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Type II Black Overprint Reading Up

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2-cent Cordoba single

The Type II overprint exists on the 1c, 2c, 5c, and 10c dominations, Scott Numbers 38-41. The left-tilted letter “O” in ZONE most easily identifies this overprint.

Documentation exists which shows the delivery dates of the stamps to the Canal Zone as well as the quantity of stamps delivered on each date. When the ABNCo archive material was sold in 1990 the Specimen sheets were eagerly examined and while they answered some technical questions concerning overprints and print dates they also presented new challenges that have renewed collectors interest in this issue.

The issued stamps contain several major errors including one of the most famous, and most difficult to find, in the world of stamp collecting; the portrait of Cordoba from the 2c issue (Scott catalogue number 38) in the frame of the 5c stamp (Scott catalogue number 34), which should have had the portrait of Arosemena.

This “gem of philately” can be seen in the NPM’s collection, under this TYPE II series.

The Specimen stamps revealed another potential major error on the 2c Cordoba issue. It has the word CANAL facing down instead of up. Only one copy of this error was found on one specimen sheet and so far no one has found one in the issued stamps.

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1-cent Balboa single

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2-cent Cordoba single

The 2-cent vermilion and black Cordoba was issued in December 1912, and the underlying Panama stamp is the same as in the Type I overprint. There are several notable overprint errors in this issue, including one without overprint (which must be attached to an overprinted stamp to distinguish it from the similar Panama stamp), CANAL only, overprint reading down, and a center invert with the overprint reading down.

There appear to have been at least four panes of one hundred stamps, each of the inverted center stamps.

David Zemer

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5-cent Arosemena single

The 5-cent Arosemena bears the Canal Zone's most remarkable error, a portrait of Cordoba instead of Justo Arosemena (1817-1896) in its blue frame. Discovered in Paris, France, in 1925, it is this stamp that is in the National Postal Museum's collection. There have been six copies of this stamp discovered, and their fame is such that each has a name attached to it. Because this 5-cent stamp paid the letter rate to foreign countries, foreign workers used the errors on mail to their homes in the Caribbean or Europe. It went unnoticed at the post offices in the Canal Zone, and at least one full sheet of a hundred must have been sold.

In 1952, Edward Conger wrote "A Canal Zone Rarity," which appeared in the 18th American Philatelic Congress Book, 1952, and was reprinted by the Canal Zone Study Group. In this article, Conger offers a short history of each of the six copies of this stamp known at that time. He included photographs of five of the known copies: the Paris copy, the New Zealand copy, the Reading copy (found in Reading, Pennsylvania), the Toronto, Canada copy, and the Pierrepont copy (named after its first known owner, Commander John J. Pierrepont, US Navy).

The sixth copy is the Gatun copy, found in 1931 by Tillie Levy, wife of the well-known stamp collector and dealer Nathan Levy, who lived in Gatun, Canal Zone. It remained in the family until sold at the Bennett auction (October 2004) of the David Leeds' Collection of Canal Zone Stamps and Postal History.


Conger, Eward S. "A Canal Zone Rarity." in 18th American Philatelic Congress, ed. Franklin r. Bruns, Jr., 93-99. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1952.

David Zemer

Most stamp collectors love a good mystery and now that we can compare the Specimen stamps with those issued to the public we have more than enough unsolved mysteries to keep collectors searching and researching for decades. As can be seen from the following two tables there are some discrepancies between printings of some of these specimen stamps and known deliveries to the Canal Zone. For example on May 3, 1916 the ABNCo printed three 1c Balboa specimen sheets under job order F # 4943 but the last recorded delivery of this Type II overprint was on December 7, 1915. This suggests that either the order was delivered in 1916, and documentation was not found in the records, or it was scrapped.

From the delivery dates it appears that the Canal Zone was using about 1,000,000 1c stamps each year but no deliveries were recorded in 1916 or 1917 and it was not until January 1918 that the Type IV series was delivered which leads one to believe that there could have been an additional printing or two during 1916-1917.

David Zemer and Robert J. Karrer