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Robert Murray Stamp Shop, Edinburgh
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The Shrunken Stamp

In our 4 December 2006 auction there was a fascinating little stamp. “Little” is the important word.
I was first shown it a few weeks before; what seemed like a bantam version of an otherwise ordinary U.K. King George VI 2½d definitive stamp. At first sight it was interesting, but I was sure that there was some sensible explanation. However, when I went back to look at it again, I was increasingly baffled. Every time my mind hatched a theory, some other aspect of the stamp would disprove it. The owner decided to offer it in this auction, and once I had it back in the shop I gave it a more scientific examination. Here are my findings.

shrunken stamp
"Shrunken Stamp" (left) and normal stamp (right)

Paper; The paper seems of normal thickness though perhaps a little softer, and ever so slightly yellowish.
Watermark; The watermark is normal but smaller – from the lower edge of the crown to the lower edge of the next crown is 13mm, compared to 14mm in a normal stamp.
Perforation; These measure on a gauge as 16½x15¾, whereas the normal stamp is 14.7x14.1. The holes, and the teeth, are that tiny bit smaller than usual. Otherwise the perforations have the usual attributes of a stamp torn from a sheet. Fifteen teeth along the top, just like normal.
Colour; Very slightly more yellowish, possibly caused by the very slight hue of the paper.
Print; As far as we can see, all details of the design are identical, down to the screening dots, but all taken down by that same percentage.
Dimensions; Overall size is 19mmx21mm, compared to the standard 21mmx24.5mm. There is no distortion of the shape of the stamp.
Postmark; Part of a Christmas slogan cancel, quite normal but smaller (we managed to find a stamp with a virtually identically-placed postmark) suggesting again that the reduction has happened after the application of the cancel.

Having looked at all these factors, every possibility as to the source of this stamp seemed unlikely. It was not likely to be a total forgery, as it would be so difficult to replicate everything so accurately. It certainly wasn’t a forged printing on genuine paper, as the paper isn’t the normal size. It couldn’t be a strange one-off fluke, as the owner actually found four of five similar items at the same time, all exactly the same size.
But how could somebody shrink it ?  If it was easy to shrink by some accident of handling or storage, surely we would have seen others before this ?  (Or we would have seen others with some form of shrinkage.) One would expect that any chemical or physical process that caused this much shrinkage would also cause much more damage. How often does anything shrink accurately and evenly in all directions ?

Update; 4 December 2006. The stamp sold at £20.
Update; 27 January 2007. We are told that an article in The Stamp Lover (perhaps a couple of years ago) actually described how this can be done by a process of boiling, rolling, and pressing. Apparently some have been offered for sale with the story that they were wartime paper-saving productions !  (We would be happy to get a copy of the article . . . . . )
Your comments are welcome !

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