The story of the Four-Anna stamp is one of innovation and experimentation. Led by Surveyor-General of India Henry Edward Landor Thuillier, its production was the first to experiment with a new printing process called lithographic printing. The undertaking was elaborate and time-consuming as it required two stages.
First, the paper was imprinted with the red frames. The sheets were then laid out to dry overnight and the next day, the blue heads were added. The process was further extended by the time-consuming process of the printing structures engraved on copper being exchanged to printing stones, via fragile paper patterns.
The concept behind lithographic printing relied upon the principle that oil and water don’t mix – and it was believed such a laborious process would present the best possible outcome for such a delicate design.
The process led to many errors. Notably, twenty-eight examples of the Inverted Head Four-Annas India 1854: a postage stamp prized by collectors for an error occurred during production, showing the Queen’s head ‘upside-down’ due to a printing malfunction. The mistake would go unnoticed until 1890 by which time dozens of the crooked stamps were in circulation.
Legendary stamps today, Inverted Head Four-Annas India 1854 are regarded as the greatest of Indian rarities.
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