The last couple of weeks I've been looking at stamp reproductions for a bit. Here in Britain, Royal Mail has been issuing these regularly since 2010 but some have appeared before then. You could say they started in the year 2000 with a reproduction of the famous Penny Black. It's rather expensive so I don't have it but I do have its follow-up, which is the reproduction of the Penny Red, issued in 2011.
Question of course is whether we're dealing here with the original engraver's work, but that answer was soon found. The Penny Black reproduction was printed from modern plates but these plates were made with the original die, so, yes, this is still a printing of the original work of Charles Theodorus Heath and his son Frederick Augustus Heath. The Penny Red shown here is printed with that same plate so this too is the original engraving.
It got a bit more tricky when I started to research the reproductions of the British Seahorses, originally engraved by John Augustus Charles Harrison.
It took me a while to realise that these are the re-engraved Seahorses of 1934, rather than the original ones of 1913. For those not in the know: the 1913 version had a background to the King's head of horizontal lines only, whereas the 1934 set has crosshatching as background. What threw me originally was the inclusion of the £1 stamp, because the £1 was never part of the 1934 re-engraved set, so does not exist with crosshatched background!
The presentation pack in which these reproductions come did not mention anything about the production of it but in the end and thanks to some fellow collecting enthusiasts I managed to find out that these particular reproductions are an "amalgam of proofs taken from dies, rollers, proofs etc., so all were derived from the originals", to quote curator Douglas Muir.
Now, the above may be nice additions to a collection if you can't afford the real thing, but there are reproductions which have added value. Staying with the Seahorses, I bumped into this little gem:
A 1973 souvenir sheet printed from the original die. On this die, known as the Stage 6 die, the design of the shield was removed because it had been incorrectly engraved. This die was then used to create four master dies, one for each value, onto which the shield and value were engraved.
Slightly less spectacular, but still rather desirable I think, is this similar souvenir sheet:
Here we have a reproduction of the 1925 1d die of the British Empire Exhibition issue, again engraved by Harrison. He made only one master die, that for the 1.5d value for 1924. From this, further dies were made with the changed value or date. The 1924 dies were presumably destroyed at the same time the printing plates of the 1924 issue were destroyed. I happen to have this particular sheet in blue and in green but have no idea if they were issued in more colours. Does anyone know?
Now I understand if traditional collectors may find all these just a bit gimmicky and not worth their while. But the great thing of being a collector of stamp engravers' works of art is that, if you manage to ascertain that you're dealing with printings of the original engravings, they're just as valid as the real stamps and show off an engraver's skill and talent just as well.
So I for one am chuffed to bits about having all these!