Paper Types

Paper Composition

The paper on which the Spanish-Philippine stamps of the period 1890-1897 were printed was generally a handmade woven paper.   Montalbán and Cuevas (1982) in their work describing the History of Spanish postal stamps, record a Royal Decree dated 22 January 1889 where the Minister of Finance authorized the Directorate General of Taxation to acquire for the National Stamp Factory a printing machine and a thousand reams of continuous paper. Each ream consisted of the equivalent of five hundred sheets; so, the paper supplied for printing must have reached about half a million sheets (or fifty million stamps). This quantity is likely to have only served the needs of Spanish postage for about 4 months (Abalos, 2005). Taking into account the requirements of the National Stamp Factory for Spain and her colonies there must have been a number of similar acquisitions for the supply of paper. It therefore seems likely during the eight year period which printing of the Philippine stamps took place that printing would have been made on many different paper supplies. Given that acquisitions could be both discretionary and follow an auction system it is likely that the paper used may also have originated from different suppliers.

Castro et al (2008) undertook specialised studies to consider the composition of the paper. In a Principal Components Analysis of Baby Head stamps issued for Spain of this era they concluded that different kinds of paper were used, and therefore had probably been supplied by different dealers.   

Castro et al (2008) also analysed the paper support by Raman spectroscopy which identified the paper as cellulose based. Castro et al concluded that it was difficult to determine which kind of fibre had been used in the manufacturing process of the paper, but it appeared that towards the end of the 19th century, mixtures of pine fibre and eucalyptus were used. At that time, there were well-known processes in existence to whiten the pulp during paper manufacture. Due to the fluorescence from the whitening, the filler could not be detected, even though according to XRF data, it was clear that filler existed and that an appreciable quantity of calcium was present.


As the baby head stamps are printed on woven paper, when the paper is held up to a light the texture has no discernible pattern. This is a function of the paper manufacturing process as the paper is formed on a mould and so the pulp forms an even web of fibres. Compare this to laid papers where vertical or horizontal lines are apparent from the wires used during the paper making process.

However, Harradine (1987) indicated that in May 1895, following the April 1895 1c rose issue (Scott #141), that ‘a very small shipment of some few thousand stamps printed on both heavy and lightweight papers with a glaze (laid paper)’ were received.

Opaqueness or Transparency

Palmer (1912) who described the following ‘thin paper’ varieties:

1891 issue of 25c dull blue on thin semi-transparent paper (the 1892 issue is described as having thicker paper)

1891 issue of 10c pale claret on thin semi-transparent paper

1895 issue of 1c rose on thin semi-transparent paper (the 1894 issue is on thicker paper)

The 1891, 25c dull blue issue is also recorded has having a colourless gum (that is, a different gum type than was normal for this period). Similarly, the 1891, 10c pale claret is described with a thin white gum, evenly spread and non-streaky. Although the gum may have an influence on the appearance of these stamps, Palmer’s description of opacity is a useful starting point for the identification of the ‘thin paper’ varieties. That is, the stamps have a semi-transparent appearance.

The most useful method of identifying the semi-transparent appearance is by placing the stamps face-downward on to either white or black paper which is in turn placed onto a surface through which light does not pass. For those stamps which are on semi-transparent paper the design can be clearly seen through the back of the stamp. Note that the gum should be present, as the absence of gum can give the appearance of transparency. Care should also be taken that the design that can be seen is due to transparency rather than an offset created during printing or due to pigment adhering to the gum during storage.

 The ‘normal’ paper on which the majority of all issues were printed has a low transparency when viewed using this method. Occasionally grades of transparency may be detected. However, it is useful to examine examples of the 1891, 25c dull blue issue, which can also be identified by the colour shade and worn plate used for the printing as a baseline for the expected appearance, as the entire 1891 issue was printed on thin semi-transparent paper.

Mencarini (1896) had also previously noted a difference in the paper types used in the 25c dull blue issue describing them as “papel periodico” (newsprint paper) and “papel salinado” (salinated paper?) for the 1891 and 1892 printings, respectively.

 The following issues were issued on thin semi-transparent paper (i.e. this paper type is common for these issues):

1c rose (1895 printing)

5c blue (1890) but not as thin or as transparent as others of this type

5c slate green (1890)

25c dull blue (1891 printing)

Examples of semi-transparent paper varieties occur in the following issues where the common occurrence is that the stamps are on low transparency paper,

2 4/8c dull blue (1890)

8c yellow green (1890)

8c red brown (1894 printing) but not as thin or as transparent as others of this type

10c pale claret (1891)

#165, 10c claret (1894)

12 4/8c yellow green (green shade variety) (1890 printing)

#176, 20c orange (1896)

25c brown (1890)

1/8m dark violet (1890)

1m olive grey (1894)

Harradine records the #144, 2c claret (1890 issue) to be on thin paper. However, Harradine records that the issue was entirely printed on thin semi-transparent paper, which is not the case, although this may be just a repeat of Galvez's description which as discussed below may simply represent that the paper type in general was thinner than the 1894 issues.

 Peterson (2005) indicated a single example of #144 2c claret (1894 issue) on thin paper. However, it is noted that this example is a used stamp, and as noted above I have found that for stamps where the gum is no longer present, the assessment of paper thickness is difficult and generally unreliable.

Paper Thickness

Galvez and Stanley Gibbons describe thin and thick paper for the 1890 and 1894 issues respectively. These descriptions are intended to refer to the physical thickness of the paper and not directly related to the transparency of the paper. The primary feature that these catalogues appear to be differentiating is that the 1894 issues tended to be on thicker paper than the other issues. However, the term thin is not necessarily the same quantitative term as used by Palmer (1912) but rather relative to the 1894 issues. The descriptions of ‘thin paper’ have perhaps been influenced by that of Palmer’s descriptions and in some instances are mixed with the true description of thin ‘semi-transparent’ paper and hence the listings in these catalogues can create confusion as effectively two descriptive frameworks are being adopted and occasionally interchanged.

 To provide some indication of the quantitative paper thicknesses, in general terms thin paper may be 0.001 inches whereas thick paper can be up to 0.005 inches. Although digital micrometers are now available to provide an accuracy of measurement to distinguish paper thicknesses, in general terms an indication can be provided by simple feel of the thickness and stiffness of the paper between the fingers. For example, although paper thickness does vary across the 1894 issues, one of the most notable issues to display a thick paper type is the 1894 6c orange issue. In this issue the paper thickness (and opaqueness) can generally be clearly distinguished from the 1890 and 1892 issues by simple inspection.

 Paper Colour

For completeness it is noted that variations in paper colour have also been recorded, although complications of opaqueness and toning have significant impact on the reliability of these descriptions. Galvez’s specialised catalogue records a variety of the 1890 2c claret (#144) issue as ‘carmin sobre amarillento’ that is, a yellowish paper. (Harradine may have mistranslated this entry in his catalogue recording instead a “yellowish carmine” shade variety of the ink). It is notable that a good proportion of the 1890 2c claret issue does appear to have a yellowish colour, although it is difficult to be confident that this is not due to toning or a change in colour over time. Galvez recorded a higher catalogue price for the variety on yellowish paper suggesting it was relatively less common. Harradine does not mention the paper thickness or transparency of the #178 25c dull blue (1891 issue) but describes the 1892 issue to have “thick, grey paper”. Stanley Gibbons also record 1892 issue on “greyish paper”.









Gum Types

Paper Types

Sheet Formats