'Printed' Stamps - Part 1

In addition to the line-engraved postage stamps we have described at length, a great many postage stamps of the world have been printed by more ordinary processes. All forms of printing have been used. Some of the world's most valuable stamps - like the Hawaiian "Missionaries" - have been printed from type set up in small printing shops and produced from ordinary platen or cylinder presses - just such equipment as you will see in any commercial printing shop. Many other stamps have been printed by lithography - a method of printing which, during the past generation, has seen enormous gains in technique and is far removed from its original processes as discovered by Alois Senefelder about 1800.

The process depends upon the natural phenomenon that grease or fatty substances will repel water while other substances will "hold" water. Senefelder discovered that certain kinds of stone would soak up water. By drawing a design or printing words on the stones with a fatty-substance ink, he had what proved to be a very satisfactory printing machine. After the words had been drawn the stones were immersed in water. The fatty ink repelled the water, the uncovered surfaces soaked up the water. An ink roller passed over the stone depositing ink only on the drawn design, for the water in the stone repelled it at other places.

Missionary stamp.
Hawaiian "Missionary" stamp.

The process was completed by placing a piece of paper over the stone and applying pressure. Lithography has seen many improvements and developments. Modern lithography and its step-child, offset printing, through the use of the camera and the substitution of zinc and aluminum for the heavy stones, have made enormous advances and only in principle resemble the original process developed by Senefelder. Lithography offered a reasonable and very satisfactory substitute for the line-engraved steel-plate process. The intricate designs that characterize much steel-plate work could be drawn in detail on the stones to reproduce in clearest detail. The only element lacking was, of course, that the lithographed article presented a perfectly flat surface and, thus, lacked the depth of tone the steel engraving produced.