'Printed' Stamps - Part 2

A great many postage stamps of the world have been produced by lithography and some stamps have been produced in the same design by both lithography and steel engraving. Many lithographed stamps may be plated rather easily. As lithography was practiced up to a generation ago, it was necessary to reproduce on the stone as many designs as were to be printed. To overcome the difficulties of reproducing the design of a stamp several hundred times, lithographers resorted to a multiplication process. A design would be made and transferred to a stone ten times. Then this multiple of ten would be transferred to a larger stone ten additional times. And the process continued to the desired number of reproductions. It is generally possible to identify the ten individual stamps (or other number as the case might be) making up the first transfer. Then it is usually possible to identify each group of ten in the sheet. The Republic of Panama, whose stamps have almost always been produced by the line-engraved process and which provide some of the finest examples of this work, used the lithographic method to produce two stamps in 1928 in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh's good-will flight to Central America. Evidently the lithographic method was selected in order to produce the stamps in time.

The use of "Step and Repeat" machines, by means of which the design of an individual stamp may be repeated photographically as many times as required onto a single printing plate, has enormously advanced the lithographer's art and made it quite impossible to plate with any degree of accuracy modern lithographed stamps. Our annual Christmas seals are printed from plates of as many as sixteen hundred subjects by this method.

Stamp issued by the Republic of Panama
Stamp issued by the Republic of Panama to honor Lindbergh's goodwill flight to Central America.

The relief method of printing has one positive advantage over the steel engraving: it allows the printing of multicolored stamps. It is quite true that two-color stamps and perhaps three-color stamps have been printed from steel-engraved plates. But on all such stamps there is no positive register of the colors - nor can there be. The process of wetting the paper, often required for steel engraving, and the consequent shrinking of the paper does not permit a close register of two or more colors. Relief printing in all of its forms, however, does not require the paper to be moistened, so exact registering and even blending of colors may be obtained. In color the relief methods of printing remain supreme and have been widely used under various names and methods to fill our albums with many colorful and beautiful stamps.

Sometimes, as in the case of the series of stamps issued by the United States to commemorate the Overrun Nations of the world, a combination of lithography and steel engraving has been used to attain more than two colors. It was decided to illustrate in color the flag of each nation pictured on the stamps. The stamps were printed by the American Bank Note Company as this firm was experienced in and equipped to perform this compound process required.

One of the 'over-run nations' stamps.
The flag of Denmark appears on one of the "over-run nations" stamps.

In this instance the flags in color were printed by a lithographic (offset) process and later the frames of the stamps were printed from steel-engraved plates. It will be noted that no attempt was made to have a close register between the lithographed centers and the line-engraved borders. Incidentally, while the American Bank Note Company had made all United States postage stamps from 1879 to 1895, at which time the Government undertook to make its own stamps, this was the first occasion since that time that any United States adhesive postage stamp had been printed outside of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D. C.