Printing Methods Used for Confederate Stamps

Printing Methods

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Stone Lithography

Stone Lithography is a process of printing, occasionally in use even today, utilizing a very fine grained block of limestone. The finest quality "lithographic stone" was imported from Europe. The first 5 Confederate Stamps were printed using this process.

There are varying degrees of clarity to the lithographic stamps due not only to the inherent defects in the printing process but also to the inexperience of the the printer's helpers and their lack of attention to details such as cleaning the stones, applying ink evenly, dampness of the paper, etc. There are also many shades of colors in all the issues as each batch of ink was mixed daily. Variety occurs due to lack of pigments, different mixing inks, and ink quality. Printing inks of this period were manufactured from animal, vegetable, and mineral pigments and mixed by hand with mortar and pestle.

The stamp master die was engraved and was used to make a transfer stone consisting of 50 stamps. This was laid down 4 times to produce a printing stone of 200 images to print the finished stamps.

There is no actual wear on the stone, but time and misuse took its toll. When this happened a new stone was laid down from the master die and printing resumed. Between the printing of stamps, the stone might be used to print currency, documents, letterheads and anything else expected of a print shop of that day as the stones themselves could be used over and over again for different printing jobs.

All the lithographed stamps were imperforate and printed on a coarse white wove thick but porous paper. The gum applied was colorless.

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the lithographic process is the presence on almost all stamps printed by this process of minute imperfections. These flaws take the form of fine white lines or specks on the colored part of the design and similar colored lines or specks around the borders of the design. These flaws are caused by irregularities in, or tiny splashes of, the oily ink that was used. The fact that many of these tiny flaws are consistent (that is they occur with regularity at the same positions on the sheet) is of great assistance to philatelists in the "plating" of the stamps.

The Hoyer & Ludwig firm of Richmond, Va first contracted with the CSA government to produce the lithographed stamps. This was a small firm and quickly became overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that they had undertaken. Therefore, some of the burden of printing these lithographed stamps was transferred to the J.T. Paterson Company of Augusta, Ga.


The method of "Typography" is the oldest known method of printing. It is done by making an impression on paper from carved blocks (wood or metal) with the characters or designs in relief (raised) much like using a rubber stamp and an ink pad.

The story of these De La Rue stamps is quite complex, and not all the facts are known. Early in October 1861, the Confederate Post Office Department sent a representative to England to procure typographed stamps and plates with 5c and 1c denominations. The London firm of Thomas De La Rue & Co was given the contract. The plates were made and the stamps were printed. The first order of 5,000,000 5c stamps along with the plate and a supply of paper and ink were shipped to the Confederacy. This shipment did not make it through the blockade and was captured by the Union on 27 APR 1862 and taken to Philadelphia for destruction. But the plate and apparently some of the stamps did survive. The CSA Government prior to this capture had also apparently placed a second order for 12,000,000 (or perhaps a series of orders both before and after the capture) additional stamps. Stamps from this larger order arrived successfully in sections through the blockade beginning in late February 1862 and were placed into circulation in mid-April 1862. The first order of 5,000,000 stamps was captured on 27 APR 1862 because the ship that was carrying the stamps (the "Bermuda") left Liverpool on 1 MAR 1862, arrived in St. Georges, Bermuda about 3 weeks later, and lingered in Bermuda for 5 additional weeks before attempting to make the blockade run.

When news of the capture reached Richmond, De La Rue was then asked by the CSA government to prepare another plate from the master die and then attempt another shipment with a supply of paper and ink. The plate arrived safely sometime later in the summer of 1862 and was delivered to the Richmond firm of Archer and Daly where additional stamps were printed and issued in August 1862. These stamps printed in Richmond from the De La Rue plates are known today as the 5c Blue Richmond Print (CSA #7) and are generally distinguished from the London Print by multiple imperfections in the printing and a general fuzziness to the image.

It is not known when the 1c stamp (1c Yellow-Orange CSA #14) was shipped as this stamp was never placed into use.

When the rate increased to 10c for all letters (per 1/2 oz) on 1 July 1862 and since the 1c rate was never adopted, the Confederate government again asked De La Rue & Co for plates and stamps this time in 10c and 2c denominations. Being pressed for a delivery, De La Rue had no time to develop a new design so therefore altered the original designs to incorporate the changed rates. The plates were shipped and did successfully run the blockade. However, no official stamps were ever printed by the Confederacy from these plates. The altered 10c plate was subsequently cut into sections, and parts of this mutilated plate have long been known. The original 400 subject plate of the 2c value was also discovered much later, and numerous "private printings" in a variety of colors have been made from this 2c altered plate as well as from the remaining segments of the 10c altered plate. These reprints have been widely distributed and are often mistaken for genuine CSA stamps by uninformed collectors.


Intaglio printing (also known as recess-plate printing) is produced by cutting or scratching lines into the plates (either copper or steel plates were used). The ink applied to the plates would not adhere to the highly polished surface of the plate but would be held within a scratched or incised line. When paper is applied to the plate, a very clear impression of the incised lines would result. Copper plates are very soft and wear out quickly. Steel plates are much more durable. This type of printing produces high quality results.

It had been the express desire of Postmaster General John H. Reagan from the time he entered office to provide the Confederacy with high quality steel plate printed stamps like those in use by the Union. In the Autumn of 1861, John Archer (formerly of the American Bank Note Company) formed a partnership with Joseph Daly. Archer than engraved a sample of his work on steel and transferred it to a copper plate which was ruled into squares (the stamp we know as CSA #10 or the Frame-Line). When the stamp was printed, the ruled squares were also transferred to the printed sheet. Thus the Frame-Line stamp was actually meant to be only a sample stamp, but a small quantity was nevertheless printed and distributed for use.

Archer's second stamp was the design we know as CSA #9 (T-E-N). This design was rejected, but again a small quantity was printed and distributed for use (a story has been told for years which may or may not be true which states that Varina Davis did not like the stamp because she thought the portrait of Jefferson Davis looked too much like Abraham Lincoln). But the need for 10c stamps increased dramatically.

Frederick Halpin (another engraver from the North) redid Archer's Frame-Line design and prepared steel plates (known as the 10c Blue Type II or CSA #12). Archer also prepared a steel plate from his original Frame-Line design (known as the 10c Blue Type I or CSA #11). These are the first two steel plate printed stamps of the Confederacy. The 2c Red (CSA #8) and the 20c Green (CSA #13) soon followed.

Conrad L. Bush
John L. Kimbrough MD

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