The Hong Kong 'China' Overprints
British Offices In China 1917 - 1930

THE FIRST ISSUE - Multiple CA WATERMARK

The Printing of the Stamps

The stamps were printed in sheets of 240, divided into 4 panes each of 10 rows of 6 stamps and using two printing plates, one for the head of King George V, known as the head plate or vignette and a second for the frame, which was known as the duty plate.  One duty plate was used for each value with the exception of the 25 cent value which was used until 1919 when it was discovered that it contained a wrong Chinese character and a new plate was made.  One common head plate was used for all values and sheets exhibit just that number. Consequently the only plate number that appears on all of the China overprints is that of Head Plate Number 1 which appears on the panes above 1-2 NW and 1-5 NE and below 10-2 SW and 10-5 SE.

While attempts to combine requisitions for adhesives to be overprinted with printings of the regular Hong Kong issues were made, on a number of occasions the stamps to be overprinted were printed separately.  As a result, some varieties and errors of printing can be found on both the overprinted and unoverprinted stamps but some are unique to the CHINA overprints.

Once the sheets of stamps had been printed by De La Rue, they were set aside by the Crown Agents’ Stamp Examiners and then forwarded to Somerset House where the CHINA overprint and the Requisition Letter and Sheet Number were applied. (Perrin p14)   After the stamps were overprinted they were returned to the GPO London who forwarded them to the Postmaster General in Hong Kong who sent them to the individual agencies.

Setting of the Overprint

The plate of the CHINA overprint, applied by Somerset House, was compiled from a basic frame of 6 x 2 overprints, which was about half a millimeter too small both horizontally and vertically and varied in detail from printing to printing.  This basic frame was used to make a complete plate of 240 and there are noticeable drifts both horizontally and vertically.  This meant that on each sheet and within each pane the setting of the overprint alternated between being 23 ½ mm and 24 ½ mm apart in each vertical row.

A couple of different varieties have been discovered over the years, most noticeably in the late 1920’s when a single sheet of the 4 cent camine-rose from Requisition F of February 1922 was discovered with an upward slant to the word China which became more evident so that by the bottom row the word CHI is on one adhesive and the word NA on the next. (Ex-Chan)

Also, a couple examples of stamps exist where the CHINA overprint is much higher in relation to the crown which must have resulted in misalignment of the sheet.

Other varieties of the overprint include:

The “Broken N” which is shown on the 2 cent sheet of Requisition I in position NW 1-4;

The “Short A”, shown here on the lower right stamp which appeared at SE 10-2 on the 50c Requisition H as well as on the 2c and 4c of Requisition I;

and, most interestingly, the “Thin H” and “Broken C” varieties.  In 1927, on the H printing , a variety of the overprint appeared where the left leg of the H in position NW 1-2 was noticeably thinned.  To date, this has only been recorded on the Requisition H 50c, the Requisition I 2c and 4c and the Requisition J 25c.  This set of plate strips is the first time that this variety has been found on the Requisition H $1 and $2 and can therefore prove that these are constant overprint flaws.  In addition, position NW 1-3 shows a constant broken C on all three denominations and leads to speculation that this is a previously unreported variety. 

Specimens and Registration Sheetss

Upon printing and approval of the first Requisition, four sheets of each denomination were retained by the GPO as registration specimens.  In accordance with the GPO Order to Somerset House in July 1916, the higher value denominations from 50c to $10 were overprinted SPECIMEN in accordance with Universal Postal Union requirements, which required 382 specimen copies of all new postal material and adhesives issued.  The SPECIMEN overprints were all printed in black ink unlike the normal Hong Kong series, where the 50c was printed in red. 

Specimen Overprints 1st Issue

What is interesting is that the SPECIMEN overprint on the 50c denomination was in a different font to that of the rest of the issues with the 50c being in small upright letters and measuring 2 x 12 ½ mm and the rest in a small italic font measuring 1 ½ x 10 mm. 

One example of the 50c with a double Specimen handstamp has been reported. In this instance, the additional "Specimen" handstamp is not the same as other examples and could well have been applied by a receiving country.

Another interesting thing is that on all of the italic specimens, the specimen print is perfectly aligned but on the 50c, particularly visible on the Madagascar sheet, the overprints are not in alignment.  Does this mean they were handstamped or was there a block used as the final specimen is the one out of alignment?

What is curious is that a full set of sheets of all denominations (including the lowest) bearing the SPECIMEN overprint remain in the possession of the British Library but we know that the lower denomination SPECIMEN stamps were not sent to the UPU.    The Madagascar GPO sold much of its archive in the 1970’s and this unique file sheet from those archives clearly shows the higher values with the SPECIMEN overprint along with the lower unmarked denominations.

Somerset House provided one full set of specimens (all values) of the Nil requisition to the Colonial Office, which are in the possession of the British Library (IR List 4 Vol 6 P12) The link here shows the letter from the Crown Agents sending over the registration sheets.

The holdings of the British Postal Museum and Archive consist of the following:

Req. Nil 1c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 1c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 4c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 6c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 8c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 10c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 12c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 20c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 25c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 30c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil 50c - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil $1 - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil $2 - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil $3 - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil $5 - 1 full sheet
Req. Nil $10 - 1 full sheet

Req. F 1c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 2c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 4c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 6c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 8c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 10c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 20c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 25c - 1 full sheet
Req. F $1 - 1 full sheet
Req. F $2 - 1 full sheet

The F sheets all have the letter but no number so we can possibly assume that the sheet numbers were printed last?

Req. I 2c - 1 full sheet
Req. I 4c dated 23 Nov 1927 1 full sheet

The holdings of the British Library consist of the following:
1 set of the Nil Requisition under List 2, Voume 1 pp 36-51 and another full set under List 3 Volume 2 page 174 on where 9 stamps are missing from each sheet (Of these, 6 are in the Libraries Plate Block album and the annotations reads 3 to CS)

Req. Nil 1c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 1c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 4c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 6c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 8c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 10c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 12c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 20c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 25c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 30c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil 50c - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil $1 - 1 full sheet and another with 11 stamps missing
Req. Nil $2 - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil $3 - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil $5 - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing
Req. Nil $10 - 1 full sheet and another with 9 stamps missing

Req. F 1c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 2c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 4c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 6c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 8c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 10c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 20c - 1 full sheet
Req. F 25c - 1 full sheet
Req. F $1 - 1 full sheet
Req. F $2 - 1 full sheet

Req. I 2c - 1 sheet with missing stamps (Number I 0003)
Req. I 4c - 1 sheet with missing stamps (Number I 0004) (BL Folio 174)

On 17th August 1916, De La Rue confirmed the final quantities to be printed under the first (or "Nil") requisition, which were as listed on this table.

The first issue of stamps was sent to Hong Kong on 6 November 1916 and Mr. Wolfe confirmed that they had been brought into use on 1 January 1917.  During the discussions of a separate Treaty Port issue in 1911, the Governor of Hong Kong had laid down a condition that the Hong Kong stamps would be valid for use for a period of one year from the date that they ceased to be sold.  While this may have remained in place, Mr. Wolfe had replied to the GPO London on 7 November 1916 that “the stamps are to be brought into use on 1st January next, and to return to this office all Hong Kong stamps unsold on that date.”  Consequently usages of the unoverprinted stamps on mail from the Treaty Ports after January 1, 1917 are extremely rare, as are combination usages of both overprinted and unoverprinted stamps. A couple of attempts (possibly successful) were also made to use the overprinted stamps outside of the Treaty Ports such as this pair dated 18 April 1919.

Combination Cover Census
Date Origin Destination Franking
Jan 29 1917 Shanghai Japan $0.14
Feb 24 1917 Shanghai Great Britain $0.26
Mar 12 1917 Shanghai Great Britain $0.10
Apr 18 1917 Chefoo Great Britain $0.20
May 24 1917 Shanghai Great Britain $0.10
Jul 24 1917 Shanghai Great Britain $0.10
Sep 11 1917 Shanghai India $0.26
Oct 2 1917 Shanghai India $0.20
Oct 13 1917 Shanghai India $0.12
Oct 20 1917 Chefoo Great Britain $0.10
Nov 19 1917 Shanghai USA $0.68

The Nil Requisition - Special Printing

Examination of the De La Rue Private Day Books held by the National Mail Archive prove that the above listed numbers of sheets were a special printing of the regular Hong Kong issues and printed specifically for overprinting ‘China’.  On October 13, 1916, and from De La Rue requisition 70/16 (Page 1) (Page 2) (De La Rue Private Day Book page 57, British Postal Museum and Archive), De La Rue forwarded this printing to Somerset House, where the ‘China’ overprint was applied.  A somewhat unusual situation occurred at this point.  Usually one sheet of each denomination was pulled from the printing and signed off upon as a registration copy to show approval of the printing.  For some reason in this particular case, two sheets were taken and are in the possession of the British Library Philatelic Collection and the British Postal Museum and Archive.  For purposes of examination of varieties of the adhesive itself, the “Nil” requisition was printed before the regular Hong Kong “F” requisition.

 

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

1 cent

Black-Brown

Nil

1300

1345

2 cents

Deep Blue-Green

Nil

5500

5512

4 cents

Scarlet

Nil

5200

5365

6 cents

Brown-Orange

Nil

800

825

8 cents

Slate

Nil

400

412

10 cents

Deep Bright Ultramarine

Nil

7200

7174

12 cents

Purple on Yellow/Yellow Back

Nil

150

155

20 cents

Purple and Sage Green

Nil

275

273

25 cents

Purple and Magenta

Nil

50

68

30 cents

Purple and Orange-Yellow

Nil

175

186

50 cents

Grey-Black on Blue Green, Pale Olive Back

Nil

200

213

1 Dollar

Reddish Purple and Bright Blue on Blue

Nil

100

109

2 Dollar

Carmine-Red and Grey-Black

Nil

20

32

3 Dollar

Green and Purple

Nil

20

32

5 Dollar

Green and Red on Blue-Green, Olive Back

Nil

20

33

10 Dollar

Purple and Black on Red

Nil

20

33

The "A" Requisition - Special Printing

On 25th July 1917, De La Rue noted that a requisition had been received for further printings.  It is interesting to note that in this request, which would become the A Requisition, that the 12c, 20c, 25c, 30c and 50c were urgently needed.  De La Rue stated at that time that these would be printed and delivered within 5 weeks, with the balance of the order in 10 weeks.

Examination of the De La Rue Private Day Books held by the National Mail Archive again prove that the following number of sheets were again a special printing of the regular Hong Kong issues.  On October 3, 1917, and from De La Rue requisition 77/17, De La Rue forwarded this printing to Somerset House.  For purposes of examination of varieties of the adhesive itself, the “A” requisition was printed just after the regular Hong Kong “F” requisition and probably (but not certainly) before the regular “G” requisition.  (Halewood and Antscherl do not show dates for the "G", "H" and "I" requisitions but the Hong Kong "F" requisition was printed in May 1917.

Between the middle of September and the middle of October 1917 there was a flurry of messages between all parties regarding the costs involved in printing the stamps for overprinting which resulted in the request that future requisitions of stamps for overprinting be made at the same time as regular Hong Kong requests so as to reduce the costs involved in special printings. On the 6th September 1917 an inquiry was made regarding the costs involved in printing the 4c Postal cards which resulted, on the 9th October 1917 in the proposal to ask the Postmaster General of Hong Kong to combine requistions for Hong Kong and the Treaty Ports in order to save money.

On the 10th of January 1918, the Crown Agents received a complaint from the Postmaster Shanghai stating that the quality of the gum used on the 10c stamp from Requisition A was unsatisfactory. 

Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

1 cent

Brown

A

500

809

2 cents

Deep Green

A

5250

5360

4 cents

Carmine-Red

A

5250

5406

6 cents

Brown-Orange

A

700

714

8 cents

Grey?

A

475

488

10 cents

Dull Ultramarine

A

5200

3282

12 cents

Purple on Pale Yellow/Yellow Back

A

200

204

20 cents

Purple and Deep Sage Green

A

300

300

25 cents

Dull Purple and Bright Magenta

A

150

155

30 cents

Dull Purple and Orange-Yellow

A

250

255

50 cents

Grey-Black on Emerald, Pale Olive Back

A

250

234

1 Dollar

Reddish Purple and Bright Blue on Blue

A

100

103

2 Dollar

Carmine-Red and Bistre

A

20

23


On September 26, 1918 De La Rue was informed and notified that the character on the 25c was incorrect and were requested to make appropriate changes to add the missing stroke to the Chinese character.  By the 3rd of October De La Rue had put in hand the Border die and plate for the new 25 cent stamp.  As no further orders of the 25c were made for overprinting of the first issue, the corrected version did not appear on the China overprints until Requisition F. Or did it??

The "Unknown" Requisition

On 7th October, 1918, De La Rue received a requisition for 10,000 1 ½ cent postcards (what would become the 1 ½ cent Orange) under Requisition 102/18.  This would be printed as part of the regular Hong Kong Requisition number 99/18 but what is most interesting is that listed in addition to the postcards is a requirement for 125 sheets of the 25c.  At this time, this does not appear to fall into any known requisition and it is unknown if they were ever printed.

The "B" Requisition - Printed In Conjunction with Hong Kong Issue

On 27 January 1919 the Crown Agents placed an order for regular Hong Kong stamp, stating that they desired to add quantities for overprinting with that order. This would become the first issue printed at the same time as a regular Hong Kong isse. On 6th February 1919, De La Rue received requisition 8/19, which would printed in conjunction with the Hong Kong requisition 6/19 for what would become known as Requisition B.

At the same time, and on the same date, the Postmaster Shanghai wrote to the PMG Hong Kong (Part 1) (Part 2) complaining that the quality of the gum on the 10 cent was problematic and that the stamps were sticking to the tissue sheets by which they were separated.   He acknowledged that the climate was responsible but that “ordinary moistening on the tongue will practically remove the gum and leave plain paper.”  He suggested that the stamps in future be “Triple gummed”. This complaint was then passed up to the GPO by the PMG Hong Kong on February 13th.

On the 9th April 1919, (Part 1) (Part 2) De La Rue responded that the stamps showed signs of having been subjected to high temperatures in transit to Shanghai, which would have contributed to the problem but, due to the war, the stamps were being printed on a poor quality paper which may have also been partially a factor.  The GPO pointed out to the Postmaster Hong Kong that no complaints had been received by either the public or from any of the other Agencies and that the shipment from Hong Kong to Shanghai may have been at fault.   They also stated that additional gum would cause the sheets to adhere to each other and would not be recommended.

Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

8 cents

Grey?

B

375

375

10 cents

Ultramarine?

B

3500

3500

50 cents

Grey-Black on Emerald, Emerald Back

B

250

250

1 Dollar

Reddish Purple and Bright Blue on Blue

B

250

250

The "C" Requisition -

On November 18 1919, the Crown Agents placed an order for 800 sheets of the 20c issue.

Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

20 cents

Purple and Deep Sage Green

C

800

800

The Broken Crown

The Broken Crown variety of the 1 cent brown stamp, which appeared on both Hong Kong and China Overprinted stamps makes a fascinating tale.  Although the stamps had been printed for some time, and indeed there had been two requisitions of these stamps sent to the Agencies (the Nil and the “A” requisition), it was not until the 2nd February 1920 that Postmaster of the British Post Office at Shanghai brought the matter to the attention of the authorities.  He pointed out that errors were being bought locally as “philatelic curiousities” and asked whether the Hong Kong PMG had been made aware of the error as he assumed that this was appearing on the Hong Kong issues as well and asked whether the unissued sheets would be withdrawn or if the defective plates would be discarded or corrected for future issues.

On the 10th February, 1920, De La Rue responded that the plate in question was satisfactory and that in printing “a sheet of paper may have sustained a particle of hard substance which damaged the overlay” 

The "D" Requisition - Printed in conjunction with Hong Kong Issue

Requisition D is of great interest as, until now, the quantities and actual items ordered have been unknown for sure.  It now appears that there were two separate requirements made by the Agencies.  The first, a telegram around May 28 1920 urgently requested the 2c, 6c, and 50c and the second, made on July 8 1920 ordered the 1c, 4c, 8c and 10c.  What is intriguing is that this same requisition ordered 6,000 of the 4c postal card and 1,000 Size F, 7,000 Size G, 2,500 Size H, 1,000 Size H2 and 2,500 of the Size K Registered Envelopes.  No mention has been made in any of the literature of this requisition and this appears to be the first time that this has been noted.  The De La Rue DayBook dated 3rd September 1920 shows the numbers for the 2c, 6c and 50c. In addition, on 10th November 1920 the Crown Agents complained that the entire Hong Kong requisition was overdue, to which De La Rue responded on 22nd November 1920 that a lack of skilled labor was the cause of delay in production of the envelopes and that introduction of the new watermarked paper (the script issue) was the cause of delay in the production of the stamps.  On the 24nd November 1920, the Crown Agents responded that they did not understand the explanation as it was their understanding that the order for the new paper had been issued in August 1920 and was of the old design (that of the regular MCA)

Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

1 cent

Reddish-Brown

D

700

700

2 cents

Green

D

5000

5000

4 cents

Carmine-Rose

D

5000

5000

6 cents

Orange

D

600

598

8 cents

Grey

D

500

 

10 cents

Ultramarine

D

5000

 

50 cents

Grey-Black on Blue Green, White Back

D

250

250

The "E" Requisition -

The E Requisition was sent by the Crown Agents to De La Rue on 23rd February 1921 with a follow up on 3rd March 1921 requesting that these stamps be expedited.
Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

50 cents

Olive Bistre on Emerald, Blue Back

E

500

 

1 Dollar

Grey-Purple and Blue on Blue

E

375

 

The "F" Requisition - 50 Cents Only (Balance included in Second Issue)

Image

Value

Color

Requisition

Qty Ordered from De La Rue

Qty Printed / Sent by De La Rue

50 cents

Grey on Blue Green, Blue Back

F

750

770

The 50 Cent Printings - Shades and Other Issues

On the 26th of September 1916, the Governor of Hong Kong sent a note to the Crown Agents noting that the color of the 50 cent Hong Kong Postage stamps versus those sent as specimens was markedly different.  The Crown Agents forwarded this to De La Rue and their response on the 28th of September stated that the change in difference in the density of color of the doubly-fugitive black was due to the fact that the materials used in the manufacture of the color had previously been sourced from Germany but, as Britain was at war.  They noted that the properties of the color were consistent with their standards and that the density was the only point of difference. While these documents specifically refer to the Hong Kong issues, this explains the vast range of color to be found on the 50c issues.

There is still examination to be done to confirm the shades to the printings. From Halewood/Antscherl, we can find the following:

50c HK F Requisition (May 1917) Black/blue green? Olive Back
50c HK L Requisition (Oct 1920) Grey bistre & black on emerald with pale green back
50c HK O Requisition (Aug 1922) Light Grey bistre & black on olive? with emerald back
50c HK U Requisition (Before 1928) Black on emerald (Grey black & black on emerald?)

Perrin stated:
50c Nil Grey Black on Blue-Green with Pale olive back
50c A Grey Black on Emerald with Pale olive back
50c B Grey Black on Emerald with emerald back
50c D Grey Black on Blue Green with White back
50c E Olive Bistre on Emerald with blue back
50c F Grey on Blue Green with Blue back
50c H Deep Grey on Deep emerald with emerald back
50c J Bistre on Deep emerald with White back

$1 HK L Requisition (Oct 1920) Grey bistre & black on emerald with pale green back

Gibbons lists 4 varieties of the 50c China overprint with the white back variety, from 1920, being the most rare and valuable.  Perrin lists 6 varieties again with the white back again being listed as 1920.  What makes this more fun is the article in the HKSC in April 2011 by Nick Halewood in which he tries to make sense of all of this but he only lists 5 requisitions for the 50c China overprint (No letter, A, B, D and E.)  What is missing is that the first of the Script watermark (Requisition F) used the MCA paper for the 50c so the F requisition also comes under this.  (Bear in mind that the B and D requisitions were printed in conjunction with regular Hong Kong printings and the others were completely different and special printings of the Hong Kong stamps specifically for the purpose of being overprinted.)   Peter Fernbank in the footnotes to the Halewood article took this all a bit further by checking on this and showing that what Perrin and Gibbons are referring to with the white back (for the China overprints only) is actually one of the two types of pale olive (one shade of which is a pale olive and the other a very pale green but they both get lumped under the pale olive).  The white back on HK111A came from paper that had all been used up by 1920.  What Perrin and Gibbons refer to as the "white back" on the china overprints is actually the grey-black/emerald surface with very pale olive.  The actual colors of the requisitions are now in great confusion as well as the dates previously assigned.  The E requisition is definitely Olive Bistre/Emerald with a back that is somewhere between a Blue Green/Emerald color.   Check the reg sheets again at the BPM and BL for the Nil and F Requisitions.  Halewood has stated that the D is definitely the Grey-Black/Blue Green with Pale Olive back.