The first Kashmir composite plate consists of twenty half-anna subjects
in the upper four rows, and a strip of five one-anna subjects along the bottom.
After the initial print-runs in black for the entire plate, the ½a
section was printed for many years in shades of blue and the lower 1a strip
in a range of oranges. The older literature erroneously cites
a spring 1867 advent (and demise) for the plate issues in black.
At least four covers bearing a ½a plate-black in the October 1866
to February 1867 period have now been reported, though none yet in the 1a
during that period. Perhaps only a single sheet got into postal use in this
early period. With the ongoing use of the ½a single-die black and the
½a circular black, we have a scenario in which three different half-blacks shared
postal duty over that first autumn and winter. If some division of labor among the three types
was intended, it was not a strict or evident one, and they seem to have been
handled from the same office at Srinagar. Our codes for this plate are
E for the upper sector and F for the lower strip.
The unique plate proof in watercolor. This item, among its other virtues, is a good thing for checking the 20 different plate varieties of the ½a. The bottom row is pretty good for the one-annas, though clearer reprint strips do exist for that purpose. Ex Massion, Sturton Lot #195, collection Hellrigl.
The ½a black Kashmir plate watercolor (plate position #10) in earliest known use: 24 assūj  ~ 9 October 1866. The letter was mailed to Amritsar without British postage, without sign of postage due charges, and without javab notation. Though undated as to year, an October 1867 reading would be unaccountably odd for this. While catalogues take the spring of 1867 to be the advent date of the plate, there are a number of other autumn-‘66 and winter-‘67 mailings that attest to the earlier printing, at least in the case of the half-anna. Such early mailing in the one-anna, however, is not attested so far as we are aware.
The earliest known use of the 1a black Kashmir rectangular may be a Srinagar to Amritsar cover in the Hellrigl collection, dated 11 March 1867. The previous record was sometimes given to Lot 1390 in the Haverbeck auction, a cover dated 27 March 1867. We have seen no claims for a specific late dating.
Another early mailing in the half-anna, again to Amritsar without British postage. The dating on the flap in the lower section is 6 māh rajab 1283 ~ 14 November 1866. The javab date on the stamp side shows the pick-up about a week later: 14 rajab ~ 22 November 1866. A similar cover, ex Mix, was dated in the same week, and others are known for January and February 1867. Collection Hellrigl. The latest reported use that we have seen for the plate ½a black is 16 muharram 1284 ~ 20 May 1867 on a javab cover to Amritsar, #153 in the Harmer’ 1996 (Eames) Sale catalogue. Are there any June sightings?
The 1a grey-black watercolor on native paper, ex Dawson Lot 323. The cover is a javab from Srinagar to qasbah Kaţra Ahlūwālian at Amritsar. The reverse shows the despatch on 25 zelhejje  ~ 30 April 1867 without British postage. The pick-up date as per javab notation on the stamped side is 28 zelhejje ~ 3 May 1867. This mailing must be among the latest known, for blues are already known for a “few weeks.” Better dating please.
One disadvantage of the overall ½a + 1a black printing was that the two denominations could not be readily distinguished at a quick glance. The two portions of the plate were later to be printed separately in shades of blue for the upper ½a rows and in shades of orange from the bottom 1a strip. The entire sheet was printed overall in blue at least three or four times in about as many shades. The earliest of these 1a blues are from April 1867. Better dating please.
A startling example of both colors of the 1a serving together in a June mailing: The 1a ‘blue’ and the 1a Venetian red watercolors together. This detail is from a Srinagar to Amritsar javab cover dated 20 June 1867, a gem in the Hellrigl collection. The early Venetian red has an early shade match in the 8a Kashmir single die.
Blue stamps in the half-anna were the work-horses of the Kashmir postal system for over a decade. After July 1867, a great range of demeanors and shades are seen. Distinctive shades mentioned by Eames are deep grey-blue, violet-blue, and chalky-blue. Great contrasts also in the sharpness, blotchiness, and wateryness abound.
Distinctive shades in daylight, which we do not hazard to name. On right, a detail from a cover dated 20 January 1872. Sometimes the Srinagar seal in red was particularly oily, and a murky surface such as this remains to us. This stamp was annotated by Masson as “½a indigo”, a shade nowadays usually associated only with Jammu printings.
On left, the ½a grey-blue watercolor on native paper. A distinctive shade, detail from an October 1875 cover. On right, the ½a chalky blue watercolor in a watery print on native paper, date unknown, but before November 1877.
On left, the ½a dull ultramarine watercolor on native paper. A distinctive shade and demeanor, detail from a May 1876 cover. On right, the ½a bright blue on native paper. This shade is something like those of the rectangular and circular Jammu special printings of 1876. Something much like it, however, is also seen on significantly older covers, September 1867, and others.
A happening of note: A unique bisection of some ½a ultramarine watercolor was done to serve for the ¼a visitors’ rate. It is known on a javab cover, with pickup on 14 November 1877 in transcribed western dating. Collection Jaiswal. Now just who would agitate for half-fare postage in a Kashmir winter?
Later use. This detail of a strike with the Srinagar Seal in black is dated 28 ćait 1934 ~ 8 April 1878 under the solar convention in which baisakh is deemed the first month of the year. This piece is thus within the attested time range for the black seal (which persisted well into the New Rectangulars regime). Under the hybrid lunisolar reckoning in which ćait is the first month, we had been forced to take this item as an anomalous and perplexing use of the black seal in use as early as April or June 1877, depending on whether one reads ćait or jeţh.
The 1a brown-orange watercolor on native paper. The British Cashmere date stamp, known first in 1867 with the opening of the British summer office at Srinagar, is used here as an obliterator of native stamps, a usage known in the 1870 season on covers where British Indian postage was insufficient. Date insertions are not present on these late examples. It was also used as sorting date stamp on such covers (Bard).
Another 1a brown-orange in a more watery demeanor, this obliterated with the Srinagar seal on an internal Srinagar to Jammu cover dated 2 māgh 1926 ~ 13 January 1870 in the Persian. A slightly earlier 27 poh 1926 ~ 9 January 1870 appears in the merchant script in the second line from the top.
The 1a bright orange watercolor, date unknown. Oranges came on the scene at Jammu in 1872.
The late 1a orange-vermilion watercolor strip on native paper comes in a range of demeanors. Some are more subject to chemical discoloration than others (see next) and they do make for a lovely autumnal scatter on an album page:
The two postal markings in the lower line graciously attest to late assignments in the orange-vermilion era.
Crossed TOO LATE seals on the 1a. Detail from a September 1876 cover in the Sturton collection, Lot #224.
Before we go, an adventure under the 1a orange-vermilion story, a famous Leh bisect that has been variously misdated in the literature despite being twice dated clearly in both the Persian and the Dogri: 20 phāgun 1934 ~ 2 March 1878. The arrow bears “1877” under a solar versus lunisolar calendar confusion, and the Haverbeck auction (Lot 1590) curiously misdates this cover even further back, to March 1875. Image from Plate 17 in Séfi & Mortimer.
Very late usage, again courtesy Ladakh. The dating of this detail, which exhibits a use of the Ladakh Seal (pale pink at bottom) and two strikes of the Srinagar black seal, is from a cover dated 12 māgh 1935 ~ 23 January 1879. The New Rectangulars had already been in use elsewhere (and at Leh too) since May 1878, so the use of Old Rectangulars at this time is both anomalous and disconcerting. Perhaps remote Ladakh in the height of its winter was resorting to old stock. A gem in the Jaiswal collection.