World Stamps

Sydney Views: the world’s first pictorial postage stamps, part II

Jul 28, 2016, 9 AM

By Sergio Sismondo

What follows is the second part of a two-part series on the Sydney Views stamp of New South Wales, the world’s first pictorial postage stamp.

Read the first part: Learning about the world’s first pictorial postage stamps.

Under the leadership of James Raymond, postmaster general of New South Wales from 1829 to 1851, the postal service progressed from a largely improvised service organized and funded under a temporary act to a fully organized service with 79 permanent post offices serving a population of 150,000 persons dispersed over an area of more than 310,000 square miles, and growing rapidly.

Rates of postage varied according to distance traveled. In 1832, rates between towns for single-weight letters ranged from 3 pence (Parramatta to Liverpool) to 12 pence (Moreton Bay to Wollongong, for instance). 

In 1835, rates became much more complicated. Distance charges were calculated on the basis of measurements made on maps — “as the crow flies.” Some of these did not correspond to real distances on existing roads. Some measurements were vastly different from the reality on the ground. In addition, charges were made for weight, which previously had not been particularly well defined. The new weight measures applied were:

Single weight: under ½ ounce
Double weight: between ½ ounce and ¾ ounce
Triple weight: between ¾ ounce and 1 ounce
Quadruple weight: between 1 ounce and 1¼ ounces; and so forth.

Postage rate charts became increasingly complicated, combining distance and weight, and postage for letters remained very expensive for the public. 

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With keen awareness that city mail could be handled and delivered at a much lower cost than internal colonial mail, in 1838 Postmaster James Raymond introduced pre-paid letter sheets, or stamped envelopes, for the Sydney city post. Initially, the embossed covers were denominated 2d, but before a year had gone by, the city rate was reduced to 1d. The system began to flourish.

The number of letter carriers for the city was increased, and three daily deliveries were instituted. Thus, people and businesses of Sydney acquired an inexpensive and extremely efficient express service. It predated Sir Rowland Hill’s radical postal reform of 1840, and as such, with prepaid stationery and a uniform 2d rate, was the first of its kind to be instituted in the world. Whether it was profitable or not for the post office may be debated. But it was certainly very useful for the businesses, and became a first and fundamental step toward postal reform.

Further comments on the design of the Sydney Views

Circa 1820, a book written by a Mr. Martin describing many aspects of colonial New South Wales in that period, and an example of which may be found in the British Museum, contains a lovely steel engraving entitled simply “SYDNEY.” 

In this panoramic sketch, the principal elements of the seal of the colony appear. At left is a steep hill, with houses all along its profile, and a church, as well as a profile of Fort Mackenzie. On the hills’ slopes are trees; people walking may be seen; a man on horseback crosses the scene in front; and on center-right are some men possibly discussing, one of them resting on the ground.

The evolution of the colonial seal’s design goes further back. Josiah Wedgwood, the great pottery maker of Staffordshire, sketched a seal with the principal themes of New South Wales for one of his productions. It has been described as follows: “It represents a figure of Hope, addressing three emblematic figures — Peace, Art and Labour — on the shore of Sydney Cove with a ship, a few houses and a church in the background. Underneath is the word “Etruria,” the well-known name of Wedgwood’s Pottery in Staffordshire, and the date 1789.”

In Collins’ Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, written in 1804, is another description, perhaps more to the point: “A representation of convicts landing at Botany Bay, received by Industry, who, surrounded by her attributes — a bale of merchandise, a beehive, a pickax, and a shovel — is releasing them from their fetters, and pointing to oxen ploughing and a town rising on the summit on a hill with a fort for its protection. Masts of a ship are seen in the bay. In the margin are the words ‘Sigillum, Nov. Camb, Aust., (abbreviated Latin for ‘Seal of New Cambria in Australia’) and for a motto “Sic Fortis Etruria crevit [‘and thus Etruria grew strong’].”

Postal reform

Finally, after consultations with the General Post Office in London, including trips to and from the distant colony, and with the blessing of postal authorities, postal reform arrived at New South Wales in 1849. Enabling legislation was the New South Wales Postal Act of 1849. Its chief elements were:

Optional prepayment, but unpaid letters paid double postage.
Sydney town post remained at the reduced rate of 1d.
Franking privileges were abolished. Government departments were to pay postage.
Newspaper postage was 1d if mailed within nine days of publication. 

Introduction of postage stamps denominated 1d for city postage and newspapers, 2d for internal colonial postage, and 3d for the post office’s share of ship letter postage. 

All this was to go into effect on Jan. 1, 1850. That gave Postmaster General Raymond 10 weeks in which to prepare for all new rates and procedures, and for the all-important task of designing and producing postage stamps. 

As I wrote last month, given the extremely short time available, the engraving task was distributed to three engravers, all residents of Sydney. There were a few essays made and some preliminary proofs, some of which, perhaps because of their coarse appearance, were rejected by a committee established to oversee preparation and production of postage stamps. 

The committee became known as the “Inspectors of Stamps,” and set up their working office in the Stamp Room on the second floor of the General Post Office on George Street. The three engravers and their tasks were:

Robert Clayton, 1d, plate of 25 subjects; John Carmichael, 2d, plate of 24 subjects; and Henry C. Jervis, 3d, plate of 25 subjects.

Note that the initial contracts were written for plates of 50 images each. However, again due to tight timing, the engravings were reduced to 25 images for each denomination, except for the 2d plate, which had only 24 images.

Detailed study of the stamps reveals that plate wear differed substantially between the plates. The causes of that result are multiple and not fully understood. Such wear explains the extensive work undertaken by the engravers retouching, repairing, and replacing the original plates. In all, it is generally recognized that nine plates of Sydney Views were made, and their general characteristics are discussed in the following paragraphs. 

The 1d stamp

Plate 1. The original 1d plate, known simply as plate 1, was engraved by Robert Clayton. It consisted of 25 images in the almost square arrangement of five rows of five stamps each, engraved on a copper plate. Its most obvious distinguishing characteristic is the absence of clouds in the sky above the cityscape. This gives the impression of emptiness in part of the design, which is nevertheless charming in other respects.

The stamps were printed in shades of red and on two types of paper (Scott 1 to 1e in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940). Each position in the plate was engraved manually, and thus each position differs from the others. However, in this original plate there were no significant errors and thus no notable varieties. It was recorded in postal archives that 190,000 stamps were printed. If that figure is accurate, it means that the plate was struck on paper about 9,600 times. Copper is a soft surface to work with, probably easier to etch than other metals, but also less durable. 

For Japan’s first issues, nine plates of copper were used, similarly etched as those for New South Wales’ first issues, and with similar results. The average number of strikes for the Japanese plates was 11,200. (This is my calculation based on stamp sales data, the numbers-printed data not being readily available.)

It is interesting to contrast these results with those obtained from hardened steel plates by Perkins, Bacon, & Co. in London for Great Britain’s Penny Red stamps with plate numbers, which ranged from about 200,000 to 557,000 sheets struck for each plate.

For the 1d Sydney View, after 9,600 prints, it was judged that a new plate was necessary. 

Plate 2. The task of re-engraving for plate 2 was entrusted to H.C. Jervis. The work was done in mid-July 1850. The principal difference was that the sky over Sydney Harbour showed clouds (in 24 of 25 positions). The frames were strengthened, cut deep into the plate, especially at right and left. While deepening the design, three varieties appeared. “No trees on hill” was in position R2/2 (row 2, stamp 2). “Hill unshaded” was in position R2/3, and “without clouds” appeared in position R3/5. Soon philatelists gave stamps from these positions the title of “errors,” and most catalogs listed and numbered them. (Scott 2 to 2s). Again, there were various shades of red, and three types of paper were used. In addition, this re-engraved plate wore greatly. In the July 2016 Unveiling Classic Stamps column, I included pictures of 1d Sydney Views for plates 1 and 2.

It was recorded that 477,000 stamps were printed from plate 2, which means the plate was struck about 17,880 times. Some authors have doubted the veracity of these figures, but in my opinion, having seen stamps from very worn states in which most of the design is missing, I would say that the printing figures given are indeed realistic. 

The very worn printings resemble in character the “last impressions” of Barnard’s 1859 1d stamps of Mauritius. Perhaps a listing of a “very worn impression” of the 1d is in order. 

It has also been written that 1d stamps from plate 2 found in collections and in the market are not as abundant as those of the 2d from various plates, buttressing the argument that the printing figure of 477,000 is too high and must represent a mistake. Again, I disagree. 

Stamps that were principally used for printed-matter postage tend to be underrepresented in collections for the simple reason that few newspapers were kept for posterity, in comparison with the retention of personal and business letters. Thus, I would expect 1d stamps to have a lower survival rate than 2d stamps, which paid the postage rate for simple letters.

The 2d stamp

Plate 1. The 2d stamp is certainly the most abundant of the first issue of New South Wales — most examples paid the letter rate for mail internal to the colony.

As I have written elsewhere, of all the Sydney Views, the finest and most perfect engraving was that by John Carmichael of the first plate of the 2d stamp. M.P. Castle in Notes on the First Issue of New South Wales begins his description of this plate with the words “incontestably the handsomest and most artistic of the Sydney Views. …” The plate consisted of 24 images arranged in two horizontal rows of 12.

Shown with this column is a 2d stamp from plate 1. Its principal characteristic, which differentiates it from stamps of the other four plates, is that the shading of the spandrels consists of vertical interlaced wavy lines. Also, the words “SIGILLUM. NOV. CAMB. AUST.” are in serifed Roman capitals with each word followed by a dot.

The 2d stamps from all the other plates have sans-serif capitals, and the dots after the words are missing. I would add that the early impressions of stamps from plate I show unmistakable three-dimensionality, which is generally lacking in all other Sydney Views stamps. Early impressions are very scarce and rightfully command substantial premiums.

The stamps from plate 1 were printed in deep blue or gray blue. Prints on bluish or yellowish wove paper exist. Laid paper was not used for prints from this plate. Only two varieties of the engraving are recognized:

In position 19 (row 2/7) the lines in the bale are doubled.
Ten loops in the engine turning on each side instead of the usual nine loops occurs in four positions (R1/9, R1/10, R1/11 and R2/7).

Stamps from these positions are quite scarce. 

The very fine nature of the engraving led to fairly obvious plate wear. Three stages are generally recognized and may be distinguished at first by the state of wear of the clouds in the sky. They are: early impressions, intermediate impressions, and late impressions. In late impressions, the clouds are mostly absent, and in extreme cases, the entire vignette is hard to detect (Scott 3 to 3f). 

Records kept show that 71,000 stamps were printed from plate 1. Only about 10,000 stamps were printed before wear began to set in. Thus, early impressions are quite scarce. Only about 295 sheets printed may qualify for this classification. 

Plate 1, retouched. The lower row of 12 stamps wore faster than the upper row. Its basic contour lines were failing. All 12 stamps from the lower row were retouched, in January or February 1850, by strengthening the colored horizontal line over “TWO PENCE.” The line was rendered either much thicker, or in some impressions doubled. The retouched stamps also show extreme wear of the vignette.

Clearly, this repair was done as a temporary expedient rather than an attempt to replace the printing plate with a new version. The printing of retouched impressions was 68,000 stamps (Scott 4, 4a).

Plate 2. Henry C. Jervis was given the task of producing a re-engraved plate of 2d stamps. He executed the work toward the end of August 1850. Plate 2 stamps may be distinguished by the following characteristics:

Shading of the spandrels is now made by broadly undulating horizontal lines.
The fan at bottom is heavily shaded.
There is a dot at the center of each corner star.
The bale is dated, but not as clearly as in early impressions of plate 1.

The engraving lacks finesse but is reasonably successful. In fact, more 2d stamps were printed from this plate than from any other plate. A total of 169,000 stamps were thus printed, according to the official records. Both yellowish and bluish wove paper was used. Laid paper was not used for printings from this plate.

The stamps were printed in a wide variety of shades, including gray-blue, bright blue, indigo-blue and lilac-blue, denoting the series of printings (Scott 5 to 5p). Lilac-blue is by far the scarcest of the colors. The worn impressions and retouched impressions from plate 2, instead, are found in dull blue, and a fairly lively and attractive Prussian blue on blue paper. Shown with this column is a 2d stamp from plate 2.

Plate wear progressed through the printings. Four stages may be recognized: 

(i) Early: clouds and all details well defined.
(ii) Intermediate: vignette fairly distinct, except clouds barely visible.
(iii) Worn: vignette worn, frames worn, and clouds barely visible.
(iv) Latest: traces only of the design left; in the extreme, the design is not visible.

In all stages the following four engraving varieties can be found: CREVIT omitted (R2/1); pick and shovel omitted (R1/10); no whip (R1/4, R1/8, R2/8); 10 loops in the engine turning on each side (R1/9, R1/10, R1/11 and R2/7).

Again, the plate wore unevenly. Between stages 3 and 4, retouches became necessary (July to August 1850). The 12 stamps of the bottom row were strengthened; the lower spandrels were filled with dots and dashes; and the vignette and its inscriptions remained weak (Scott 5f to 5q).

Plate 3. Plate wear of Plate 2 had gone beyond acceptability. Jervis again was given the task of producing a new re-engraved plate. Stamps printed from plate 3 can be distinguished by the following characteristics:

Corner stars without dots in center.
Fan has seven well-delineated segments (six segments in the stamp of row 2/8) and with a tiny unshaded three-part central element.
Bale is single-lined and not dated, but three positions have double-lined bale.

Shown with this column is a 2d stamp from plate 3. The total number of stamps printed from plate 3 was 144,000, according to official records (Scott 6 to 6d). It was a successful plate from this point of view; more stamps were printed from this plate than from any other before repairs or retouches. Like in the previous cases, the plate was allowed to run until very worn. Various stages of wear may be defined. Extremely worn impressions are often encountered. The total number of number of sheet impressions was 6,000.

Stamps were printed in ultramarine or deep blue. The paper was white wove. There were 10 stamps with varieties, sometimes known as errors: double-lined bale (positions R1/7, R1/10 and R1/12); whip (or staff) missing (R2/3 and R2/7); fan with six segments (mentioned above, R2/8); and 10 loops in the engine turning on each side (R1/9, R1/10, R1/11 and R2/7).

Plate 4. Again, plate wear of plate 3 had reached unacceptable levels. For a third time Jervis was contracted to produce a new totally re-engraved plate, now known as plate 4. Stamps printed from plate 4 may be distinguished by the following characteristics: double-lined bale and a small circle at the center of each corner star.

Shown nearby is a 2d stamp from plate 4. The total number of stamps printed from plate 4 (Scott 7 to 7n) was 131,000, according to official records. The printing was made between December 1850 and January 1851. It was also a successful plate, with about 5,460 sheet impressions.

As in the previous cases, the plate was allowed to run until very worn. Various stages of wear may be defined, mostly by studying the vignette. Stamps were printed in ultramarine, bright blue, and Prussian blue. White wove paper was used in about equal proportion of white vertically laid paper. The laid paper is occasionally found with papermaker’s watermark in large double-lined capital letters. 

There were 11 stamps with varieties, sometimes known as errors: hill not shaded (R1/12); fan with six segments (R2/8); no clouds (R2/10); no waves (R1/9, R2/5); PENOE, appears only on worn impressions on laid paper (R1/10, R2/12); 10 loops in the engine turning on each side (R1/9, R1/10, R1/11 and R2/7); and left-margin retouch of position 13 (R2/1).

Plate 5. The fifth and final re-engraved plate for the 2d stamps was commissioned once more to Henry C. Jarvis, who completed his work in April 1850. There were 140,000 stamps printed from this plate. Its use lasted until July 1851, at which time it was replaced by John Carmichael’s artful Laureated Queen stamps. Stamps printed from plate 5 may be distinguished by the following characteristics:

Evenly spaced and regular undulating lines in the spandrels.
Pearl in the fan replacing the previous three-part ornament. An additional single vertical line was added from the pearl to the peak of the central fan segment.

Shown nearby is a 2d stamp from plate 5 (Scott 8 to 8f). The total number of stamps printed from plate 5 was 140,000. The printing took place in April 1851. It was also a successful plate, with about 5,834 sheet impressions. The plate was allowed to run until it was worn, but not to the extreme level of wear of the previous four plates.

Stamps were printed in ultramarine and dull blue. White wove paper was mostly used. There are also impressions of plate 5 on laid paper, and they are scarce. There were six stamps with varieties: pick and shovel omitted (R2/5); fan with six segments (R2/8); and 10 loops in the engine turning on each side (R1/9, R1/10, R1/11 and R2/7).

All these varieties exist on both wove and laid paper. 

The fact that the “10 loops” varieties occur on all five plates, and in the same positions, is sufficient proof that the re-engraving work was undertaken by modification of the original plate, and subsequently each time revising parts of the previous design. Simply stated, only one copper plate was used, revised time and time again, for printing 725,736 examples of the 2d stamp.

The 3d stamp

The plate for the 3d Sydney View stamp was engraved by Jervis. Only one plate of 25 subjects — five rows of five stamps — was made, and it produced 288,600 stamps, which means there were 11,544 sheet impressions.

The stamps were printed in a variety of shades of green, yellow-green, myrtle green, emerald green, bright green, and variations within each of these categories. It should be kept in mind while examining colors, however, that inks are fugitive and are subject to change by a large number of possible interactions with environmental chemicals, including the simple element oxygen and the most complex acids, solvents and other compounds that are sometimes present in the air around us.  

The 3d stamps were printed on three distinct types of paper. At first, beginning January 1, 1850, the paper was soft yellowish wove. Starting in July 1850, the paper stock changed to a harder, grayish or bluish wove paper. And in a third stage from January 1851 on, vertically laid paper with various hues. A bright green shade is often found on the laid paper stamps.

The 3d plate is the plate that shows the least amount of wear, although it produced more stamps than almost any other Sydney View plate. Only plate 2 of the 1d produced more stamps. Why that should be is not known. Engraving experts have suggested the basic material for the plate must have been different from the copper sheets used for the 1d and 2d plates.

Two engraving varieties are found in this plate, affecting three stamps: whip (staff) absent (R4/3 and R4/4), and “SIGIIIUM” for “SIGILLUM” (R5/3).

In my previous column on the Sydney Views stamp, I included an illustration of a Sydney Views 3d stamp. 

Postmaster General James Raymond died on May 29, 1851. And, as often happens to inventors and innovators, he never saw the full extent of his influence or of his creations. 

I humbly dedicate these two little reviews to his memory.

Information for the two columns was derived from Notes on the First Issue of New South Wales by M.P. Castle and In The Postage Stamps, Envelopes, Wrappers, Post Cards and Telegraph Stamps of New South Wales by A.F. Basset Hull (editor) and published by the Royal Philatelic Society London, 1911.

The five illustrations are from the splendid mint collection of Mr. Robert Jenkins.