Saturday, April 7, 2012

Queensland First Sideface Article - Butler

QUEENSLAND 1879-80 by A. R. BUTLER, London Philatelist, November/December 1980, pp. 163-171

The issue of l879-80 comprised the first stamps to be produced in Queensland by the surface-printing process and they are important because the methods developed in their production remained virtually unchanged for the following twenty years. In studying these production methods it must be remembered that the stamps were being issued just one hundred years ago and to appreciate the problems faced by the Queensland Printing Office it is worthwhile to recall for a moment the world of 1879-80.

It was the time when the British Empire and Gibbons Part I were being created. ‘Bobs’ Roberts was fighting the Afghans and VC’s were being won at Rorke’s Drift. In this country the railway system was well advanced but confidence had just been badly shaken by the Tay Bridge disaster. The first motor car was five years in the future. At best houses and offices were lit by gas. Twelve thousand miles away in Queensland things could scarcely have been as far advanced as in the home country. Only the beginnings of railways existed and letters to England could still be about two months in transit. Some of these letters would be seen by the 27 members of the Philatelic Society, London, with Mr Justice Philbrick in the Chair, and the stamps under discussion were noted as new issues.

It was in 1876 that it was decided to replace the ‘Chalon Head’ stamps. The design had been in use since 1860 and with the exception of the Fourpence which was lithographed all had been printed from the steel plates engraved by Perkins, Bacon Ltd in London. The new stamps were to be surface printed and after Mr Knight, the Government Printer, had visited Sydney and Melbourne for advice it was decided to print them from locally made plates. William Bell of Sydney was asked to engrave a master die on steel but this did not materialise until May 1877. The stamps were not issued until April 1879 and it is the happenings of these intervening two years which are of great interest. Some elementary information which can be found in every B0y’s Book of Stamp Collecting is repeated here in order to demonstrate more clearly the difficulties which were encountered.

The issue comprised five denominations, the One Penny, Twopence, Fourpence, Sixpence and One Shilling. There are three worthwhile printing varieties which are illustrated here for convenience. PENGE, QO in QUEENSLAND and QUEENSbAND. QUEENSbAND is not catalogued but it should be as it occurs as frequently as PENGE and is equally striking.

The only known proof from the master die is in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Presumably it has the appearance of Figure 2 although the definition should be much more crisp. The white lines and letters would have been cut into the steel. The black areas would be the remaining plane surface of the steel block. The arrow indicates a tiny scratch which must have been present on the master die.

Reproduction from the master die was to be by the then new process of electrolytic deposition. In its very simplest form the procedure was as follows. The master die was positioned on an appropriately sized flat slab of lead and then pressure was applied so that an impression of the design was transferred to the lead (Figure 3). This impression was delicately polished. with plumbago and a very soft brush. The slab of lead which had now become a mould was suspended in a bath of copper sulphate solution opposite to a similarly suspended plate of pure copper and an electric current applied (Figure 4). This caused a layer of copper to be deposited on the mould and this layer slowly increased in thickness. When the thickness was about that of a playing card the mould was removed from the bath.

It is necessary to appreciate that the only source of electricity was a primary battery and the apparatus at Mr Knight’s disposal could not have been much more sophisticated than that shown in this drawing from an 1890 text book (Figure 5). A dynamo for the generation of electric current was not available to the Queensland Printing Office until 1896.

The copper layer or shell was carefully separated from the mould and backed up with type metal. This then was an electrotype of the master die and because the copper deposition had been of molecular fineness the detail of the design was precisely copied (Figure 6). It had however taken three days to form the copper shell and as the intention was to print from plates of 120 subjects the first step to speed things up was to attempt to make a quadruple electrotype. In preparation for this Mr Knight no doubt checked his power supplies! (Figure 7).

Four individual moulds were made ensuring by use of the drop hammer that the depth of impression was the same on each one. The four moulds were then placed face downwards on a Hat surface and soldered together (Figure 8). After cleaning up and polishing this quadruple mould was put into the copper sulphate bath and a quadruple shell produced. This again was backed up with type metal and probably looked like the model shown in Figure 9. This was successful but it became apparent that four was the largest multiple which could be made by this method because in spite of careful  polishing of the mould the separation of the shell from the mould was not easy and with a larger multiple almost certainly the shell would be damaged.

It was decided therefore that the first quadruple electrotype be regarded as a master quadruple electrotype and used in the same way as the single steel master die had been used. In this way a number of quadruple moulds could be made easily and this allowed several copper shells to be made simultaneously. Thirty quadruple electrotypes were needed for the plate of 120 subjects and in Figure 10 they are shown assembled in six rows of five ready for the printing machine. This sketch illustrates the wrought iron frame (the chase), the necessary packing (the reglets and furniture) and the wedges (quoins) which lock the whole as a solid unit.

The master quadruple electrotype must now be considered in more detail. The white areas on this electrotype were recessed and it will be appreciated therefore that these would be in relief on the lead mould. The design was intricate in places and it was not difficult for some minor damage to be done during the polishing operation. The damage was in fact minimal but what there was faithfully reproduced on the copper shell. When the shell was removed from the mould it is also likely that the engraver did a little cleaning up with his graver. The overall alterations from the original design were very small but they were sufficient to make each unit of the quartet slightly different from its neighbour and these differences were reproduced on every electrotype made from the master. It is therefore possible when studying the printed stamps to allocate any stamp to its appropriate corner of a block of four and this feature obtains for all subsequent issues until about the turn of the century.

It is possible to describe the characteristics of the individual stamps in the quartet for any denomination and this was first attempted by Bornefeld in 1907 but it is not always easy to see the characteristic which has been described. This is because, superimposed on the differences of the master electrotype will be the differences which arose on each production electrotype as it was being made. The major examples of these secondary differences are the PENGE, QO and QUEENSbAND varieties already mentioned. Further complications arise because it is apparent that two and not one master quadruple electrotype were used to make the One Penny production electrotypes. Figure 11 shows the major difference between these two masters which have been labelled Die I and Die II respectively in the catalogues. On all four stamps of the Die 11 quartet the horizontal white frame line is prolonged to meet the oval. This looks as though it resulted from a slip of the engraver’s tool when he was cleaning up the electrotype but it is surprising that he made the same slip four times in the same place on the design. A case can be made that there was a secondary single master die made from William Bell’s original steel die, and that the so called Die 11should be Die I, but it cannot be made strongly enough to merit revision of a convention which is of so long a standing. Certainly Mr Knight did not differentiate between Die I and Die II. All were One Penny quadruple electrotypes to him and an examination of proof sheet shows that there was a mix of Die I and Die II electrotypes. This first setting is known as Plate 1. Later there was a Plate 2 which was a re-shuffle with the same electrotypes in different positions and a consequent change in location of the QO variety (Figure 12).

Rather surprisingly the other denominations were derived from One Penny quadruple electrotypes rather than by the production of an individual secondary master die for each. The words ONE PENNY were filled up, most likely with Plaster of Paris, on all four subjects of an electrotype and this was then pressed into lead to make a mould on which could be deposited a new electrotype which had blank spaces in the positions previously occupied by the words ONE PENNY. lf printed the result would be as shown in Figure 13. The words of the new denomination were then engraved by hand on each subject in turn to produce the master quadruple electrotype. Because the new wording was done by hand there are differences in the lettering from one stamp to the next and this provides an additional aid, and on some denominations, a more easy method of identifying the position of a stamp within its quartet. The Twopence was the first other denomination to be produced and this utilised the Die I One Penny electrotype. All the other denominations and also a later replacement for the Twopence (the catalogued Die II stamps) were derived from the Die ll One Penny electrotype. This is shown diagrammatically in Figure 14.

The first stamps to be issued were the One Penny, the Twopence and Fourpence and they were printed on the same type paper as had been used for the engraved Chalon stamps. This paper was exhausted within a few months and then there were provisional printings of about 500 sheets each of the One Penny and Twopence on an unwatermarked paper which had a burelé band printed on the reverse side. This means that there were only ever about 500 each of the QO, PENGE and QUEENSbAND varieties on the unwatermarked paper and they are therefore of considerable rarity. By the end of 1879 a new paper more suitable for surface printing was available and most of the stamps issued were on this paper. On any paper fine used stamps are not all that common because in the case of some printings a water fugitive ink was used, and generally because the perforation, which was all done on a single-line machine gauging 12, was rarely done well. Dated copies are also difficult to find because, as evidenced by covers, the practice was to put the town numeral on the stamps and the datestamp on the cover. In my experience genuinely unused singletons are scarce and unused multiples extremely scarce.

On 1 January 1880 it was decreed that from then on postage and fiscal stamps would be mutually interchangeable. The One Penny and One Shilling postage stamps were used extensively for fiscal purposes. As a result of this, during the last hundred years, many fiscally used stamps have had pen and rubber stamp cancellations removed in attempts to produce ‘unused’ stamps. The ink used for printing the stamps is water fugitive to a greater or lesser degree dependent upon colour and many peculiar shades now exist particularly of the One Penny QO variety. Few so-called unused one shilling stamps are truly unused.

When Mr Knight asked William Bell to engrave the die for the One Penny postage stamp he also asked him to engrave a die for a One Penny fiscal Stamp. The dies for both stamps were delivered at about the same time and much of the experimental work, which for simplicity has here been attributed to the postage stamps, also involved the One Penny fiscal. The plate for this was not built up from 30 units of four but comprised 120 single electrotypes and the problems occasioned by this may well have spurred Mr Knight to persevere with multiplication. The design is no more attractive than the postage design. The stamp was valid for postage and a satisfactory cover is illustrated (Figure 15).

Finally there is the only surcharged stamp issued by Queensland. The Halfpenny on One Penny was made necessary by the increase in a Newspaper rate from ld to l½d. It is recorded as being supplied to the Post Office on 2l February 1880 and as the rate reverted to ld on 28 February it might be described as a ‘seven day wonder’. However 2l February 1880 was a Saturday and it is unlikely that the route’ and initially it would appear that some letters still went by this longer route. At one stage the Queensland authorities introduced a 4d rate via Torres and the ‘direct sea route’ but this was not recognised by the Imperial Post Office and covers are scarce.

Covers of any kind are not all that common. They lack the charm of the Chalon covers and have not been preserved to the same extent. They precede by some fifteen years the plentiful covers of the Tattersall era.

In preparing this paper for presentation to the Society I was helped by a number of people. There was Gordon Clarke who organised the photography for the slides. There were the members of our Australian States Study Group, in particular Geoffrey Adams, John Edmunds and Francis Kiddle who allowed me to examine their holdings of the issue. In Melbourne there was Phil Collas with whom I have had a continuing correspondence on rates and routes. And there was Bobbie Messenger, a constant source of help in many ways. My sincere thanks to all of them.

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