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Oceania/Australia : Plate Varieties - Brief History

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
13 Mar 2017
06:51:22am
To understand Australian plate varieties, you need to have some basic knowledge about the production of engraved stamps.

An engraver works with a die to engrave a stamp design in reverse. Dies are usually a single subject of the stamp design. The die is soft so that the engraver can work more easily. Once the engraver is done, the die is hardened.

The transfer roll is then created. Its job is to transfer the stamp design from the die to the printing plate. A transfer press rocks the soft steel of the transfer roll back and forth on the die. This presses the soft steel into every line of the die. A transfer roll typically contains several impressions of the die. Each impression is called a relief. Once all of the transfers of the die to the transfer roll are complete, the transfer roll is hardened.

The transfer press is used once again to transfer the stamp designs from the transfer roll to a flat printing plate. The printing plate will either have tiny dots or lines on it to help align the transfer roll properly.

The transfer roll applies the stamp design to the printing plate. After all of the stamps are created on the printing plate, the layout dots, layout lines, and any other markings not needed on the printing plate are removed.

The plate number and any other markings (guide lines, etc) are added to the plate. The plate is then hardened and ready to print stamps. In the case of a rotary press, the flat printing plate is curved slightly before being hardened so that the printing plate matches the curvature of the printing press. (As a side note, this is why the stamp design of a rotary press stamp is always slightly larger in one direction than its flat plate counterpart).

Plate varieties can occur at any point in this three step process.

Die varieties occur in every plate position made by that die. These are caused by an imperfection in the die or an error by the engraver.

A relief break occurs when a tiny piece of the transfer roll breaks off, leaving an unintended white space on the printing plate. Every plate position made by the same relief will show the same plate variety. Relief breaks tend to progress over time from tiny to larger unprinted areas.

A plate variety in the printing plate comes in lots of different forms. Layout dots or lines may not have been completely removed. Dropped, double, triple, short, twisted, or shifted transfers occur as the transfer roll comes into contact incorrectly with the printing plate.

Plate varieties occur during plate use too. The printing plate may develop cracks or other damage due to wear and use.

Plate varieties generally fall into two categories. Foreign material may have fallen onto the die, transfer roll, or printing plate and became part of the final stamp design. These show ink where there shouldn't be any. Areas of the die, transfer roll, or printing plate become damaged or break away. These show blank space where there should be ink.

Many varieties can be very small and often bring little or no premium value. The thrill is in the hunt!

Sometimes plate varieties are corrected. Stamps are re-engraved or retouched to eliminate the problem. The die, transfer roll, or printing plate is softened to allow the rework to occur. If the rework is done by an engraving tool, it's referred to as a re-cut or re-engraved stamp.

If the work is done by etching, it's referred to as a retouched stamp. In general, a re-engraved stamp corrects a prominent problem. A retouched stamp corrects a tiny problem.

Not every flaw you find on a stamp is a plate variety. Sometimes foreign matter may fall on the printing plate and create what looks like a plate variety. Although these items are collectable too, they are not plate varieties. The key to being a plate variety is that the feature must be constant.

Plate varieties are relatively common in the late 19th and early 20th century issues. Stamps were produced in large quantities. Printing plate production techniques were immature. To control costs, it was cheaper to overlook tiny flaws like relief breaks. Also, it was usually cheaper to retouch or re-engrave a stamp than it was to start making a whole new printing plate.

By the 1940s, plate production processes improved to the point where there were very few plate varieties known.

A rare trio, between 1940-41 McCracken removed the Ash imprint and the McCracken imprint substituted on the original 1938 die. Three forms of state of plate cracks occurred, the first, the very early cracked plate has been authenticated as the only one known (it does not have a perforation pip (no dot at bottom centre).

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1. Very early state of cracked plate

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2. Early state of cracked plate

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3. Late state of cracked plate


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"Specialised Collector of Australian Pre-Decimal & Decimal Stamps"
smauggie
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13 Mar 2017
01:35:26pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Excellently written!

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
13 Mar 2017
02:03:53pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Thanks smaugggie, I thought if I gave my stamps a brief history it can be an important learning tool to fellow philatelists.

There is more to come including identifying key 3d stamps of King George VI (1937-38), and the cause behind ink stripped stamps, including progressive dry inking etc.

Cheers
Rob

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"Specialised Collector of Australian Pre-Decimal & Decimal Stamps"
langtounlad
16 Mar 2017
03:09:32am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Can you please clarify which stamps you are talking about because there were many different processes used in plate making and printing in Australia. The first Australian stamps were mostly surface printed with only the commemoratives being printed on recess plates. The use of the term engraved as a printing process is not useful as all of the dies used in the surface printed stamps were also engraved.

The process you describe above does not come anywhere near the process for the electros used for the Kangaroo and Map series nor the greater majority of values in the KGV series which covers Australian stamps from 1913 to early 1930's. In the KGV series only the 1d, 1½d die2, 2d die2 and 2d die3 were printed from steel plates.

Rotary printers of the 1930 -1940's nearly always used copper or copper alloys as plates as it was almost impossible to curve steel plates without damaging them. I quote from ACSC 1964 in relation to KGVI issues "All new issues were rotary recess-printed. The actual printing plates are electros derived from an engraved steel master, two electro plates being in use at any one time." The catalogue did not expand on how the the electros were made but they were certainly not rolled in with a transfer roller as electros are made by a chemical deposition. Transfer rollers were usually only required for steel plates.

Covering a complex subject like this is just not possible in a page of print - so you have to break it down into its component parts and treat each separately. Take the Harbour Bridge commemorative as an example of how complex. All three stamps in this issue were flat bed recess printed but when a reprint of the 2d was needed it was surface printed.

Regards
Frank

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
16 Mar 2017
09:48:50am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Quote:

"Can you please clarify which stamps you are talking about because there were many different processes used in plate making and printing in Australia. The first Australian stamps were mostly surface printed with only the commemoratives being printed on recess plates. The use of the term engraved as a printing process is not useful as all of the dies used in the surface printed stamps were also engraved."


I am referring to stamps of King George VI and what I know of plate varieties, errors etc. I do know of the King George V era and have not touched on that part of my collection as yet.

Quote:

"The process you describe above does not come anywhere near the process for the electros used for the Kangaroo and Map series nor the greater majority of values in the KGV series which covers Australian stamps from 1913 to early 1930's. In the KGV series only the 1d, 1½d die2, 2d die2 and 2d die3 were printed from steel plates."


The reason why my description of electros do not come anywhere near the process for the electros used for the Kangaroo and Map series nor the greater majority of values in the KGV series which covers Australian stamps from 1913 to early 1930's is because I am not writing about King George V but of King George VI.

Quote:

"Rotary printers of the 1930 -1940's nearly always used copper or copper alloys as plates as it was almost impossible to curve steel plates without damaging them. I quote from ACSC 1964 in relation to KGVI issues "All new issues were rotary recess-printed. The actual printing plates are electros derived from an engraved steel master, two electro plates being in use at any one time." The catalogue did not expand on how the the electros were made but they were certainly not rolled in with a transfer roller as electros are made by a chemical deposition. Transfer rollers were usually only required for steel plates."



Although I use information that is stated in the ACSC I also have 17 books that have chapters relating to electros, steel and copper plates etc and refer to them if necessary. Of course books can have errors relating to information; and collecting Australian pre-decimals and studying them for over 30 years I write what I know of the subject, put it all into a brief history and publish it; of course it is open to discussion and correction and I value all input, if necessary I will archive that information for future reference.

Quote:

"Covering a complex subject like this is just not possible in a page of print - so you have to break it down into its component parts and treat each separately. Take the Harbour Bridge commemorative as an example of how complex. All three stamps in this issue were flat bed recess printed but when a reprint of the 2d was needed it was surface printed"

.
Of course it is not possible; my information is a reader’s digest version, which is why I referred to the subject as a brief history. Eventually when I display the stamps of George V, I will refer to the printing process of those stamps and the history behind all the printers from Harrison to Ash.

Rob

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"Specialised Collector of Australian Pre-Decimal & Decimal Stamps"
smauggie
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16 Mar 2017
10:11:55am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

I think it is fair to say that from the point of view of a specialist in Australian philately, the description of creating engraved stamps Rob provided could only apply to later, KGVI issues.

I eagerly look forward to a presentation/discussion of the KGV-era stamp production process, but as Rob has said that is a separate subject entirely.

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Winedrinker
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16 Mar 2017
10:49:15am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

As some detail of engraving was presented, thought I would show the basic "cutting" tool used -- the burin. The burin would leave burrs on both sides of the carved lines which would be removed with a scraper. The area would then be polished with a burnisher.

What an amazing craft.

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
16 Mar 2017
05:32:17pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

You are correct there smauggie, at the moment I am centring on George VI only and my posts are based on what I can share relating to the late Monarch.

Later I will be giving a brief history on George V and of the kangaroo series, though separately and it will in that presentation I will be discussing about early engraving and lithographing etc.

In the middle of April (about the 14th) I will have in my collection a John Ash (1938) £1 Specimen with superb centring and original pristine gum; this condition is extremely difficult to get and now I have one, it is very expensive (only a few dollars short of AU$2000).

There is one other, a deeper blue 1949 issue by McCracken; he used the original 1938 plate substituting the Ash imprint with his own and using the thick paper that was used in 1938 and not the thin paper used in 1949 (it is a miracle that there were no cracked plate varieties amongst the McCracken specimens as was with the 1949 ½d wallaroo when using the original die caused wear and the plates cracking).

The McCracken issue is scarcer and more expensive but a necessity if one is to collect the entire series of Coronation Robes, I most likely will have a long wait to acquire one in the same condition as the one I am receiving.

All £1 Specimens must come with recognised certification papers, without it a collector will risk purchasing a fake as many forgeries exist.

.

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
16 Mar 2017
05:39:42pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Quote:

"As some detail of engraving was presented, thought I would show the basic "cutting" tool used -- the burin. The burin would leave burrs on both sides of the carved lines which would be removed with a scraper. The area would then be polished with a burnisher.

What an amazing craft."



It's a specialised craft requiring very steady hands and an eye for intricate detail. The burin you show looks like someone accidentally pulled a door knob off.

It's a pity such a craft has faded away with the introduction of more modern ways and the computer.
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Winedrinker
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16 Mar 2017
08:14:25pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Quote:

"The burin you show looks like someone accidentally pulled a door knob off."



Happy

The wood handle is not fully round, but a section squared off, to allow the burin to be more horizontal to the work space (the die). I am no expert to be sure, but my recent perusing of the craft indicates this style was very common. The tips would be diamond shaped for fine work, or squared for larger lines.

To do curves, the hand was not turned to cut the line, but the die would be rotated while being cut.

Cheers!
Eric

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langtounlad
16 Mar 2017
08:35:31pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Now we know which stamps are being discussed it is easier to pin down the printing process.

Smauggie said.

Quote:

"I think it is fair to say that from the point of view of a specialist in Australian philately, the description of creating engraved stamps Rob provided could only apply to later, KGVI issues."



To the best of my knowledge all KGVI issues were printed on the Hoe rotary and I am not aware of any printed from steel plates. If you can name any stamps which you think were printed by other means let me know and I will endeavour to find out the printing method.

The usual process for preparing printing plates for these issues is only partially described above. A steel die was used and from this a transfer roll was prepared. The transfer roll was used to roll impressions on a steel sheet (called a master plate) which in turn was used to manufacture an alto (not sure what material the alto was made of) by an electrolytic process. The actual copper printing plates were then produced by electrolysis from the alto - a process which could be repeated as often as required.

Nickel is used for modern altos but whether this was the material used then I cannot be certain. My research has not yet uncovered the actual method of transferring the impressions by the the electrolytic process used in those stamps but in modern processes the master plate is pressed into a sheet of plastic which is then used as the mould for the alto. This is then repeated using the alto as the master to grow the printing plates.

Although rotary recess printing was introduced to Australian stamps in 1934 the method of plate making was not standardised until the KGVI series. So for the commemorative issues 1934 to 1936 you would have to research individual issues to determine the plate making method.

Regards
Frank

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Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
16 Mar 2017
10:54:50pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Hi langtounlad

I am familiar with what you are referring to and I assume you are referencing this information from the ACSC of King George VI.

Even though the book is a very important tool for collectors who specialise in specific stamps it is ideal for those who are collecting stamps in general.

When you mention the Hoe rotary I assume you are referring to the Hoe rotary intaglio printing presses.

I am a collector who has a specialised collection and I use the ACSC to select what I need for my collection. The ACSC uses brief information and though it is correct at the time of compilation, by the time it is in print, some of the information becomes obsolete as the book is published every 5 years or close to it.

I have a rare very early block of 4 cracked plate with imprint of the 1949 ½d wallaroo, there is only one in existence; the ACSC describes it so (and verified by specialist dealers), there is no image of it in the book though it does show the images of the early and late cracks which I also have.

An image of my rare stamp will be added to the ACSC and I will need to wait at least 5 years to see it in the ACSC.

When the book goes into its next print (sometime in 2019/2020) it will state what is known of it at the time of compilation and by the time it is published the information of this rare block of 4 will be outdated.

Information about one particular stamp in the ACSC is monumentally incorrect, and it was proven so; this is the pre-decimal Navigator set. There are two types of the £2 specimen, the specimen shown at bottom right and the specimen shown at near central position.

Image Not Found Image Not Found

The ACSC states the latter is not scarcer than the lower bottom right type; in fact the specimen with the overprint at near central position is rare and is worth just over half of the value of all 4 specimens which includes the lower bottom right overprint combined.

I should know I own the entire set of pre-decimal overprints including the specimen at near central position.

I will speak to one of the authors of the ACSC and will get his expert opinion of the steel plates, and will post what he has to say.

Rob



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"Specialised Collector of Australian Pre-Decimal & Decimal Stamps"
Rob1956
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Member ACCC (Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of NSW)
17 Mar 2017
02:02:30am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Hi Eric

Quote:

"The wood handle is not fully round, but a section squared off, to allow the burin to be more horizontal to the work space (the die). I am no expert to be sure, but my recent perusing of the craft indicates this style was very common. The tips would be diamond tipped for fine work, or squared for larger lines.

To do curves, the hand was not turned to cut the line, but the die would be rotated while being cut."


Your perusing seems to hold water, and very interesting, it is most likely the style used to create early die engraving, now it's all computer imaging, pity, such a skilled craft wasted.

Rob
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"Specialised Collector of Australian Pre-Decimal & Decimal Stamps"
langtounlad
17 Mar 2017
05:13:38am
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Good day Rob1956

I agree there is a paucity of information on these processes and it has taken me 2 years of intensive searching and study to glean much of the information above. I do not have the current ACSC on predecimal issues and I do not know the level of detail therein.

I do recommend obtaining older issues if you want to expand your knowledge. I have the 1964 and 1981 (I think it is that year but like many ACSC it is not dated). By using the older issues to correlate information and from wider studies I am slowly building a fair knowledge of the printing techniques up to 1940. This only came about because of my main pursuit which is to obtain as much information as possible about the Kangaroo and Map Master Die. But there is no single issue with the full story. As I said above it is very complex and I would not be surprised if someone came along and improved on what I have said.

I also recommend reading The Kangaroo Issues of Australian Stamps by Dormer Legge as it has some very good basic information on the preparation of copper electros but I would not rely on it for much else.

There are many pieces of incorrect information in the current ACSC Roos and KGV and as a member of Stampboards I am sure you will be aware of the many additions and corrections submitted by Stampboard contributors. The problem is getting it fixed. I emailed the Editor in 2013 identifying one major Roo correction and pointing out a few other things only to find in the current issue that he has completely ignored me. It is not what you know but who you know that rules the roost in NSW.

Regards
Frank

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Rob1956
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17 Mar 2017
10:02:25pm
re: Plate Varieties - Brief History

Hi Frank

It is true I have seen many additions and corrections on the Stampboards site, and at times I too had been corrected and vice versa.

Quote:

"The problem is getting it fixed. I emailed the Editor in 2013 identifying one major Roo correction and pointing out a few other things only to find in the current issue that he has completely ignored me. It is not what you know but who you know that rules the roost in NSW."


The problem with explaining to the editor is that information relayed can be lost prior to the printing of the next ACSC as a large gap between compiling information and adding it to the publication of the catalogue is about 5 years, as you stated you emailed the editor in 2013, the book was printed in 2015.

But if you are referring to the editor not responding to your email then that is not right as the public can contribute.

As previously mentioned I have a rare, one of a kind, block of 4 very early cracked plate of the 1949 ½d wallaroo. I sent the block of 4 to a specialist who personally gave it to Kris Ceremuga; even though the stamp has been authenticated by specialists and listed as rare, Ceremuga said he cannot certify it as it is not as yet listed in the ACSC.

Now here comes the crazy part, the stamp will now be added to the new edition and when that occurs, Ceremuga will then certify the stamp. So the block of 4 will be certified by a picture of itself in the ACSC.

I will read the books you recommended and if possible obtain them for my private library; you can never get too many reference books, old or new.

You have the 1964 and 1981 ACSC, the 1964 catalogue is a collector’s item itself. Unfortunately for me to obtain one would be a tall task unless I am lucky to find one in a second hand book store, and I won’t be holding my breath for that.

I do know that Major Dormer Legge wrote a book titled “The 1913 Penny Kangaroo of Australia” which has 46 pages, but I assume all of his books are now out of print. He was also the President of the Australian Commonwealth Specialist Society.

Rob


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