The 1840 One Penny Black VR Official – a new discovery – trial cancel in RED.

The VR officials differ from the normal 1d blacks. They have the letters VR in the upper corner instead of the usual stars. The 3323 sheets printed were intended for use by government departments but this proposal was abandoned. All but 21 sheets were destroyed. Most were used on Postmasters’ notices. Relatively few stamps survived and they are catalogued by Stanley Gibbons at £20,000 upwards.

An example which we acquired from a collector recently is lettered ‘SH’ and has the only listed re-entry of the VR Officials. The bottom frame line shows the re-entry clearly in the image below. As such, this is a very desirable item.

However all is not as it seems…….

The collector had been sold it as an unused example. While it is fine and genuine with good margins and without gum, it is NOT unused.

VR OfficialSH

The Post Office was extremely concerned about the loss of revenue if stamps could be cleaned and re-used. Indeed, Rowland Hill used part of a sheet for such trials. Stamps were cancelled and official attempts made to remove the cancels with various chemical agents.

When a stamp is cancelled, the ink normally soaks into the matt surface of the stamp and can be near impossible to remove completely. However, if there were a varnish coating on the stamp, that would prevent the ink seeping into the absorbent stamp surface and it could more readily be cleaned off. That is what has happened here.

As can be seen, there are small traces of a red ink, the most apparent being in the lattice below the V. This red is consistent with the ink used for Maltese cross cancels. The entire stamp has a shiny glaze but would normally be matt. The surface is coated with a clear varnish or similar and this has prevented the ink being absorbed. In this example, there is close to complete success in removing the cancel. The traces of red are small and it could have been re-used with little risk of detection. After all, the dealer had sold it as ‘unused’ and he didn’t have to check it in dim gaslight. This is a previously unknown example of a red cancellation removal trial.

It had long been thought that the trial cancels were only in black. This one, clearly in red, was very close to a completely successful removal. Had this same stamp been cancelled in black, the small residual amounts would be totally lost against the black of the stamp. It is probably that the same result could have been achieved with a coating of gum Arabic or similar. Here soaking in water would remove the cancel and the coating.

Logical Conclusion

It is possible that many ‘unused’ examples of the VR Official may actually be trials with completely successful removal of the cancellation.

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© Dr John Horsey 2009