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What Type of Press Printed This?

Started by Dave Hughes, May 06, 2023, 08:01:17 AM

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Dave Hughes

Richard Frajola got in touch with the following query:

QuoteI am working in a web-book on the 1865 Shanghai Local Post stamps (draft here: - these stamps were printed one at a time rather than in sheet form and involved a handpress of some sort that had to be re-composited with every change of denomination.

I have searched in vain for an advertisement showing a device that could have produced these. As the Shanghai Municipal Council that issued the stamps was largely British, I hope somebody here might be able to assist my search, or direct me a potential path to finding the same. I was thinking maybe an invitation card print set up or similar.

Thanks in advance

So, does anyone know what type of press would have been used in Shanghai in 1865 to print the stamp above? Please speculate below.
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Richard Frajola


Thank you! The central dragon rectangle seems to have been a woodblock as it wore down very rapidly. The English and Chinese fonts were metal of a type in use for newspapers of the era. I can visualize the forme that held it all together with set screws at the top and side but the prints made are too clear to have been a simple handstamp.

Any ideas welcome.



there is a book which I have on my to read list, maybe you can find some background there:

It should be available through remote loan at most research libraries.

Basically, as I understand it: Despite the fact that Chinese have been printing with movable type since long before Gutenbergs developments, it was first with the import of western printing technology during the second half of the 19th century, that printing became industrialized in China. 

If you are on the right track, the form being locked into some kind of chase and made of metal types and a wooden form. 

But - there are few strange things. To use a cast iron platen press of the Stanhope or similar type (it would be too early for boston platen), it doesn't make sense to print them one by one. Also, the form doesn't seems very square. The lines are dent. All over all a bit improvised. That speaks against the use of any larger press, so they could have been done by simply being brushed off.

Richard Frajola

Franz - Thank you! I will try to locate the book you suggest.

These stamps were absolutely printed one by one as I have sheets (originally they were printed four across and then five across) that show never repeating location of the imprints. See link to my collection here:

The type slipped within the row sometimes so you made have some letters gradually lower position going from right to left and thereby proving they were printed in that order from right to left on the strip of paper. This is really a unique method of printing stamps and has been one of the big puzzles for years.

I do believe it must be some kind of forme set into a jaws device with soft covering of lower platen and the forme fixed into a chase that fit into the top jaw or platen or ? Some kind of screw device that could leave a clear impression.


Nice little mystery you have there. Please update us here on what you find out. Considered asking on facebook,

Dave Hughes

Hi @Franz it might be worth posting the question to that group. As you know Metal Type has recently joined Facebook but, unfortunately, I currently appear to be banned from posting to Groups.

In desperation, I have passed the question over to "Chat GPT" which came up with the following response:

QuoteThank you for sharing your collection and observations about the stamps. After taking a look at the link you provided, it's clear that the stamps exhibit unique variations in the positioning of imprints, indicating that they were printed individually.

Regarding the printing process you described, it's difficult to ascertain the exact method without more information or specific details about the stamps and the printing equipment used during that time period. However, your speculation about a forme set into a jaws device with a soft covering on the lower platen and a chase that fits into the top jaw or platen sounds plausible.

Historically, various printing techniques have been employed for stamp production, including typography, line engraving, lithography, and more. Each method had its own distinctive features and tools, and without specific knowledge about the stamps in question, it's challenging to provide a definitive answer about the exact printing process.

If you have any additional information or specific questions about the stamps, I'll do my best to assist you further.

These stamps were printed in Shanghai in 1865

Thank you for providing additional information about the stamps. Knowing that they were printed in Shanghai in 1865 helps narrow down the possible printing techniques used during that time.

In the mid-19th century, the most common method of stamp production was through the process of typography or letterpress printing. Typography involved arranging individual metal or wooden type pieces in a forme or chase, which was then inked and pressed onto the paper to create the desired image or text.

Based on your description of the stamps exhibiting variations in imprint positioning, it is possible that they were printed using typography. The use of a forme set into a jaws device, with a soft covering on the lower platen and a chase that fits into the top jaw or platen, aligns with the general setup of a typographic printing press.

However, without specific knowledge of the printing equipment and processes used by the Shanghai printing facility in 1865, it is difficult to provide a conclusive answer. The unique method you described may have been a variation or specific technique employed by that particular printer.

If you have any further details or questions about the stamps or the historical context of stamp production in Shanghai during that period, please let me know, and I'll do my best to assist you.

Not the answer we were looking for, but I guess it was worth a try!
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In the initial query, Richard gives the following link -
On page 2 of the draft there is a quote; part of which reads - 'a friend of mine informed me that he went to the post office for stamps, and that, not having the ones he required already printed, they struck off some while he waited...'
This suggests to me a small hand press was used, as to ink up a large press just to print a sheet or two is a lot of effort.

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