Leeward Islands King George VI Stamps 1938-1954 Part 1


The Leeward Islands, like Mauritius, made use of the Key and Duty Plate method of printing stamps, but, unlike Mauritius, the Leeward Islands used both the small General Key Type and the larger High Value Key Type.

The small General Key Type has a Key Plate carrying the whole of the design with a blank panel at the top of the stamp to receive the name of the colony, and a blank tablet at the bottom of the stamp to receive the individual duty or value. In addition to the Key Plate, therefore, each duty has its own "Name and Value Plate". Each 'set' was of 120 impressions arranged in two panes of 60, in 10 rows of 6. The Plate number of the Key Plate is above the 2nd stamp of the left pane, and below the penultimate stamps of the right pane. On the two occasions where the Duty Plate was numbered, the number was above the first stamp of the left pane and below the last stamp of the right pane.

The Key Type stamps were produced by a method that goes under a variety of names, i.e. typography, relief or letterpress. In this method the parts of the plate which are to be printed are raised and inked, and these inked portions come directly into contact with the paper, transferring the design, hence the method is also known as "surface printing". The Key Plate was basically of copper, but because of its softness, a copper plate tends to wear speedily, unless it is faced. Steel, which was originally used, proved unsuitable, net only because it was not sufficiently durable, but also because it was affected by certain inks, and itself affected other inks, particularly if those inks contained mercury. Nickel was then used by De La Rue, since it was more durable than steel, and neither affected, nor was affected by, the constituents of the ink, but by the time the King George VI stamps were printed chromium was in use and and it is most probable that the plates used for this issue were chromium faced.

For the eleven low values at least fourteen different Duty Plates were used, with the 1d, 2d and 1/- denominations having a second Duty Plate. Whereas the Key Plates were electrotyped, the Duty Plate was stereotyped, it being a quicker and cheaper method of constructing a plate, yet quite suitable for the more limited use of individual Duty Plates, compared with the general use of the Key Plate. However, a stereotype plate has a tendency to shrink during cooling, and that, and its greater liability to damage, probably account for the fact that most of the flaws in this issue take the form of damage to the letters of the words LEEWARD ISLANDS and to the value tablet frame.

It is known that the Duty Plates in use in the previous reign were used, at least initially, for evidence of similar damage is found on stamps bearing the heads of both King George V and
King George VI. These plates were not numbered, but when new plates for the 2d and 1/- values were introduced, they were numbered “2”. However, in the case of the 1d value, a new plate was introduced subsequent to the initial printing, easily recognizable from the shape of the figure “1” of “1d” in the value tablet. This plate is not numbered, nor is there any indication of the use of a new plate in the Plate Issue Register, though this is given when a numbered plate is used. Since a number of instances of plate damage exist early in the life of the issue, but disappear later it raises the question of whether other un-numbered Duty Plates were used besides that of the 1d. The King George V Duty Plates were not numbered. Were King George VI Duty Plates, if introduced to replace King George V discarded Duty Plates, not numbered because they were considered to be the first plate of the new reign? The new 1d Duty Plate was not numbered, and it was the first King George VI plate. The new 2d and 1/- Duty Plates were numbered “2”. Were they perhaps not the first King George VI Duty Plates for those values? To determine if there were other un-numbered King George VI Duty Plates besides that of the 1d denomination, a much more thorough investigation of the continuity or lack of it, of plate damage than has yet been carried out or published, is essential.

It is most unlikely that the Duty Plates were produced (as in the case of the lower values) by stereotyping, but by electrotyping.

In the printing of the stamps of Mauritius there was an orderly progression from Key Plate 1, to Key Plate 2 and to Key Plate 3, but in the case of the Leeward Islands stamps, no such orderly progression was maintained. For instance, Key Plate No 2 was first used for Mauritius about October 1938, and for Leeward Islands in March 1939. Key Plate 3 was first used for Leeward Islands in July 1941. Since Key Plate 2 was being used for a Mauritius printing only nine days later in that month, it may have been already under preparation for use, and so would not have been available, causing the introduction of Key Plate 3. But Key Plate 3 was again used later in 1941, when no demand by Mauritius is in evidence. For Leeward Islands, in mid 1942, Key Plate 3 was super¬seded by Key Plate 2, which then remained in use till 1946. It should be noticed, too, that in March 1944 Key Plate 2 was returned after a printing of Mauritius stamps, and was reissued the same day to begin printing Leeward Islands stamps. After its use in 1946, Key Plate 2 was not used again. However, Key Plate 1, which had gone out of use on 11th October 1938, made a single reappearance in use in August 1943 to print a batch of stamps to be made up into stamp rolls.

Proofs of the issue were struck officially, but as far as can be determined, none of these fell into unauthorized hands. There are examples among the Crown Agents’ archives; De La Rue had some for comparison, and there are examples in the Royal Collection.

Copies of all values of this issue, perforated with the word "SPECIMEN" in the shape of a semi-circle, were, in 1938, sent to the Universal Postal Union at Berne. Each member of the Union received three copies. The total number distributed in this way was 389. One column in the Plate Issue Register is headed "Specimens" and it contains details of allocation to the King, the CA, the British Museum and several Colonial Departments, as well as to the printer and the firm which later sub-contracted the work of perforating the sheets of stamps, but these, according to Mr. Marcus Faux of the Crown Agents, were not perforated with the word "SPECIMEN".

The watermarked paper used for this issue is that showing multiple crowns and script CAs, except for the £1 value, which is watermarked Multiple Crown CA. The white paper used was the so-called C.A. thin watermarked paper, the specification for which had been unchanged for many years at 80% rag plus wood-pulp. Apparent paper differences are caused by the variation of the filling, affecting the degree of whiteness, the apparent thickness and the rigidity of the paper.

The perforation of the small Key Plate Type values was done by a comb-head measuring 13¾ x 14. That of the large Key Type was by a cormb measuring a little under 14- by 13¾.

The information regarding the plates used for particular printings is drawn from the Plate Issue Register of the Crown Agents. The details of numbers printed, the date of despatch to the Colony, and the allocation of stamps printed are drawn from the Requisition Books of the Crown Agents. The description of stamps produced at the various re-printings is based on reference collections, supplemented by descriptions given by Messrs. Potter and Shelton (Printings of the King George VI Colonial Stamps) and by the author of the columns on New Printings in Gibbons Stamp Monthly.


  1. Leewards Islands. A Study of the Printings of the King George VI Definitives by F.R. Saunders & M.R. Boyle, GEOSIX Study Paper No 10, 1977