Malaya postage stamp printing - Lin Yangchen
  • Malaya postage stamp printing

©Lin Yangchen

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The stamps were letterpress-printed in sheets of 100 at Bunhill Row in London from electrotyped copies of the original dies. Printing from interlocking plates is thought to have been invented in the early 19th century on the Strand in London. It was first used on stamps by De La Rue in 1863. This made it easier to print bicoloured stamps (Lowe 1979), update the monarch and mix and match plates. The use of a single key plate for all denominations also saved raw materials and labour.

First the key plate (vignette) in the centre was printed, followed by the duty plate with the surrounding design. This is curious since the key plate is intuitively a foreground object. This close-up shows the displacement of ink where the duty plate (red) overlays the key plate (purple). This phenomenon varies from stamp to stamp, possibly depending on the properties of the ink and the time the medallion has been allowed to dry before applying the duty plate. It also shows a characteristic of letterpress printing: the thicker ink along the boundaries of the impression, caused by excess ink deposited in the grooves of the plate during inking and by printing pressure squeezing ink out from the printed areas (Williams & Williams 1969).

The key plates were sometimes misaligned—here shown too high and too low—despite the fundamental importance of accurate registration (alignment) in security printing (Fernbank 2013) and the valiant efforts of De La Rue to overcome this 'enormous difficulty' since the earliest days (Easton 1949).

One of the worst cases of misregistration encountered by the author.

One trait of this 1946 Chinese Civil War-era Sun Yat-sen issue may be considered superior to the Die I coconut definitives: the elliptical frame around the portrait is engraved on the duty plate rather than the key plate in the Chinese stamp, which guarantees perfect centering of the ellipse with respect to the duty plate. Had Die I of the coconut definitive been designed this way, mis-registrations of the plates would have been less obvious. Many of the engravings of the British monarchs, however, had already been made incorporating the elliptical frame prior to the advent of the coconut definitive; the designers were hence likely to have been bound by historical, logistical and physical constraints.

Just before issue, a serious error occurred in the dollar denominations, where the dollar sign was placed after the numeral e.g. '1$'. Proofs exist in the Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive and in private collections (Singapore Stamp Club 2000, Spink auction 16 August 2015). The error was said to have been spotted on the finished stamps by a Chinese clerk in Singapore, causing a reprinting to be ordered and the misprinted stamps destroyed (Wood 1948, Barker 1977).

The coconut definitive was finally born to the outside world on New Year’s Day 1936. It went to the post offices in sheets of 100 (10 by 10), which had a backing of gum arabic.

Some highly used monochromatic denominations were subsequently printed using a single die referred to as Die II (Skinner & Peters 1988), such as this unissued 8 cents. This printing method, often used on sheets of 200 stamps, was more cost-effective for large production runs (Easton 1949); the medallion and its surrounding artwork now do not overlap. Notice that the medallion in Die II is set nearer to the ground than in Die I. The die was soon discovered by philatelists to considerable fanfare (Rang 1939). The coconut definitive thus came to embrace both key-plate and key-type technology.

Sometimes seen in the top or bottom gutter of a pane of Die II stamps are the so-called "pillars" or "space fillers", which occur between the upper and lower panes each containing 100 stamps (Rosevear 1983). Their purpose could have been to reduce ink wastage or plate fouling by preventing ink from smearing the entire gutter as it was applied across the 200-stamp plate. Striated paper is shown here.


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