Computer Plating with the "E-Gauge" – History
In the early 1970's Roland Brown devised a means of measuring the check letter positions of the Penny Black and the Penny Red. He devised a transparent gauge that when overlaid on a stamp and aligned with the frame lines could measure the letter position to 1/30th of a millimeter.
Harold Fisher joined forces with Roland and early in 1972 the first of what would come to be five volumes was released covering the first 45 plates. Within 6 months the printing had sold out and increasing numbers of inquiries about continuing volumes were coming in from those interested in plating. After completing more than half of the data necessary (about 50,000 measurements per volume!) for Volume 3, Roland was no longer able to continue. Harold picked up the onerous task of completing the work of the Die I plates. He had hoped to continue on with the Die II plates, but sadly, this was not completed before his death.
In the early 1980's John McCulloch discovered the four then extant volumes and began his plating interests. Being also an early adopter of computers he thought them applicable to the task of winnowing out the data sets when confronted with less than accurate, beginner's measuring skills. With three books for Alphabet I and another for II, plus the 'ranging', it's a very hard task to find every possible 'near' match. After some letters were exchanged, Harold allowed him to enter the positional data into a database that would accept the four measurements and a range and compare and deliver a list of 'possibles'.
Thus was born the "Index To The Plating Of The Penny". To avoid copyright infringement, the printed copies contained no notations, only a datum set and the possible matches within a ±2 'step' variance. They occupied a set of four spiral bound books with nearly 1,000 pages. Later, with the advent of the Internet, this database went 'on line' and has been successfully used by many platers.
In recent years, the books have become increasingly harder to find for newer platers, especially copies of the gauge. In 2002 John proposed through the pages of the GBJ (Vol. 40 No. 3) a computerised gauge to be used with graphics programs that could handle layers. Then Allan Oliver came up with the idea of having the gauge be 'floating' on an HTML page. For this experiment, he used John's "E-Gauge".
John and Allan then joined forces to complete this plating tool. Expanding upon the idea of not only positioning the gauge with a mouse, they added buttons to shift it by one pixel in any direction for final positional accuracy and a means of selecting the stamp image to be plated. A final enhancement was to add file access to select the stamp to be plated from the user's hard drive. The pages were originally produced with the idea of packaging the tool so that users could download and install on their computers, and was also available to use on line at Allan's web site, but by agreement has now been placed on the GBPS site to ensure continuity.
The concept employed is that you should assemble a list of stamps containing the Check Letters and the four measurements, then go on line. As the tool has a 'printable' pop-up window, you may thus copy and paste (or actually print!) the possibles for your measurements. Then go off line and continue to refine your identification of the stamp(s) in question.
Once the tool was on the GBPS website, it became possible to include the additional information on plate and position varieties contained within the Fisher/Brown books, as the society hold copyright in them as the original publisher. In 2020 a team effort by the GBPS website administrator and a number of keen platers produced a "Plating Tool 2.0", containing a number of improvements such as a list of plate-by-plate notes for each letter position, links to illustrations of the stamps from The Postal Museum and Ian Wright's "Missing Imprimatur" database, and the ability to sort by "closeness".