I’m beginning a new series of posts discussing some of my favorite British Stamps and British Colonial Stamps, based either on design or on general philatelic interest. I begin with a particularly elegant example, the King George V “Seahorse” design.
Of the many engraved British Stamps produced during the early to middle years of the British Commonwealth, the Seahorses of King George V are, in my opinion, among the most attractive. The Seahorses are particularly compelling for an avid collector of British Stamps because they allow several angles of study:
- Comparing the four major printings by Waterlow, De La Rue, and Bradbury Wilkinson;
- Assembling examples with the many possible overprints from the British Colonies in Bechuanaland, Ireland, Nauru, and the British Offices in Morocco and the Turkish Empire (British Levant);
- Distinguishing the many listed shades;
- And, for the most advanced collector, pursuing the elusive retouches of the 2/6.
It can be a challenge when collecting seahorses to find the British stamps of this issue in each of the four printings. We are always adding to our stock of British stamps but find that the better Seahorses pass through very rapidly, and then replacement copies must be located. The Seahorses of Great Britain can also be very expensive, as they are much in demand. But unlike other elusive British stamps the Seahorse issues can be easily located with various overprints from several different British Colonies, and often at very reasonable prices.
There were far fewer of the overprints issued than the unoverprinted British Seahorse stamps, but postal and philatelic demand for the British stamps has increased their scarcity and value. In order to obtain examples of each of the printings, it is easiest to start with a mixture of the overprinted and unoverprinted issues. Here’s an example of how one might proceed:
Currently in our stock we have the Bradbury & Wilkinson printings of Great Britain available (Scott 179-181), along with several shade varieties. To obtain copies of the first Waterlow Printings one could immediately locate in our stock Morocco 55 and 57 for the 5/s and 10/s values, and Morocco 217b for the 2/6 value. The De La Rue printings can be found in Morocco 55a and 57a, and Nauru 14 for the 5/s.
Collecting Seahorses with overprints can really help with identifying the various printings and shades as a Seahorse collection expands. For example, all the Ireland overprints are on Bradbury Wilkinson printings, except for the re-engraved Waterlow issues (Scott 93-95). Several of the Morocco overprints can only be found on particular printings as well, so once you have the overprinted stamp you know what other examples of that printing will look like.
If you don’t have examples available to help identify a printing, I find the explanation of the differences between printings in the Great Britain section of the Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalog to be quite a reliable and faithful. The Bradbury Wilkinson printing is easy to identify because of its larger size, always measuring a bit more than the exact 22mm of the first Waterlow and De La Rue printings. The second Waterlow printing features a revised ‘crosshatch’ pattern behind the king’s head that is entirely different and easily distinguishable from the diagonal shading lines in the earlier printings. Telling the first Waterlow and De La Rue printings apart requires more careful study, but the patchy, thinner gum and wider top perforation of the De La Rue printings does begin to be readily identifiable with experience.
All three of the first Seahorse printings in the 2/6 value feature re-entry varieties which are fascinating to look at, if you can track them down. But beware, they are exceedingly tricky to identify by the untrained eye. The illustrations in Stanley Gibbons help explain where to look, but not precisely what to look for. A re-entry will not be as visible as it appears in the illustration, but will show some ‘doubling’ of the engraving lines in the particular locations shown. This doubling should not be confused with thicker lines, which are part of the original engraving, or doubled lines that are not due to re-entry. It is essential to compare multiple copies if you suspect you may have a re-entry in hand. If you are looking to purchase a re-entry, be sure to make your purchase from a trusted source.
To take a look at the Seahorses we currently have in stock, the best way to proceed is to do a search for stamps from the reign of King George V for each of the countries with Seahorses: Great Britain, Morocco, Offices in the Turkish Empire, Bechuanaland, Ireland, and Nauru. Clicking on any of the links above will take you to our list of King George V stamps for that country. Note that all the relevant items have ‘Seahorse’ in the description.
Next time, I’ll tackle the Silver Jubilee varieties… another fun and aesthetically pleasing area of study.
posted by: Kathryn Wright, Philatelist