The stamps of Palestine under King George VI

At first glance, the pictorial definitives issued by the Palestine Mandate offer little to interest the KGVI collector. Although 16 values were released, there were only four designs, which the Israeli philatelist Meir Persoff summed up as 'unimaginative and dull'. A second glance, however, will offer much to excite the specialist collector, and particularly the collector specialising in the reign of King George VI. During that period the pictorials appeared on a number of different types of paper, which, along with new values, plate varieties, perforation and watermark oddities and a quite complex series of coil printings, helped to make the King's reign one of the most complex and rewarding periods of Palestine philately.

In this article I will attempt to provide a general overview of the issues, and will therefore cover the different papers used for the stamps, major plate varieties and the coil printings. Essential information can be gained from the Bale Palestine Mandate catalogue, which is the leading work on Palestine stamps.


Pictorial definitives were issued by the British postal authorities in Palestine between 1927 and 1948. In the early 1920s the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, proposed that a pictorial set should be issued to replace the existing overprinted definitives. A number of suggestions were made about the designs for the proposed set, including the possibility of using arabesques such as those on the stamps of the Hejaz. The Postmaster General suggested that the set could depict scenes of local interest, and held an open competition for people to submit photographs of relevant landmarks. Sir Herbert chose four photographs showing the Tower of David at Jerusalem, Rachel's Tomb, the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem and Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The stamps were designed by Mr Fred Taylor, who had already prepared a successful series of railway posters. The Royal Mint made four essays and fourteen dies from his designs. Surviving artwork, essays and a series of die proofs are kept in the Royal Mint Collection in the National Postal Museum in London.

The stamps were printed in typogravure by Harrison and Sons. Gibbons divides the stamps into two sets, SG 90-103 and 104-111, with the latter consisting of new values and colour changes which were produced to eke out the original set. The first stamps printed were the 2m-13m, the 20m, 50m, 90m, 100m and 200m. In 1932 the 90m value was withdrawn, the 15m appeared and the 4m (deep purple), 7m (violet), 8m (carmine-red) and 13m (brown-bistre) appeared in new colours. The set was completed in 1942 when the 250m, 500m and £1 values were issued.

The low values were printed in sheets of 250, made up of 10 rows of 25 with gutters after the 10th and 20th stamps. They were comb perforated 13½ x 14½. The high values (50m and upward) were printed in sheets of 200, made up of 10 rows of 20 with a central gutter. The 50m-200m are 4.5mm wider than the low value stamps, while the 250m-£1 are 5.5mm wider than the low value stamps. Ail the high values were comb perforated 14.

Paper Changes

Between 1927 and 1947 the pictorials were printed on four different papers. When they first appeared in 1927, they were issued on very thin, semi-transparent paper with streaky, slightly brownish gum. As the thin paper tended to curl in the hot climate of the Levant, making it difficult to handle, in 1928 stamps were issued on a thicker, vertically-ribbed paper. This paper remained in use till about 1940, when a stouter wove paper was introduced for definitives. Wove paper remained in use until the final printings of Mandate stamps in 1947. A fourth paper type, horizontally-ribbed paper, was only used once in 1937.

As the new vertically-ribbed paper did not significantly alter the appearance of the stamps, little notice was taken of the new paper at the time. As a result, most vertically-ribbed stamps were used and mint copies are much harder to find than used. Despite this, none of the vertically-ribbed stamps are expensive.

Vertically-ribbed paper has a number of defining characteristics. The ribbing is fairly pronounced, and the gum is clear, though tropicalised examples exist with yellowish gum. The watermark is not clearly visible from the back of the stamp.

Little work has been done on identifying printings of vertically-ribbed stamps. Bale lists a number of shades of vertically-ribbed stamps, and some of these may be tied to specific printings.

Most of the vertically-ribbed stamps printed during the reign of King George VI were printed from plates which had been produced in the 1920s. New plates were introduced for a few values. A new plate of the 15m was introduced in 1937 (Plate 2), followed by Plate 2 of the 5m in 1938 and Plate 2 of the 6m, 7m and 8m and Plate 3 of the 2m in 1939. With the new plates came a new gutter design, so stamps with adjoining gutters may be linked to their correct plate.

There were three printings of the 15m on vertically-ribbed paper using the new plate, and two of the 5m using the new plate. By contrast, there was only one printing in 1939 of vertically-ribbed stamps from the other four new plates. Consequently, some of these vertically-ribbed printings from 1939 must be fairly rare. Some 52,500 6m Plate 2 and some 26,250 8m Plate 2 stamps were despatched to Palestine. These figures compare favourably with the overall figures for the 6m vertically-ribbed (3,758,500) and the 8m vertically-ribbed (9,395,750).

In July 1937 Harrisons released an experimental printing of the 2m, 3m, 5m, 6m, 7m, 8m, 10m and 15m on horizontally-ribbed paper, which resembles vertically-ribbed paper in all respects other than the direction of the ribbing. Horizontally-ribbed stamps are the gems of Palestine pictorials. They are very scarce mint, and the 2m, 3m and 10m are the rarest of the lot. Bale prices the 2m in mounted mint condition at US$625. The 3m is one of the rarer stamps of the late 1930s. Only four mint examples are known, one of which has no gum. This stamp is catalogued mint at US$4,250, though in 1993 a copy was sold at a Dr Wallach auction for US$4,600. The 10m may be undervalued at US$400 mounted mint, as it is almost impossible to find.

Other horizontally-ribbed stamps are much cheaper in mint condition, and may generally be bought for about US$100 each. Used horizontaily-ribbed stamps are very cheap. Most are catalogued at under US$7.50, with the exception of the 3m, which is listed at US$36.

Dr Arthur Hochheiser has published one of the few known examples of a booklet which contained a pane of the 15m on horizontally-ribbed paper. Many of the 3m, 5m and 15m stamps were used to make up booklets, and consequently may be found with miscut perforations. Panes of horizontally- ribbed stamps have been found in the same booklet as panes of vertically-ribbed stamps.

The precise date of introduction of wove paper is unknown. Coil stamps were printed on this paper as early as 1935, but sheets stamps appeared much later. In The Postage Stamps of Palestine 1918-1948 Mr David Dorfman records the earliest date of use of a wove paper sheet stamp as 7th June 1940. As vertically-ribbed stamps were printed during 1939, it is generally assumed that wove paper first appeared in 1940. The introduction of wove paper is usually seen to be a cost- cutting measure brought about by the Second World War. Wove paper was used until the Mandate ended in 1948.

The Second World War also brought about inflation and higher postage rates, leading to the release of three new high values (250m-£1) in 1942. These stamps are only found on wove paper. In all, there were fourteen printings of wove paper stamps between 1940 and 1947. The 4m, 7m and 8m were not printed again after 1941, while the 13m was not printed again after 1944. The 250m, 500m and £1 were printed twice in 1941 and then not printed again.

Little work has been done on identifying different printings of wove paper stamps. My observations are that there are clear differences in paper and shade between stamps printed in 1940 and stamps printed later. Early printings are on a fairly stout off-white paper with yellow-brown gum. Stamps tend to have a dull appearance. Shades include greyish-blue (2m), orange (5m), deep green (6m), carmine (8m), slate (10m), dull purple (50m), turquoise (100m) and greyish violet (200m). Later printings may occur on slightly thinner white paper with tinted or clear gum. Shades are generally brighter, and include prussian-blue (2m), vermilion (5m), chrome-yellow (5m), blue- green (6m), pale red (8m), grey (10m), bright purple (50m), bluish or greenish turquoise (100m) and bright violet (200m).

In addition, I have noticed examples of the 5m (vermilion), 10m (grey), 20m and 100m (greenish turquoise) on very thin paper. This paper has clear transparent gum and the watermark is clearly visible from the front of the stamp. The paper is white and the stamps have the bright appearance characteristic of later printings.

None of the later wove paper printings are rare mint, as large stocks of stamps left behind by the postal authorities were released on the philatelic market. Some of the early printings can be hard to find.

There are a number of watermark and perforation varieties of wove paper stamps. The 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 15m and 20m values are listed in Bale with inverted watermarks, while the 10m has been found with the 'C' missing in watermark. A pair of the 50m is known horizontally imperforate between. Bale lists the 3m, 5m, 6m, 7m, 10m, 13m and 20m on wove paper with rough perforations. The 100m is known with a blind perforation at the bottom left corner. Finally, the 5m is known with the sheet current number inverted. This latter variety is usually sold in plate strips of five.


  1. D. Nangri, GEOSIX No 178, 1995.