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Edward VII Stamp Controls Quiz

Geoff Dyer provided a diversion from Covid lockdown by providing a quiz about controls. He emphasised these are stamp controls- consisting of a letter in the sheet margin – (not Boris’s coronavirus controls!) which were first introduced on the Queen Victoria 1d lilac 16-dot and later the Jubilee halfpenny stamps as an accounting tool, because of the vast number of these stamps being printed.  They were extended to values up to 1/- with the 1912 GV Mackennal series.

 One good thing about corner pieces is the information in the selvedge about how the sheet of stamps was perforated.  When I first looked at Stanley Gibbons Four Kings appendix, it seemed very complicated, but generally it is very simple once you think of the “comb” arrangement of the pins in the perforating head.  The horizontal perforator has pins to perforate just the tops and sides of one row of 12 stamps, plus one extension hole at each side which will appear in the side margins. With “top feed” of the sheet, 21 beats of the machine will be required to perforate the 20 rows, the last beat inevitably perforating through the bottom margin while dealing with the base of the last row of stamps.  Often “bottom feed” was intentionally used for a batch, leaving the bottom margin completely imperforate.  Vertical perforators appeared in 1897 to operate on 20 stamps at a time, putting a single extension hole in top and bottom margins, and perforating through the left or right margin depending on right or left feed of the sheet respectively.  These machines were built to last many years; the tiny bits falling through were weighed as a check on the quantity processed.

The photo below which shows Geoff’s entry into the “letter E” single sheet competition a number of years ago provides information on Edward VII controls.

Geoff went on to set a small quiz to members on “controls” offering his previous competition entry as a source of background information.

The required photo for Geoff’s “quiz” questions is shown below: –

Actually, the first stamp in the photo is really a curiosity, not a question. It is the so-called A17 Control.  This would have been required if Edward VII had enjoyed a miraculous resurrection in 1917 and replaced George V (we start at A again for a new – or resurrected – monarch).  The actual explanation is more mundane and SG Four Kings reports that it is really A11 with ink build-up between the tops of “11” which happened on some pieces when this Control plug was used on Plates 54 and 58c.  (The Control was not a fixed part of the plate; it was screwed in so the plate could be used during different control periods.)  Some artistic licence is required to recognise the “7” with a vertical right section and a curly top touching the left-side 1.  A normal A11 is next to it (with different perforation).

The time difference between these A11 examples and the adjacent corner pair with Control “A” is 10 years.  The reason for starting with letter A again (as A11) in 1911, after J10, was because of the new printer (Harrisons from 1/1/11)), not because of a new monarch – although Edward had conveniently died in May 1910 – so when the first George V stamps were issued (on his Coronation day) the A11 Control could continue in use (Downey head).

Geoff’s Edward VII Control quiz: –

Q1.  How many differences can you spot between the A and G7 corner pairs?

Q2.  For the two A11 corner strips and the I9 and F6, work out for each whether a horizontal or vertical comb perforating machine was used, and whether the sheet was fed into the machine from the top or bottom, or from the left or right side.

Q3.  Apart from the perforation, what (very) important difference is there between the two A11 corner strips?

Q4.  The five D4 corner pairs all differ from one another although there are some similarities e.g. two were printed from Plate 28 and the other three were not. Comment!

Geoff’s Answers.

 Q1.  I noticed six changes between “A” (the first, issued 1/1/1902, following the QV Jubilee halfpenny green which all had “R” Control following vermilion with “Q”) and “G7” (issued Sept 1907, following “F7”):

(i) Blue-green and yellow-green – the colour change was in Nov 1904, the first yellow-greens having Control “D4”.

(ii) Control moved from under 11th stamp of bottom row (for“A” and “B” only, like QV) to under 2nd stamp (for “C” onwards).

(iii) Letter only for “A” with no indication of year 1902, “7” to indicate year 1907 along with letter “G” – this started in Jan 1904 with “C4” replacing “C” (which was used from Oct 1903).

(iv) Sans-serif font for “A” (like the QV Controls, something like Arial Bold font), but a more elegant serif font for “G7” which had started with “C” in Oct 1903. Note that Harrisons returned to the sans-serif font with “A11” when they took over from De La Rue in 1911.

(v) The Jubilee line is continuous for “A” but interrupted or “coextensive” for “G7”.  The first plates with coextensive line were constructed in 1903 and appeared with Control “B” but the earlier plates with continuous line also continued to be used up to “D4”.

(vi) The single extension hole in the side and bottom margins of “A” and “G7” respectively show that “A” was perforated with a horizontal comb machine and “G7” with a vertical comb.  Bottom-feed for “A” to leave the bottom margin completely imperforate, and right-feed for “G7” causing the left margin to be perforated through.

Q2. Using same reasoning as in (vi) above, the left-hand “A11” and the “F6” were horizontal-comb perforated, top-feed and bottom-feed respectively, while the right-hand “A11” and “I9” were vertical-comb perforated, left-feed and right-feed respectively.

Q3. The left-hand “A11” is the normal perf 14 and the right-hand one is the harder-to-find perf 15×14 introduced by Harrisons and used to this day after their experiments to equalise the parting force between horizontal and vertical pairs of stamps. It’s a bit surprising that the shorter side needed the bigger force, but it is because the fibres in the paper become aligned that way as the sheet is drawn off the pulp in the paper mill. I was delighted to acquire this 15×14 item recently!!! – not listed in the auction lot description but I spotted it by looking at the online illustrations.  The perf 15×14 halfpenny stamps were issued in Oct 1911, still printing EdVII stamps even though the new GV Downeys had come out on Coronation Day 22nd June, presumably because not enough Downey plates had been manufactured.  This didn’t last long so not many 15×14 halfpenny stamps are around compared to the huge number of 14×14.

Q4. Calling the five “D4” corner pairs: I, II, III (upper row and blue-green), IV and V (bottom row and yellow-green), then the two printed from Plate 28 must be I and IV with a printer’s chisel cut in the Jubilee line under P of PENNY for the purpose of identifying the plate from which the stamps were printed. Example I is blue-green and IV is yellow-green; the colour change came in the “D4” period so “D4” is the only Control to appear on stamps of both colours. Example III is different from all the others as it has a continuous rather than coextensive Jubilee line; “D4” was the last Control to be used on a plate with continuous line.  Example II is the only one with a single extension perforation hole in the bottom margin so was perforated with a vertical-comb machine (left feed) – all the others are horizontal-comb perforated with bottom feed.