Malaya stamp printing paper - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

previous section | next section | back to table of contents

Paper supplied to De La Rue bore the Multiple Crown Script CA (“Crown Agents”) watermark impressed on the pulp using a dandy-roll. This watermark featured the Imperial State Crown symbolizing the British monarch's sovereignty, accompanied by the letters CA in an artistic 'signature' script typeface that mimicked cursive handwriting and was harder to forge.

Interestingly, the horizontal and vertical periodicities of the watermark are both slightly out of sync with the standard British Empire small-definitive stamp dimensions; the watermark repeats at slightly greater distances.

Sometime between 1950 and 1952, a crown fell off the dandy roll used to apply the watermark. The replacement of a wrong crown—the Saint Edward's crown, the type used at coronations—resulted in watermark "errors" in various values (Stanway 2009). Affected coconut definitives include those of Singapore and Johore. It has, however, seemingly never been clarified as to whether the "error" was intentional, perhaps necessitated by the unavailability of the correct watermark crown, and indeed why a Saint Edward's crown watermark template exists at all.

The Crown Agents’ paper lacked some of the desired qualities of De La Rue’s own papers, so they usually gave it an additional proprietary coating, possibly containing calcium or barium and popularly termed 'chalk'. This kind of paper made the stamps less prone to reuse, since the coating was degraded when immersed in water. Furthermore, it was reflective and produced vivid print colours. See Easton (1949) and Watterson (2004) for details.

Heating, agitation or chemical reactions during manufacture might have created bubbles that left pits as the chalky coating dried. This piece has especially deep and precipitous pits, almost resembling the ancient cenotes (sinkholes) on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The paper also harbours residual particles of blue and green colouring (Fernbank 2013). The author has observed green paper carrying blue particles as well.

A less pitted chalky coating perhaps due to less bubbling. The surface seems to act like a porous sponge that absorbs ink quickly and evenly.

In 1941, as war raged in Europe and De La Rue was bombed, striated paper (Barker 1996) appeared. It is thin, about 85 μm compared with the 105 to 150 μm of chalky paper (author's measurements by means of a micrometer screw gauge). It has streaks running across the stamp, which may have been produced through a manufacturing process similar to that of laid paper.

Constructing a high-resolution digital elevation model of the surface of striated paper.

At high magnification, striated paper presents a texture reminiscent of asbestos.

A "rough paper" that appeared around the same time as striated paper had a texture similar to the latter, but was thicker, lacked the striations and had no appreciable coating. It may have been made from the same pulp.

After the war a coated "substitute paper" (Barker 1996) emerged. Printings on this paper often have a crumpled-cellophane quality, with the ink forming puddles and accumulating along the edges. Pitting may occur, as in this case, but usually at a lower density.

Additional paper types have been used for the coconut definitive but rarely noted as such. One of them is the uncoated buff-coloured thin card impregnated with slender brown fibres, used in postal stationery bearing direct prints of the stamp.

The coconut definitive has also been printed on the even rougher aerogramme paper. See Singapore 25 cents for more images and discussion.

Yet more kinds of paper were involved in the genesis of the coconut definitive. First there was the plate-glazed paper or "glazed card" used for die proofs. The paper, though uncoated, was given a smooth ceramic-like surface by pressing it with heated metal plates. Ink texture on a specimen examined by the author (lot 586, Spink auction in Singapore, 28 October 2017) resembles that on substitute paper, with mottling and outlined edges, but gave crisp detail nevertheless. De La Rue had previously tried using raw uncoated paper which delivered terrible print quality; the original pulls on this paper are deposited in the Crown Agents, Philatelic and Security Printing Archive.

This so-called "plate proof", "printer's trial" or "printer's waste" on unwatermarked rough paper (Parr 1972, Stanway 2009), here showing Sultan Ismail of Trengganu, is similar in texture and colour to the buff-coloured card of postal stationery. This rare transitional stage between the die proofs and the production stamps was not officially recorded and may have served to clean the plate or remove excess ink; one occasionally finds the stamp of a different country on the same sheet (McClaren 2006)! This piece has two unevenly inked blocks and faint overlapping impressions of additional blocks that suggest plate cleaning. This specimen is unusual as most plate proofs of the coconut definitives are devoid of additional plate-cleaning impressions. These trials were supposed to be destroyed but a few made it out of the 'gulag'.

Plate proofs also exist in a rarer greenish grey paper of apparently similar fibre structure, here seen carrying the plates of Johore. Formerly in the collection of Dr Abdul Majid Dato Kassim. See Lin (2018a) for further discussion of circumstances surrounding plate proofs.

I propose a possible source of the paper used for the plate proofs: could it simply have been the wrapping paper for the actual stamp paper? It would be big enough to take an impression of the entire plate. Why else would such a large piece of scrap paper be lying around? The literature offers descriptions of the paper but stops short of hypotheses for its origin. Exploration in this direction could bring fascinating insights into the day-to-day goings-on in the printing room.


previous section | next section | back to table of contents
Powered by SmugMug Log In