Early in 1876 a suggestion was made - that by the process of electrotype printing the production of stamps might be accomplished in a more rapid and satisfactory manner. The copper-plate process was complained of as being very slow and expensive; and it was stated that by the electrotype process as many stamps could be printed in ten minutes as would require a whole day for production by the former method! Mr. Knight, the Government Engraver, then went to Melbourne and to Sydney on a tour of inspection, with the view of examining the respective printing departments of Victoria and New South Wales, and inquiring into the mode of production adopted in those colonies. Upon his return he recommended the adoption of the electrotype process, and the reduction of the size of the sheets to 120, instead of 240, stamps.
Litho. Office, Treasury, July 20th, 1876.
Sir, Referring to the size of our postage stamp sheets, as you are aware, each sheet contains 240 stamps, which is a very convenient size for printing in the ordinary plate press, but as the ld. and 2d. stamps will, in future, be printed from electrotypes, I think it would be advisable to reduce the number to 120 to a sheet. The difficulties in preparing a larger plate by the electro process would be very great, and, with the appliances I shall have, almost impossible. In Victoria and New South Wales the smaller size is adopted as affording the best results both in manufacturing and printing, and I was strongly advised in both places to adopt this size. The printed sheets are far less liable to tear and the stamps to separate along the perforated line, and are much more convenient for despatch to the various country post offices.
I would, therefore, recommend that the paper now in use, and that shortly to arrive, be cut to this size until such time as we can procure a fresh supply from England. The remaining paper may still be used for printing the 3d., 4d., 6d. and ls. postage stamps or other Government securities. The alteration will make no difference in the number we may print per day, as I purpose printing two plates at the same time, as is done in Victoria and New South Wales.
WILLIAM KNIGHT, Government Engraver, The Under Secretary, Treasury.
In the Post Office Department the proposed new arrangement was looked on with disfavour. The Accountant of Stamps referred to the case of the four penny stamp, which for some time had been printed in sheets of 120, and had been found very inconvenient. It was also contended that the change would cause confusion as to orders received from postmasters by telegraph, as they usually stated the number of sheets required, and were accustomed to the larger size.
Mr. Knight’s letter was returned under cover of the following:—
Postmaster General's Department, Brisbane, 5th August, 1876.
Sir, I am directed to return herewith Mr. Knight’s letter relative to altering the size of the sheets of postage stamps to contain 120 instead of 240 stamps as at present, and in reply beg to inform you that the small sheet (4d.) has already caused inconvenience, being too small to keep compactly when folded and kept in quantities, and also entailing double the amount of counting. If, as Mr. Knight says, he intends to print two of the half-size sheets at the same time, the plates should be cut so as to print one whole sheet, instead. The Postmaster General requests that no alteration be made, as it would cause considerable inconvenience to this Department.
JOHN McDONNALL, Under·Secretary, The Under-Secretary, The Treasury.
Shortly after his return from Sydney Mr. Knight had forwarded an order to Mr. William Bell, of that city, for two steel dies, the one to bear the inscription " Queensland,” " One Penny," and to follow as closely as possible the design of the then current postage stamps of Queensland; the other to be inscribed " Queensland Stamp Duty, One Penny," and to be of similar design to the first, but bearing a crown above the portrait. These dies were to be cut with a view to the preparation of electrotypes, and consequently were to be in intaglio.
Mr. Bell undertook the order, but he also took his time about executing it. Mr. Knight communicated with him several times as to the delay in forwarding the dies, and each time received a promise that they would be finished " in a week or two.” At last, on the 16th December, 1876, the Under Secretary to the Treasurer wrote to Bell, urging him to push on with the work, and referring to his frequently broken promises. Even this letter failed to accelerate the production of the dies, as it was not till the 11th April 1877, that Bell telegraphed that the "Stamp Duty" die was finished, and the "Postage" die nearly ready. The latter was eventually completed, and both dies arrived in Brisbane in May 1877.
Still further delay took place before the electros, were completed, and it was not until August, 1878, that the plate of the one penny postage stamp was finished. The delay may be partly accounted for by reference to Mr. Knight’s letter of the 12th September 1878, in which he describes the manner of producing the electrotypes.
The correspondence submitting the first proof sheet follows :—
Lithographic Office, Treasury, August 9th, 1878.
Sir, —Referring to the proof sheet of ld. Postage Stamps just completed and submitted for your approval. I have the honour to draw your attention to former correspondence relative to the size of the sheet. In my enclosed letter of the 20th July, 1876, I state in the last paragraph that we shall be able to print two sheets at once; but this, I find from more matured experience, cannot be done in our small press, as much greater power would be required for so large a surface, electrotypes needing greater pressure than type printing. In order, therefore, to comply with the expressed wish of the Postmaster-General, a new press would have to be purchased at a cost of about £l30, and the difficulties of printing would be greatly increased. Reference is made in the accompanying letter to the inconvenience already experienced through the difference in size of the 4d. stamp, but I think the sheet now submitted will meet the objections urged.
It may be thought desirable that one uniform size should be observed in all the denominations; if so, we can accomplish this without difficulty. When the 2d. and 4d. stamps are electrotyped, the higher values may still be printed from the steel plate to the requisite size. I think it would scarcely be advisable that these should be electrotyped, as the numbers required are so small.
It has been found necessary to alter the color of the ld. stamp in consequence of the material used containing mercury, which acts injuriously on copper. The sheet printed in blue well represents the 2d. Stamp in every respect except value, the same "die” being employed, the alteration of value being made in the process of production.
I desire also to draw your attention to the paper required for the printing of the new stamps. Mr. Richards, the Government Printer of Sydney, has informed me of a very superior paper just introduced by Messrs. De la Rue for electrotype printing, which he has adopted with very great satisfaction. I would, therefore, recommend that the same kind be ordered immediately, sufficient for three years’ consumption, with the necessary watermark and duplicate numbers on butts. The quantity required for this time would be about 80,000 sheets, or 160 reams of 500 sheets each.
I cannot say exactly what the cost will be, but Messrs. De la Rue’s charge, for paper now in use is 90s. per 1,000, or 45s. per ream, but that required now, being half the size, will, of course be proportionately less.
As our present stock of paper is but small, I think it would not be advisable to print the ‘new form’ till we are sure our stock will last, as the sheets would have to be out to waste.
Duty stamp paper will also be required, and I would thoroughly recommend that the same kind of paper and watermark be used for both purposes, the consumption for duty stamps during three years being about 25,000 sheets, or 50 reams.
In my estimate of expenditure for 1878-9, I made no provision for this extra cost of paper, and considering the largely-increasing demands of the Post Office and Stamp Office on this Department, I would respectfully suggest that each Department may fairly be charged with the cost of the paper which they require.
William Knight, Government Engraver.
This letter was forwarded to the Hon. the Postmaster General for his information and approval. He returned it on the 26th August, and stated that the objection to the size of the plate would be waived, but that it was desired that the colour and design of the new stamps should be the same as the old.
The proof sheet referred to as submitted was printed in a reddish-brown shade on thick card paper. The design, notwithstanding the instructions given to Mr. Bell, has little in common with the pattern. The portrait consists of a diademed profile of her Majesty to left on a ground of horizontal lines. The name of the colony and value, in words, are in similar positions to the original type, but are in white block capitals on a coloured oval, and the inscriptions are separated by white arabesques on a coloured ground ; the spandrels are filled in with network, and two plain outer lines complete the design. The execution can only be described as poor, the lines of the engraving being extremely coarse, and the profile is neither handsome, nor can it lay claim to the faintest resemblance to the original! Although, in this respect, perhaps it is not singular.