The ½a Circulars

Watercolors   Oilcolors

The ½-anna circular die is one of two brass handstamps that came into use at Jammu in March 1866. A third followed on their heels quickly, but possibly not in March itself. All were used with watercolor pigments during the 1866-1877 period and in oilcolors for about a year in 1877-78. Essays or proofs are not attested for any of the three circular dies (nor for the little Jammu plate, the fourth Jammu implement). The circular dies remained available for many years beyond 1878 for the unfortunate deluge of oilcolor reprints for collectors, and the dies were finally defaced in 1898, four years after the closing of the native posts. The currency symbols that appear at the center of the stamps are discussed on the Inscriptions page in the Decipherment section. Our letter code for this die is A.


Grey-Black 1866    Deep Black 1874


The ½a grey-black watercolor on native paper, spring 1866 to autumn 1867. This stamp (above left) is by far the most prevalent stamp of the first year, especially in used condition cut-round. Unused, the stamp is scarcer than catalogue prices would suggest. Thin applications of the pigment give a watery-grey demeanor as seen above, but a range of thicker and blacker applications are more often encountered. These early printings, however, must be assiduously distinguished from the type shown on the right above, known from almost a decade later. While some of the early blacks can also be quite dark, one’s assignment of an unused item to the early or the late type will only occasionally be a hesitant one. Magenta and brick-red seal obliterations attest to the early issues, while the late black postally used (in black only) is hardly known. The late production is said to have been produced primarily for the philatelic market, so now the situation is reversed: used copies of the late black are far scarcer than the catalogue would suggest.

The first known postal usages of the early black are from Srinagar, the earliest being a despatch on 23 March 1866 to Amritsar, via Sialkot in British India:



First known J&K cover. Our thanks to Anthony Bard for the scan of this most significant item. Inspection of the space to the right of the stamp reveals that British postage, probably a ½a blue Victoria, had once been affixed to the envelope, but it was lost at an unknown time. This cover was posted at Srinagar on 6 zelqa'de 1282 ~ Friday 23 March 1866 and arrived at Amritsar, via Sialkot on 29 March 1866 according to the British receiving date stamp. The latter is accompanied by javāb notation dated 13 zelqa'de [1282] ~ 30 March 1866.

By the way, the cover pictured in black & white in Staal p. 88 was the erstwhile record holder for earliest known cover, 24 March 1866. That was also an external cover, Srinagar to the postal depot at Katra Ahluwalia in the woolens district of Amritsar. The absence of British postage, postage-due notation, or javab notation has enabled it to pass as an internal cover by generations of philatelists. The incessantly misdated cover shown in color on Staal Plate I bearing a 1a royal blue circular was posted on Saturday 24 March, and so would have shared honors for first cover for a time, and now must be content with second-day status (though still first for the 1-anna denomination.)

Jammu mailings. Since the prevailing assumption of the literature is that the circulars were manufactured at Jammu, it is perhaps remarkable that very little indeed is known from that venue in the earliest period. We cannot report an earliest-date claim for a Jammu mailing, but a very early item, a mysterious “two-venue” affair discussed downscreen a bit, is chronicled for the first week of April. As for one bearing the Jammu magenta seal, the current record-holder may be the piece pictured in Lot #562 in the Harell Sale, namely 17 May, 1866. Which is to say, almost two months after the first known mailing from Srinagar.



The earliest magenta seal we can show from our own collection is this tardy August mailing from Jammu to Pind Dadan Khan (without British postage for crossing the border.) Notice that the ½a grey-black is cut square. Most of the postal use at Srinagar was cut-round. The open-circle British SEALKOTE circular datestamp is the original of Séfi & Mortimer’s drawing of their Type 10. Such in red (usually for arrival) in a different cutting are attested to the end of the year. The hexagon in orange reveals transit through Jhelum, pre-railway by some 13 years.

As to the engraving of the dies themselves, that may have been done by an unknown carver resident in Jammu, which is to say, not the Rahat Ju oft mentioned. The latter gentleman, of Srinagar, is indeed credited with the creation of an early (pre-stamp) express circular (the ► Zaruri) that was clearly the design-inspiration for the Jammu circulars. He was also the carver of the later Kashmir rectangulars as well as some of the Poonch stamps of still later date. That Rahat Ju was not the engraver of the three circular dies (nor possibly of the Jammu plate?) was affirmed by Captain Stuart Godfrey, who had come into possession of that engraver’s workbook. Writing in the Philatelic Journal of India, Vol. III, pp 209-10 (1899), Godfrey stated:

“The ¼a die of Poonch is a beautifully cut bloodstone, carved by the Srinagar stone-cutter [Rahat Ju] who made the Dak Zaruri stamp for Maharaja Ranbir Singh, and most of the brass dies for use in the Kashmir and Poonch Post-Offices...It is not, perhaps, generally known that he was responsible for all the early Kashmir issues except the circulars.

To judge by usage, a good fraction of the Jammu stock must have been sent up for use in Srinagar, an arrangement that ended when Srinagar gradually became self-sufficient in the production of its own stamps, a process that started in the late summer of ’66 and was not completed until that pretty autumn of ’67.


The ½a Blue Watercolors

General recognition of half-anna blue circulars is only relatively recent, say from the 1980s. It needn’t have been so, for an almost-glaring example was available in principle to collectors from Winthrop Boggs’ 1941 Blue Book article, which displayed a b/w example on cover. Boggs mistakenly took the stamp in question for the 1-anna denomination in his auction and article descriptions, a natural mistake at the time because no early ½a blue circulars were thought to exist. Many commentators, though not Boggs himself, would have been doubly removed from the correct identification, for it was widely thought that the 1a circular carried a 4as valuation.


Above: “Two-venue” cover. The circular on the right is the ½a black cut-round and cancelled at Srinagar in early April 1866. The important matter is the other circular in the upper left corner, which we extract, expand, and rotate for the next image:


The ½a dull blue watercolor extracted from the preceding scan. This forwarding stamp, probably applied at Jammu, is cut square and pen-cancelled with javab doings. Compare also Lot #17 in the Eames’ sale, where the forwarding stamp has the explicit Jammu cancellation in magenta. Since for the 1-anna denomination it is the blues that are prevalent and the blacks that are essentially absent, some commentators speak of color error for the half dozen or so of both kinds that are thus color-switched. It is not obvious to us that the two-venue covers involved errors of color; the distinction might well have been purposeful.

Unused candidates in ‘half-blues’ are claimed yearly now that the very existence of the category has become more widely appreciated; not all of these may pass muster as the early type. In earlier years, all such would have passed perforce as shades of the bright blues of a decade later (in unused condition of course.) Staal, for example, did not recognize the type as late as 1983. Still, a few early half-blues mislabelled in older collections might be expected to emerge over time. A color image can be seen at Harell Sale Lot #565.


The ½a Red Watercolors

Fewer than a dozen dated examples in the half-anna are now likely extant. This scarcity of reds on dated covers spread over a near-decade (1868-77) is accounted for by the fact that these printings were only supplementary to the relative deluge of half-anna red productions from the Jammu plate. Some precarious help in dating comes from finding exact shade and paper counterparts among these Jammu plate rectangulars. Whatever unused reds that might properly belong to the Special Printings are included here with the earlier reds because we do not know how to separate them. Do check out Séfi & Mortimer’s note on the ► Jammu Reds. The modern key reference is T. Eames, India Post 29, 42 (1995).



The ½a orange-red watercolor on native paper. Other denominations in this shade show up as early as autumn 1872. The example shown here from October 1875, a rarity in the Hellrigl collection, is reminiscent of the orange-vermilions seen in other issues that are subject to chemical darkening, including a common Kashmir 1a of the same period. Eames distinguishes a bright orange-red in the post-1874 period.

The ½a bright red watercolor on native paper. It is known both unused and used, if rarely, with the black Jammu square seal in 1874 (Eames). The shade is also seen in the two higher circular denominations and also among the Jammu rectangulars. The 8a Kashmir rectangular comes in a very similar or identical shade.

The ½a carmine-red or “cherry-red” watercolor on native paper, 1876? A unique unused copy is in the Hellrigl collection. This printing accompanies ultra-scarce brethren in the 4as circular (the 1a unknown) and the Jammu plate.



The ½a ‘red’ watercolor on native paper. March 1877. Detail from a Jammu to Lun Miani cover in the Hellrigl collection. Another is attested for 13 June 1877, Jammu to Amritsar, and thus well into the oilcolors period. If they were not really watercolor, we would be spared a puzzle.


The ½a Orange

Eames Lot #30 chronicles a ½a brownish-orange watercolor circular on native paper, possibly unique, cancelled with the black Jammu square seal. The shade finds a Kashmir shade partner.


Late Watercolors (post-1874)

The literature usually refers to the issues of this period as ‘Special Printings’. Masson referred to the original early issues as ‘permanents’ and these later productions as ‘superfluous’. It is true that most are scarce to unknown in postally used condition. Whatever red circulars may properly belong to this group are entertained separately with the other reds. The reason is that we don’t know which red(s), if any, formally belong with the Specials; somehow they seem to be a class apart.

The ½a deep black or jet black watercolor on native paper, 1874. An unused copy is shown at the top of the screen. Used copies, far scarcer than the catalogues would suggest, were struck in black with the Jammu iron-mine seal. A sub-variety on very thick native paper is known, but probably not in postal use.


The ½a emerald green watercolor on native paper. Emeralds are understood to contain arsenic (lick them only if you must) and are said to make good fungicides in case you do not like them cluttering up your stamp albums. The pigment was also used for contemporaneous Jammu-plate rectangulars and the 4as Kashmir single-die printings known already from late 1868. There is range of shades:


The ½a yellow-green watercolors on native paper. The latter is a detail from a Jammu to Phugwara cover dated 5 November 1876. Rare, Hellrigl collection, ex Mortimer. See also Sturton Sale Lot 82.



The ½a yellow watercolor on native paper. This is a detail from one of only two known copies on cover, this a postage-due railway cover from Jammu to Calcutta, 17 July 1876. Ex Masson. A rarity in the Hellrigl collection. The other, dated a couple of months earlier on 9 jeţh 1933 ~ 20 May 1876 in both Persian and Dogri, is seen in Eames Lot #58.



The ½a bright blue (deeper shade on left) watercolor on native paper, 1876. Kindred shades are also known in the Jammu rectangulars of the same period. In used condition Séfi and Mortimer speak of “great rarity,” and so we are mighty pleased with our own copy shown here. It was also pictured in Eames India Post 29 02 (1995). There was another in the Hancock collection that those authors believed was genuinely cancelled with the Jammu square. The 1a and 4as counterparts may not be definitely known in used condition, the low pricing in catalogues notwithstanding; for us they are simply non-postals. A stark shade distinction, which we call ‘imperial blue,’ is shown on the Circular Nonpostals page. No, on second thought, let us put the thing right here for reference:


The ½a imperial blue watercolor on native paper. An uncataloged shade distinction of the Special Printings bright blue. We do not know whether it is known in postally-used condition, or whether a 4as counterpart in sufficiently close shade and demeanor exists for it to count. The dating of this item has been controversial. Early or late? Could this stamp be what Séfi and Mortimer referred to as a blue-indigo? In any case, we do assign this stamp to the late Special Printings period. A discussion of this shade is taken up in the context of the notorious “royal blue” business, taken up on the 1a Circulars page.


Oilcolors 1877-78

Late February 1877 may be the advent date for the postal oilcolors (an early brown-red as well as black) on European laid papers, with native-paper versions in similar shade and demeanor to follow later. The older literature sometimes mention a summer advent for both papers. In the case of the ½-anna denomination, Gibbons lists a red, black, and slate-blue on both papers, the sage-green on native only, and the yellow on laid only. Two key references are Tim Eames India Post 29 88-90 and India Post 29 129 (1995).

Whatever the earliest date, Jammu did take an active fancy to the laid paper, and examples are known for all four Jammu implements. The postal people at Srinagar evidently didn’t share the same enthusiasm, for laid paper Kashmir trials are rare and none of the kind is recognized in the catalogues as having done postal service. The new paper must have been deemed successful at Jammu, for not only did some of this production serve as actual postage, an early spate of New Rectangulars were done on just such paper from May 1878.

Some experimentation was also done with certain wove papers of European make. Shown left is the ½a dull rose-red oilcolor, a detail from a cover mailed in April 1878. The type may be attested only in postally-used condition. The paper, sometimes referred to as “sugar-wove,” is by all accounts horrible: thick, coarse, and of yellowish-brown tone. In any case it was not kept in employ for the New Rectangular issues very soon to appear. Examples of the item can be seen, for example, on Staal Plate 4 and in the Eames oil printings article India Post 29 p 89 (1995). Only twelve copies were accounted for at the time of the Haverbeck auction, with five of them offered in that venue, Lots 1292-96.



The ½a black oilcolor on European laid paper, shown above in the characteristically heavy and light impressions in which they tend to come. A block of six is recorded for which each pair comes “tête-bêche,” so-called. Both vertical and horizontal laiding lines are found, the former probably being the rarer configuration. This stamp is the only laid-paper circular that is not exactly rare in postally-used condition. An earliest cover offered in the Haverbeck sale is dated February 1877, which we hitherto assumed was a mistake for February 1878, but now regard as a definite possibility. As for the native paper, we have no earliest date, but the following must be a contender:



The ½a grey-black oilcolor on native paper on cover dated 29 baisâkh 1934 ~ 9 May 1877. Collection Hellrigl.



The ½a grey-black oilcolor on native paper. The scan is of an external cover Jammu to Amritsar dated 19 January 1878, ex Masson, ex Dawson. We have to put something of our own in these pages occasionally. New Rectangulars were to replace this usage in the spring.



The ½a slate-blue oilcolor on native paper (left) and European laid paper (right). The used example is a detail from a Jammu to Amritsar cover dated 21 assūj 1934 ~ 5 October 1877 and delivered on 19 October 1977. Hellrigl collection. The laid paper version is definitely rarer in postally used condition than catalogue pricing would suggest. We do not have an earliest date of attestation for either paper.


The ½a slate-blue oilcolor on native paper, unused block of eight. These come in a wide range of shades, some nearly black to the casual glance. Lore (that is, Séfi-Mortimer) has it that the slate-blues were never reprinted, but the argument behind that dictum was not explained. This scarce block (they more often come in sixes) was printed on the thin polished sort of paper often considered diagnostic for reprints, as is also the fact of its being a large multiple. We should therefore very much like to know of the story that says that this is not a reprint block. After all we should someday like to sell it for what we paid for it!

A class of brighter blues (Eames’ steel-blue oilcolor) on native paper is recorded by him at least thrice on covers in the very late April-May 1878 period. Its counterpart in the 1a is also known unused and used in May 1878.




The ½a brown red oilcolors on (white) European laid paper on a cover dated 14 māh baisākh 1934 ~ 25 April 1877. The cover is dated twice more on the reverse (lower scan). The lower pair of ‘stamps’ are iron-mine “provisionals,” so-called, seemingly smooshed to resemble circulars as if intrigue were afoot. The ruse, if it should prove to be, was evidently successful and perhaps emboldened the perpetrator to do it again more vigorously a few months later, for more of them congregate in the September 1877 period.



A ½a vermilion-red oilcolor on native paper. Eames reports that the first red oilcolors on native paper date from June 1877 and these appear in a “somewhat brighter vermilion-red shade.” They are seen postally used in all three denominations of the circulars, and in the Jammu plate as well. Séfi & Mortimer reports a reprint in vermilion; are not sure whether the example shown here is an example of that or actually passes muster as an original.


Starting in late summer 1877 a range of deeper shades in different demeanors show up, some showing up in all three denominations. Not all are known in postally-used condition.



The ½a orange-vermilion oilcolor on native paper. It has counterparts in the Jammu rectangulars and shares features seen in the Kashmir rectangulars, such as the mottled darkening.

A ½a orange-red oilcolor circular on native paper. This it is mentioned by Eames as existing in unused condition only. Such printings are similar in appearance to watercolor impressions in this shade, and testing with water is required. Again there is a counterpart in the Jammu plate.



A ½a oilcolor on native paper in a shade we despair of naming. March 1878. It has a definite orange cast to it in daylight, but to say “deep orange-red” is going too far, given what the Jammu orange-reds look like. The second item shows a close shade counterpart from the Jammu plate.


Left, the ½a brown-red oilcolor on native paper. These stamps are known only in postally used condition. The earliest we have seen is a March 1878 printing, and they persist into April, pressing very close to the advent of the New Rectangulars. The latest shade variety may be as in the example on the right, the ½a deep brown-red oilcolor on native paper, April 1878. Again, there are shade counterparts with the Jammu plate.



The ½a bright red and brown red oilcolor circulars on European laid paper. They are not attested in unused condition. The Jammu cover from which the bright red detail on the left was taken was Amritsar-bound, dated 2 March [1878] at Sialkot. It arrived at the postal station at Katra Ahluwalia on 4 March. The stamp, possibly unique in the shade, and now in the Mac Gillycuddy collection, is of a rich red shade that contrasts sharply with that of the brown-red persuasion shown on the right. They were mailed a day apart. A half dozen at most of the brownies are attested. A catalogue distinction is surely wanting. For these late printings we can so far chronicle examples for early March (the two examples above), 13 March (Hellrigl), and for 1 April (ex Mix).


A ½a yellow oilcolor on native paper is not reported in the literature so far as we are aware.



The ½ yellow on European laid paper, unpriced used in SG, though assuredly postal through what is possibly a unique undated piece, cut-round, in the Hellrigl collection shown above, ex Masson, ex Mortimer.


Vexed matter, the greens. The only sure-enough feature is that in the ½-anna denomination, only the native-paper type is attested, until one shows up that is. All greens are characterized by a relatively uniform substrate in ‘dun’ or ‘sage.’ A more overtly green component that did not assimilate well with the base pigment has the appearance of being spattered sparsely over top. The pair of stamps contrasted below (the second in the 4-annas denomination) reveals something of the range of demeanor. They are really exemplars of two rather distinct classes, for most any item in question can be assigned to one or the other class with little hesitation. The first is always esteemed, the second is fraught with question marks.


At left is an uncontroversial “original,” blotchy to reputation. (Does any unused oilcolor merit the rank of a postal item?) As to the status of second class, we leave the matter to wiser heads: Is it a collector reprint or an early pigment trial (cf. Eames)? Or a late pigment trial for New Rectangulars? There is indeed a run of 1a New Rectangular greens that exhibit a similar “bright green,” so-called, sometimes almost an emerald-green beading over just such a dun base. As with the New Rectangulars there is the likelihood that the colors have changed markedly over the many decades.

With fewer than a dozen examples off-cover of the type shown on the left, many J&Kers have naturally been led to the bootless exercise of trying to distinguish originals and reprints from among the second general class. Market valuation is gravely erratic in consequence. The SG catalogue pricing for unused copies comes across as a bad average of the two extremes; too low for the one, too high for the other. Some brazen “expertizers” have been a bit too confident in handing out their blessings-by-certificate.



Examples of the ½a postally used at Jammu. These details are from covers dated July 1877 in the Hellrigl collection. The four examples #114-15, #117-18 in the Sturton Blue Sale should also be inspected. The postal 4as are rather clean and unblotchy impressions by comparison, but are still distinctive in hue and demeanor, forming a class unto themselves.

The ½a bluish-green oilcolor on native paper. Séfi & Mortimer mention a bluish-green only in their native-paper reprints listing.

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