Paper and Gum Characteristics of King George VI stamps
Ascension - 1/2d Perf 13.5 - 1938 printing

The King George VI stamps were printed from 1937 until about 1952, but there were even printings dated into the mid 1950's. Ignoring the larger Colonies like Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa, the stamps for the other Colonies were produced by four different printers. Bradbury, Wilkinson; De La Rue; Harrison & Sons; and Waterlow and Sons. Most of the Colonies used a single printer, but some combined them either due to production problems or for some other reason. The orders for these stamps were placed by the Crown Agents who supplied various things including stamps to the Colonies. The initial order was placed for the complete original set, and subsequent orders were placed as supplies ran out. If you examine the Crown Agents records, you will see this process as it was recorded.

During the time period the stamps were produced, there were many factors that affected the production and the supply process. These include paper, ink and gum shortages; factories being bombed by the Germans; and shipments being lost at sea. These conditions resulted in some of the perforation changes that will be seen - especially in the De La Rue stamps, and in the various color shades that resulted.

Stamps we find today were ultimately sent either to dealers from the Crown Agents in London, or were sent to the Colony and were sold at the Post Office. The stamps we purchase today - especially the unused ones have been stored in collections since they were sold. The way they were stored and the conditions of storage, like humidity can affect them. So if you collect King George VI stamps and are looking beyond the basic set, you have to take into account all of these issues.

My goal in collecting these stamps is to try to determine the relative time period the stamps were produced and to allocate them by printing if possible. Ultimately, this is not a completely realizable goal. So I just try to get as close as possible to the time period. Here is how I attempt this project:

1. Find a source that details the printings. These included Potter & Shelton's listings, Study Papers from the King George VI Collectors Society; or other monographs from writers who specialized in a specific country - like Bermuda, Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, and a few others.

2. Accumulate as many stamps as possible over a long time period to compare. It is really easy to see the differences in both color and the paper & gum when you have a number of stamps to compare. In some cases, I have managed to accumulate as many as 50 copies of the same value. This might explain how I became a part-time stamp dealer.

3. Determine the various characteristics - like perforation, paper and gum and color changes. This was done either on the album pages that I created, or in an Excel Spreadsheet. When I started making the spreadsheets, I put the Potter & Shelton information in several columns and then merged the Crown Agents report and if it was available the description by Frank Saunders of the King George VI Collectors Society. The result gave me some idea of the traits to look for as I viewed the stamps.

4. Create some sort of holder for each of the stamps. Initially I created them by hand but later switched to Vario pages with a non-adhesive label for each stamp. The labels were created in Excel using the information from the various sources.

5. Sort the stamps as closely to accurate as possible, and sometimes take notes as this is done for future use. I put the stamps on black paper and compare the high values first to try to understand the make up of each set.

The result of this project can be found in the various web sites found in the index. Each page is devoted to a specific Colony and there are full page scans that were done at high resolution (600 dpi) and compressed into 1200 dpi widths. You can view or download these pages to see what was collected.

One thing that is not shown is the back of the pages - the paper and gum. Although this is very important, it is the most difficult thing to scan usefully. So if you want to understand the paper and gum, you need to figure it out for yourself. See each of the various scans with basic instructions below. Unfortunately this can be a little complicated. See my page scans for each of the Colonies mentioned to see my collection of the stamps and the notes about some of them as they were sorted.

In the listings below, SG refers to the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue numbers, and ST is the Scott Catalog listing.

Bradbury, Wilkinson Paper and Gum

The Falkland Islands set is a good reference for Bradbury, Wilkinson. There are not that many printings, and you can isolate some of the traits just because the stamps were only printed once or just a few times.

Generally speaking, the 1937 printings tend to be on off-white paper with crackly gum. The 1938 printings (including the 5/ Indigo shade) tend to be on a wavy appearing paper with less yellowish gum. Look at the 2d violet issues (SG 149, ST 86) for the first two printings. There are two shades and they include both printings. The 1944 printings are on a very flat, off-white appearing paper that has much less texture than the early printings. The best example I can give you is the 1/ (SG 158b, ST 91)which actually has four printings. Most of the ones I see are from the 1944 printing. The later printings (including the good 2/6, 5/, 10/ and £1 values) are on white paper like the 6d Black issue (SG 156, ST 102).

Use what you learn from the Falkland Islands to compare to other Bradbury, Wilkinson printings - like Gambia, Gold Coast, and Trinidad & Tobago.

De La Rue Paper and Gum

If you start noticing the printers of the various King George VI stamps, and look at the popularity of the sets with collectors, you will quickly notice that the De La Rue sets are at the top of the list. This is probably because there was just a lot of chaos that occurred as these stamps were produced. There are a number of perforation changes - due in part to the bombing of the factory, and probably to faulty perforation equipment in general. There are also a number of recognizable color changes.

The Ascension set is a good place to find paper and gum examples. The Perf 13.5 issues were printed in 1938, so you can easily isolate those issues. The middle 1940's issues will tend to show either a transparent watermark or a more opaque one (see the 1944 and 1946 examples below). You can find these in the Perf 13 x 12.75 issues for several values. Finally the late 1940's tend to be on much whiter paper. Look at the 1d (SG 39d, ST 54) where the design changed from Green Mountain to Three Sisters, or the Perf 14 issues for these examples.

Use what you learn to compare to other De La Rue issues like Bermuda, Gibraltar, Leeward Islands, Nigeria high values, Swaziland and others.

Harrison & Sons Paper and Gum

Harrison & Sons was the least used printer of the King George VI issues. Especially the 1938 sets where only Seychelles and the Virgin Islands issues were printed by Harrison & Sons.

The Seychelles set is a good place to look. There are three 50c printings (all are ST 141). The 1938 printing (SG 144) is on chalk paper and will tend to have yellowish gum. The 1942 printing (SG 144a) is on substitute paper and has whiter gum. The 1949 printing (SG 144b) is a different much brighter shade so you can easily spot all three of these issues. The 1945 issue is a little tougher to find. I would suggest looking at the 9c (SG 138ac, ST 131) or 15c (SG 139ab, ST 133) values and just find the one that seems different from the 1942 printings.

Compare your Seychelles stamps to the Virgin Islands set to help you sort those issues.

Waterlow and Sons Paper and Gum

A number of Colony's stamps were printed by Waterlow and Sons. Apparently De La Rue was overloaded with both stamp and currency contracts and did not bid as aggressively on many of the King George VI issues. There has never been a huge collector interest in the Waterlow stamps because they are pretty consistent in terms of color and perforation. As a result, no outstanding, easily identifiable varieties exist like the ones you will find in the De La Rue collections. I guess the one exception to this would be the Grenada 2-1/2d Perf 12/5 x 13/25 value (SG 157a, ST 136a).

St. Helena is a good place to look for examples. There were not a lot of issues, and there are some color changes that will help you isolate the issues. The 1d Green (SG 132, ST 119) and the 3d Ultramarine (SG 135, ST 122) were both only printed in 1938. The color changed after that date, so you can easily isolate them. Use the 8d values (SG 136a, ST 123A) to determine the 1940 and 1944 printings. The 1940 printing is Sage-Green and tends to have off-white gum on thicker appearing paper. The 1944 printing is Olive-Green and it is on a more transparent paper that is also whiter than the earlier two versions. There is also a Brown-Olive 1951 printing (SG 136b) on white paper. Use the new colors with the black centers of the 1d, 1-1/2d and 2d values to isolate the 1949 printings. You can also consider the Tristan da Cunha (SG 1-12, ST 1-12) values. They were only printed in 1952, and in my mind the colors of the stamps don't match any St. Helena issues in my collection - so I think they were a new printing done at that time for these stamps.

Use what you learn from St. Helena to compare to Antigua, British Guiana, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada lower values, and many more Colony issues.

If you want to download the image of the paper and gum examples, it is included in the list below. There is also a page from the Leeward Islands collection with the various 1/ issues showing both the front and the reverse sides.

The page images were scanned in a larger size and at a higher resolution so you can more easily see the details used in viewing them. Feel free to select the page and let it download to your screen and save it to your hard drive for viewing. If you are using a PC, selecting the page will typically open it in Microsoft Photo Viewer (or whatever you are using as your default). From there you can enlarge the size for more close-up viewing. If you are using a phone - go find a PC or a Mac. The images are 1200 pixels wide and you will go mad trying to view them on your phone.

Please be patient if it takes a few minutes for each page to load.

King George VI Collection - Description and Page Link
King George VI Paper and Gum Examples
King George VI Leeward Islands 1/ Examples
King George VI Leeward Islands 1/ Paper and Gum Examples

This article was written to help you identify your stamps.
Please feel free to ask a question, or suggest a correction.

Comments or Questions feel free to write
King George VI Stamps for sale
Web pages describing various sets from the British Colonies
Index to KGVI Stamps Web Sites
Web pages with links to full page scans from the KGVI Stamps Reference Collection
Index to KGVI Stamps Collection Page Scan Sites
Links to other British Colonial Stamp Sites