Article #14 for CHRONICLE No. 205
More on The 5˘ De La Rue Lost "Bermuda" Shipment
by Leonard H. Hartmann
All rights reserved, copyright ©2005, Leonard H. Hartmann
A newly discovered block of 70 of the Confederate States of America 5˘ De La Rue typographed stamp from the Lost Shipment was discussed in my last CHRONICLE article, August, 2004, No. 203. The stamps and plates were shipped from London on the blockade runner "Bermuda" which left Liverpool on March 1, 1862 (shipment left De La Rue on Feb 20th) and was captured by the Federal ship "Mercedia" on April 27, 1862. The ensuing US court actions evolved over the ownership of the ship and cargo continued to 1865. The court action on the stamps was that "… under the supervision of the prize commissioners to pulp and be delivered by the Marshal to such manufacturer of paper as may pay the value thereof in pulp on condition of submitting to such supervision, provided that a sufficient number of the said Stamps to serve as samples or specimens be reserved and retained in custody…" with all examples supposedly destroyed.
From the 1920's only a single stamp on an official document relating to the Lost Shipment w as known to exist. Some collectors, myself included, have long suspected the relatively large number of remainder of this stamp may have been from this shipment and were not destroyed. The newly discovered block of 70 showed a slight but major lack of alignment that is unique with respect to any other examples of the De La Rue CSA stamps and to date as far as we know to any other De La Rue stamp. De La Rue did quality work and this showes a striking lack of attention.
While in London last September I was able to spend some time at the Royal Philatelic Society and also the British Library which shed some light on the subject.
The simplest of the quandary is why De La Rue would have shipped stamps that were not aligned perfectly as there record was and probably still is perfect in this respect. The late 1850's and early 1860's saw the introduction of perforated adhesive stamps, world wide, and thus the realization that excellent alignment with respect to the printing plate subjects and paper shrinkage were of major importance. For stamps that were to be separated by hand, a scissors or knife, slight differences in spacing, etc. were of little consequence. These problems were immediately recognized and a number of studies made. At the British Library we were able to view perhaps 100 black proof sheets of British postage and revenue stamps that were printed by De La Rue during the early 1860's. We did not make proper records of the examination as every sheet appeared to show perfect alignment.
Again we have the common excuse for shipping imperfect stamps, it was a rush shipment, and a lapse of quality was warranted. The De La Rue shipment dates for these stamps being Jan 30th, Feb 11th and Feb 20th (the Lost Shipment), 1862. The poor alignment was most certainly recognized by De La Rue but was accepted under the conditions. It was probably also well recognized that the CSA stamps were not and would not be perforated.
The other point concerns how the printing plate could have gotten out of alignment. As these plates are solid electrotyped there is no way that individual subjects could have shifted after the plate was manufactured. Paper shrinkage does occur and it can be in either one or both direction but you can not have a small but distinct "step change" between two adjacent subjects.
The basic operation of plate making and printing is well know but the exact techniques used by the various security printers around the world during the 19th Century are not widely publicized and many details are not clear to us today. While looking for another article in the Royal Philatelic Society of London's library I stumbled upon a most interesting one in the 1930 issue of "The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain Year Book". An article by Dr. S. H. Browning titled "Electrotyping - a Paper and Demonstration" proved most enlightening with respect to this study and is highly recommended to any student of electrotyped stamps from the 19th century.
The Dr. Browning articles states "When sufficient lead moulds are made they are assembled in a frame called a chase, leveled up and securely locked together…" From this a wax impression is made of the entire unit, it is then dusted with graphite and the copper shell electrically deposited. It is this copper shell that becomes the printing surface. The article illustrates a Steel Chase which is reproduced in this article.
The Steel Chase that Dr. Browning illustrates consist of a solid rectangular frame having four sides. On two adjacent sides there are movable bars that are positioned and held in place by machine screws. In assembling the subjects for a printing plate should some subjects be out of size or some foreign matter they could easily be locked in place without perfect alignment. As they had a perfect corner on one end and movable on another this could easily happen. The was impression thus would show the deviation however the original subjects could easily be cleaned, shaved, fixed and re-assembled to make future perfect plates and to have previously made perfect plates. I think it impossible that such a deviation could have been made at the wax impression step in the process or later. Though not mentioned by Dr. Browning I would assume that after a wax impression was made the Chase would be taken apart, and certainly could be, and the subjects cleaned before another wax impression was made thus the plate made before and after a problem could be perfect.
A special thanks to David Beech of the British Library and RPSL for help on this study.
Caption: Steel Chase from the 1930 "Philatelic Congress of Great Britain Year Book"
Leonard H. Hartmann, PO Box 36006, Louisville, Ky 40233
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