The St. Helena King George VI set was printed by
Waterlow from 1938 through 1954. Most of the issues were printed
multiple times. Each of these printings has visible traits that
may help you identify your stamps. This article attempts describe
these characteristics for King George VI collectors, but is not
a complete description of every issue.
Looking over the St. Helena issues, you will note that there
are three primary printings:
1. The original 1938 issue. I assume this is the one described
by the Catalogs when there is only one printing listed.
2. The 1945 reissue.
3. The 1951 reissue.
In addition to these elements, there are a few odd values
that fall outside of this area. These include additional printings
of the 1d, 1-1/2d, 2d, 3d, and 1/ values. You should also note
that the 4d and 8d issues were originally issued in 1940, not
It should also be noticed that new colors of the 1d, 1-1/2d,
and 2d were printed in 1949, and in the case of the 1d and 2d
values, reprinted in 1951. These can be isolated from the other
issues by the color alone.
I believe there are similarities in the paper and gum between
stamps printed at the same relative time. The three primary printings
can usually be identified based on the variation in the paper
and gum. The remaining printings may not be easily identified.
However, by the process of elimination and from comparing them
to identified issues, you may be able to make an educated guess
at the other values.
Before you try to actually sort stamps, let me tell you how
I attempt to make my decisions (guesses if the truth be told).
I look at a few characteristics when sorting stamps for the assumed
printing. These include:
- The paper and gum as seen from the back
- The color of the stamp compared to other stamps of the same
- The perforation
- The watermark
- The printer who produced the stamps
- A listing of the actual stamps that were printed. (Like the
one shown above.)
For the record, I use artificial lighting (actually twin spotlights
with 60 watt soft white bulbs just over my desk). The stamps
are compared against black and white paper to help show the contrast.
I also try to accumulate a good number of stamps in the hope
that by looking at a number of similar items, the contrast from
the various printings will be more easily visible.
I will admit that my lights do not show true color, but they
do show relative color of one stamp compared to another. I have
also purchased an Ott light, and it does an excellent job of
showing actual colors. If you are only comparing colors and using
a color reference the Ott light might be a better alternative.
I tend to use the spot lights to compare the paper and gum (as
seen from the back of the stamp). The Ott light is used to determine
In some cases I have had over 100 stamps of one value to compare.
It is amazing how easy it is to see the differences when you
look at a large number of stamps compared to looking at a sample
of two. That was when these issues were easily accumulated. This
is no longer practical due to the extreme interest in the King
George VI stamps and shortages which now exist. But I began accumulating
KGVI Stamps 20 years ago so it was a lot easier to accumulate
unsorted mixtures in those days.
King George VI issues in general tend to have the same watermark:
Multiple Crown Script CA (MSCA). This was also used for the later
issues of King George V. There is considerable variation in the
perforation of some issues, but this depends on the printer -
in particular De La Rue who had considerable problems when their
facilities were bombed during World War II. So unless there is
a noted perforation difference, these factors do not help much
with identification of a printing.
The paper seems different for some issues based on the time
period when it was printed. This seems to have been caused by
material shortages during the War. Generally speaking there appear
to be similarities for stamps printed during these relative time
1. 1938-1940 - thicker appearing paper, yellowish gum
2. 1941-1945 - thinner appearing paper, off-white gum
3. 1946-1948 - slightly thicker than the war era, off-white gum
4. 1949-1952 - medium appearing paper, whiter gum
(Note - The appearance is subtle and is best seen against
There are also color differences which occur within printings
and from one printing to the next one. This was before the days
of computer matching, and just like the paper and gum, there
were shortages of some materials that are used to make the various
colors. You should expect to see color differences within a printing,
and from one printing to another.
In my opinion, the paper, gum and color criteria have tended
to be the most useful in identifying King George VI stamps (assuming
the perforations are not different.). The problem with identification
is deciding when these differences are from printing conditions,
or from storage and humidity. It becomes an art more than a science.
Now that you have some idea of the general characteristics
I study, let's talk more specifically about the issues of St.
The stamps were produced by Waterlow and Sons. Waterlow printed
the stamps of a number of Colonies including: Antigua, Basutoland,
British Guiana, Dominica, Grenada (low values), Malta, Turks
& Caicos Islands, and others. The Waterlow produced stamps
tend to be fairly consistent in terms of the perforation (12.5
Line Perf) and in terms of color. You will not see the wide variation
that is found in some of the De La Rue printings like the Bermuda
Key Plates for instance.
There does seem to be a similarity between Waterlow stamps
printed at about the same time, and it does seem to conform to
the time periods listed above. So, to make things simple, you
should look closely at the paper and gum in sorting the stamps
of St. Helena
Luckily there are three primary printings: the 1938, 1944-1945,
and 1949-1951 era's.
The challenge is to find a stamp that can be specifically
linked to an era and use it as a reference to sort the other
Here are my candidates:
1938 - 1d Green or 3d Blue.
1944 - 8d Olive-Green (CW description)
This will require some sorting. It falls between the sage-green
of the earlier printing and the deep olive green of the later
printing. Look for the thinner off-white appearing paper.
1949 - The 1d, 1-1/2d, and 2d color changes .
If you compare the stamps against a black background with
good lighting, you may notice some of the traits to the paper
and gum that I have observed. These traits are used to make the
"identifications - or as some would say - educated guesses".
Generally speaking here is what I have seen:
The 1938 issues will tend to have a yellowish, creamy color
to the gum, and the paper will appear to be thicker (it does
not show the black through the stamp like the 1944 printings).
You might see some cracks in the gum.
The 1944 issues will appear to have thinner appearing paper
with off-white gum. The watermark is usually clearly visible
when seen against the black background.
The 1949-1950's printings will have a much whiter appearing
paper compared to the other issues. (Start with the color changes,
and you will have a reliable copy of a stamp that was printed
during that time period.
The Tristan da Cunha overprints which were primarily from
a different printing were also produced during this time period,
and can be used to identify the traits of paper and gum. I would
not say that they can be used to identify the colors of the late
Unfortunately, Potter & Shelton did not identify the colors
of the stamps from the 1950's printing. I went back to my collection
and looked for a white paper issue, and was able to find at least
one copy of each issue with white paper similar to the new color
printings and the Tristan overprints. In most cases, the stamps
looked a little brighter than the other printings - probably
due to the whiteness of the paper. I do not know if these will
ever become recognized like the Falkland late 1940's white paper
issues, but when you look at the quantity printed, these are
the scarcest of the St. Helena issues.
I hope this overview helps you sort your stamps. As always
be prepared for an update as more information becomes available
about these stamps.