CUT SQUARES & FULL CORNERS
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CUT SQUARE AND FULL CORNER INFORMATION
When the first envelope was produced (1853), someone decided it would be a good idea to collect just the embossed (stamped) area. Soon, collectors were arguing about the details. Should the embossed area be "cut to shape", or should it be "cut square"? If cut square, how large should the borders be? It’s over 150 years later; fortunately, the “cut-to-shape” people are in history's dustbin, but the “border dispute” is still going. Here’s how things are done at my end....
CUT SQUARE QUALITY: THE BUCK STOPS HERE Whatever leaves this office is my work. I use a paper cutter, not a scissors! You may expect a cut square with four 90-degree corners (plus or minus 1 degree, if I'm working late at night!) and straight edges. You may expect a clean piece of paper without hinge remnants and the previous owner’s life story penciled on the back. (Exceptions! 1. When the piece came from a "name" collection and the prior owner was well-known. 2. When the piece has an expertising mark. 3. When the piece is difficult to identify and I put a LIGHT pencil ID on the back.)
You may expect decent-sized borders, as dictated by the envelope from which it was cut. I would love to provide you all with generously-bordered cut squares for all issues, but that isn’t always possible. Certain issues are notorious for producing narrow margins. The lower-value (1c-5c) Columbians (U348-50) and the 2c Hartfords (U385-99) can get nasty. Even a few later issues such as the 1960 Pony Express issue (U543) and the U546 N.Y. World's Fair issue (U546) were designed with the embossed area just a bit too close to the edge of the envelope.
Those of you who collect Envelopes know there are over 25 different sizes of envelopes, and many of the smaller sizes -- especially the earlier ones -- simply can't yield a generous cut square. For these issues, I promise that I'll give you the best quality possible under the circumstances.
FULL CORNERS Some collectors addressed the ‘border dispute” by collecting “Corners”. A Corner is a cut square with the side and back flaps from the envelope attached. Literally, it is corner of the envelope. Don't ask me when, but somewhere in times past the standard developed that a FULL Corner should be 2" x 2". Anything less is just a Corner.
It’s not a high crime -- or even a misdemeanor -- to put a few brief notes in pencil on the back flap of a full corner. After all, you’re not really writing on the cut square. Just one thing; IF you ever decide to write on the flap of a full corner, OPEN it up first! Safety 101.
CUT SQUARE INK COLORS These can give a collector a headache. Many of the older cut squares are various shades of red. Names you'll find in the catalog are: Carmine, red, dark red, lake, dark lake, vermilion, scarlet, orange, and pink. Some day, if I have the time, I'll scan some examples and post them here. Many older cuts are also shades of green. Names you'll find in the catalog are: Green, yellow green, blue green, dark green, bright green, deep green, and olive green. Look at the now-colorized Scott Specialized. U578 and U579 are both listed as "green", but as you can clearly see, they aren't the same color. Don't look for relief in the color blue. Names you'll find in the catalog are: Blue, ultramarine, light blue, dark blue, deep blue, and turquoise.
In addition, many issues -- particularly ones which were in use for several years -- exist in a wide range of shades, many of which are not listed, either in Scott or UPSS. Some which come easily to mind are U311-14, U362-65, U348-9, U411-14, U420-23, U429-32. Collectors who want to specialize in color varieties have a lot of material at their disposal.
CUT SQUARE PAPER COLORS AND QUALITY Considerable variety exists in both the quality and color of the papers used to make envelopes. Although all envelopes today are printed on white paper, many were also printed on amber (yellow) and blue papers thru the early 1940s. AND, envelopes were often printed on both "standard" and "extra" quality papers. "Extra" quality paper is a brighter-colored, thicker, stiffer paper which holds up to the rigors of the U.S. Mail better than "standard" quality. It's also more expensive to make.
Envelope papers begin as a grayish mix of wood pulp, rags, and other "fibers". The mix is then either bleached to a white -- or whitish -- shade, or colored to whatever is desired for the issue. Envelopes were never produced by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing; they were always sub-contracted to commercial manufacturers. These firms were only interested in completing the job to the required specifications, on time, and as far under budget as possible, since the contracts were awarded by competitive bidding.
Every penny that could be saved by using a little less bleach or coloring agent was a penny earned; if a change in the fiber content saved a few cents without compromising the strength of the envelope, it was done. Minor changes to the appearance of the envelope were unimportant. “WHITE”, for instance, can vary from very white, to chalky (grayish) white, to milky (bluish) white, to an ugly, dark grayish/brownish white used during WW1, to a brownish white with fibers used during WW 2. In short, “Snow White” is just a fairy tale.... The colored papers show similar variety. Experienced stationery collectors find these varieties interesting; “stamp” people who collect stationery as a sideline will need to take a deep breath & adjust.
And those archaic names!! Amber, lemon, fawn, buff, oriental buff, cream, manila...why don’t they just say what they mean? Actually, they did make sense...100 years ago. The names have never been updated to reflect the modern English language.
AMBER: It's really YELLOW! In Nature, amber is fossilized tree sap...which sometimes contains fossilized insects...and is yellow in color. PALE AMBER is a very light yellow, and can be mistaken for white. LEMON, used on official envelopes, is a slightly darker, more intense shade of yellow.
BUFF: As the name might suggest, it's skin-colored...if you're Caucasian. ORIENTAL BUFF is a lot like buff, with a shade more red. CREAM is a lot like buff, but lighter.
MANILA: It's not a color as much as a quality. Shades vary from very light -- like "manila" folders -- to very dark, either greenish or brownish. It's a poor quality, often used for making cheap commercial envelopes and wrappers, not as much for personal correspondence. It's best identified by holding it in front of a strong light.
FAWN: It's a dark shade, a bit darker than oriental buff, yet a smidge lighter than brown.
BLUE: This is the only color whose name isn't a puzzle. Thru the years, however, blue envelopes have ranged in shade from near violet to grayish-blue.
ORANGE: A poor-quality paper, the color is pretty much what you'd expect, though it does cover a range and can sometimes be confused with cream.
ALL of the above shades are only guidelines, and exist over a range, even for the same issue. A paper-maker might produce a given color on 20 different occasions over a period of several years, depending on the popularity of the issue. Depending on the materials used, many different shades might result.
AND, if you assume that 100 or more years of sitting in a drawer or on a shelf might alter (fade) the original color a bit, you'd be right.
Finally...a few modern issues...U547, U549, U550 and UC37 exist on Fluorescent (white) Paper. It was a Postal experiment. They're only a small part of the entire printing, and are quite a bit scarcer than "dull" paper.
IN SUMMATION Collecting Cut Squares can be easy, or it can be complex and challenging. If you're one of my regular customers and you have a question, please feel free to e-mail or just pick up the phone & give me a call.
Steve Levine Phone: 718-939-5788