The Important Documented Repair Date of ‘1868’

At times the recorded facts just do not make sense. The late repair date of ‘1868’ to the first plates is one example.

This research is aimed at demonstrating that repairs to the early plates were carried out well before the recorded date of ‘1868’.

In my opinion, the ‘1868’ repair date is far too late for the repair of plates that had reached the end of their printing life.

I do understand that changing a mindset is  not easy. The documented data on the early plate repairs has been taken as gospel for decades. In fact this data has been quoted by Christopher Harman RDP Hon FRPSL on behalf of the Expert Committee in his Plate 77 article published in the July-August issue of The London Philatelist.

Even if accurate, this date certainly does not mean that earlier repairs were not carried out.

Let us for example consider Plate 73 which was removed from press on the 5th March 1868 and partially defaced on the 5th May 1868. The obvious question to ask is why re-enter over 25% of the impressions on a worn-out plate that would only be used for less than five weeks?

My research into the life span of the plates from this issue shows them to average about 100,000 sheets per year some quite a bit over. Plate 73 averaged c.130,000 sheets before it was taken off the press and so repairing it a few weeks before this date would not have been a viable option. In fact evidence exists that impressions started to wear as early as October 1864. See the “Plate 73 Connection” on this site.

The other documented plates 72, 80, 81, 85 and 90 also by this date printed well over the 100,000 sheets per year. With Plate 72 printing an average of 130k, Plate 80 an average of 118k, Plate 85 an average of 127k and Plate 90 an average of 115k sheets.

E D Bacon in his book ‘The Line-Engraved Stamps of Great Britain’ and Christopher Harman in his Plate 77 article in The London Philatelist both failed to appreciate, when endorsing the 1868 repair date, the following facts which my research has uncovered.

1- The documented date of repair to the above early plates was between January 21st and February 25th 1868. However four new plates, 104, 105, 106 and 107 were already approved and registered in 1866, two years before this date. This obviously meant that these four plates were available for press at any time between 1866 and 1868. So why repair five dead plates when these four completely new plates were available for press.

In fact these four plates were put to press between January 22nd and March 18th 1868 at practically the same dates as the early plates were documented to have been repaired.

Clearly Perkins Bacon held onto the old printing plates until they were fully worn before replacing them with new ones.

2- On the 23rd March 1868, four more plates, 108, 109, 110 and 111 were registered and put to press on that day.

Perkins Bacon in a letter to Ormond Hill dated the 17th February 1864 made this statement:

“…It therefore takes 9 days to make a Plate from first to last, and the week is only five and a half days, so that to promise on complete plate a week is to lock up from all our other work 2 of our engravers for the greater part of the time… “

In view of the fact that it took 9 days to produce a plate, and if the four plates 108, 109, 110 and 111 were registered on the 23rd March 1868, it does seem that the plate makers at Perkins Bacon  were more likely busy producing the new plates rather than wasting valuable time and expense in repairing the ‘documented’ old and worn plates mentioned in E D Bacon’s book and Christopher Harman’s article.

Perkins Bacon on 2nd April 1868 in a letter sent to Ormond Hill made Hill fully aware that a large number of plates could not print any more good impressions. Perkins Bacon by his own admittance made it clear that the early plates were worn.

Ormond Hill’s request however which was “received through Mr Peacock” on the 2nd of April, two months after the documented repair date, urged Bacon “to take steps to prepare plates faster”.

Clearly Ormond Hill wanted new plates prepared and NOT old plates repaired!

His request was of course complied with in that Plates 112-116 (five plates) were registered and put to press on the 12th May 1868 and Plates 117 and 118 were registered and put to press on the 9th June 1868.

On the 16th June 1868 Ormond Hill ordered the defacement of a large number of the early plates 71–74, 80–88, 91–93, 94, 98–106, 100–110, 121, 122, which included the four plates mentioned by Christopher Harman, on account of being “worn out”. Clearly the mentioned four plates were a small part of a very large number of worn out plates ordered to be defaced.

An inquisitive mind is an essential tool in the unraveling of this astonishing mystery and all the facts that surround it.

The following study of Plate 81 impressions will reveal that repairs were carried out almost three years before the documented date of repairs in the Perkins Bacon record books. The “Plate 73 Connection” link on this site illustrates that impressions on Plate 73 were showing signs of serious wear as early as six months after being put to press, i.e. October 1864.

My research does indicate that these repairs were carried out in 1865.


Plate 81 – A fortuitous plate to examine

The Perkins Bacon records state that 49 impressions on this plate were repaired on the 31st January 1868.

Christopher Harman made this statement about the 1868 repair date in his above mentioned article:

“By this time the plates were worn and thus their case-hardened surface would have become very thin. This permitted the re-entry of the necessary impressions that would have proved exceptionally difficult for the plate in its early, case-hardened state. It should be remembered that the Victor Hugo cover is dated 27 November 1865.”

However by 1868 Plate 81 would have reached the end of its working life and was ready for defacement.

In order to dismiss this statement the imprimatur Plate 81 block JH-JI, KH-KI illustrated below has been specifically chosen for three reasons in order to illustrate that major repairs to some of the early plates were carried out around 1865. Three years before the documented date and the very year the Hugo cover was sent.

1- It features the very important broken right hand figure ‘8’ which resembles a reversed figure ‘3’. This broken number is identical on each stamp on the whole imprimatur sheet of 240 impressions.

2- My research shows that the impressions from plate 81 show repairs to the plate number which produced a complete figure ‘8’ on all 240 impressions three years before the documented repair date of ‘1868’.

3- Evidence of the repairs does not rely on the wear to the impression.




Note the same block JH-JI, KH-KI  showing ‘8’s that have been repaired.


81 block repair 1


Printed examples show that these repairs were carried out in or before July 1865.

GBCC Jan 2015 draft of Abed article for review-5


To further demonstrate this repair, illustrated below are examples of Plate 81 stamp PH imprimatur, a stamp with the figure ‘8’ broken and one with it repaired:

81 repairs

81 close ups

And for good measure stamp FC

81FC montage

The above evidence using features of the plate number as an indicator points to the fact that repairs were carried out to these plates certainly well before the documented date of 1868 and to a much larger number of impressions than the documented 49 impressions. In fact I believe that researching the shape of the plate number on the plates in many cases can provide as good if not a better  indication to the repairs as the wear of the impression.

Christopher Harman in his Plate 77 article in The London Philatelist makes this statement:

“Dr Harry Osborne in his book British Line-Engraved Stamps – Repaired Impressions (Ref. 15) postulates some possible repairs to Penny ‘plate number’ series plates earlier than and different to those recorded in the records. There are fewer students of the Penny ‘plate number’ series today as compared with the earlier Penny ‘stars’ period, but the consensus today is that these early repairs are unproven. Moreover, in the case of Plate 73, the scarcity of examples of any stamp in a repaired state strongly suggests that such repairs were done late in the life of the plate and certainly not within the first few weeks of it being put to press.”

Clearly the illustrated images above of the plate 81 stamps demonstrate that:

1- The repairs were carried out about three years earlier than the documented repair dates.

2- The repairs were carried out to a much larger number of impressions than the documented 49.

3- Dr Osborne, although perhaps uncertain of his position in view of the ‘recorded date’, was in fact correct with his observations that there were repairs on the early plates before the ‘1868’ repair date.

4- Plate 73 was not repaired “late in the life of the plate” but months after being put to press in March 1864- See “The Plate 73 Connection” link on this site.

Perhaps those who form the “consensus today that these early repairs are unproven.” may wish to reconsider their position in view of this compelling evidence.

I believe that the recorded repair date of ‘1868’ has been stifling students and researchers of this issue for decades causing uncertainly when trying to reconcile observed earlier repairs and anomalies with a defunct date that was innocently entered in the ‘record book’.

Even if accurate, this date certainly does not mean that earlier repairs were not carried out.

There is clearly nothing difficult about repairing the plate numbers on a plate. The master engravers of the time were more than capable of carrying out delicate or complicated work, even when it came to altering  a plate number as with the three stamps on the Victor Hugo cover.
Contra to what some believe, it is a task that can easily be carried out.