Terms & Tips

Philatelic Terms & Tips #3: Admirals

“Admirals” refers to several series of definitive stamps depicting King George V released by Canada (1911–1928: Scott #104-134, #162,172, #178-183, and #MR1-MR7), Rhodesia (1913-1923: Scott #119-138), Southern Rhodesia (1924-1930: Scott #1-14), and New Zealand (1926: Scott #182-184).  Although George V had succeeded Edward VII as King of England and the British Dominions on May 6, 1910, stamps depicting his reign were not issued until the latter part of 1911. The delay in producing the new design, some 18 months after the King’s accession to the throne, had more to do with the process of preparing new printing contracts than with the time needed to actually produce the new stamps, although there were objections to the King appearing on the stamps at all. These particular stamps are called the “Admirals” due to the fact that the King is portrayed in the ceremonial uniform of Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy.

The first of these were the 1 cent and 2 cent denominations issued by Canada on December 22, 1911. These saw postal use for about 16 years, which was longer than any other definitives except for the Small Queens released from 1870 until 1897. This was the start of the first series of the Canadian “Admirals” released from 1911 to 1931 with eleven different denominations ranging from 1 cent to 1 dollar. These depict King George V in profile, facing the left.

Canada #104 (1911)
Canada #104 (1911)

The engraving of King George V on the 1911-1931 Canadian series is modeled after two photographs by H. Walter Barnettby and the other by W. & D. Downey. The engraving was mastered by Robert Savage of the American Bank Note Company whose main base of operation was in New York but which also had printing facilities in Ottawa, Canada. These issues are perforated 12 x 12.

The 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 cent denominations were reprinted at later dates with different colors. Every denomination of the King George V issue were printed in panes of 200 and 400 stamps and cut into and issued in sheets of 100 stamps, or in booklet form with pages of four or six stamps. They were also released in coil form with three different perforation varieties and were first released in November, 1912. The last stamp issue of this series to be released was the 2-cent carmine issue which had the unusual perforations of 12 x 8 and was issued on June 24, 1931.

During this period, Canadian stamps and their usage were affected by many factors.

  • World War I interrupted the supplies of pigments from Europe as well as the supply of high quality steel used for printing plates.
  • The printers changed from printing stamps on wet ungummed paper to dry pre-gummed paper.
  • A growing population and increased use of the mails required that the printers find faster ways of printing greater numbers of stamps.
  • In 1915, a 1¢ War Tax was placed on each piece of mail. Eleven years later it was repealed.
  • The postal rates changed numerous times. This resulted in new stamps being issued to meet these rates, and existing denominations being issued in new colors.
  • Increased use of stamp vending and affixing machines prompted the Post Office to issue stamps in coil format.
  • Increased popularity of stamp booklets resulted in their continued issuance during this era.
  • New services such as Airmail were offered by the Post Office.
  • Old cancelling devices were gradually phased out as new types of cancels were introduced.

The unusually long issuing period required new dies and several plates to be struck, resulting in a large range of flaws and other varieties for a stamp collector to study. It is because of these factors that the “Admirals” are some of the most extensively-researched stamps in Canadian philately.

Canada #166 (1931)
Canada #166 (1931)

Stocks of the earlier Canadian series of King George V definitives began to become exhausted in 1928 so a second series was prepared and issued beginning in August 1928. Rather than portraying the King in complete profile, these stamps portrayed King George V with his head in a quarter turn to the left. The series was issued in six denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 cents, with a different color for each value. The first stamp of this series to appear was the 4 cent released on August 16, 1928, while the 8 cent stamp was the final to appear, issued on December 21, 1928. Stamps from this series that were also issued in coil form and include the 1, 2 and 5 cent denominations.

A number of books detailing the “Admiral” issues of Canada have been published. There are also a number of excellent online guides, including an overview on the Canadian Philately blog extensive sites hosted by the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada and the British North America Philatelic Society.

Rhodesia’s “Admiral” stamps were released between 1913 and 1923, portraying King George V facing straight. Four values were printed from a single working place while the remainder were bicolored and printed from double plates. Three engraved dies for the head were used which can be identified from the shading on the King’s ear and the shank of the anchor on his cap badge. Shades for these issues are numerous. These stamp issues were perforated with gauge 14 or 15. Because of this numerous color varieties and other factors, correct identification can be difficult the collector. Many books on the subject are out of print and difficult to obtain as is other source information.

Southern Rhodesia #1 (1924)
Southern Rhodesia #1 (1924)

Using the same design as those of Rhodesia were the first stamps to be inscribed SOUTHERN RHODESIA, fourteen engraved stamps printed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 14, released in 1924; a coil version of the 1 penny scarlet, perforated 12½, was released in 1930.

In New Zealand in 1924, it was considered that the demand for 2s and 3s stamps was such that two new stamps were required to replace the “Duty” stamps that had been in use up to that time. As Viscount Jellicoe was then Governor-General, it was considered appropriate to depict on the stamps a portrait of the King in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Jellicoe having been the commander of the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

The New Zealand Cabinet approved the stamp on July 1, 1924. The three stamps (Scott #182-184) were designed by H Linley Richardson of Wellington.  The dies were engraved by Waterlow and Sons, London, while Bradbury Wilkinson produced the printing plates which were printed by the Government Printing Office, New Zealand, in sheets of 80, perforated 14, on paper watermarked with NZ and a star. The first printing of the 2 shilling in deep blue and 3 shilling in mauve was on thin Jones paper and released on July 12, 1926. The engraved impressions are generally rather poor.

In May 1927, the 2 shilling New Zealand Admiral was issued on a thick Cowan paper and the 3 shilling was later issued in September 1927. The impressions on the Cowan paper are far better than those printed on the Jones. Initial printings of the 2 shilling value on Cowan paper can easily be distinguished from the earlier Jones paper as they are a much lighter and brighter blue. The color became deeper in later printings. In November 1926 a 1 penny stamp was issued with the same design. The stamps remained on sale till May 1935.

New Zealand #183 and 184 1916), on piece
New Zealand #183 and 184 1916), on piece

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Terms & Tips

Philatelic Terms & Tips #2: Adhesives

We have quite the sticky subject today — that concerning all that is used to adhere stamps to covers or cards. The term ADHESIVE in philately can either refer to the gum on the back of a stamp, be it water-activated or self-adhesive, or the stamp itself affixed to prepay postage in contrast to a pre-printed design as on postal stationery. Stamps have also been issued without any adhesive at all and were affixed to envelopes by glue or other means.

It has been said that stamp gum, in its never-hinged state, is the most valuable substance on Earth.

The earliest human use of adhesive-like substances was approximately 200,000 years ago. Two stone flakes were discovered in central Italy partially covered with birch-bark tar and a third stone dating from the Middle Pleistocene era. This is thought to be the oldest discovered human use of tar-hafted stones.

The birch-bark-tar adhesive is a simple, one-component adhesive. Although sticky enough, plant-based adhesives are brittle and vulnerable to environmental conditions. The first use of compound adhesives was discovered in Sibudu, South Africa. Here, 70,000-year-old stone segments that were once inserted in axe hafts were discovered covered with an adhesive composed of plant gum and red ochre (natural iron oxide) as adding ochre to plant gum produces a stronger product and protects the gum from disintegrating under wet conditions. The ability to produce stronger adhesives allowed middle stone age humans to attach stone segments to sticks in greater variations, which led to the development of new tools.

The first references to adhesives in literature first appeared in approximately 2000 BCE. The Greeks and Romans made great contributions to the development of adhesives. In Europe, glue was not widely used until the period 1500–1700 CE. From then until the 1900s increases in adhesive use and discovery were relatively gradual. Only since the last century has the development of synthetic adhesives accelerated rapidly, and innovation in the field continues to the present.

In 1750, the first British glue patent was issued for fish glue. The following decades of the next century witnessed the manufacture of casein glues in German and Swiss factories. In 1876, the first US patent (number 183,024) was issued to the Ross brothers for the production of casein glue.

Before postage stamps existed, people receiving letters would have to pay for them. The payment was based on how many papers were in the envelope and how far the letter had traveled. Rowland Hill came up a solution of prepayment. At the time, he wrote that his prepaid postage adhesive would be “covered at the back with a glutinous wash.” This led to his invention of stamp gum in 1837; the first postage stamps used starch-based adhesives when issued in 1840.

The first U.S. patent (number 61,991) on dextrin (a starch derivative) adhesive was issued in 1867. Natural rubber-based sticky adhesives were first used on a backing by Henry Day (U.S. Patent 3,965) in 1845. Later, these kinds of adhesives were used in cloth backed surgical and electric tapes. By 1925, the pressure-sensitive tape industry was born. Today, sticky notes, Scotch tape, and other tapes are examples of PSA (pressure-sensitive adhesives).

Originally, gumming took place after printing and before perforation, usually because the paper had to be damp for printing to work well, but in modern times most stamp printing is done dry on pre-gummed paper. There have been a couple of historical instances where stamps were regummed after being perforated, but these were unusual situations.

On early issues, gum was applied by hand, using a brush or roller, but in 1880 De La Rue came up with a machine gumming process using a printing press, and gum is now always applied by machine. The gum is universally spread as uniformly as possible.

Stamp gum - on the back of a U.S. mint, never hinged stamp (#C10, 1927)
Stamp gum – on the back of a U.S. mint, never hinged stamp (#C10, 1927)

The greatest manufacturing problem of the gumming process is its tendency to make the stamps curl, due to the different reaction of paper and gum to varying moisture levels. In the most extreme cases, the stamp will spontaneously roll up into a small tube. Various schemes have been tried, but the problem persists to this day. On Swiss stamps of the 1930s, Courvoisier used a gum-breaking machine that pressed a pattern of small squares into the gum, resulting in so-called grilled gum. Another scheme has been to slice the gum with knives after it has been applied. In some cases the gum solves the problem itself by becoming “crackly” when it dries.

The appearance of the gum varies with the type and method of application, and may range from nearly invisible to dark brown globs. Types of gum used on stamps include:

• dextrin, produced by heating starch
• gum arabic or acacia gum, derived from the acacia plant
• glue, from gelatin, rarely seen on stamps
• polyvinyl alcohol

Some stamps have had gum applied in a pattern resembling a watermark, presumably as an additional security device. German stamps from 1921 had a pattern of wavy lines while Czech stamps from 1923 had gum showing the initials of the Czech Republic, CSP. These patterns have been called gum devices or gum watermarks.

Under-gum printing on the back of a U.S. stamp (#3184, 1998)
Under-gum printing on the back of a U.S. stamp (#3184, 1998)

A 1965 British study of the transmission of bacteria and viruses on gummed paper found that “Although pathogenic bacteria and viruses were not isolated from sample envelopes obtained from various sources, the gums used in manufacture were found to exert a protective effect against death from desiccation on the bacteria and viruses which had been introduced into them” and it was possible to demonstrate bacterial multiplication in the gum used for the manufacture of postage stamps.” The authors added the warning that “postage stamps are often handled very carelessly when issued over the counter, and yet the purchaser will usually lick them without hesitation. The present work shows how readily bacteria can adhere to the surface of gummed paper which has been slightly moistened; and the finger is a suitable source both of moisture and of bacterial contamination.”

A 1996 episode of the popular sitcom Seinfeld featured a character (Susan Ross) who was poisoned after licking the flap of too many gummed envelopes. The episode has been linked anecdotally to an increase in worries about the health risks of licking gummed paper and it has been speculated that it may have contributed to the growing popularity of self-adhesive stamps, at least in the United States.

For collectors, gum is mostly a problem. In 1906, trouble had constantly arisen due to the gum on the under face of the stamps. There was an official notice that stated that stamps were going to be prepared with ‘hard’ gum, and were intended for use in the summer or humid season to prevent the premature sticking together of the stamps, or the sticking to the paraffin paper when in book form. It is rarely of use in differentiating between common and rare stamps, and being on the back of the stamp it is not usually visible. Nevertheless, many collectors of unused stamps want copies that are mint, never hinged which means that the gum must be pristine and intact, and they will pay a premium for these.

While not so much of a problem for modern issues, the traditional way of mounting stamps in an album was with the use of stamp hinges, and some experts claim that very few unused stamps from the nineteenth century have not been hinged at some point in their existence. This means that old unused stamps are inevitably under suspicion of having been regummed, and the detection of regummed stamps is an important part of philatelic expertization.

The first self-adhesive stamps were issued by Sierra Leone in February 1964 and Tonga in April 1969 in an attempt to avoid the tendency of traditional water-activated stamps to stick together in humid conditions. They also made die cutting into fanciful and unique shapes easier.

Pressure-sensitive adhesives are manufactured with either a liquid carrier or in 100% solid form. Self-adhesives for stamps are made from liquid PSAs by coating the adhesive on a support and evaporating the organic solvent or water carrier, usually in a hot air dryer. The dry adhesive may be further heated to initiate a cross-linking reaction and increase molecular weight. 100% solid PSAs may be low viscosity polymers that are coated and then reacted with radiation to increase molecular weight and form the adhesive (radiation cured PSA); or they may be high-viscosity materials that are heated to reduce viscosity enough to allow coating, and then cooled to their final form (hot melt PSA, HMPSA). The stamps are usually issued on a removable backing paper.

The United States Postal Service’s first foray into self-adhesive stamps was in 1974 with the 10-cent Dove Weather Vane (Scott #1552), produced by Avery Dennison, that soon became discolored due to the instability of the adhesive. Another such stamp wouldn’t be issued by the United States until 1989. Stamp collectors criticized the format, as the rubber base adhesive used tended to progressively yellow the stamps. They also found them difficult to remove from covers, and to save in mint condition, though self-adhesives of recent years have improved in these respects.

U.S. Christmas self-adhesive stamp, on its backing liner (2014)
U.S. Christmas self-adhesive stamp, on its backing liner (2014)

The British Post Office first issued self-adhesive stamps on October 19, 1993, with the introduction of books of 20 First Class stamps, later a 2nd class stamp was introduced. In later years, other issues were produced in the self-adhesive format. Die cutting tools for the UK self-adhesive stamps were manufactured by Arden Dies of Stockport, Cheshire, using tools designed by Robert Clapham. Outside of the philatelic community, the stamps have been welcomed as more convenient; by 2002, virtually all new USPS stamps were issued as self-adhesives.

More recent USPS self-adhesive stamps are not readily removable from the envelope or cover backing by traditional water soaking. Some collectors of used stamps have discovered that although not readily removable by water, the self-adhesives can be removed with Bestine (a hexane solvent), Benzine (Petroleum Ether), or a natural based citrus solvent containing d-limonene (e.g., Pure Citrus Orange is an air freshener product that works for this purpose).

Many collectors are only interested in owning stamps in the pristine, mint, state in which they were originally sold at the post office. They are willing to pay a premium for stamps on which the gum has never been disturbed. For investment purposes there is nothing like the never hinged stamp with full gum.

Gum on stamps does have a number of disadvantages. It may crack, curl, become glazed and brittle, discolor, eat into the paper, attract vermin, stain and possibly harm the paper of the stamp itself, possibly even destroying the stamp over time. For this reason, there is a growing movement among collectors to abstain from the practice of collecting never-hinged stamp, even to the point of collecting stamps with no gum.

Unused stamp of the Confederate States of America showing cracked gum and thins
Unused stamp of the Confederate States of America showing cracked gum and thins

Other than mint stamps with full original gum, stamps are also described as lightly-hinged (LH) which show a slight mark where the stamp hinge was once attached. The gum is not greatly disturbed. Some stamps still have pieces of a stamp hinge adhering to its back which are described as having hinge remnants (HR). Heavily-hinged stamps may have been hinged badly or hinged more than once and may have a large area of missing gum and/or multiple hinge remnants.

Unused stamp of Siam showing cracked and discolored gum with thin and hinge remnants (#1, 1883)
Unused stamp of Siam showing cracked and discolored gum with thin and hinge remnants (#1, 1883)

Hinges may also turn brown with age causing discoloration to the stamps. Creases may occur in the gum due to careless handling. Thinned areas (“thins”) can also occur when removing hinges as the gum sticks to the hinge. Some gum is over-sensitive and can cause mint stamps to stick to each other if stacked prior to mounting in an album.

Gum used on some stamps contained sulfuric acid which destroy the paper over time and unused examples should be collected with the gum removed. Inferior gum used in the manufacture of stamps can result in damage when stamps are later subjected to less than ideal conditions, such as high heat and humidity.

Yes, gum is often the source of condition problems among stamps. It has been said that the long-range health and preservation of stamps would be better without gum. Short of soaking the gum from your stamps, the next best thing you can do is protect them by proper storage in albums or stock books and by not subjecting them to high humidity, sunlight or swings in temperature.

Terms & Tips

Philatelic Terms & Tips #1: Accessories

As an English As A Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in southern Thailand, I usually explain that one of the main requirements of a hobby is that some sort of equipment is used. I often need to explain that sleeping is not a hobby although most of my students insist it is their favorite free-time activity. Hobbies are actually a diverse set of activities and it is difficult to categorize them in a logical manner. A recent study by Robert Stebbins categorizes casual leisure and serious leisure by dividing hobbyists into five broad types of activity: collecting, making and tinkering (like embroidery and car restoration), activity participation (like fishing and singing), sports and games, and liberal-arts hobbies (like languages, cuisine, literature).

As we all are aware, collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying and storing. This is appealing to many people due to their interest in a particular subject and a desire to categorize and make order out of complexity.

Collecting stamps has its own unique pieces of equipment needed in the pursuit of our hobby. We call these ACCESSORIES. Some accessories are used in varying degrees by all stamp collectors while others may never be used at all by the majority.

A few basic accessories are needed to collect stamps. Tongs are non-striated tweezers used because they are a reliable way to hold and move stamps without damaging or getting skin oils on them. Collectors have a choice in how to store their stamps, many opting for stamp albums using either stamp hinges or more expensive hingeless mounts, while others use stock books which hold stamps in clear pockets without the need for a mount. Magnifiers — either the traditional handheld magnifying glass or the modern digital counterparts — aid in viewing fine details. Other accessories aid in the proper identification of stamps including perforation gauges, watermark detectors, color charts, and UV lamps used to determine tagging varieties. Catalogues and philatelic literature can also be regarded as accessories. Each of these will have their own article in the “Philatelic Terms & Tips” blog series.

Terms & Tips

Coming Soon: Terms & Tips

Over the course of nearly a year, I have put together 300 straight entries for the “A Stamp A Day” blog. Those articles concentrate on the stamp-issuing entities themselves be they nations, colonies, protectorates, states, provinces, armed forces, organizations, or the occasional private postal system. From time to time, the blog will celebrate a holiday (the majority of which are American or Thai), a noted person’s birthday, the anniversary of an historic event, or some other item I find particularly interesting. In putting these together, I learn a great deal about political and postal history as well as the stamps themselves. It’s been a source of great enjoyment to me and, I hope, to those who take a look on occasion.

At the same time, I would like to post more on this, the “Philatelic Pursuits” blog. In addition to more frequent reports on Thailand’s new stamp issues, I am planning sort of a super-charged glossary of “Philatelic Terms & Tips”: rather than brief explanations, however, I envision rather more in-depth articles dealing with many different aspects of philately — an “encyclopedia”, if you will. Yes, it does sound a bit ambitious but I think it will be quite fun to build-up through the individual articles and I’ll learn even more about this wonderful hobby.

Much like “A Stamp A Day”, I will stick to a more-or-less alphabetical schedule of publishing articles (and will keep a running index page with links for easy navigation). I hope to illustrate the entries mainly through my own photography and scans, although certain items — “Inverted Jenny”, “Mauritius Post Office” and others spring immediately to mind — will, of course, need stock photography. There will also be translations of the terms into various languages (including French, Spanish, Russian, and Thai). I will (probably) try to publish one item per week but we’ll see how that goes…

The first two entries in my “Philatelic Terms & Tips” (PT&T) — accessories and adhesive/gum — are nearly complete. Look for them soon!