Collecting stamps may be enjoyed in countless ways. Some of us save stamps from the whole World, others are more interested in a specific group of countries, or perhaps have just one favourite. You may like to collect only mint, or used, or both. Perhaps you favour a thematic approach, saving stamps featuring dogs, aeroplanes, waterfalls or some other subject that appeals to you, with no concern as to whether or not the stamps were issued for postal purposes or aimed primarily at the collector.
An error is a mistake occurring during the printing or perforation of a stamp, a design error is a mistake made in the stamp’s design, which will appear on every stamp printed, until or unless it is corrected; while a variety is a constant flaw which will generally be found on only one stamp in each sheet. Errors and varieties are increasingly popular these days, as they can add an extra dimension to a collection; in this article Noel Davenhill selects some of his favourites.
Most collectors are happy with a single copy of each stamp with no desire to seek watermarks, perforations or shades. I belong to this group and save mainly mint stamps of Britain’s former colonies from Aden to Zanzibar issued from 1937 to independence, or to when the territory was granted a British Overseas Territory status. I also have an interest in postally used stamps, but, alas, there are many gaps in this collection, particularly of higher denominations from smaller territories which had little commercial mail.
Plate flaws and varieties
One aspect of collecting that especially interests me is the many prominent, easily seen plate flaws and varieties. My definition of prominent is when the flaw adds to or significantly alters the intended design. Typical examples on King George VI stamps are the Basutoland 1d. ‘tower on hill’ (Fig 1), Barbados 4d. ‘flying mane’ and Grenada 3d. ‘colon’ flaws. Amongst other plate flaws worth looking out for on King George VI stamps are the ‘repaired chimney’ on the Jamaica 1s. and ‘Davit’ flaws on Ascension 1½d. and 2s.6d. denominations (Fig 2), Some intriguing varieties on Queen Elizabeth II stamps include the 1954 Aden 25c. ‘crack in wall’ (Fig 3), Southern Rhodesia 1964 ‘feather flaw’ and Singapore 1955 1c. ‘reflection flaw’ leading to another good variety after Harrisons’ unsuccessful attempt to correct it. Dots, scratches and hair-lines occurring in printing are sometimes labelled as ‘fly-specks’ and are of little significance unless they alter the design; they should not be confused with re-entries which are constant plate varieties on engraved stamps resulting in areas being doubled or even trebled.When acquiring a mint constant variety it is preferable to look for a positional block with enough stamps to include the selvedge. Four stamps, or even a pair are usually sufficient, but larger blocks are desirable if the flaw is located near the centre of the sheet. Used stamps may have to be collected as singles.
The Basutoland 1d. ‘Tower on Hill’ variety
Ascension’s ‘Davit’ flaw occurs on the 1½d. and 2s.6d. values at R5/1Fig
The ‘Crack in wall’ variety on R1/5 of the first Queen Elizabeth 25c. of Aden was subsequently repaired
The Falkland Islands Dependencies 1946 ‘thick map’ series must surely hold the record for the most plate flaws. Numerous small flaws also occur on several omnibus colonial Victory stamps, some of the more prominent to be listed in the catalogue are found on the stamps of Aden (Fig 4), Barbados, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Seychelles and Pitcairn Islands.
Fig 4 There are numerous small flaws on the 1946 Victory issue; this is the ‘Accent over “D”’ on the Aden 1½a. (R7/1)
Perhaps the most recognised plate flaw is the 1935 New Zealand 2s. ‘COQK’ variety which was caused by the fortuitous location of an otherwise insignificant small dot.
A similar instance, this time on a photogravure stamp, resulted in the equally worthy, but less publicised ‘Rempart Mquntain’ flaw on the 1950 Mauritius 5c. definitive listed in the Murray Payne Commonwealth Catalogue.
Tiny flaws made important only because they turned an ‘O’ into a ‘Q’ on the Mauritius 1950 5c. (R10/5)
The highly-priced ‘tick bird’ on Northern Rhodesia King George VI 1½d. stamps would be a mere fly-speck had the mark not touched the elephant’s back! The so-called ‘flag on citadel’ on Malta’s 1943 2d. red is another of the many minor plate flaws to gain importance because of its position on the stamp.
Tiny flaws are often impossible to see without a lens and cannot be recommended for displays or exhibitions. This was graphically demonstrated several years ago by an enterprising collector, whose exhibit of used Australian King George V 1d. reds in a local competition was awarded a medal for his display of meticulously described, totally non-existent minor plate flaws!
Somewhat reminiscent of The Emperor’s new clothes, perhaps!
Fiji was the only colony to issue pictorial definitives in 1938 with major design faults—an unmanned canoe on the 1½d. and a map of the islands on the 2d. and 6d. denominations with the important ‘180°’ omitted from the line of longitude.
New printings with corrections were requested by the colony’s Governor, Sir Harry Luke, a keen philatelist, who also insisted on a new 5d. stamp to replace blue-coloured sugar cane with a more realistic green.
Minor plate flaws on Fiji’s lower denominations were sufficiently numerous to prompt the late Frank Saunders (a specialist in King George VI issues), to identify each of the 60 impressions in a single sheet of the ½d. value! One very prominent plate flaw on this denomination is the ‘extra palm frond’ (Fig 8).
On the 3d. stamp a conspicuous variety is the ‘spur flaw’ on the coat-of-arms medallion.