The Castle High Value Definitives of Great Britain - 1955 to 1968

The Castle High Value Definitives of Great Britain - 1955 to 1968

Today we will delve into the four high value definitives that featured the four Royal castles located in each major region of the country. These issues have proven to be quite challenging to many collectors, due largely to the fact that they were printed by three different printing firms and within some of these are paper differences that require experience to identify. 

The Different Printings and How to Identify Them 

Scott lists just three printings of these issues for Great Britain, corresponding to the two watermarks and the unwatermarked paper. They do not even attempt to distinguish the work of the three printing companies. Gibbons recognizes and lists five printings, while Gibbons Specialized lists six. In actual fact, there are seven main printing groups as follows:

  1. Pre-February 1957 Waterlow printings, St. Edward's Crown Watermark.
  2. Post-February 1957 Waterlow printings, St. Edward's Crown Watermark.
  3. 1st De La Rue printing, St. Edward's Crown Watermark.
  4. 2nd De La Rue printing, multiple crown watermark on cream paper.
  5. 2nd De La Rue printing, multiple crown watermark on white paper.
  6. Bradbury Wilkinson printing on multiple crown watermark paper.
  7. Bradbury Wilkinson printing on unwatermarked paper.

All three De La Rue printings are premium sets worth considerably more than the other printings with similar characteristics. When Scott lists this set with the St. Edward's Crown watermark it is listing the Waterlow printings. When they list the multiple crown watermark, they are listing the much more common Bradbury Wilkinson printings. 

In sorting the printings, the first step of course must be to separate the stamps by watermark. If they have the St. Edward's crown watermark then they must either be Waterlow or De La Rue. If they are multiple crown, they can either be De La Rue or Bradbury Wilkinson and if they have no watermark they must be Bradbury Wilkinson. 

De La Rue Versus Bradbury Wilkinson

Having sorted your stamps by watermark, the next step is to separate the De La Rues from Waterlow and Bradbury Wilkinson Stamps. In some cases distinguishing the printings is fairly easy, and in others you may have to apply several tests to be comfortable in distinguishing the printings. Let's start with the easy ones: the 2nd De La Rues versus Bradbury Wilkinson printings. 

To distinguish these there are three key characteristics:

  • The direction of the paper weave
  • The depth of the engraving
  • Colour shades

The direction of the paper weave can be determined by carefully placing the stamp between your thumb and index finder, by the opposing edges and then applying very gentle pressure to see if the edges will bend toward each other. If the paper is vertical wove, then the right and left edges will bend together easily, whereas resistance will be encountered if you try to bend the top and bottom edges together. On the other hand if the paper is horizontal wove, the top and bottom edges will easily bend together, and the right and left edges will display similar resistance. 

Bradbury Wilkinson printings are printed on vertical wove paper, whereas De La Rue are printed on horizontal wove paper. So, you can generally distinguish them with this test alone. 

If you aren't comfortable handling your stamps in this manner, then the next characteristic is to look at the printing impression, or more specifically the appearance of the engraving lines around the Queen's portrait and in the jewels of the crown, or the diadem, as they are often called. De La Rue Printings generally appear much cleaner, but the jewels appear to have less clear detail visible than the Bradbury Wilkinson printings. Here are two close up scans of a 2nd De La Rue 2/6d and a Bradbury Wilkinson:

De La Rue printing impression close up

De La Rue

Bradbury Wilkinson printing impression close up

 Bradbury Wilkinson

If you compare the amount of detail present in the jewels, you can see clearly more detail visible on the Bradbury Wilkinson printings. Also, the Queen's face has more engraved lines on the Bradbury Wilkinson (BW) printings. 

Shades of colour are also a very useful test, with the most obvious difference being on the 10/-, which will be bright ultramarine on the Bradbury Wilkinson printings and dull blue on the De La Rues (DLR). The difference is so stark that you won't need comparison copies to be able to tell the difference. On the other values, the differences are a bit more subtle, but easy to sort once you gain experience nonetheless. On the 2/6d value the brown is warmer again on the BW printings, whereas the DLR appears more of a black brown. On the 5/- the DLR is a bright carmine red, while the BW is a brownish red. On the Pound it is a tougher call, but the black on the DLR is slightly more greyish and less intense than the BW. 

Let's take a look at some comparison scans of the two printings for each value:

Bradbury Wilkinson Versus Waterlow Printing 2s6d

BW is on the bottom

Bradbury Wilkinson Versus Waterlow Printing 5s

BW is on the bottom. Notice the brownish tone to the red.

Bradbury Wilkinson Versus Waterlow Printing 10s

The BW is on the bottom. The colours are not even close. 

Bradbury Wilkinson Versus Waterlow Printing pound

BW is on the bottom. A much tougher comparison, but the black is clearly greyer on the DLR.

 Now that we have that out of the way, the next distinction to make is Waterlow from DLR. 

Waterlow Versus De La Rue

In distinguishing these two printings there are three main considerations:

  • Printing impression
  • Width of the top perforation teeth relative to the others
  • Shades of colour

For the printing impression, focus on the dashed shading that makes up the background behind the Queen. On most, but not all Waterlows there will be a roughness to these dashed lines, with little whiskers of colour, whereas the lines will be completely cleanly printed on DLR printings, as in these two examples:

Waterlow impression

Here is a Waterlow 2/6d. Notice the tiny whiskers of colour that emanate out from all of the shading lines in both the background and the portrait. 

De La Rue Impression

Here is a DLR printing of the same stamp. Note how much cleaner the lines are. 

This test will help narrow down the sort, but it will not be absolutely conclusive in some cases, as some Waterlow stamps are quite cleanly printed and look very much like DLR printings in this respect. 

The next test considers the width of the uppermost perforation tooth on each side relative to the width of the bottom tooth and the other teeth. This test will not work on a stamp with short top perfs, of course, but will work well on all others. On the Waterlow printings, the top perf tooth is wider than the other perforations. On the De La Rue Printings, it is narrower. You can see this in the following close up scan:

De La Rue Versus Waterlow Perfs

The Waterlow printing is on the left, while the DLR is on the right. Here is another zoomed out scan of the same two stamps:

Waterlow versus DLR 2s6d

See how much narrower the top perf is on the DLR? It is not a lot narrower than the other teeth on the same stamp, but it is a lot narrower than the same perf. on a Waterlow printing.

These two tests will generally settle the question for all but a very few stamps where you may need to look at the shades. The shade differences are less dramatic than in the case of BW versus DLR for all values but the 10/-. The above scan shows the distinction for the 2/6d. On the Waterlows the brown is warmer and less blackish, being more of a deep chocolate brown. On the 5/- the carmine red of the Waterlow stamps is deeper, containing slightly more carmine. On the 10/- the ultramarine is deeper and brighter, whereas the DLR tends more to blue. On the pound, the black is more intense in the Waterlow printing and slightly more greyish on the DLR.

Waterlow versus De La Rue 5s

Waterlow is on top. Note how much less carmine is in DLR's red.

Waterlow versus De La Rue 10s

Waterlow is on top. Again the blues are not close.

Waterlow Verus DLR Pound

Waterlow is on top. Note how much more intense Waterlow's black is. 

A final point can be made here from looking at the above scan. Look at the bottom corner of the Waterlow pound stamp. You will see a short dash, or the remnants of one, in the bottom right margin. This is a perforation guideline and it is only found on some stamps from Waterlow sheets. If you see one of these, you are dealing with a Waterlow printing. 

Finer Distinctions

Now that you understand how to sort the basic printings, it is time to discuss two finer distinctions that give us the last two sets: the pre and post February 1957 Waterlow printings and the cream and white papers on the 2nd De La Rue Printings. The first of these is mentioned in a footnote in the regular Gibbons catalogue, but not listed, while the second is listed in the Gibbons Specialized catalogue. 

All Waterlow printings were on cream paper, but starting in February 1957 the tone of the paper was a lighter cream that was much closer to white. This paper is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the 1st DLR printings, but it can be found on the very last Waterlow printings also. So, it is possible to make two sets of the Waterlow printings: one on the deeper cream paper, from before February 1957 and one on the lighter cream paper, printed after February 1957. 

In 1962 the post office announced that they had adopted a whiter paper for use on all issues going forward. This extends to the castle designs as well. The BW printings were issued in 1963 after the switchover to the new paper, so they are all on the whiter paper, but the 2nd DLR printings can be found on both white and cream paper, so this gives us the last of the sets. 

Distinguishing the white from cream paper is tricky unless you have comparison stamps, or at least a white sheet of paper to compare the stamp to. The cream paper is a very light cream, whereas the white is a somewhat greyish white. Usually if you have the two stamps together you can see the differences. Sometimes a long-wave ultraviolet light can be of some help, as the white papers will sometimes appear fluorescent under the lamp, whereas the cream papers generally will not. 

Paper Fluorescence

One aspect that no catalogue deals with is the fluorescence of the paper, which differs mostly on the Bradbury Wilkinson printings. You can find many different levels of fluorescence from low fluorescent to hibrite and fluorescent flecked papers for both the watermarked and unwatermarked stamps. 

Overprinted Issues

Bahrain type 1 and 3 surcharge

One often forgotten aspect of this issue is the overprinted issues that were prepared for all Morocco and the Middle Eastern countries that were under British Administration. These included:

  • Bahrain
  • British Postal Agencies in Eastern Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Morocco Agencies Tangier
  • Qatar

Most all of these overprints, or more technically surcharges were done on Waterlow printings, and the Scott Catalogue lists most as having been made only on the St. Edward's Crown paper. However the 2/6d and 5/- overprinted stamps for British Postal Agencies in Easter Arabia were also issued on the multiple crown watermarked paper, and are therefore 2nd De La Rue printings. 

The Gibbons catalogue lists up to 3 types of most of these surcharges, which I will discuss below, but what is not expressly stated or dealt with by the catalogues is the fact that most all of the varieties in shade, paper and printing do, or should exist on the overprinted stamps also. So, for most Waterlow printings, it should be possible to collect both pre-February 1957 printings and post-February 1957 printings. In addition I have found that some of the type 2 surcharges that are listed as only existing on DLR printings also seem to exist on Waterlow Printings as well and vice versa. Finally, the re-entry below that I illustrate on the 5/- was actually on a Qatar stamp, so I know that the few re-entries that exist on this issue can also be found So, I think this is an area that is very ripe for further study. 

The Listed Type Differences

All of the overprints except for Morocco Agencies Tangier are listed as having up to three types of overprint on the 2R and two each on each of the 5R and 10R. Both Bahrain and British Postal Agencies in Eastern Arabia have 3 types of 2R surcharge, while Kuwait and Qatar have two. Only Bahrain and British Postal Agencies differentiate between Waterlow and De La Rue Printings on the stamps, though in theory Kuwait should have both. Qatar did not issue the overprints until 1961, so all of these should be DLR printings, though it is possible that leftover stocks of Waterlow printings, if there were any could have been used for the overprints also. 

In differentiating the type differences you want to look at three things:

  • The formation of the letters and thickness, most especially the "EES" in "Rupees, as these letters show the differences best, I find.
  • The spacing between the bars of the overprint.
  • For British Postal Agencies 2R you look at whether the "R" is aligned with the top of the "2" and whether the left side of the overprint bars align with the "S" of "Rupees".

On the Type 1 overprints the letters are thicker and have sharp corners. The bars of the overprint are spaced very close together, though this is likely not something you can easily judge unless you have 2 comparison stamps, or a lot of experience in working with these. On the British Postal Agencies 2R the top of the "R" is aligned with the top of the 2. Type 1 overprints are type-set rather than printed from plates. 

On the type 2 overprints the letters are slightly, though not significantly thinner than type 1, but the letters appear rougher, with rounded corners. The overprint bars are spaced very slightly further apart, but again you would either need to have both types 1 and 2 side-by-side to see the difference, or you would need to have a lot of experience to identify this difference from just one stamp. Type 3 is very similar to type 2, but the letters are even thinner and the ink is slightly less black. Both type 2 and type 3 overprints are plate printed by Harrison and Sons.

The picture above for Bahrain shows type 1 on the top and type 3 on the bottom. When types 1 and 3 are compared the difference is fairly obvious, with the whole overprint appearing thinner on type 3. Let's take a closer look at the characteristics of the types close up.

    Type 1 surcharge

    Here is a typical type 1 overprint. You should be able to see that the end strokes of the "S" have a sharp edge, and the bars of the "E"'s have sharp edges as well. 

    Type 3 surcharge

    Here is a close up of type 3. Here the points of all the letters are rounded, and the letters themselves are thinner. 


    Bahrain Types 1 and 2

    These are types 1 and 2 on the Bahrain 10R. Type 1 is on top and type 2 is on the bottom. Here you should be able to see that the type 2 overprint is thinner than type 1. 

    Bahrain Type 1 10s

    Here is a close-up of the type 1. Note the close spacing of the bars that obliterate the 10/-. 

    Bahrain type 2 10s

    Here is a close up of the type 2. Here you should be able to see that the bars are wider apart than the type 1. 

    Other Varieties

    In addition to all the varieties I have discussed, there are other varieties you can collect, such as plate varieties, additional overprint varieties and re-entries. 

    On the 10/- stamps I have found some instances in which a cluster of stray dots appears in the design. On this I call it the "falling rocks" variety. An example of one such variety is here:

    Falling rocks

    The variety consists of the four dots just inside the vignette across from the Queen's eyes. 

    Another aspect you can explore are varieties in the setting of the overprints. Letters dropped out of alignment with other letters or raised slightly can be collected, as well as misalignment of the overprint bars or differences in the length of the bars. Below are a few examples:

    Dropped S 

    Dropped "R" in Rupees

     Misaligned bars

    Misalignment of overprint bars

    Dropped R and Raised S

    Another example of the dropped R in Rupees, but also the raised "S"

    Finally there are a few re-entries that are listed in Gibbons Specialized as well as weak entries. As stated above these re-entries should exist on the overprinted stamps as well. At least one actually does as the re-entry shown below on the 5/- red is actually one of the Qatar overprints. 

    Position 8/2 re-entry

    This is the major re-entry from position 8/4. The vertical shading lines above the Queen's head are clearly doubled, and though it is not clear from this scan, the right side of the right cross is doubled the right side of the rightmost jewel is doubled and parts of the forward cross are doubled. This re-entry is listed by Gibbons Specialized for the Waterlow printings. 

    2s6d wall re-entry

    This re-entry is listed by Gibbons Specialized for the Bradbury Wilkinson printings, and this particular one is on the chalk-surfaced paper printing. It consists of a row of dots immediately above the battlement wall. 

    There you have it, a run down of the high value castle stamps. As you can see there are lots of opportunities to specialize for just the stamps themselves. Then you can throw in private perfins and postal history and you then have quite the task. 

    Back to blog


    A very fine description of these stamps. Thank you.

    Peter Vander Valk

    You are most welcome David! I am glad you found it useful.

    Christopher McFetridge

    Very useful .. thanking you!! Appreciated :)

    David Bruce Hillan





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