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Plating the Solferinos, by Louis Basel



(This article was originally published in Philotelia Nos. 613 and 614, 2002. It is reprinted here with some slight changes.)
The article in Philotelia on the Solferinos1 by N. Zafirakopoulos describes various aspects of the 14 known copies of this very rare stamp. In the summary at the end of that article it is stated that Philotelia is anxious to publish the results of the large heads researchers on positioning. Since I had recently started a plating study of the 40 lepta, I decided to see if it was possible to plate these Solferino stamps based on the photographs in the Zafirakopoulos article and in the section in the Feldman auction catalogue on the Solferinos1 by Michael Tseriotis.
Described below are the results of my efforts in this endeavor. In studying the 40 lepta, I adapted my computerized method which was used for the 10 lepta stamps. I had plated about one thousand 40 lepta stamps in various issues including about 160 stamps of the 1871 so-called Inferior Paper (IP) issue (Constantinides No. 48 a, b, c ; Groom I) which includes the Solferinos as a sub-issue. Of the 150 plate positions, I had 105 positions with one or more of these IP stamps. According to John Coundouros, the control numbers of the Solferinos are the same in each plate position as these IP stamps.3 Although the use of photographs from a published document is difficult because of the lack of clarity and sharp definition, nevertheless, I was able to determine the plate positions of 13 of the 14 copies with a high degree of certainty. After receiving a better quality photograph of this last stamp from Mr. Zafirakopoulos, I was able to plate it also.
My plating of the large heads is based on four factors:

Spacing of the Value Numerals in the Lower Inscription Block
This method requires stamps from known positions with which to establish a list of standard deviations in the spacing of the numerals. Many years ago, with the kind assistance of John Coundouros, I had purchased from the Hellenic Philotelic Society photographs of entire sheets of various large head stamps. One of these photographs was the overprinted 30 lepta on 40 lepta, Vlastos 145. The underlying stamp is the last large Hermes head 40 lepta on cream paper without control numbers, Vlastos 75. I used this photograph to measure the deviations of the numerals for each of the plate positions. I then used these standard deviations to compare the deviations of stamps whose positions were unknown and to determine their plate position. In this procedure, the computer lists the ten positions whose numeral deviations are closest to that of the unknown stamp.
1N. Zafirakopoulos, The Solferino, Philotelia, No. 612, Athens, Jan. - Feb. 2002.
2 M. Tseriotis, The Collection (I), Greece, The Large Hermes Heads, David Feldman SA, Geneva, Feb. 20, 2002.
3J. Coundouros, The Control Numbers and the Classification of the Stamps of the Large Hermes Heads, Vlastos Philatelic Center, Athens, 2000.
Location of Ink Spots on the Face of the Stamp
The photograph of the full sheet of overprinted 40 lepta mentioned above showed a few ink spots on each of the stamps for most of the 150 positions of the sheet. About 20 positions had no discernible ink spots because by the time of the last printing, the plate had been cleaned fairly well. Nevertheless, for most of the plate positions, it was possible to compare the ink spots on the unknown stamp with the ink spots on the photograph for each of the 10 closest positions identified by the computer. A determination of the correct plate position for the unknown stamp was thus quickly established and, in most cases, it was the closest of the 10 positions identified by the computer. This use of ink spots and control numbers in the plating and classification of the large Hermes head stamps was first suggested by Theodore Groom4 at the beginning of the last century; students of these issues are indebted to him for his pioneering efforts.
Frame Line Spacing
For those few plate position which had no ink spots in the photograph of the overprinted last issue on cream paper, another method was used to confirm which of the computer-identified positions was correct. This was done by visually comparing the variations in the thickness of the white spaces above and below the inscription blocks at the top and bottom of the stamps. If one examines these closely with a magnifying glass, characteristic variations are observed along the length of these white spaces which in most cases are sufficient to determine which of the ten closest positions is correct.
Characteristic Control Numbers
John Coundouros in his excellent book on the control numbers shows that the zeros of the cleaned plate issue of the 40 lepta (Groom type G) are the same as those of the first cleaned plate issue of the ten lepta (Groom type Ga) and the 1867 issue of the 20 lepta (Groom type HJ)5. The control numbers of these latter stamps were described in Philotelia with photographs of each plate position6. When I first started plating the 40 lepta, I used my cleaned plate stamps because they were easy to identify, they had many ink spots (cleaned plate is a misnomer), and I had a large number in my collection.
John also showed that the 1871 issue of the 40 lepta (Groom type I) had the same control number zeros as the 20 lepta of 1870 (Groom type K), which were also described in Philotelia7 and the 20 lepta of 1871 (Groom type La). I have about 160 of the these 40 lepta of 1871 (which are the same base issue as the Solferinos) including about 105 plate positions. For those unknown stamps which were difficult to identify because of: 1, postmarks covering the numerals on the face of the stamp; 2, lack of ink spots with which to compare stamps of known plate position, or 3, uncharacteristic frame line spacing, it was usually possible to compare the control number zeros of the unknown with either the 20 lepta Groom HJ or K/La controls depending on whether the unknown was a type G or I issue.
4Theodore Groom, The Controls of the 20 Lepta and Their Bearing on the Classification of Greek Stamps of the First Type, Philotelia, No. 3-4, March 24, 1924.
5J. Coundouros, op, cit., pp. 52 & 110.
6L. Basel, The 1867 Controls of the 20 Lepta Large Heads, Philotelia, No. 544, Sept. Oct. 1990, pp. 219-30.
7L. Basel, The Control Numbers of the 1870 Issue of the Large Hermes Heads, Philotelia, No. 537, July Aug. 1989, pp. 154-57.
Plate Positions of the Solferinos
Using the above methods, I was able to separate about one thousand 40 lepta stamps into the 150 plate positions and to identify the ink spots associated with each position. Then, using these same methods on photocopies of the Solferinos, I established the plate positions of the 14 known examples. Listed below are the plate positions of the Solferinos using the numbers assigned by Mr. Zafirakopoulos in his article, with the Tseriotis numbers as reference.


Zafirakopoulos No.

Plate Position

Tseriotis No.

1 (on cover)

51

XII

2a (left stamp of pair)

91

IV

2b (right stamp of pair)

92

I

3

7

-

4

37

II

5

77

XIII

6

29

VIII

7

87

VII

8

57

VI

9

112

IX

10

31

XI

11

131

III

12

140

V

13

136

X

Presented below is a chart of the large Hermes head sheet showing the positions occupied by each of the 14 known Solferino stamps.

Solferino No. 1
Figure 1 shows the flaws of position 51, listing those flaws found on Solferino No.1 on cover. Figure 2 shows the control number for position 51, Groom Issue I, the so-called Inferior Paper Issue of 1871.

Solferino No. 2a
This is the left stamp of the pair (2a & 2b) position 91. Note that although most of the control numbers of the 40 lepta Inferior Paper Issue of 1871 have the same zeros as the 1870 issue of the 20 lepta, in this position 91, the zeros are not the same. However, the zero of the 40 lepta is the same as the zero of the 20 lepta Groom type La which generally has the same zeros as 20 lepta Groom K. In this position 91, the zero must have sustained damage between the printing of the 20 lepta K and La issues. The flaws of position 91 are shown in Figure 3 with the control number in Figure 4.

Solferino No. 2b
This stamp is the right stamp of the pair (2a & 2b) position 92. Since I do not have an Inferior Paper issue stamp in position 92, I show the control number for the 20 lepta Groom type La which was printed immediately before the 40 lepta Groom type I of 1871 and should have a similar zero.

Solferino No. 3
This stamp is from position 7; its flaws are shown in Figure 7 below, with the control number in Figure 8. Many of the ink spot locations on the Solferino are obscured by the lozenge cancellation but the three that are visible prove that the position is correct.

Solferino No. 4
This stamp is from position 37. The control number zero should be similar to that of 20 lepta Groom type La, the first Inferior Paper Issue of 1871, shown below. This control number appears normal.

Solferino No. 5
This stamp is from position 77. Shown in Figure 11 is a sketch of the flaws on this position with a list of those flaws which appear on Solferino No. 5. In Figure 12 is shown the control number for an Inferior Paper issue stamp from position 77 which should be similar to the control number of Solferino No. 5.

Solferino No. 6
This stamp is from position 29. It has the so-called “no-chin” variety and white spot on the colored circle8. The term “No-chin” is a misnomer because the protrusion of the chin is normal. It is the indentation between the lower lip and the chin which is very shallow. In Figure 13 is shown a sketch of the flaws in this position. Since I have no Inferior Paper stamps in this position I show in Figure 14 the control number of 20 lepta, Groom type La.

Solferino No. 7
This stamp is from position 87.The flaws in this position are shown in Figure 15 with a list of those flaws which appear on Solferino No. 7. In Figure 16 is shown the control number for an Inferior Paper issue stamp from position 87.

Solferino No. 8
This stamp was very difficult to plate. However, after receiving a better quality photograph from Mr. Zafirakopoulos, I was able to determine that it is from position 57. The flaws of this position are shown in Figure 17, together with a list of those flaws appearing on Solferino No. 8. The control number for an Inferior Paper stamp from position 57 is shown in Figure 18.

Solferino No. 9
This stamp is from position 112. Shown in Figure 19 is a sketch of the flaws in this position with a list of those flaws which appear on Solferino No. 9. In Figure 20 is shown the control number for a 20 lepta Inferior Paper issue stamp, La, from position 112. The zero of the Solferino should be similar to the zero shown which has a very characteristic break at the lower right.

Solferino No. 10.
This stamp is from position 31. Shown in Figure 21 is a sketch of the flaws on this position with a list of those flaws which appear on Solferino No. 10. In Figure 22 is shown the control number for a 20 lepta Inferior Paper issue stamp, La, from position 31. The zero of the Solferino should be similar to the zero shown which is very characteristic.

Solferino No. 11.
This stamp is from position 131. A sketch of its flaws is shown in Figure 23 with the zero of a 20 lepta stamp from the same position shown in Figure 24.

Solferino No. 12
This stamp is from position 140. A sketch of its flaws is shown in Figure 25 with the controls of a 40 lepta stamp of the Inferior Paper issue from the same position shown in Figure 26.

Solferino No. 13
This stamp is from position 136. Flaws of this position are shown in Figure 27, together with a list of those flaws that appear on Solferino No. 13. The control number of an Inferior Paper Issue stamp from this same position is shown in Figure 28.

Conclusions
The above results demonstrate that it was possible to plate the 14 known Solferinos based on 13 photographs in published journals and one digitized photograph received by e-mail. The initial determination of plate position was made by measurement of the displacement of the numerals in the lower inscription block and then the selected position was confirmed mostly by the location of ink spots observed on the photographs of the stamps. Although these ink spots were difficult to detect because of the lack of definition and clarity in the photographs, I believe that the listing of observed ink spots is correct. The final test of the correctness of this plating will be the comparison of ink spots and control numbers on the actual stamps by the owners with those reported here.