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Describing colour has always presented problems when
it comes to description and classification. A host of variables can come into
play from how any one individual perceives colour, daylight / artificial light,etc.
All Machin stamps printed in (photo)gravure have used
Spot Colours i.e. the ink is specifically formulated for the desired colour
(process colours (the four colour process) use a combination of Yellow,
Magenta, Cyan (lightish blue) and Key (Black) to produce
the illusion of a desired colour - this method is used for many multicolour
printings - typically Special Issues printed in Litho).
In the case of the Machin stamp, the Queen's Head is
set on one of two background types - a solid dark background or a gradated /
light background. In turn, the ink mix used can range from dark to light. These
factors and others (compression used by the press, doctor blade wiping, etc)
can make it difficult to classify colours in a consistent way. Ideally, using
areas that have one hundred percent inking such as the Jubilee Lines give the
best chance for classifying a colour. The following blocks show Solid (Head
B) and Gradated (Head C) background Machins etched on the same cylinder and
printed in a single colour - one block in a lightish dull blue colour and the
other in a lightish dull mauve colour. These demonstrate how colour perception
is challenged by the amount of ink used for differing background types.- the
solid background images have a deeper etch resulting in the ink cells being
flooded with ink whereas in the case of the gradated background images the ink
cells can be very shallow (on the right hand side of the Queens head) resulting
in a lot less ink being picked up by the cell.
With the transition from photogravure cylinders (acid
etched) to gravure (directly engraved image) cylinders, a further variable was
introduced as can be seen from the following two 43p printings. In the case
of the acid etched method, the etch depth was the result of exposing the cylinder
to varying combinations of acid for varying amounts of time - this being controlled
by the expert eye of the skilled craftsman, whereas in the case of the directly
engraved image cylinders (for any given colour) it should be possible to produce
cylinders of a consistent and precise quality if unchanged engraving parameters
Other components that can effect the colour perception
include - overprints such as phosphor bands, varnish coating, iriodin inks and
iridescent inks (gives dirty impression).
Photogravure / Gravure inks are liquid / fluid inks and
are different from those used for Litho which are paste / greasy inks and this
adds a further variable when trying to produce consistent colours.
Some colours seem to produce a greater range of variations
than others - as an example the 9p Deep Violet (this colour was also used for
the 18p and 28p values with the same Head Type). When this was the prevailing
first class tariff rate (13th June 1977 to 19th August 1979) a raft of printings
where issued and these gave many colour variations which could range from Bluish
Violet to almost Grey.
The 1p Crimson and 2p Green values have been in use from
the outset of the decimal period in 1971 (40 years plus) with both values retaining
the same notional colour throughout. Again, a range of colour variations exist,
some subtle others quite marked. Royal Mail now call the 1p Maroon and the 2p
The colour names used are those designated in Stanley
Gibbons - Specialised Stamp Catalogue Volume 4 : Queen Elizabeth II Decimal
Definitive Issues. They use the convention of specific colours with qualifiers
such as dark, light, etc, whereas Royal Mail, in certain cases, use more ambiguous
terms such as Rhododendron, Rust, Sea Green, etc. Clearly, some of the colour
names allocated by SG are problematically - Violet (5½p is equated to
24p, 27p and 97p). Colours in square brackets are the Royal Mail names that
appear as Colour Imprints on counter sheets.