Paper And Watermarks - Part 3

Almost without exception the watermarks on postage stamps are thin spots impressed into the wet pulp. When held before a light, these thin spots show up as lighter areas than the rest of the paper. Everyone is familiar with this form of watermark as it occurs on "bond" paper, used extensively for typewriter paper. The exact reverse of this watermark is also possible - a watermark in which the designs attached to the dandy roll cause a thick spot in the paper. This form of watermarking is often called a "shadow" mark. Stamp collectors are familiar with it on some of the early stamps of Russia. Carried to its ultimate development the shadow mark can be of greatest artistic quality and the most beautiful pictures may be reproduced within the paper by this process.

Generally the watermarks used on paper on which postage stamps are printed are very small designs, often arranged so that at least one complete design will fall on every printed stamp. In some instances the watermarks are so placed on the paper that each completed design will fall exactly upon each individual stamp. Hence, some of the early stamps of Great Britain will show a watermark consisting of a tiny rose, a thistle, and a shamrock, each of which appears in one of the corners of the stamp. An early Mexican envelope shows a very beautiful watermark of the coat of arms of the country so placed that it falls exactly within the center of the finished envelope. Such watermarks require careful placement of the bits upon the dandy roll and meticulous registering of his plates by the printer.

Double-line and single-line watermark
Double-line watermark. Single-line watermark.

Watermarks were originally adopted as a precaution against counterfeiting, and careful registering so that the designs would fall on specified areas of the finished stamp was once considered worth the extra work and expense involved. However, it was very soon discovered that this extra work was not practical from an economic standpoint so watermarks were applied in an all-over designgroupings of letters or repetition of designs. Our own United States stamps were watermarked with the letters "USPS" - [United States Postal Service] - in large outline letters from 1895 to about 1910. Only a single letter watermark was changed to smaller single-line letters but spaced wider apart so that again only a single letter or parts of several letters would appear on an individual stamp. After 1916 the use of watermarked paper was abandoned by the United States Post Office. On the other hand, from the very first issue all stamps of the British Empire have been printed on watermarked paper.