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Newfoundland ABN Plate Proofs of the 1897 Royal Family and 1908 2¢ Map Stamps

John M. Walsh, from the collection of Ed Wener

The ABN Proofs | ½¢ King Edward VIII | 1¢ Queen Victoria | 2¢ King Edward VII | 3¢ Queen Alexandra | 4¢ Duchess of York | 5¢ Duke of York | 2¢ Map

The ABN Proofs at the Christie's Auction

At an auction in New York on 13 September 1990, Christie's offered British North America stamp material from the American Bank Note Company (ABN) archives by order of the United States Bank Note Corporation. The material included stamp design essays, die proofs, plate proofs, and preproduction printing proofs. The Newfoundland section consisted of 90 lots related to postage stamps and 17 related to postal stationery. I viewed some of the lots prior to the sale, and wrote about the experience in BNA Topics [3].

Lots 2221 to 2227 and 2229 consisted of plate proofs of the 1897 Royal Family issue and lot 2228 consisted of preproduction printing proofs. All but three lots, 2221, 2222, and 2228, were withdrawn at the request of the Government of Canada. Lot 2236 consisted of plate proofs of the 1908 2¢ Map stamp. These were the last Newfoundland stamps to be printed by ABN.

Ed Wener, a stamp dealer who operated under the name Indigo and handled Newfoundland material, attended the auction and bought lot 2228 for US$20,900 including the 10% buyer's premium. The description of this lot in the auction catalogue reads:

"1897, ½c-5c Royal Portraits (between 78S and 85S), ½c (7), 1c Carmine (2), 1c Green (17), 2c Vermilion (5), 3c (3) and 5c (6), also 1908 Map 2c (8) each in a pane of 100 (three sheets with stamps missing), all with 'Specimen' ovpts. (various types and colors) and each with punch hole, some a little damaged, though many fine-very fine."

Jim Hennok, a noted Toronto stamp dealer and auctioneer, bought lot 2236 for US$5,500. The description of this lot reads:

"1908, 2c Carmine Rose plate proofs on card (86P), two sheets of 200 (both folded, one oxidised) with printer's notations in margins, also one sheet of 200 (folded) and three panes of 100 on wove paper, the latter affixed to card, fine-very fine."

Ed acquired some of the Map stamp material in lot 2236 from Jim. He also asked Jim to photograph the proofs and make 35 mm slide images for future reference. Ed made detailed studies of the material, and wrote about it in his Indigo price lists, which were in reality newsletters. His notes were serialized in six parts [6]. With the blessing of Ed and his partner Naya Nicolins, the slides were sent to me and digitized by Andrew L. Winter. Bob Dyer provided photocopies of Ed's notes from the price lists. Ross A. Towle provided information on the printing orders as recorded by ABN. Leopold Beaudet edited this article and converted it to web format.

In its archives, ABN kept plate and colour proofs, made after a plate was laid down. The proofs were typically annotated to indicate whether the plate or colour was accepted prior to issuance of the stamp. ABN also made and kept preproduction proofs for every printing order. The proofs were gummed and perforated. Proofs of 200 stamps were sometimes separated into panes of 100, sometimes not. Each stamp was punched and overprinted "SPECIMEN". The date was usually rubber-stamped but occasionally handwritten in the top or bottom margin of the proof. These were the proofs Ed bought in lot 2228.

Robert H. Pratt documented the printing orders for the Royal Family and Map stamps from records he uncovered in St. John's [1]. Using Pratt's findings and the date stamped on the preproduction proofs, Ed was able to tie each proof to a printing order. The proof dates follow the order dates, typically by a few days but occasionally by as much as a month or two. In Parts 1 to 5 of his notes, Ed presented his analysis in tables that list Pratt's printing orders and the proofs associated with each one.

As documented by Ross A. Towle [2], ABN recorded the orders it received in a set of red leather-bound books labeled Printing Orders and a set of ledger-size books labeled Orders. The orders were entered in sequence by the date ABN received the order. These dates are not the printing dates. The Printing Orders Books contain orders for all ABN business, not just postage stamps. Orders were numbered beginning in 1902. Order numbers for foreign sales (such as Newfoundland) were prefixed with an "F". The printing order numbers appear in the top margin of some proofs of the Royal Family and Map stamps beginning with printings in 1907. The ABN order books up to 1900 are held by the Museum of American Finance in New York.

This article presents the slides of the proofs and Ed's tables (slightly abbreviated), analysis, and commentary taken from his notes in the Indigo price lists. The page for the 2¢ Map stamp presents both preproduction proofs from lot 2228 and plate proofs from lot 2236 that Ed acquired from Jim Hennok. The printing order dates and proof dates are also tabulated in the Newfoundland Specialized Stamp Catalogue [5].

In Part 6 of his notes, Ed analyzes the proofs by the date on the proof, irrespective of denomination. For each the 47 different specimen stamps, he tabulated the specimen overprint type, date, colour, type style, sheet size, and punch hole size. He did not publish the table in the Indigo price list due to lack of space, but sent it by mail to anyone who requested it. The table is reproduced below courtesy of Bob Dyer.

The specimen types, numbered I to XII, were mostly confined to a certain period. For example, Type I was used for the first four printing orders, Type II for the next three, etc. Some types were used only once, but Type VIII was used 20 times from 1905 to 1910. Ed notes that ABN was printing stamps for many Central American countries during the same period as it was printing Newfoundland stamps. He suggests that specimen types that were sparsely used on Newfoundland stamps were possibly more widely used on stamps from other countries where they wore out and were discarded.

How were the Specimen overprints applied? As Ed points outs, the regularity of the spacing, position, pressure, and inking on most sheets seems to imply a mechanical process. Ed also advances a counter argument. Varieties such as double overprints that occur on one stamp only on a few sheets suggest that the overprints were applied manually.

Ed points out patterns in the ink colour and punch holes size based on the list of 47 overprints. Many of the light coloured stamps have blue overprints. The darker stamps have red overprints only. The colour of the overprint had nothing to do with the date of issue. As for the punch holes, they were all 2 mm wide except for five proofs issued in 1907-1908 that have 4 mm wide holes.

Can the 47 specimen stamps be uniquely identified if randomly mixed? Yes, they can if you have a photograph of the 47 stamps. Here is Ed's method of doing so:

  1. Separate the stamps by denomination.
  2. Separate the result by specimen type. At this point, over half the stamps should be identified.
  3. Examine the position of the punch hole and specimen overprint. These are fairly constant on each proof.
  4. If additional tests are needed, examine the stamp shade, paper, and gum colour.

The following references provide detailed information on these stamps, and complement Ed's notes:


  1. Robert H. Pratt, "Newfoundland - The Postage Stamps of 1897 A Tale of Two Secretaries The Cabot and Royal Issues", BNA Topics, Vol. 38, No. 3, May-June 1981.
  2. Ross A. Towle, "American Bank Note Company Die Numbers, 'Index Copy' Cards, and Print Orders", Collectors Club Philatelist, Vol. 88, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2009.
  3. John M. Walsh, "Visiting the ABNC Archives Via Christie's", BNA Topics, Vol. 48, No. 3, May-June 1991.
  4. John M. Walsh, Newfoundland 1897 Royal Family, Dead Letter Seal and Map Stamps, BNAPS, Nov. 2006 (BNAPS Exhibit Series No. 43).
  5. John M. Walsh and John G. Butt, Newfoundland Specialized Stamp Catalogue.
  6. Ed Wener, "Royal Family Specimens", Indigo [price list], Dec. 1990 (Part 1: ½¢, 1¢ red, 2¢ Map), Feb. 1991 (Part 2: 1¢ green, 4¢), May 1991 (Part 3: 2¢ vermilion), July 1991 (Part 4: 3¢), date unknown (Part 5: 2¢ orange, 5¢), Feb. 1992 (Part 6: listing by specimen type).

Ed Wener's table of the 47 different specimen stamps sorted by date
[Courtesy Bob Dyer]

Specimen Type table prepared by Ed Wener

The ABN Proofs | ½¢ King Edward VIII | 1¢ Queen Victoria | 2¢ King Edward VII | 3¢ Queen Alexandra | 4¢ Duchess of York | 5¢ Duke of York | 2¢ Map

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