Plate 73 Connection

There is no doubt that the three stamps on the Hugo cover showing a plate number 77 originate from re-engraved plate 73 impressions.

As  to why this has happened, we can only guess at an answer. Trio_single - CopyPerhaps it was a repair that went wrong due to a misunderstanding, an intentional temporary repair or a marker number or even an attempt at creating a rare stamp for collectors. Who knows?

However this important discovery has now shed new light into the accepted origin of these stamps which have always been considered to originate from plate 77.


Below is the following information, details and research into Plate 73:

  • Plate 73 details
  • Documented repairs to Plate 73 and the earliest plates
  • Confirmation that the three stamps on the cover originate from Plate 73
  • The two states of impressions RL, SK and SL from Plate 73
  • Evidence of early wear
  • Altering the number on the plate
  • The highly questionable repair date of 1868



Plate 73 details:

The published information on the production, repair, printing and defacement of this plate is as follows:

– Finished: 12th February 1861
– Registered: 14th March 1861
– Put to press: 1st March 1864
– Repaired: 31st January 1868*
– Removed from press: 5th March 1868
– Partially defaced: 5th May 1868
– Defaced: 23rd June 1868
– Number of heads re-entered: 66/67 heads
– Number of sheets printed: 529,900 sheets
– Printing lifetime of the plate: 4 years (c. 208 weeks)
– Average number of sheets printed per year: c.130,000 sheets


The highly suspect documented repair dates to Plate 73 and the earliest plates:

1- ‘The Line-Engraved Stamps of Great Britain Vols. I and II by E D Bacon and Printed by Perkins Bacon & Co 1920’. Page 173, volume I cites the following as far as the plate repairs to plate 73:

“Under January and February 1868, the Engraving Book contains entries of repairs to no less than eight plates of the One Penny and Two Pence stamps. In each case the repair consisted of re-entering a certain number of the impressions, as given in the following list:

Jan 31 repairing 67 labels in Id. postage plate No 73”

2- Inland Revenue document IR 79/79 states the following data as far as the repairs to plate 73 and five other early plates:

Plate Put to press    Repair date Sheets printed Number repaired Partially Defaced Defaced
72 1st Mar 1864 Feb 5 1868 522,800 13 1868 Mar 23 1868 Jun 23
73 1st Mar 1864 Jan 31 1868 529,900 67 1868 May 5 1868 Jun 23
80 1st Mar 1864 Feb 5 1868 495,200 3 1868 May 12 1868 Jun 23
81 1st Mar 1864 Jan 31 1868 520,300 49 1868 May 12 1868 Jun 23
85 1st Mar 1864 Feb 4 1868 510,300 87 1868 Mar 23 1868 Jun 23
90 30th Mar 1864 Feb 25 1868 471,700 3 1869 Jan 18 1869 Oct 1


It is quite clear from these records that 66/67 heads on plate 73 were repaired by re-entry, although the published repair year date of 31stJanuary 1868 does seem very late indeed for major repairs to be carried out on a plate that has evidently reached the end of its working life. See later.

* The 1868 repair date in my opinion is in need of serious reconsideration in view of the discovery of the Victor Hugo cover. Please see “Evidence of early wear” below. I believe that the strong possibility that the repair year date should be 1865 can not be dismissed.


Confirmation that the three stamps on the Hugo cover originate from plate 73:

The three stamps on the Victor Hugo cover showing the plate number 77 are from positions RL, SK and SL on the sheet and have corner letters that match exactly those of their counterpart stamps from plate 73.

In fact ‘plate 77’ stamp SK on the cover shows the ‘S’ box flaw which is unique to stamp SK from plate 73.




Plate 73 imprimatur stamps SK and SL© The British Postal Museum & Archive. Note the small flaw in the top ‘S’ box on stamps SK which is also seen on stamp SK on the Victor Hugo cover. Furthermore the position of the corner letters is identical on those on the imprimatur stamps and on those on the Hugo cover (left).

This can only mean that these three ‘plate 77’ stamps originate from plate 73 whereby Perkins Bacon, the printers, for whatever reason, re-engraved the plate number 77 on them and then corrected it back to number 73.


States of the impressions of Plate 73 stamps RL, SK, and SL:

Dr. W.R.D. Wiggins in his book ‘British Line Engraved Stamps Repaired Impressions’ illustrates stamps RL, SK and SL as stamps appearing in two states repaired by re-entry’.



The three stamps on the Victor Hugo cover may very well be an intermediate state between these two states.


Evidence of very early wear to impressions from Plate 73

Christopher Harman RDP Hon FRPSL on behalf of the Expert Committee made these two statements in his ‘Conclusions’ to his Plate 77 article in the July-August 2015 issue of The London Philatelist in which he declares the stamps on the Victor Hugo cover as faked:

“Plate 73 was so well case-hardened that it went on to print almost 530,000 sheets. Any casual repair in the plate’s early state would be very difficult to effect.”

“Plate 73 was a very well case-hardened plate that would last until 1868 before any repairs were required.”

However it appears that this “so well” case hardening that he mentions started to wear very early in the plates printing life as there is no doubt that some impressions on Plate 73 and the plate number did start to wear in the early days of printing and so re-entry of the impressions would have been an essential remedy in order to ensure that the printed stamps had a clear impression and evident plate numbers.

The important early 1864 cover illustrated below clearly demonstrates this fact.

Page 17 image 2


The illustrated local cover above is franked with a plate 73 stamp (stated by Perkins Bacon to have been re-entered on 31st Jan 1868) is dated 7th October 1864, so this stamp could only be 5-6 months old, bearing in mind that this plate was put to press on the 1st of March 1864. Note the startling worn features after only a few months of printing from this plate

Stamp AB (left) from the cover clearly shows wear to the background, the overall impression, the frame line and the distinctly thinned words ‘POSTAGE’ and ‘ONE PENNY’.

Could this impression have lasted a further four years without being repaired bearing in mind that by the date of this cover plate 73 would have printed only c.50-70,000 sheets and still had over 460,000 sheets to print?

To the right is a plate 73 stamp BA showing a clear, sharp impression. If this stamp was printed before the stamp on the cover, then the speed at which the impressions wore is very evident indeed, and if the stamp was printed afterwards, then this is an indicator that this impression was corrected by re-entry, very probably quite early in the life of this plate. Judging by the apparently thinner ‘check letters’, which some take as an indicator for re-entry, then the latter possibility is the more likely scenario.

The cover illustrated above and the details on the repairs to Plate 81 impressions, both of which were carried out on the “early states” of Plates 73 and 81 and which are detailed on this site safely refute the suggestion that any repairs were “very difficult to effect”.

Please refer to the “Examining the Plate number 77” link.


Altering the number on a plate



In order to demonstrate the ease by which a number can be altered on a plate, a Master Gun Engraver was commissioned to engrave a number 73 on a piece of steel and to alter it to a number 77. Another figure 73 was also engraved which remained intact throughout.

Of course in order to produce a number that will appear colourless when printed, the area must be molded and raised using the surrounding metal.

David Tallett produced the required work of converting a figure ‘3’ into a figure ‘7’ with relative ease taking approximately ten minutes to complete it successfully.




Clearly therefore altering a plate number on a plate could have been done with the greatest of ease by the Master Engravers of that period.

The successful experiment conducted by David Tallett and the mere fact that the three stamps on the Victor Hugo cover are completely genuine clearly demonstrate that alterations on a plate are possible.