Notes from the Past

U.S. Bi-colored Issues

I have now completed my data on the Bureau printed bi-color postage stamps which have been the subject of columns here, March 28th and April 11th, 1953.  In my original notes, I had overlooked the $2 orange and black, of 1918, and the $5 green and black, of 1918, Scott's Nos. 523 and 524, and the $2 carmine and black, of 1920, No. 547.  I have since been able to make a check on all three of these stamps and find that the colored frames were printed first, and the black Franklin vignettes followed in the second operation.  Therefore I can conclude the record.

The Pan-American bi-colored stamps of 1901 were sent to press first for vignettes, after which the frames were printed, but the Pan-American issue furnishes the only instance where, in a postage issue, the Bureau followed this unusual sequence.  In all other bi-colored postage and airmail stamps since printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the frame plates were printed first and the work completed with the printing of the vignettes in the second operation.

The Bureau, in 1901, evidently had trouble with their colored inks through "bleeding," when the paper was necessarily dampened a second time to complete a bi-colored printing.  Black held fast so they printed the vignettes first, but this sequence must have resulted in considerable difficulty in getting proper registration of the two colors, and in consequence there undoubtedly was a great deal of waste.  In the Pan-American stamps we frequently find interesting examples of poor registration, with the vignettes too high, too low, or too much to one side, oddities which, in the 1¢, collectors usually designate as "high tide," "low tide," etc., or in the 2¢, "fast express," or the "slow express."

Subsequently the Bureau developed superior inks and there has been no deviation in the printing sequence of bi-colors.  Frames now are regularly printed first.  Color registration has been held in better control with the result that waste product has greatly diminished.  Acknowledgements to readers B. J. Borneman, M. Price, and Mrs. Ethel B. McCoy for cooperation.

- George B. Sloane
Sloan's Column
May 2, 1953
Posted July 12, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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