The British Virgin Islands King George VI set was printed
by Harrison & Sons from 1938 through 1947. 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.
In an article published in George VI (Spring, 2002) several
sources of raw data for this issue were compared to determine
the actual printings for the Colony. The table included information
from these sources:
1. "The Printings of King George VI Colonial Stamps"
by W.J.W. Potter in collaboration with Lt. Col. R.C.M. Shelton.
2. The Crown Agents report of printings, as compiled by David
Studd. (link to David's .King
George VI Philatelic Resource Site)
3. The three catalogs that describe the stamps, including
their current numbers for the stamps they describe.
The result of the comparison is shown below. If you are interested
in how this was derived, see the editor of George VI for a copy
of the article. George VI Link
The goal of this article is to show the actual printings that
were produced for the Colony, and attempt to help the average
collector identify some of the printings. The printings as we
know them are shown below:
As you can see, there are either three or four printings for
1. The original 1938 issue. I assume this is the one described
by the Catalogs when there is only one printing listed.
2. The 1942 issues for the 1/ - 5/ values.
3. The 1943 reissue of all the values to 5/.
4. The 1945 reissue of all the values to 5/.
In addition to these elements, there are 10/ and £1
values which were issued separately.
I believe there are similarities in the paper and gum between
stamps printed at the same relative time. In the case of the
British Virgin Islands, the type of paper used was also different.
The 1938 issues used a paper with a chalk coating. The later
printings were not printed on coated paper. This "substitute"
was used due to shortages that occurred during the War. These
characteristics can be used to identify stamps based on the time
period they were produced.
Identification of KGVI
Before you try to actually sort stamps, let me tell you how
I attempt to make my decisions (guesses if the truth be told).
Generally speaking, I look at a few characteristics when sorting
stamps for the assumed printing. These include:
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.
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.
Ironically, the issues of the British Virgin Islands are best
sorted by determining whether the paper is chalk coated, and
then viewed based on differences in color.
Sorting the stamps of the
British Virgin Islands
Now that you have some idea of the various characteristics
of KGVI Stamps in general, it is time to look specifically at
the stamps of the British Virgin Islands. If you look over the
chart above, it appears that Potter & Shelton did a fairly
good job of identifying the stamps. They only missed the 1945
printing of the 2d, 6d, 2/6 and 5/ issues. I like to use the
Potter & Shelton color descriptions because they are the
only reference that is the same across multiple Colonies. This
means that a yellow-green from one Colony might be the same or
similar to a yellow green from another Colony. That is a big
help considering how many issues were created.
Identifying the stamps in your collection is another matter.
I will provide some of the ways that I sort these stamps into
what I feel are the printings. (I will admit that this may or
may not be accurate, so treat it accordingly.) Let me first give
you a little background.
The stamps of the British Virgin Islands were produced by
Harrison and Sons using a Photogravure process, which in my opinion
produces a really cheap looking stamp. This is especially true
when you compare these stamps to those of the other Colonies
where the more expensive printing processes were used.
The primary advantage of identifying the Harrison printings
(including the Seychelles issues) is the variation between chalk
coated paper of the original printing and the substitute (no
chalk) paper which was used during the War. For those of you
who specialize in finding errors, look these over carefully.
You are likely to find something wrong with every copy.
Luckily there are four printings: 1938, 1942, 1943, and 1945.
The 10/ and £1 values were printed in 1947 and only had
one printing, so I am fairly confident that you can identify
that one with no further assistance. As a result, we will only
be discussing the 1/2d to 5/ issues.
Since there are chalk paper and substitute paper issues, the
first step is to identify the chalk paper issues of 1938. I can
usually spot them just by turning them over - the gum is often
yellowish and sometimes streaky. If you want to test for chalk
paper, lightly drag a piece of silver over a corner of the stamp.
If there is a chalk costing present, it will leave a line like
a pencil mark. This can be carefully erased with a good eraser.
(I have an old silver dime that I use and a kneaded rubber eraser.)
If your only goal is to find the more valuable stamps, stop
with the chalk paper issues. The substitute paper issues are
much cheaper, and will always be that way. For the most part
they all look the same, so it is a little more difficult to identify
For the record, the 1942 issue only included the 1/, 2/6 and
5/ issues. The 1943 and 1945 printings include all of the values.
Most of you know that I look at the back of a stamp to try
to figure out when it was printed. Sorting the substitute paper
issues is the exception to this rule. I look at the front, in
particular the color of the stamps. Now be advised that this
is not going to work with 2 stamps; you need an accumulation.
But if you take multiple substitute paper copies of a single
value and look at them under good lighting against white paper
you will notice that some of the stamps seem brighter and some
seem duller. (Assuming you do not leave your stamps out in the
sun.) It is my feeling that the brighter stamps are from the
1945 printing and the duller ones from the 1943 printing. I came
to this conclusion after noting that Potter & Shelton described
some of the 1945 stamps as having a deeper or brighter color
(when they noticed any difference). I have found consistent examples
that seem to back up this statement. The Red, Blue and Mauve
being fairly obvious while the Grey is the least visibly different.
The 1942 2/6 and 5/ printings, from my perspective, can not
be isolated. I think they might be a little deeper in color than
the 1945 issues, but I base that only on the deep color of the
1/ compared to the two later printings. The 1/ is the only one
of the 1942 printings where Potter & Shelton described all
three of the printings.
I hope this will be helpful. Please feel free to write - use
the email link shown below. As always, any additional information
would be appreciated.