Ok, so I finally broke down and got a watermark detection tray. What is the best fluid to detect the watermarks? I've been using Ronsonol lighter fluid. Works most of the time but there are times I can't make out the watermark to save my life. Tell me, what is so great about Watermark Detection Fluid? I've heard it's the same thing as lighter fluid and honestly, I'm guess I'm a tightwad, but I really can't see myself paying $20 for 3 ounces of "special" fluid if I don't have to. It better be pretty special.
I was given some "proper" watermark detection fluid once and to be honest I found the lighter fuel to work better, don't know if it has any effect on the stamps though. The Victorian stamps I lighter fueled about 40 years ago look perfectly ok to me so guess it's down to personal choice
First, to let you know that it's the watermark that's being difficult, not you/us...
Watermarks can be naturally difficult to detect There are some watermarks that are just hard to detect sometimes. For examples, the single-line USPS watermark on US stamps, the Crowned Agents with rounded "A" watermark of 1984 (known in Scott as watermark #373), watermarks on yellow/orange stamps (especially used stamps with strong cancels)...
Use plenty of fluid to detect The above can sometimes be difficult to find regardless of the type of watermark fluid used. When difficult, make sure you have at least 1/16" inch of watermark fluid in the tray, and then use your stamp tongs to push the stamp face down to the bottom of the black watermark tray. In other words, the fluid in your tray should not be a puddle, but should be more like a wading pool. Because this tends to use fluid rapidly, you should have stamps with difficult to detect watermarks together and do them successively.
Using alternative fluids/methods I find Ronsonol is more than sufficient, and much cheaper than modern philatelic watermark fluids. The primary need for modern philatelic fluids is that the ink in a few stamps will "run" slightly. These cases are very very very few, and I would say less than 99.9% (yeah, seriously, 1 in 1,000) collectors will run into this problem, and the majority of those won't even realize it. I know I've NEVER run into this problem, and I've collected WW for over 40 years. You are more likely to run into a stamp that has water-sensitive fugitive ink (yes, the ink will slowly disappear when you soak in water!).
I do know of a few collectors that will use philatelic watermark fluid (e.g., Clarity, G&K, Super Safe...) when they cannot see the watermark, and sometimes it helps. The reverse is also true. I know some collectors who say there are times when they cannot see the watermark using philatelic fluid, but then can see it using Ronsonol. I used to keep philatelic fluid as a back-up. But I've NEVER encountered a case where using philatelic fluid helped me see a watermark when Ronsonol couldn't reveal it.
I know of one professional US expert who ONLY uses Ronsonol, as he stated it does a much better job of quickly detecting hidden stamp damage/repairs.
Another alternative is using a pressure-sensitive detector (e.g., Signoscope, Morley-Bright, Detectamark...). These are quite pricey and there is a learning curve in terms of effective/proper use. But the professionals do use it as an alternative when fluid doesn't work, and they say it works well. Partly because of the time involved, they only use those detectors as a back-up, not as a primary method.
The great majority of watermarks are relatively easy to detect. In fact, I can ID 90% of watermarks simply by holding the stamp up to a bright light and looking through the back of the stamp, or simply by putting it face down on my thigh when I'm sitting down wearing blue jeans (actually don't want the light too bright when doing this).
In general, the 3 cases I mentioned in my previous post are the ones that cause the most trouble for collectors. Of course, there are other examples, but those would be high on most lists.
So other than those cases -- if you don't see it, it very likely is unwatermarked.
Phil, I remember when I was a kid in the '50s, the recommended fluid was carbon tetrachloride, available at your local drug store for cheap. It was actually cleaning fluid that removd marks from fabric, so I bought mine in a skinny cleaning fluid bottle with a soft scrubbing pad on one end that soaked when the bottle was tilted. Just dab the back of the stamp and voila!
For a dark background, I use a couple of black glass ashtrays that are souvenirs from Las Vegas casinos. Back in the '60s, the pit boss would give you one with the casino's name on the side, as a souvenir if you asked.
Currently, I use Ronsonol lighter fluid. They've changed the ingredients, replacing the naphtha in 2010 when Ronsonol was bought by Zippo. Ronsonol and Zippo lighter fluid are now identical, and I heard that Ronsonol is to be discontinued (if it hasn't already).
That is correct, the Zippo and Ronsonol fluid source are one and the same. The only difference is the Zippo is filtered and more expensive -- but since it's filtered, it's technically probably better for stamps.
There's at least one collector I know who does a lot of watermark detecting and he buys naphtha by the gallon!!!
Yeah, carbon tet... not good for your health, but still better than smoking... and still better than smoking and using Ronsonol as watermark fluid at the same time! -- some of those old-timers, I mean SERIOUSLY!!!
Phil, I use Super Safe watermark fluid most of the time but it is expensive ($11 for a 100 ml bottle) and the detection results are very good. I also have Ronsonol lighter fluid but I haven't seen it to be better at detecting watermarks than Super Safe but as stated it is much, much cheaper. Mike
Collecting Canada, US, UK, Ireland, Germany, France & Austria. Also collecting some classic era stamps of some British Commonwealth Island countries and topicals like WW2, Capt. Cook, Horatio Nelson.
We use to use that carbon tetrachloride years ago to clean helicopter parts - I think we called it Safety Solvent of all things! If you weren't in a well ventilated area you'd get high as a kite! Oh the brain cells I lost back then!
When I was a kid just starting to collect I used Carbon Tet also. It worked great.
It is amazing how times change. Carbon Tet was bad for your health. Licking stamp hinges that probably had a germ metropolis on each hinge. Licking envelopes and stamps was probably worse as both items sat in a dirty post office drawer or on a dirty shelf.
And, through it all, many of us "old timers" are still here. We survived all the trials and tribulations. Today we are creating wimps. Don't use lighter fluid, don't lick hinges, don't lick envelopes, and don't lick stamps (being remedied by self stick).
It is sad about Ronsonol being the same as Zippo. I always used Ronsonol because it did not have that "oily" feel that Zippo had. I wonder how that will afftect stamps in the future.
However, for 60+ years I have used lighter fluid and no detectable damage. The only damage was once I put a German stamp in the fluid and all the ink dissolved. I had a very nice piece of blank paper.
I had one of those Morley-Bright watermark detectors. It worked well and was handy at stamp shows. But the gel hardened when I put collecting/dealing aside for many years and it sat unused in my philatelic tool kit.
For my detector tray I just use the lid from a Folgers Coffee can (black plastic).
That's an excellent option!
My fabric magnifier, that I use for stamps, has a flat black plastic stand. I actually use that as my water mark "tray" (convenient magnifier/tray, ruler -- all-in-one). It saves a lot of fluid, as I put the stamp face down and wet the stamp as needed, instead of putting the stamp into a puddle of fluid.
On the hard to detect watermarks, I still end up using an actual tray to get fluid depth. But your black plastic would work too!
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