Invisible Text Revealed in a Half-penny Stamp's Gum

First published on the 17th of April, 2021

Sometimes things appear where you least expect them. In this situation a little piece of hidden history manifested from the gum of a otherwise unremarkable King Edward VII half-penny (½d) stamp from the 1902-11 De La Rue printings. This was entered into our archive as ID number 1116[1] and has proved quite fascinating, with plenty left to be investigated.


ID 1116, gum of KEVII Half-penny stamp desaturated to show postcard text
In general when stamps have a watermark and I've scanned the gum I'll briefly play around with a few tools in GIMP to bring it out to the forefront so it can be seen better. Whilst desaturating the colour of this particular stamp the remains of what it was attached to jumped out. Invisible to the eye, even under a bright light or a microscope, it certainly made me pause.

It's hard not to be poetic, but I will simply call it a "ghost of the past”; a little window into a brief moment in someones life - someone who never stopped to think that it would ever been known or thought of again, or that it might cause temporary wonderment in someone over a century later. Yet here we are, reading (and writing) about something so small and brief.

The Ghost

What revealed itself was a short piece of well-positioned and complete text. Once it had been digitally flipped (so it was as if viewing it from the front) and then run over with a High Pass algorithm its meaning became known. It says "AFFIX HALF-PENNY STAMP INLAND". Image of postcard Affix Half-penny Stamp Inland in all capitals

Now this was an extremely common piece of text on postcards, and an example from Lynxstamps via HipPostcard[2] auction is shown to the right. It would have been contained within a stamp-sized box in the upper right corner, and still appears today in a changed form. Image of postcard Affix Half-penny Stamp Inland with a mixture of capitals and miniscules

So we thus know that this stamp was placed on a postcard. We could also undoubtedly narrow down the type of postcard, and perhaps even the printer, by the style of text. For example, looking through a range of antique postcards we can rule a lot of them out by the fact that our specimen was written all in majuscules, whereas many were in minuscules or a mix of both (See left example from the Welcome Collection[3]). 

Further, we also gain plenty more information from the fairly well preserved postmark. In this case it is from Burry Port in Carmarthenshire[4], South West Wales, and dated 1909. With a population of roughly 4,500 in the 1911 census[5] a determined researcher could probably narrow down the origin, printer and perhaps even the sender even further.

Final Comments

ID 1116, face of KEVII Half-penny stamp
The stamp itself is in particularly good condition with minimal damage to the face, gum or perforations. The colour is clean although with my red-green colour blindness isn't obviously discernible as any particular variant (anyone who could confirm based on the scans is encouraged to let me know!).

The watermark is clean, well positioned and easily seen with both the naked eye and under light. There is a slight blemish to the rear but this has originated from heavy-handed postmarking. Other then that its a nice stamp with plenty of personal history that has been more then well preserved for all to see.


[1] ID # 1116, jpeg format.

[2] Cropped part of "Home Again, G. Sheridan Knowles, Jesse Boot, Nottingham 1901", Lynxstamps via HipPostcards

[3] Cropped section of "Boys swimming naked at Newlyn, Cornwall, 1893. Process print by F. Frith & Co., 190-.", F. Frith & Co. via the Welcome Collection (Public Domain)

[4] Burry Port, Pembrey & the Golden Coast; Discover Carmarthenshire | ( mirror)

[5] Burryport CP Census Population Graph, A Vision of Britain

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Invisible Text Revealed in a Half-penny Stamp's Gum by Marley Sexton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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