The ½a Kashmir Single-Die

The first Kashmir die. The advent month of this implement is not known. Masson gives 3 Oct 1866 as an early sighting, but that cover is better dated to 23 September 1866. Reports of an anomalously early June 1866 advent may have been inspired from the piece displayed on Staal Plate 8, but the dating lines should read 1283 shahr-e 29 jomādi ol-avval ~ 9 October 1866, which happens now to be the earliest date cited so far of a plate black. The older literature erroneously reports the advent for the latter as occuring the following spring. The first Kashmir Die, alone of the implements disappeared early, presumably 1867, and does not figure in any of the later intrigues suffered by the others in the way of experiments or reprints. It was subject, however, to its share of forgery play. Our letter code for the first Kashmir die is D.

With the possibility that the Kashmir single die and the first Kashmir composite plate saw postal use within at most weeks of one another—not almost a year as the older literature has it—we conjecture that the first productions from the single die were tantamount to essays for the design adopted for the ambitious 25-subject plate. Some of the single-die productions found their way immediately into postal action, passing in effect from essay to proof to provisional issue to regular issue. The stamps remained in service alongside the composite plate productions in black for several months, and they both went out of use together the following spring.

Speaking of essays, there was in fact a real one, if unfinished, of slightly different design type produced in watercolour on diagonally laid paper. An image of this unique item can be found in this ► link to the “non-postals” page. The design of the issued stamp does evince a stage between this unfinished essay and that of the design seen in the first Kashmir plate. The leaf spandrels, for example, were turned first into simple squares at the single-die stage and then into dotted squares on said plate.



The ½a grey-black watercolor on native paper. No other colors colors were employed save what the literature speaks of as an “intense” shade, which we chronicle as deep black. The stamp is known on some dozen covers in addition to used copies off-cover, as here. Scan above, ex Dawson, Lot 305.

A unique used vertical pair on piece was offered in the Haverbeck auction, Lot 1373. Unused copies, which in our speculations were de facto essays for the first plate, number only some half-dozen. A production anomaly is known uniquely that bears an offset impression of the same stamp on the back.



Earliest postal example of the ½a black Kashmir single die. The conversion utility assigns ‘9th Assu 1923’ to 23 Sep 1866, where Masson’s 3rd October is ten days later. If the Assu dating (apparently on the reverse) occurs in javab notation, hence representing a receiving date at Amritsar, the stamp might well have been affixed even in mid-September or earlier. Haverbeck Sale Lot 1374; scan Séfi & Mortimer Plate 11.



In javab usage, “taken up” at Amritsar without British postage on 23 November 1866. Collection Hellrigl. Very similar covers in the same hand exist with the plate-black and the circular-black.

As mentioned, it was the spring of 1867 that marked the demise of both the single-die and the plate blacks. The curiosity is the almost complete overlap in the period of duty of these two kinds of half-blacks from Srinagar. Indeed three kinds, for the circular ½a black watercolor was still in use, and would be carrying the banner in black for some months more. If there were some division of labor among the three, it is not a sharp or evident one. All were used on javab covers, for example, but all were used regularly as well on both internal and external mail. The latest date for the single-die issue that we read of is 22 April 1867 (reference Garratt-Adams in Staal p 105), which is about two weeks before the last sighting of the plate-½a black. It is thus the plate-½a ultramarine that stands as the effective successor to both rectangular blacks, and ultimately the circular black as well.

The single die was not among the implements that were officially defaced 32 years later. Since we have already surrendered this page to so much speculation, let us affirm our metaphysical conviction, sublimely untestable, that the ½a single die was recarved to produce the 8a die. It would be natural and convenient to make some re-use of an unneeded experimental implement (with a very nice handle) and there is just that intangible something about the off-squarish shape and size of both. The 8a impressions are just slightly larger in both directions, as might be expected if the ½a die piece tapered only slightly. This scenario might seem to run afoul of the fact that the ½a blacks are seen in postal service to the spring of the following year (1867). But there were only a few such usages and this meagre stock might have all been made in one session when the implement was first employed. It is indeed rarified philatelic fare, and a single-session printing scenario is not at odds with that.

Alone of the nine early-period implements, the authentic ½a single die was never used with oilcolors or inks on account of its early departure. So there are no pesky reprints to report. There is, however, an ample store of forgeries of forgeries of forgeries.


D00½a grey-blackessay, Aug? 1866, diag laid
D01½a grey-blackSep? 1866 - 22 Apr 1867
D02½a deep black1866?

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