August 2019

Printing the Four Anna



The 1854 Four Anna of India is a stamp like no other. The first bi-coloured stamp of the British Empire, it features a red octagonal frame and blue central head of Queen Victoria.

Surveyor-General of India Henry Edward Landor Thuillier led the task of printing large quantities of stamps using the relatively modern process of lithographic printing — an elaborate process that employed specially prepared blocks of stone and the principle that oil and water are immiscible.

The stamp was printed in two stages. Red frames were printed first and then blue heads added the next day. This was a laborious business, especially when it is realised that the original small sheets contained only 12 stamps each, arranged in three rows of four on a grid of wavy lines and rosettes.

Another time-consuming aspect was the delicate master design process that transferred copper engraving to printing stones via paper cut-outs.

After a series of experiments, sufficient supplies of blue Half-Anna and red One-Anna stamps were produced in sheets of 96, ready to go on sale 1st October, with a higher value Four-Anna stamp was also planned.

Thuillier received the go-ahead on 12th October but managed to get enough printed for the stamps to go on sale only three days later. The elaborate process and its hasty production resulted in some errors slipping through unnoticed.

Twenty-eight examples of stamps with INVERTED HEAD are known to exist. They have an almost legendary status today and are regarded as the greatest of Indian classic rarities, even though Thuillier himself would have been deeply embarrassed by their survival.

Stanley Gibbons Journal

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