Stamp Printing - Part 3

Still again, instead of trying to re-enter the design with the transfer roll, "recutting" would be resorted to. In this case the engraver would recut by hand the lines that were not properly transferred. Such hand-recutting of the designs on the plate would, of course, be heavier than the other lines in the design and would show up in the printed stamps. Such stamps are called "recut." Now it makes no difference just how these various things came to take place. The fact remains that the things I have described as "could have happened" actually did happen and the results as noted on the printed stamps are as described. Those with pedantic minds will assert that such and such really didn't happen to position so and so on the plate but, instead, so and so happened. We are here concerned with the results and how to look for and recognize them for what they are.

Great studies have been made of these early United States stamps and every single position of every stamp of the two hundred that make up the printing plate has been identified. Such collecting is known as "plating." Many early line-engraved stamps can be so "plated." Indeed, it is quite possible that all of them can. It is a challenge that has intrigued many an advanced collector and one worthy of his mettle. With the increase in skill in transferring designs it became less and less possible to discover differences in the designs but occasionally double transfers are still to be found on our modern stamps and, when the process of making the printing plates is rushed, sometimes a considerable number of such flaws may occur. An example would be some of the stamps of the 1932 George Washington Bicentennial issue where some really extraordinary double transfers have been discovered.

Five-cent
error stamp
"Five-cent error" in a sheet of two-cent stamps.

Bear in mind that such a flaw is constant and will always appear on exactly the same stamp of the sheet so long as this particular plate is in production or until the flaw is discovered and corrected. One of the most flagrant flaws of this nature - in fact, probably the outstanding error of philatelic history - is the so-called "five-cent error" that occurred in sheets of two-cent stamps printed in 1917. As we have noted in our description of the making of line-engraved steel plates, proofs are usually taken before the plate is put into production and any errors or flaws noted thereon are marked and the plate is then corrected. In 1917 on one plate of two-cent stamps - of four hundred subjects of course - it was noted that three impressions on the plate were not satisfactory. These three designs were erased from the plate (an intricate process but capable of being performed almost perfectly under modern methods) and a completely new transfer was laid down in these positions. In this instance the transfer operator, by mistake, selected the five-cent design on the transfer roll. His error went undiscovered and a considerable number of sheets of stamps were printed and circulated bearing these five-cent stamps in sheets of two-cent denomination before the error was discovered and the plate retired from use.