World Stamps

By David Alderfer

A guide to identifying 2-penny blue line-engraved issues of 1840-80

December 27, 2016 06:00 AM

  • These are two different Scott numbers of Great Britain’s 19th-century 2-penny blue line-engraved issue. Can you spot the difference?
  • Two different perforation gauges were used to produce 2-penny blue stamps in 1854 and 1855, perf 16 and perf 14. The smaller holes of the stamp at left are perf 16.
  • Paper with the small crown watermark was used in the early years of issue of 2-penny blue stamps, but this was changed in 1855 to paper with the large crown watermark.
  • White stamp paper (right) has almost no blue tint to it and appears gray-cream in color.
  • After 1858, the design of the 2-penny blue stamp was changed significantly by including check letters in all four corners and engraving plate numbers in the scroll work on the left and right. Also plates 7, 8, 9 and 12 have thicker white lines, while plates 13, 14 and 15 have thin white lines. Plate 9 is shown left, and plate 14 is on the right.

By David Alderfer

During the 40 years of its life (1840-80), the Two-Penny Blue line-engraved Queen Victoria stamp was issued in 10 distinctly different versions. 

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue assigns numbers 2, 4, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 29 and 30 to these 2d blue stamps.

Several changes in design, two different perforation gauges, two distinct watermarks, white and blued paper, and combinations of these features determine the Scott number of each stamp.

All of this can lead to difficulty in identifying which stamp is which. 

Scott 2: imperforate, no white lines (1840).

The easiest to identify is Scott 2. It has two visible characteristics that are giveaways to its accurate identification: It is imperforate, and it has no white lines above and below Queen Victoria’s profile. 

Some collectors refer to it as the “two-penny no lines added design.”

This first Two-Penny Blue stamp was contemporaneous with the Penny Black. Both were issued in early May 1840.

Of all the 2d blue stamps, Scott 2 has the highest catalog value, $35,000 unused and $700 used.

Scott 4: imperforate, white lines added (1841).

The first illustration shows Scott 2 on the left and Scott 4 on the right.

Both stamps are imperforate, but notice that Scott 4 (right) has two horizontal white lines, at the top and at the bottom of Victoria’s head.

The white lines were added to the original design when it was reissued in 1841.

In February 1841, the color of the Penny Black was changed to red. The color of the 2d stamp remained the same. 

Horizontal white lines below the top POSTAGE banner and at the bottom above the TWO PENCE value indicator were added to distinguish it from the first design. 

According to a Treasury Minute dated Dec. 17, 1840, “… it may be important, hereafter, to have the means of distinguishing the new Twopenny Labels from the old ones …”

All versions of the Two-Penny Blue printed after the first one in 1840 have the two white lines. 

Scott 10: perf 16, watermark small crown (1854).

Official perforations came into use on Great Britain’s postage stamps on Jan. 31, 1854. Scott 10 is the first perforated 2d blue stamp, and the perforation gauge is 16. 

The watermark continues to be small crown, which it was for the first two imperforate issues of this stamp.

Scott 13: perf 14, watermark small crown (1855).

Scott 13 shares all the characteristics with Scott 10, except the perforation gauge is 14, not 16.

The white lines are present, the watermark is small crown, but the perforation gauge is 14 (larger holes) instead of 16.

Experience allows some collectors to distinguish the two perforation gauges with the naked eye. Perf 16 holes are smaller than perf 14.

However, a standard stamp perforation gauge will confirm the specific gauge.

Scott 15: perf 16, watermark large crown (1855).

The next distinguishing characteristic is the watermark in combination with the perforation gauge. 

In 1855, the post office changed the security watermark in the paper from the small crown to a large crown. 

The large crown is not only larger, it is shaped differently. 

Collectors make watermarks on stamps visible by dipping them in watermark fluid and viewing them from the back against a background  of black glass or plastic.

This Scott number is perforated gauge 16, like Scott 10, but the watermark is different.

Scott 17: perf 14, blued paper, large crown (1855).

Scott 17 is on paper with the large crown watermark, but is perforated 14 instead of 16 and, in addition, it can be identified by the usually heavily blued paper, which is visible when the stamp is turned over and viewed from the back.

Scott 19: perf 16, white paper, thin white lines, large crown (1858).

Scott 21: perf 14, white paper, thin white lines, large crown (1857).

Scott 19 and Scott 21 can be properly identified by establishing the tint of the paper first. White paper is usually very distinct from blued paper.

Those stamps on white paper can further be differentiated by perforation gauge, 16 as opposed to 14. 

Also, the added white lines are thinner than earlier printings.

Scott 29: letters in all four corners, thick white lines, plate numbers 7, 8, 9 or 12 in design (1858).

There were two significant changes in the design of the 2d line-engraved stamp after 1858: Check letters appeared in all four corners, and plate numbers were engraved in the engine-turned scroll work to the left and right of the queen’s profile.

Scott 29 is any example bearing plate numbers 7, 8, 9, or 12. These numbers were engraved vertically in the fine detail of the pillars behind the queen’s head and in front of her face.

Scott 30: letters in all four corners, thin white lines, plate numbers 13, 14 or 15 in design (1870).

The last plates used to print engraved 2d blue stamps were plates 13, 14, and 15.

These plate numbers also were engraved in the scroll work on the left and right. 

Any example with letters in all four corners engraved with any of these plate numbers is Scott 30.

Another difference between Scott 29 and 30 is the thickness of the white lines.

The lines are thicker on examples of Scott 29 than they are on Scott 30.

By establishing correct characteristics of design, watermark, perforation gauge, and tinted paper, you can accurately identify 2d blue stamps by correct Scott catalog numbers.