Stamp Printing - Part 1

Because some stamps have been printed by two or more methods and because specialists often collect various kinds of printing flaws, the entire subject of printing is of interest to all collectors. In fact, an advanced collector will often have a knowledge of printing far surpassing that of a great many commercial printers. Basically, printing falls into two categories: recess or intaglio printing, and relief, sometimes called "letterpress" and more often called simply "printing." The latter is by far the most common method in use throughout the world and in principle has changed very little since the fifteenth century when Johann Gutenberg printed his Bibles from cast movable type. Prior to that time printing was done from blocks upon which had been cut the entire message to be printed. Such printing was an art well known to the Chinese who, indeed, even had movable type.

It is interesting to note that the "block books" which preceded the introduction of cast movable type - ascribed to Johann Gutenberg - have through the evolution of time become, in a large way, the manner in which many modern books are published. Thus, the history of common printing has completed its circle: first, from blocks upon which a whole page was cut into relief, then movable type which allowed a page to be set up from individual pieces of type, and now the printing plate made from an impression of the movable type.

Intaglio, or line engraving, must have been used in the very early stages of printing. Certainly we know that the great goldsmiths of the Renaissance would rub lamp black or another similar substance into the engraved lines of their work and take an impression on paper to see how they were progressing. Such impressions were, of course, intaglio printings or, as we might say, engravings.Line engraving has always been a favorite medium for the reproduction of printed money and other valuable securities. Because an entire plate had to be cut into the metal by hand, it was a costly and difficult process requiring the highest artistic ability. Shortly before the introduction of the world's first postage stamps in 1840, Jacob Perkins of Massachusetts invented a process for reproducing a line-engraved design on a larger metal area as many times as might be desired. Unable to interest American capital in his invention, Perkins went to England where he founded the historic line-engraving house of Perkins, Bacon & Co., who produced the world's first postage stamp for Great Britain. With but one brief exception, Perkins' process has been used exclusively for the production of United States postage stamps from the first issue until the present. It is also the process used for the production of most British and many other stamps of the world.