Surface Printed Stamps



2015-06-26 10:50:58

Surface Printed Stamps are created using the surface printing technique, introduced in 1855. Certain surface printed stamps are highly collectible, particularly early Great Britain stamps dating from the Victorian era.


In surface or relief printing, the die or plate used to print a design on a postage stamp has raised areas on its surface, which form the shape of the stamp's design. The raised portions receive ink, which is printed onto the paper of the stamp.

This method was quicker, more efficient (it used less ink) and did not require the paper to be moistened, necessary during the recess printing process previously used to print stamps.

Surface printing was effectively the reverse of the line engraved method, popular prior to 1855.


Surface printing was introduced for stamps valued at 2d and above in 1855, as a replacement for the embossed higher values printed between 1847 and 1854.

After the introduction of perforating machines in 1854, the process used for embossed issues was considered too slow and inefficient. In addition, recess printing caused stretching of the stamp paper due to moistening.

The contract to produce the new surface printed stamps was awarded to Thomas De La Rue & Co., which printed the 2d stamps and above until 1880, when it took responsibility for all British postage stamps. This continued until the early 1900s.

The first surface printed example was a 4d stamp, introduced to prepay letters to France. The die used to do this was engraved by Jean Ferdinand Joubert de la Ferté.


Victorian-era surface printed stamps are some of the most sought after, and can be divided into four ‘families’:

  • No corner letters
  • Small, white corner letters
  • Large, white corner letters
  • Large, coloured corner letters

The different types have variations in their design, the watermark used, plate numbers and colours.


Some surface printed stamps can be very valuable. For example, a rare and unused 1878 £1 Brown Lilac stamp is currently valued by Stanley Gibbons at £80,000, while four used 1884 10s cobalt stamps (thought to be the only surviving block) have a price of £70,000.

Errors from the period also have value. An 1884 rose 5s stamp features large missing portions due to under-inking in the printing process. This unique item is valued at £10,000.

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