Inverted Head Four Annas

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The 1854 first issues of India and also first stamps ever made in Asia included a Four Annas value in red and blue. However, an error occurred during production, showing the head “upside down.” This is one of the world’s first multicolored stamps. The design consisted of a profile portrait of Queen Victoria in blue inside an octagonal red frame with the words INDIA above and FOUR ANNAS below. These Four Annas Stamps are first printed in October, 1854 and 17,170 sheets were printed.

These stamps were a rush order and very urgently needed, because postage rate for a small letter from India to Europe at that time was eleven annas. And it was impossible to find place on the small envelope for eleven 1 Anna stamps (the previous highest denomination).

First of all, two engravings were made on small copper plates, of the head die and frame die respectively. From these two dies a large number of impressions were taken on small pieces of transfer paper and transferred on to two different series of lithographic stones, the head stones in blue and the frame stones in red. On every stone there were 12 impressions, i.e., three rows of four, carefully synchronized to exact measurements to ensure that later the 12 blue heads would fit exactly into the centers of the 12 red frames.

The Printing Operators first printed the red frames on to sheets of paper which had been to the right size, and which had a characteristic oval watermark covering all the 12 impressions. These sheets were then put aside to dry, and later using blue printing with the head stones. By very careful alignment of the half printed sheets, the blue were printed as exactly as possible into the center of the red frames, thus completing the bi-colored stamps, and making the sheets ready for issue to the post office. If an operator put a sheet of red frames the wrong way up on to his stone of blue heads, what happened? Naturally, all the 12 heads on the sheet would be inverted relative to the red frames, and ‘Moreover head No. 1 would fall into frame No. 12, head No. 2 into frame No. 11, and so on. This is exactly what happened, and so was created the classic error, India 4 annas “Inverted Head.”

This error was not found before the stamps were issued, of course, and it seems to have been not discovered for many years after.

The Government of India Collection, in Delhi, has a cut to shape example on piece, position 2 on the sheet. Three cut to shape examples of the Inverted Head Four Annas repose in the Tapling Collection at the British Museum, London, including two (positions 3 and 4 on the printed sheet) on piece. One carefully cut to shape is found in the Royal Collection, position 5 on the sheet.

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