the first notion of a shade began when we heard of the exotic “pigeon blood pink” variety of the 1858 3c stamp (Scott 64a). Cool, we thought. Then we wondered, what on earth does pigeon blood pink look like? Who made up such an esoteric name? How would we ever know if our common 3c might be the “one?” These are excellent questions. What is needed is an affordable analytical method for verifying shades of stamps that eliminates the need for large reference collections and “experts.”

Prior to the last decade, the ability to perform objective, accurate, nondestructive and affordable spectrographic analyses of stamps has not been possible. However, the rapid development and improvement in computer, video, software, optical and laser technologies has resulted in new generations of hardware that will become indispensible to philatelists. One such device is the Video Spectral Comparator, VSC6000, at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

This proposed research project, entitled 
A Colorimetric Analysis Methodology for Philatelic Studies, intends to develop a transferable technology that will be useful to the entire philatelic community for defining colors not by impossible-to-interpret names, but by accurate chromaticity metrics. It is hoped that a derivative technology can be developed that allows much more inexpensive scanning technologies to be used for the same purpose.

As will be seen, this proposed study intends to open new vistas for philatelic color analysis that allow shades to be identified without having a reference collection of comparator copies. If this can be done using inexpensive scanning hardware it will represent a truly significant forensic tool in the future. Such a possibility should certainly be deserving of the support of the SNPM.