Stamp Printing - Part 2

Perkins did not invent line engraving. He invented a process of transferring a steel engraving to another piece of metal. This process plays such an important part in philately that it is necessary for all collectors to have a basic understanding of it and the method of printing stamps from the plates. The first step of the process is to engrave the die. This is done on a "soft" block of steel by the most skilled artisan. Every line and detail of the design of the proposed stamp is cut into the steel by hand toolssmall sharp chisels known as burins or gravers. The burin is held in the hand and worked carefully into the steel to cut the line desired. In all cases the design is engraved in reverse on the die.

After the engraver has completed his task, the die is hardened and burnished. When completed, an impression is taken to determine if the design is perfect. Such impressions are called die proofs. As often as not, die proofs are made in various colors to determine just how the design will look in different color schemes. Such are known in philately as "trial color die proofs." When the die proof has been accepted, the die is placed in a "transfer press." Above the die is suspended, in powerful trunions, a roller of soft steel. When everything is in position the roller of steel is lowered and brought to bear under great pressure against the hardened die. The die, which is on a movable bed, is now passed under the roll. The great pressure applied causes an exact duplicate of the design on the die to be taken up on the softer steel of the roller. The process is repeated, back and forth, until the design of the die has been transferred to the roller in the required depth.

The roller is then removed, hardened, and burnished. It is now ready to perform its function as indicated by its name - the "transfer roll." Once the roller is back in position in the transfer press, with a suitably prepared plate of soft steel placed under it in the position formerly occupied by the die, it now becomes possible to "lay down" the design on the transfer roll to the plate as many times as may be required. Hence the single design of the die may be repeated on a larger plate indefinitely, limited only by the size of the plate itself. After the transfers are completed, the plate is hardened, burnished, and ready to print. Our first stamps were printed from plates of two hundred subjects each. Now our stamps are printed from plates of four hundred subjects. Theoretically the design on the die can, via this process, be repeated on the plate in minutest detail and every such transfer will be an exact duplicate of the original. Actually this theory is a fact and the skill of transferring designs has become so advanced that, barring an accident to the plate, the world's greatest experts are unable to detect any difference whatever between the four hundred subjects of a modern plate.

Every line, to the most minute scratch, that appears on the original die will appear on each and every one of the designs on the multiple-subject plate. Each design is an identical twin of the other, and all are identical to the die. However, the bank note companies which produced our first stamps were not so adept in the art of making the transfers. Hence - and especially when a design was of difficult outline, as were the one- and ten-cent stamps of 1851-7 - the transfer operator sometimes failed to move his plate far enough to make a complete transfer of the design. Thus we find on our printed stamps socalled "short-transfers."

And, again, the operator may have made his first "light" transfer of the design out of alignment and so would shift the position of the plate to its proper place. However, when he did so, the first light impression would, of course, remain on the plate and, when stamps were printed therefrom, these doublings of lines would be apparent. Such are called "double transfers." Or, perhaps, after completing a plate, one or more of the impressions were found not to print well - the transfer may have been too shallow. In such cases the plate would sometimes be returned to the press and an effort made to "re-enter" the transfer roll exactly into the design. When such re-entry was successful, no visible results could be seen on the stamps but, when slightly off the original, the stamps resulting from this impression would show the error. Such are called "re-entries."