Ceylon 1912-1934 King George V Key Plates Stamps

Ceylon had previously had stamps produced to their own design, but opted to utilise the Imperium key plates for their King George V series. They subsequently became the largest single user of the Imperium key plates, accounting for nearly 41% of all stamps produced in this design. Of the twenty five 120-set key plates available for general use Ceylon employed twenty three, missing only plates 17 and 28. Nigeria alone equalled this total. The necessity to accommodate the high volume printing requirements of Ceylon influenced a number of fundamental decisions concerning the general development and usage of both key and duty plates.

Ceylon differs from the other users of the Imperium key plate in the extent to which 240-set printing from combined plates was employed, arising from the very large quantities required. Eight values were printed in this manner (no other colony used more than three), and from 1927 onwards all values of this design except the 50c were printed 240-set. Printings were made from all of the thirteen different plate combinations employed for 240-set printing, the only colony to use them all. Because of the widespread use of 240-set combined plate printing the 120-set general plates commonly used within other colonies are usually found only on the higher values, particularly after 1918.

Annual printings were made of most values during the life of the issue. This creates considerable difficulty in using the plate number to determine the printing, since generally several printings were made from the same plate number. Nonetheless, some plate numbers were used on one printing only.

The 240-set plate combinations used during the lives of plates la, lb and 2 can be established by reference to the Straits Settlements printings of this period. For the printing of the Straits 50c from plate 2 in July 1913 the plate had plate numbers in both upper and lower margins and could not therefore have been used for earlier 240-set printings. Hence the Ceylon 240-set printings up to Reqn.25/13 in May/June 1913 must have used plates la & lb combined. By the October 1913 printing of the Straits 25c, 30c, $1 and $2, plate 2 had had its bottom plate numbers removed, presumably so that further 240-set printings of Ceylon Reqn.25/13, started a few weeks earlier, could use plates lb & 2 combined.

Rolls of 500 stamps of the 2c were made up by De La Rue from 240-set sheets between 1914 and 1917. Sheets were guillotined into vertical strips of ten and joined to make a continuous reel, and it must be assumed that coil join examples exist. Coil examples may often be identified by the guillotined straight edges on each side. An instruction in the Colonial Stamps book (Vol. 12 p30) states "250 rolls of 500 each value to be arranged for delivery top end of stamps first with a spindle hole ½" in diameter".

The R20 of Reqn.42/15 was invoiced in July 1915 separately from the other plate 3 values of this requisition, and was not mentioned in the Colonial Journals of that period. All values for the other colonies were using plate 3 at this time, and are comprehensively documented in the Colonial Journals. It is considered probable that the R20 was also printed from plate 3, but the Crown Agents appear to have missed this printing and hence a plate 3 copy was not supplied for the Royal Collection.

Parts of the 2c and 3c printings from plates 3 & 4 were overprinted WAR STAMP by the government printer in Colombo. The quantities overprinted are not known, but some allowance must be made in the unoverprinted quantities from these plates. Several type-set overprint plates were used, believed to be 240-set size, differing in their plate number and its position on the sheet (Fig. 15-1).

The R5 from plate 6 exists with both single and double marginal rules. The copy in the Royal Collection from the first printing, in February 1919, has single rules. The second printing, in October 1919, has double rules and was made from the new duty plate.

Corner blocks of the 30c and 50c from plate 6 have been seen where the marginal imprint dot on RP 1/6 and RP 10/6, produced through contact with the nail securing the plate to the wooden block, is missing (Fig. 15-2) Although the strength of impression of this 'dot' on plate 6 copies varies considerably with different printings, being largely a function of the 'make-ready' of the press, it is uncommon to see the imprint completely missing. Since the only printing of the 30c plate 6 was for Reqn.55/18 in November 1918 it is probable that the other values printed for this requisition at this time, the 50c, R2, R10 and R20, also share this feature. All except the 30c had a later plate 6 printing, and examples of the R2 and R5 (Fig. 15-3) from their second plate 6 printing have been seen with the 'dot'. The presence or absence of the plate 6 'dot' in these cases serves to identify the printing of origin.

Inverted watermarks are known on the 10c, 15c, 25c, 30c, 50c, R1 and R2 (both on orange-buff), R5 (olive back) and R10 values, die I, watermark Multiple Crown CA, and the 15c die II, 20c die I on watermark Multiple Script CA paper. The 10c die I is known with watermark inverted and reversed. The 30c from plate 5 exists with watermark sideways.


  1. King George V Key Plates of the Imperium Postage & Revenue Design, Peter Fernbank, 1997.