How to Buy Line-Engraved Stamps

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How to Buy Line-Engraved Stamps

The study of stamps is called 'philately', and the study of postal systems, their operation, and historical significance is termed 'postal history'. Stamps are used as evidence of payment of postage when mailing items such as letters. Generally, the components of a stamp are a special piece of paper with a national designation, a denomination price on the front side, an adhesive, perforations, and an image on the front, although some modern stamps are printed on sticker-style sheets without the perforations.

Popular printing methods include the line-engraved issues and the surface-printed issues. A graver, often a burin, is the sharp, steel tool used by an engraver to engrave the metal in the line-engraving method. The Great Britain line-engraved stamp issues between 1840 and 1879 are considered to be some of the most interesting stamp issues in the past century and a half. Collectors have studied these issues more than any other stamp issues worldwide.

Knowledge of the history of postal stamps and line-engraving for the line-engraved stamp issues is imperative to understanding stamp collecting and the study of stamps. eBay offers a huge collection of line-engraved and other stamps in various denominations, qualities, eras, currencies, and price ranges. Alternatively, collectors can search locally in shops that specialise in stamp collecting, at stamp conventions, and through stamp collecting clubs and organisations.

Brief History of Postal Stamps of Great Britain

The world's first adhesive postage stamp was the 'Penny Black'. It was the first stamp to be used in the public postal system and was issued on 1 May, 1840. Its first official use began on 6 May, 1840. The second important aspect of the history of postal stamps in Great Britain is the establishment of an effective and efficient postal system throughout the country that laid the foundation for the many systems that are in place today.

After several phases of experimentation, Uniform Penny Post started charging 1 pence for prepaid and 2 pence for postpaid letters in the first quarter of 1840. These steps were taken to avoid handling money while sending a letter, and eventually the idea of using an adhesive label came onto the scene and the Penny Black became the first postage stamp the same year.

Making Engraved Stamps

The first step in making engraved stamps is choosing what stamps are to be made. This is done by a committee that takes recommendations from all concerned parties, after which a designer/artist is hired to design the chosen stamps. The mutual collaboration of the hired designers and the committee determine the necessary specifications for the stamp, such as size, colour, printing process, and design. These designs and specifications are then outsourced to another party for printing. The most famous printing methods are the intaglio and the offset process. Intaglio offers the ability to make stamps with comparatively more distinct images, but it is a more time-consuming process than the offset process.

Intaglio Process

In the intaglio process, the stamp design is engraved, etched, or scratched onto a 'master die' that is then pressed onto a transfer roll. The relief of the image is later pressed onto a printing plate. (In gravure, a famous version of the intaglio process, the image is first transferred to the plate photographically.) This printing plate is then set in the press, coated with ink, and pressed onto the paper that is fed into the press in rolls. The paper already has glue on the back for use as stamps.

Offset Process

The offset process is the second most popular way of printing stamps and is often used along with the former method. In offset lithography, the stamp design is photochemically transferred to a plate that is usually made of aluminium. In the printer, the plate is coated in such a way that the ink gets coated on the image, and the water gets coated on the remaining portion of the plate. Then it is pressed against a rubber blanket that is then used to press against the paper being fed into the printer. This produces the resultant image and new stamps.

Printing Line-Engraved Stamps

As an enthusiastic philatelist, one should not just focus on filling a stamp album as there are several other equally rewarding studies and collections that are often overlooked by collectors. The variations in the printing mechanism have led to even more variations in the stamps. Basic knowledge of the various methods and their mutual differences from one another is beneficial for serious philatelists.

Printing Methods

All of the methods for printing line-engraved stamps have one thing in common, the transfer of an image to a substrate. In some cases, the transfer is direct, while in other cases, it is indirect. Famous direct printing methods include flexography, digital printing, gravure, screen printing, and letterpress. Lithography is an indirect, offset, and predominant method of printing today. The image carrier and the substrate do not come in direct contact in this method of printing, and a rubber blanket acts as an intermediary.

Except for digital printing, the image carrier can be of the following three types: intaglio, relief, and planographic. A lot depends on the relationship of the non-printed area of the plate and the design. An array of photoreceptors is the image carrier for digital printing.

Relief Printing

Relief line-engraving is a type of image carrier that is also known as a typographic carrier. The design is raised above the surface of the non-printed area in this type of printing. The famous types of relief printing are letterpress and flexography. Letterpress uses an inflexible wood or metal, usually lead, plate, while flexography uses a flexible plastic or rubber plate.

Planographic Printing

The plane of the design and the non-printed area is the same in this type of printing. An electrical or chemical process is used to determine the area to be printed. The scientific principle behind this method is that water and oil-based inks do not mix. Offset lithography, for example, is a planographic printing method that is predominantly used for large-scale commercial printing because of the comparatively lower cost, regardless of the fact that it is one of the most complicated ways of printing. The quality, however, does not match that of the intaglio process.

Intaglio Printing

In intaglio printing, the design cut is below the surface of the non-printing area. In this sense, it is opposite to relief printing. Although time-intensive and difficult, it is one of the most superior ways of printing. The intensity of the design and the depth of the cut are directly related to each other. The art of engraving is one of the highest forms of craftsmanship, and to become an awesome portrait engraver, a lot of competency, hard work, and skill is required. This is one reason why many governments prefer line-engraved methods for printing their stamps, paper currency, and other documents.

Copper and steel are often used as image carriers. Copper is soft and easily engraved, while steel allows for comparatively more delicate work. Initial printings from the two may look the same, but the copper plate wears out much more rapidly than the hard steel. Steel plates are usually the preferred option for stamps.

Buying Line-Engraved Stamps on eBay

For enthusiastic philatelists, the Internet boom has proven to be a dream come true, as now they can surf through various collections from the comfort of their homes. eBay features a rare and huge collection of stamps, both line-engraved and otherwise, and you can easily browse through the possibilities by using the search bar on the eBay homepage. Simply enter some relevant queries into the search bar to see the available options. For some queries, eBay suggests related searches that could help you find the right product. Some possible search terms in this case could be 'line-engraved stamps', 'surface-printed issues', 'line-engraved issues', 'penny black', et cetera.

One good practice is to go through the user comments and seller history before making a purchase. Look for local listings, first of all, by entering your postcode if you are interested in saving on delivery charges. As soon as your order is processed and you have received your item, you can leave feedback about your own transaction.


Stamps have traditionally been used as evidence of payment of postage for letters and many other types of mail. The Great Britain line-engraved issues between 1840 and 1879 are considered by many collectors to be among the most interesting stamp issues of all time. The components of some stamps have made them popular items for collecting and studying. Line-engraved issues and surface-printed issues utilise popular printing mechanisms that have created many stamps that are popular with collectors. Specifically, the intaglio printing method offers the highest quality printing for stamps.

At least entry-level knowledge of the making and printing of line-engraved stamps is necessary for a collector to make an informed buying decision about items to add to a collection. eBay features a large collection of line-engraved stamps and others with a number of variations. Collectors can also sometimes find local stamp collecting organisations where individuals attend events to buy, sell, and trade collectible stamps.

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