2011 WESTPEX Theme (5) – The Chairman’s Die Proof

2007 WESTPEX Cinderella

Engraved Stamps
For all of the classic period of stamp issuance, engraving was the primary design & production technique used. Securities designers like engraving because it is difficult to copy. Collectors have come to like engraving perhaps because it has an elegant classical simplicity that reminds one of the earliest and most valuable issues. The 2007 WESTPEX souvenir issue, the Norton I Exhibition Tax issue, had this engraved look. Creating an effective engraved look from scratch using digital tools is a difficult task. It’s much easier to do as I did that year and start with an existing engraved issue as a base for a modern pastiche.

For 2011, I chose a theme honoring a woman, Sophie Tucker. Ignoring queens, images of women (at least “real” women) on stamps are much rarer than images of men. In this case I wanted a stamp with a full figural image not just a head and so I turned to the U.S. newspaper stamps where a large number of allegorical women appear.

First Issue US Newspaper Stamps

Newspaper Stamps
Newspaper stamps are postage not revenue stamps. The first one appeared in Austria in 1851. They pay the rate provided for the mail delivery of newspapers and circulars. Small values were designed to be affixed to the wrappers of individual copies of newspapers. Larger values showed payment for bulk quantities. In the United States, the first newspaper stamps issued was a set of four typographic and embossed designs showing Franklin on three issues, Lincoln on one. They were created and printed by the National Bank Note Company and were used by being glued to individual newspaper wrappers (Scott says they were all “no gum” but some collectors believe PR3 came gummed). They were reissued in 1875. All of these early issues (PR1 to PR8) are relatively scarce and exist mostly canceled with a blue brush mark (never a CDS or city mark – these are forgeries)

Proof of Second Allegorical Series

In 1975 The Continental Bank Note company took over the printing of newspaper stamps with a long series (24) of engraved issues showing classic allegorical figures. With values ranging from 2 cents to $60 these and all future issue were designed to be affixed in a receipt book rather than to an individual newspaper. A second series of allegorical designs was issued in 1895 and by now the government was doing its own printing. In 1899, the government demonetized newspaper stamps and sold almost 27,000 sets to the public.

PR114 - The base for the design

The one cent value of this demonetized series (PR114) is the least expensive U.S. newspaper stamp currently available and the one I selected for a design base.

1909 Sheet Music

Next, A Picture of Sophie
I needed a full length figural picture of Sophie Tucker to replace the statue of freedom on the original stamp. There were lots of choices here since the sheet music of songs she sang was very popular and widely saved. Entertainment stars weren’t as in control of their images back then so often each new piece of music showed a different image of the star. The one that best suited my purpose was a long, thin, elegant one that appeared in 1909, two years before the performance commemorated by our souvenir. I scanned the music cover at high resolution, selected out the image needed and sized it to the scan of the original stamp.

Attempt at Engraved Backgound

For a while I tried creating my own engraved background to fill the frame behind Sophie. The results never looked right – too regular, not engraved enough. Instead I resorted to the approach I had used in 2006 of “cloning” small portions of the existing background to cover the whole area.



Early Lettering

Next came the lettering. Four different fonts are used on the original stamp. The fancy numerals, the two sans serif fonts for the words U.S. POSTAGE  and NEWSPAPERS PERIODICALS and an old fashioned serif font for the spelled out value. My prior experimentation had led me to a font called United States that’s based on the serif font used in most U.S. stamps of the era. I used this for the words “Sophie Tucker” in side frames. I didn’t duplicate the very unusual back slant of the right side type or the lined fill of the original. Instead used an beveled and embossed effect. Both the original and my variation have drop shadows behind the letters.

The United States front only works in comparatively large size so for “WESTPEX” I used a simpler sans serif font called Gothic. It also has a beveled and embossed effect applied.

Unissued Monochrome Block

The Die Proof
The WESTPEX souvenir sheet will be a block of four with each of the for examples colorized differently just like the 2007 Norton sheet. In addition, in the past few years, the chairman has always funded an additional WESTPEX souvenir to be sent as a gifit to volunteers and friends of WESTPEX. Considering a plain black and white variation for that purpose turned into the idea of a die proof where a single stamp was printed in one or no as a way of focusing on the design itself

Looking at a lot of real samples made me realize we should reproduce an approval signature. At first I thought about getting Ed to sign them but ultimately decided on the signature of the US Postmaster General of the era, Hitchcock. A nice proof image with his signature was conveniently available on the internet.

Rubber Stamp Effect Trials

Rubber Stamp Effects Trials

To simulate a rubber stamped serial number. I played with a number of rubber stamp fonts and effects before settling on the one used. Since these “die proofs” were going to be home printed we had the luxury of choosing to do individual serial numbers on each copy as it might have been originally. Photoshop was used to simulate the look of an india paper proof pasted to a die sunk card

The final card proofs were laid out in InDesign and printed four up on an Canon ink jet printer. They were then hand cut on a guillotine paper cutter. Two were damaged in the cutting, leaving the issue at 198 examples. Along the way one of my proof readers suggested Sophie was worth more than one    cent. I agreed, hence the late change to $1)

Press Sheet of Die Proofs

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One Response to 2011 WESTPEX Theme (5) – The Chairman’s Die Proof

  1. Jim Woodfill says:

    Your 1-cent essay of Sophie Tucker, based on the newspaper/periodical design, would make an ideal cachet for the show cover. Embossed and in the colors you have chosen, the cover would be a real eye-catcher. You could vary the colors slightly to provide a different cover for each day of the show, but I think we should stop there at three–I don’t think a fourth (like last year) would be necessary. A few lines of identifying text (WESTPEX 2011, Sophie’s visit to S.F., etc.) could be added under the design. And we should replace “Periodicals” with “Tucker” down the right-hand side.

    My assignment is to develop a show cancel, which the post office has agreed to produce if we design it. I think our standard circular cancel with a silhouette of Sophie standing in the middle of it would be nice, with required text and date alongside. I told Ed I would try and have a sketch done in time for the meeting on Jan. 24 (before that, actually, as I plan to be at Sandical the weekend before.)

    Please let me know if you have any suggestions, and also what you think of mine.



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