Notes from the Past


In philately, the term "cliche" is applied to the individual identical units that were used to make up a printing plate.

At one time, stamps were printed [specifically typographed] from plates constructed in this way by making the required number of individual printing units and then locking them together to form a plate.

If one of the cliches became damaged, it was a simple matter to unlock the form and replace the damaged cliche with a new one.

There was a chance, however, that the new cliche might vary in some slight detail from the old one, especially if the old one had made a large number of impressions before the need for replacement was noticed.

Also, there was the possibility of creating a variety beloved of collectors almost since the beginning of our hobby -- a tête bêche error!  All the printer had to do was slip in the new cliche in an inverted position in relation to the rest of the plate.

Now that sheets of stamps are printed from a solid plate containing a number of impressions applied to it by a transfer process or by photoengraving, it is no longer as easy to accidentally create a variety, although the US 5¢ error shows that it can happen.

Modern tête bêche varieties are usually printed on purpose, mostly for stamp booklet production or as a deliberate collector-aimed gimmick.

Is is not correct to refer to individual stamps united on a solid printing plate or cylinder as cliches, and the term "subject" is then used. 

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume One A - F
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted July 20, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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