Rare Stamps of Gibraltar: 1889 "No value" Error

This stamp, which is the “ rara avis ” of Gibraltar, has been very often written up, and the writer has collated a complete set of comments on this stamp so far as British philatelic excerpts are concerned.

In his Chronicle of New Issues and Varieties in the “Philatelic Journal of Great Britain” for July, 1895 (V., 119), Mr. S. C. Skipton very briefly records under “ Gibraltar ” that: “A curious error has occurred in a sheet of the 10c. Two rows of stamps have the value omitted—rose”.

SG 23b Value Omitted (No Value) Error. This stamp with virtually full original gum
which shows only a trace of hingeing at top of the stamp
and with B.P.A. Certificate was sold at Spink Auction in 2009
for ?3500 plus buyer's premium.
In 2011 the same stamps was sold at Grosvenor Auction
for the same ?3500 plus buyer's premium

About the same time a similar announcement appeared in several other philatelic papers.

In the “ Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly ” of June 2nd, 1906, No. 293, Mr. Westcott mentions the issue of this error in July 1895 and says that the omission of the value occurred in so far as two rows of stamps, and that they are from a sheet without a coloured border—i.e., Plate I.

Mr. P. L. Pemberton, writing in the “ Philatelic Journal of Great Britain ” on June 20th, 1908, ascribes the error to the system of dual printing which printed the head and the whole of the design with the exception of the value at the foot. From information he obtained from Mr. North, who was actually in Gibraltar in 1895, the head clerk of the Post Office showed Mr. North some vertical strips of this error for which he asked a high price. The statement that they were the second, third, fifth and sixth vertical rows in each pane of one sheet is a physical impossibility as Mr. Pemberton is careful to point out, but it is mentioned, as this explanation was offered to Mr. North. Mr. Pemberton is quite right in pointing out that this error was issued in so far as it would appear quite certain that the head clerk actually bought these stamps himself and then resold them at a high price. It is also stated in this article that this error occurred on a sheet from Plate 1 without the Jubilee line.

In the “Postage Stamp” of August 1st, 1908, Mr. E. J. Nankivell observes the issue of this stamp and expresses his surprise at it having eluded the careful control exercised by the printers, Messrs. De La Rue & Co.

A similar comment is made by Mr. W. P. Barnsdall in the issue of January 23rd, 1909, of “ Gibbons’ Stamp Weekly,” and in the “Postage Stamp” of October 9th, 1909, this error is mentioned in the same manner.

In an article in the “ Stamp Lover ” of May 1925, written by Captain J. B. Dibley, we find the same account as that of Mr. Pemberton stated above, but Mr. North is not mentioned by name, but is referred to as “ a collector and a F.R.P.S.” I am going to reprint Captain Dibley’s account of the printing, verbatim, as it has considerable bearing on the argument that will follow these diverse comments:

It will be therefore seen that these sheets, two panes of sixty, were printed in two operations, the Head plate, that is, the Head and the word “ GIBRALTAR,” and the Duty plate—i.e., the value, which was printed in sixties (one pane), the printing of the value on the sheets went through the machine twice. For some unexplain­able reason one of the sheets only went in the machine once—that was the left-hand pane, while the right-hand pane never had the value printed in.

But it is incorrect, because there are a block of four clearly shows it was the left-hand pane that never had the value printed in.

Under the appropriate nom-de-plume of" Miss Fitte,” the writer of a long serial article on “ The World’s Stamp Errors,” which appeared in the “ Postage Stamp,” refers in the number dated 9th October, 1909 (V., 19), to this error as follows :

The permanent issue in Spanish currency consisted of nine stamps, each of which, though in one colour, was produced in two printings, the second being that of the value, for the reception of which the lower label was left blank.

Careful as Messrs. De La Rue & Co.’s checkers are, errors have occasionally escaped notice and been issued in due course. The present case is one of omission—a sheet of the carmine starps from two rows of which the second printing, “ 10 centimos,” had been omitted, thus producing a stamp, valueless in one sense, but very valuable in another. Some years ago a block of fifteen was chronicled.

The error is catalogued, unused, at ?18.

Mr. C. E. Donne, in a paper read before the Pretoria Philatelic Society on October 7th, 1929, states that in his opinion there were certainly not more than one-half sheet of these errors printed, and that the error occurred in two rows of six stamps only.

Colonel Arthur Egerton, D.S.O., states that whilst quartered in Gibraltar in 1896, a friend of his told him that the Postmaster had a complete sheet of 60 of these stamps, and that he actually was present at the breaking of this sheet. The stamp was sold to him for ?2 and he bought one later in a shop at Gibraltar for 15s. Both copies went into his collections, and I fancy very few have ever made a more advantageous purchase.

Curiously enough, on the other side of the leaf on which the above excerpt occurs, there is the chronicle of an auction sale in which appears one of the very errors ; it realised ?41.

The following excerpt is from an old sales catalogue, and is of interest regarding this stamp :

Ex Ventom, Bull & Cooper—Sales Catalogues:—

In Sale No. 328—October 20th 1910.

Lot No. 26: November 1889—the error no value, carmine unused in superb mint state, with top margin showing Control number. Unique.                 Price fetched : ?18 10s.

I have not summarised in this chapter the conclusions arrived at by other students and writers on this subject, because I am con­vinced that the following explanation is the only possible one which refutes all arguments that can be brought against it: the stamp was printed upon a two-colour machine, the key plate being 120 set, and the Duty plate 60 set, one plate being at each end of the table. The paper in the 120 set was fed on to a cylinder which made two revolutions. On the first revolution the Key plate was printed, and on the second the Duty plate, this latter being 60 set, only half of the sheet of 120 was impressed with the Duty, the remaining half of the sheet being printed later, on another single-colour machine or hand press. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that two partly printed sheets were fed into the machine by accident, and in this case the unprinted sheet at the back of the sheet of stamps that received the duty would also show an impression of the same. It is also possible, however, that the sheet was not fed on to the machine, but in this case the error should have been detected by examiners after the stamps were perforated.

Furthermore, it admits of the possibility of stamps with a slight trace of colour or indentation of the value, which I have in my collection. It is impossible, however, to reproduce photographs of the very light indentation of the Duty plate, but I reproduce a photograph of a “ no value ” stamp in my possession that bears a slight trace of colour in the exact position where the curve of the “ C ” of the word “ Centimos ” would occur.

We therefore can assume that there were only 60 “ no value ” examples of the 10 Centimo printed, and that their shipment to Gibraltar and subsequent issue by the Post Office for sale there, was due to an oversight on the part of Messrs. De La Rue & Co.’s examiners, who, in view of the fact of the millions of sheets of stamps of the various Colonies they have checked and examined during the past half century, can only be congratulated upon this one oversight.