Malaya stamp printing paper - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

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The coconut definitives started out on a so-called chalky paper with a coating possibly containing calcium or barium. This paper was smooth and reflective and produced crisp and vivid print colours. It also made the stamps less prone to reuse, since the coating was degraded when immersed in water. See Easton (1949) and Watterson (2004) for details.

The coating is pitted, perhaps due to heating, agitation or chemical reactions during manufacture. 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 "substitute paper" (Barker 1996) emerged. It has a chalk coating but less so than chalky paper (Lowe 1951). The paper is apparently not common, reportedly having been used only for certain issues for Ceylon, Hong Kong and Malaya (Lowe 1951). Printings 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'. Veteran philatelist Len Stanway noted that nothing was supposed to get out of security printing works, not even off-cuts from sheet edges after guillotining (Lin 2018d).

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.

Lin (2018d) proposed 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? Stanway, however, argued that the paper used for test prints had to be of a consistent thickness and surface texture so as to expose plate anomalies, and that wrapping paper would not have been up to the task (Lin 2018d). 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.

I am grateful to Robert Hisey, John Barwis, David Beech, Paul Skinner, Benedict Sim, Ernest Cheah, Clement Khaw and Goh Wah Ing for discussions and technical assistance, and to the Nikon Imaging Centre at the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium for providing state-of-the-art microscopy facilities.


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