Collecting the Definitives of Queen Elizabeth II 1953 to Date, Paper Fluorescence and Tagging
The definitives of the present reign provide an almost endless amount of possibilities for the collector who is wiling to take the time to study them. Many collectors find them intimidating because many of the types of varieties that occur on them are either invisible to the naked eye, or they require a great deal of patience and experience to identify. This stands in sharp contrast to the classic stamps of the Large and Small Queens or the Admirals. In the classic period, the types of varieties that collectors have sought out are all things that can readily be identified with a perforation gauge, and a watermark detector. Most collectors are used to seeking out profound and obvious colour differences, perforation changes and watermarks.
While the modern definitive issues do occasionally feature perforation changes, there are very few obvious shade differences and no watermarks. Because modern printing technology is so exact, shade differences, while they exist are much more subtle and are generally ignored by the Unitrade catalogue. I believe this to be a mistake, as a small difference in shade is actually quite significant for modern issues, given that modern technology allows for printings in the millions that result in colours that are exactly identical. Most of the interesting varieties require the use of a long-wave ultraviolet lamp to identify. The UV lamp detects and highlights differences in the chemical composition of inks and paper.
Much of this complexity has been either ignored by most collectors as being too complicated, or is perceived by many to be just meaningless random variation. However careful study of the stamps, combined with an understanding of what drove the experimentation in stamp production since the early 1960's will reveal that the variations in papers and tagging are anything but random. In the late 1950's most industrialized countries began to look for ways to automate the mail sorting and cancelling process. Each country utilized different equipment and had different means of making their stamps machine readable. The principal was the same though: they needed to make the stamp machine readable so that the sorting machines could orient the letter in the correct position, so that the cancelling device could cancel the stamps.
What follows is my theory about what drove the production of many modern paper and tagging varieties. It is just my opinion, but I think it makes sense. Initially, in the 1960's when Canada first introduced Winnipeg tagging, paper recycling was not yet a common practice. Paper was produced from native fibres that had not been subject to the bleaching processes that today's modern recycled papers are. The result was that paper generally did not react to UV light, and so the "signal or glow" coming from the tagging did not need to be strong. Winnipeg tagging was adequate for the job, although there is evidence that some experimentation was done in terms of how much taggant to apply to the stamps. As the late 1960's approached, paper mills began to use recycled fibres. The bleaching processes used to produce this paper resulted in paper that gave a fluorescent reaction under UV light. In many cases, the reaction was mild, being limited to a few flecks in the paper, representing the few fluorescent fibres in the paper. As more and more of the fibre was recycled, the density of these fibres increased, and you can see this pattern very clearly when you look at papers from the early 1960's to about the late 1980's. In some cases, the bleaching process was so strong that it resulted in Hibrite paper, giving a very strong bluish white glow.
This didn't work too well with Winnipeg tagging because the glow from the paper was as strong, or stronger than the tagging. Envelope papers at this time were also becoming fluorescent as more and more were being produced from recycled papers. So the facer cancelling machines couldn't see the stamps anymore. So in response the post office department came out with Ottawa Tagging, which glowed bright green, making it distinguishable from even the most bright fluorescent reaction. Initially, the Op-4 chemical compound used was unstable and it migrated through the stamps, losing its effectiveness. So the chemical composition was changed to the current OP-2 taggant that continues to be used to this day. Some of the issues in the past 20 years have been printed abroad in Australia where they use a bright yellow fluorescent coating that covers the full stamp. This is why some of the issues exist on fluorescent coated paper and most continue to use the OP-2 tagging.
As for paper fluorescence, there was another development that occurred starting in the 1970's that paralleled the development of tagging and that was the use of photogravure and lithography to print most issues as opposed to engraving, which was more costly and incapable of producing the range of colours that modern printing could. Lithography had been used successfully on a very limited basis for the 1965 Churchill Issue, the 1967 Woman's vote issue as well as a handful of the 1968-1971 commemorative issues. As these techniques were developed, the challenge that arose was finding a paper to which both the printing inks would adhere, and to which the cancellation ink would also adhere. I believe that this is what led to the emergence of chalk surfaced papers that were used for many of the modern issues. The increase in the use of recycled materials in paper-making meant that for a time in the early 1970's nearly all papers were highly fluorescent to hibrite, and that this was still making it difficult for the machines to see the tagging on the stamps. The application of chalk coating to the surface of the paper dulled the natural reaction of the paper from the front making the tagging easier to see and resulting in paper that gives a different UV reaction on the front and back. Starting in 1973 or so we begin to see the chalk-surfaced Abitibi-Price papers that were dull on the front and give varied reactions on the back depending on how much recycled content was in the paper. Careful studies of these papers will reveal that while there are a large number of variations, they are neither infinite nor random, and therefore worthy of being further studied and understood.
By the mid 1980's with the bankruptcy of Abitibi-Price, Canada post began to source papers from the United Kingdom and other suppliers. These are commonly known as Clark, Slater, Rolland, Harrison, Coated Papers, Fasson, Jac and Peterborough. Peterborough and Rolland are most like Abitibi Price in that one can find considerable variations in fluorescence. In contrast, Clark, Slater, Harrison and Coated Papers are almost always dead to dull in appearance under UV light. Fasson and Jac papers are always fluorescent.
So with this, I believe that the papers form an excellent basis for study of these issues. This can also be done with used stamps as long as one is careful to avoid using copies that have become contaminated by picking up the additives in the paper of the envelopes to which they were stuck. Generally, stamps that have a mottled reaction under UV are contaminated. Fluorescence is generally of uniform intensity across the entire stamp.
In addition to paper varieties, the modern period saw much experimentation in the production of stamp booklets. Prior to 1953 the only booklets available were 25c regular and chewing-gum booklets, so called due to their resembling a piece of Wrigley's gum. Starting in 1961 the post office began to experiment with ways to provide consumers with larger amounts of stamps for their convenience. They introduced cello-paqs which contained large panes of 25 in cellophane wrappers. These proved to be a failure because they got mashed up in people's purses and bags, and they didn't fit in wallets or pockets. Chewing gum booklets were discontinued in 1953. Booklets from 1953-1967 were, except for the Cello paqs largely like their predecessors in terms of layout. However, there are some interesting varieties to be found on the covers. Starting in 1968, the British American Bank Note Company produced the first Integral stamp booklets. These booklets had the panes glued into the cover rather than being stapled or stitched. The modern presses were also able to produce, for the first time, se-tenant combinations of different values. Thus we see booklets that combine 1c, 3c, 6c, 7c, and 8c stamps on the same pane.
Finally, the postage rates were complicated until 1972 when they were streamlined with the introduction of "All Up" airmail. So the lack of shade and paper varieties on issues prior to the 1967 Centennial Issue can be more than compensated for by the rich variety of covers that can be found. In addition the Cold War resulted in a large number of world events that affected the mail system. Collectors can seek out some very interesting pieces documenting these events, such as the 1956 Soviet invasion of Budapest, when mail service to Hungary was suspended for example. This period also eclipses all of the problems in the Middle East that have arisen since 1947, and one could trace the story of this region through the postal history of these issues.
The Issues Themselves to 2000
The 1c, 2c, 4c, and 5c exist with G overprints, as do the 10c and 20c. These later values can also be found with "Flying G" varieties and several misplaced G's can be found where they appear on the wrong part of the stamp relative to the normal position. Postal stationery can also be found with pre-stamped envelopes, postcards and wrappers.
There are fewer fluorescent papers on this issue than in the previous one. Shades on values other than the 3c and 5c are scant. However, the 3c purple exhibits a very large range of shades, which have not, as far as I know been studied specifically. There were up to 5 plates used to print most values, so there are a respectable number of plate blocks possible with this issue.
Where this issue really shines though is in the tagging varieties that can be collected. All values exist with 2 bar tagging down the sides and can be found in a variety of intensities, which suggests that experiments were conducted to determine the optimal amount of taggant to apply. Generally the earlier ones are darker than the later printings. Also the 4c can be found with 1 bar tagging down one side and with bars of different widths, as well as two different types of centre bars (4mm and 8mm).
Cello-paqs continue into this issue with the 2c, 4c and 5c, as well as a 5c tagged pane. Different types of cellophane wrappers can be collected, with printings made close to 1967 having the Centennial Emblem on them. Booklets can be found with Centennial and regular covers. Finally, this is the last issue to exist with G overprints. The 1c, 2c, 4c and 5c can be found with this overprint, and are scarce in used condition, as official stamps were discontinued in 1963, just after this set was introduced. Postal stationery can also be found with pre-stamped envelopes, postcards and wrappers.
This is another issue where more and more varieties are beginning to emerge as more people study it. There is a fair range of fluorescent paper varieties, though not as many as the prior issue. There seems to be some variation in the shades on many of the stamps, although subtle. The $2 was current when Abitibi-Price went bankrupt, and printings of this stamp can be found on both Clark and Harrison papers.
One interesting constant tagging flaw that has been found on these issues is the hook tag flaw. It is a large smudge in the shape of a hook and is found on the low values to the 15c.
50c booklets continue with the 10 different designs. But also, this issue introduces booklets of 25 of the 14c and 17c Queen. These booklets were produced with 5 different cover designs as well. Finally, all the booklets can be found with the tagging omitted, which are all scarce to rare.