Saturday, 26 May 2012

GB Wattses Underprints - New Discovery?

Protective underprints, the printing of a company name on the reverse of the stamps, were used to prevent theft in the same manner as perfins.

Although predominantly a Victorian fad, two firms used underprints in Great Britain from 1904 to 1915.  The underprints were done over the gum, so excessive soaking of used stamps obliterates the underprint. Accordingly, they are scarce.

S&J Watts, a drapery firm from Manchester, used an underprint on the stamps of both King Edward VII and King George V. These underprints are listed in the Stanley Gibbons Great Britain Specialised Catalogue Volume 2.

Whilst soaking a batch of KGV on paper, I found these, somewhat poor, KGV definitives

Ready to consign them to the seconds bin, I turned them over and saw this

The stamp on the left is SG PP252 (vertical underprint reading downwards), and the stamp in the middle is SG PP251. My 8th Edition catalogue (which is seemingly out of date) shows the 1½d stamp on the right as SG PP250

I Googled for more information and found an excellent site However, that site doesn't list the 1½d with vertical overprint reading upwards!

However, I also found these two 2d oranges

Again, turned over, they showed the underprint:

Both vertical, one reading downwards and one upwards. Neither are listed in my 8th Edition catalogue, and neither are listed at

Is this is a potential new discovery? Is my catalogue hopelessly out of date? I don't know, so I'm inviting comments from collectors far more knowledgeable than I am about these underprints!


  1. While doing one of my rather infrequent Google searches for anything “Underprint” related I found your blog.

    I have the GB Vol 2 Edition 11 from ’99. This lists just 3 Wattses in stamps of George V:

    PP251 1 1/2d red-brown (N18) reading upwards. This is most likely your third example, the one on the far right.
    PP252 1d red (N16) reading downwards. This is presumably your first example, the one on the left (as you stated).
    PP253 3d violet (N22) reading downwards.

    These all have Simple Cypher watermarks.

    I have not seen the 1d red you show reading upwards.
    As you mention in the blog shows the unlisted 1 1/2d (N18) reading downwards but I’ve not found the listed one (PP251) reading upwards as yet!

    A number of Block Cypher watermark examples have also appeared (1d (N34) , 1 1/2d (N35) and 2d (N36)) and I have the 2d Orange reading downwards.

    It would be useful to have confirmation of the watermark on the 2d Orange example you show as well as the others.

    Anyway, I hope that proves useful?

    By the way, thanks for the complimentary remark about my web site. Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to update it recently.



  2. Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated!

    I've had a devilish time looking at the watermarks on all five of these stamps, and I can't say with confidence what any of them are! I use an SG Detectamark, which I've used in darkness to no avail. I've looked at them at various angles over a bright light source, and I've even scanned them. A good soak would help, but that may erase the underprints.

    Therefore, we're no farther forward, which is frustrating to say the least!