Low Value Surface Printed Stamps 1855-84



Low value postage stamps were produced by three methods during the Victorian era; line-engraved from 1840 to 1879, embossed from 1847 to 1854 and surface printed from 1855 to 1901. The decision to replace embossed stamps, which were cumbersome to produce and unsuited for perforating, was made in January 1855. There were two main reasons why surface printing (typography, letter press) was chosen over the line-engraved process. firstly, De La Rue claimed that their special fugitive inks would reduce the risk of cancellations being removed from used stamps, allowing them to be re-used. The second reason relates to problems experienced in perforating line-engraved stamps. These difficulties were largely due to the fact that paper was damped for line-engraved printing. Following damping variation in degrees of shrinking resulted in difficulty in perforating the sheets. De La Rue did not need to dampen the paper before surface printing. These were the first postage stamps produced by De La Rue.

Stamps were designed, engraved and printed by Thomas De La Rue and Company. The Board of the Inland Revenue instructed and supervised De La Rue and paid Jean Ferdinand Joubert de la Ferté 100 guineas for engraving the queen's head used for surface printed stamps. The engraving was based on a drawing by Henry Corbould. From the relative simplicity of the first three values introduced over the next twenty five years a complex series of stamps evolved. Changes were those affecting stamp design (introduction of corner letters and plate numbers, strengthening of lines and producing a lighter background for the head) and those affecting the series as a whole (introduction and removal of values as postal rates altered, colour changes and use of different types of paper).

It is not clear why De La Rue did not include corner letters on the first stamps issued as the line-engraved stamps had them from their introduction in 1840. The presence or absence and type of corner letters allow stamps to be considered in the groups shown below. Dates show main years of usage.

No Corner Letters 1855-1862

4d, 6d and 1s values. Printed on both blue and white paper. The 4d stamp was printed on three different watermarked papers and its colour was changed from carmine to rose.

Small White Corner Letters 1862-1865

3d and 9d values were introduced. Colour of the 4d stamp was changed to red. The 9d stamp was issued in bistre and in straw. The ls stamp was the first to have plate numbers.

Large White Corner Letters 1865-1872

A ½d value was proposed and though essays were made it was never completed. Colour of the 4d stamp was changed to vermilion. Design and colour of the 6d stamp were altered.

1867-1883 10d and 2s values. Colour of the 2s value was changed.

Large Coloured Corner Letters 1873-1881

The 2½d and 8d values were introduced and 9d, 10d and 2s values were withdrawn after dies had been made. The 2½d value is known on blue paper. The 2½d, 6d, 8d and 1s values all had one change of colour and the 4d value had two.

The Provisional Issue of 1880 and Temporary Unified Issue of 1883 used designs of the 2½d, 3d, 4d, 6d and 1s and 3d and 6d values respectively.

The exhibit

Essays, proofs, colour trials, specimen and issued stamps show the evolution of low value stamps (2½d to 2s) until the final use of some of the designs for the Provisional and Temporary Unified stamps on Crown watermarked paper. Of particular importance are colour trials and essays associated with the 6d stamp with Large White Corner Letters, essays associated with changing from Large White to Large Coloured Corner Letters and 1881 colour trials on unwatermarked or Crown watermark paper.

Where appropriate, the upper left box indicates the group of stamps being described; the upper right box provides more specific information. 'lmprimatur' describes stamps removed from the registration sheets. (E) indicates that an Expertising Committee Certificate has been issued. Where corner letters are present stamps are described by the lower two letters reading from left to right. BPMA abbreviates British Postal Museum and Archive.


Wright HE, Creeke AB Junior. A History of the Adhesive Stamps of the British Isles. The Philatelic Society, London, 1899.
Easton J. The De La Rue History of British & Foreign Postage Stamps. The Royal Philatelic Society, London, 1958. .
Galland RB, Louis KA. Great Britain Surface Printed Postage Stamps 1855-1883: Low values 2½d to 2s. Great Britain Philatelic Society, 2009. 1
Galland RB, Louis KA. Surface Printed Postage Stamps 1855-1883. Corrections and Additions June 2012. GB Journal 2012, 50, 86-96.

Book Version

Bob's exhibit has been published by Forschungsgemeinschaft Grossbritannien in their series of books titled "Conserved Heritage" in 2018. As well as the original exhibit presented here, this book of 156 pages contains a lot of additional background information concerning the Surface Printed Stamps of Great Britain, for example several pages on the forgeries of the 2s brown and other material which was unsuitable for the exhibit. If you are interested in buying this book please . The price of the book is €28.00 plus P&P.


Frame 1

  1. 4d, 6d and 1s Values - the first designs
4d value
  1. Small Garter - proofs, imprimatur and imperforate
  2. Small Garter - issue
  3. Small Garter - colour and paper variation
  4. Small Garter - proof of Post Office circular
  5. Small Garter - Post Office circular
  6. Medium Garter
  7. Transition from carmine on blue paper to rose on white
  8. Large Garter
6d value
  1. Essays
  2. Proofs, imprimatur and unused
  3. Used
  4. Blue and white paper printings
  5. Used to Jamaica and Mauritius
  6. Colour trials
1s value
  1. Essays

Frame 2

NO CORNER LETTERS 1855-1862 (cont)

1s value (cont)
  1. Proofs, imprimaturs and specimens
  2. Blue and white paper printings
  3. Plate proofs or colour trials
  1. Post Office circular
3d value
  1. Essays and imprimaturs
  2. Plate 2 - states and specimens
  3. Plate 3 (abnormal)
4d value
  1. Head die proofs
  2. Plate 3 - imprimaturs, colour trials, unused
  3. Plate 3 - specimens
  4. Plate 4 - proofs and imprimaturs
6d value
  1. Plate 3 - proofs, imprimatur, unused and used
  2. Plate 4 - proof, imprimatur, and unused
9d value
  1. Plate 2 - imprimatur and specimens, Plate 3 - proof (abnormal)
  2. Bistre and straw shades
1s value
  1. Punch proofs for plate numbers

Frame 3


1s value (cont)
  1. Plate 2 - imprimatur, specimens, unused and used
  2. Plate 3 - proofs and specimen (abnormal)
  1. ½d value - Essays (never approved)
3d value
  1. Proofs
  2. Die proofs
  3. Plate 4 - imprimatur, Emblems and Spray watermarks
  4. Plate 5 - specimen and unused panes
  5. Imperforate stamps and colour trials
  6. Plate 8 - die proofs, used with marginal plate and current numbers
  7. Plates 8, 9, and 10 - proofs, imprimaturs and specimens
4d value
  1. Colour die proofs
  2. Plates 11 and 13 - imprimatur, imperforate, unused blocks
  3. Plate 8 - imprimatur, plate proof, usages
  4. Plate 12 - proofs before and after die repair or replacement
  5. Plate 12 - imperforate, perforation error, specimens, used with marginal current number
  6. Plate 12 - usages

Frame 4


6d value
  1. Die proofs
  2. Plate 5 - imprimatur, unused, used with marginal plate number, watermark error
  3. Plate 6 - plate proof, imprimatur, used with watermark inverted and marginal plate number
  4. Plates 7, 8, and 9 - imprimaturs, imperforate, colour change from lilac to mauve
  5. Plate 8 - shades
  6. Colour trials
  7. Change of design essays
  8. Plates 9 and 11 - specimen blocks, old and new design
  9. Plate 11 - proofs and imprimatur
  10. Plate 11 - chestnut and pale buff
  11. Plate 12 - proofs, imprimatur, used in chestnut (abnormal)
  12. Plate 12 - unused in grey with marginal current number, used on cover
9d value
  1. Plate proof and die proofs
  2. Plate 4 - imprimatur, specimen pane, used with marginal plate and current numbers, Plate 5 - imprimatur ('abnormal')
1s value
  1. Proofs
  2. Plate 4 - Emblems watermark - imprimatur, plate proof, imperforate, used with marginal current number, block on cover

Frame 5


1s value (cont)
  1. Plate 4 - Spray watermark - specimens, colour trials, imperforate, combination cover
  2. Plate 5 - Colour trial, imprimatur, specimen, used with marginal current and plate numbers, used abroad
  3. Plate 6 - imprimatur, used with marginal current and plate numbers, Plate 7 - imprimatur, used with marginal plate number, die proof
  1. Specimen overprints in coloured ink
  2. Paper and cancellation trials - Dr Perkins paper
  3. Paper and cancellation trials - Dr Perkins paper and Truro crown cancellation
  4. Die proofs from a presentation album
  1. 10d and 2s values - striking book proofs
  2. 10d and 2s values - die proofs
10d value
  1. Colour die proofs
  2. Imprimatur, imperforate, watermark inverted, combination cover
  3. Specimens
2s value
  1. Die proofs
  2. Plate 1 - Blue - Proofs, imprimaturs, Plate 3 - imprimatur (abnormal)
  3. Plate 1 - Blue - shades
  4. Plate 1 - Brown - unused, imperforate, specimens

Frame 6


2s value (cont)
  1. Plate 1 - Brown - on cover
  1. Die proofs of old, new and modified designs - 3d and 1s
  2. Die proofs of old, new and modified designs - 4d
  3. Die proofs of old, new and modified designs - 6d and 10d
  4. Pencilled numbers around designs - 3d Plate 8
  5. Pencilled numbers around designs - 3d Plate 7 and Plate 8
  6. Pencilled numbers around designs - 6d Plate 11 and Plate 13

2½d value
  1. Essays and die proofs
  2. Anchor and Orb watermarked paper, colour trials
  3. Plates 1-5 - striking book proofs and imprimaturs
  4. Plate 2 - Rosy mauve - unused, misperforation, LH-FL error on cover
  5. Plates 3, 4, and 5 - Rosy mauve - proofs and usage
  6. Plates 6 and 7 - Rosy mauve - proofs, imprimaturs, unused, watermark inverted, specimen
  7. Plate 8 - Rosy mauve - imprimatur, specimens, unused multiples
  8. Plate 10 - Rosy mauve - proofs, imprimatur, unused, hand-illustrated cover
  9. Plates 11, 12, and 13 - Rosy mauve - proofs, imprimaturs, unused

Frame 7


2½d value (cont)
  1. Plates 14, 15, and 16 - Rosy mauve - proof, imprimaturs, specimens, unused, use with marginal plate number
  2. Plates 15 and 16 - colour trials in blue, Plate 17 - Rosy mauve - imprimatur, unused, cover
  3. Plate 17 - Blue - unused multiples, used abroad
  4. Plates 17-20 - Blue - Die proof, imprimaturs, usage
  5. Plate 19 - Blue - proofs, unused multiple, used abroad
3d value
  1. Plates 11 and 12 - proof, imprimaturs, unused multiples
  2. Plates 13, 14, and 15 - proofs, imprimaturs, combination cover
  3. Plate 16 - proofs, imprimatur, unused multiple
  4. Plates 17, 18, and 19 - proofs and specimens
  5. Plate 20 - usage, Plate 21 - die proof
4d value
  1. Plate 15 - imprimaturs, colour trials, Plate 17 - proofs, imprimatur in sage-green (abnormal)
  2. Plate 15 - colour trials
  3. Plate 15 - colour trials
  4. Plate 15 - colour trials
  5. Plate 15 - Vermilion and Sage Green - usages
  6. Plate 16 - Sage Green - proofs, specimens, unused multiple

Frame 8


4d value (cont)
  1. Plate 17 - Grey Brown - colour trial, specimens, transition from Somerset House to De La Rue perforation
6d value
  1. Plate 16 - proofs, specimens, unused multiple, used abroad with marginal current number
  2. Coloured die proofs
8d value
  1. Plate 1 - Purple Brown - essay, proofs, imprimatur, specimens, unused
  2. Plate 1 - Orange - specimens on colour trials and issued stamps
  3. Plate 1 - proofs, unused multiple, Plate 2 - proof, imprimatur (abnormal)
9d value
  1. Coloured die proofs (unissued)
1s value
  1. Die proofs and imprimaturs
  2. Plates 12, 13, and 14 (abnormal) - Green - proofs, fugitive ink trials, specimens, unused multiple
  3. Plate 13 - Orange Brown - unused with watermark inverted, used abroad
  1. 9d, 10d and 2s values - die proofs (unissued)
  2. Specimen overprints on blank official covers
  1. 2½d and 3d values - roof and imprimaturs
  2. 4d, 6d, and 1s values - proof, imprimaturs, unused multiple
  3. Colour trials
  1. 3d - essay and imprimatur, 6d - imprimatur, 1s - imprimaturs and specimen (unissued)