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China Small Dragon Stamps

Uploader: NIKKOPublication: 2016-07-29
Basic Information Category: Stamps & Postcards Subcategory: Stamps (Cancelled) Year: 1885 CE Century: 19 CE Country of Origin: China Issuer: Imperial Maritime Custom Service
SpecificationLength: 2.25 cm Width: 1.95 cm
Custom Small Dragon Stamps, officially called Chinese Custom Second Cloud Dragon Stamps or simply known as the Small Dragons, were issued on November 25th 1885. They were the second set of stamps issued in Chinese history, and the first featured with watermarks. The Small Dragon set consists of three stamps and the face value is also denominated in Candarins: 1 Candarin in green for printed matters, 3 Candarins in purplish red for regular mails and 5 Candarins in yellow for registered mails. The graphic design of the Small Dragons is similar to the Large Dragons featuring a dragon playing marbles in the clouds.

The Small Dragons were copper plate, relief printed by the Printing Plant of Shanghai Imperial Maritime Custom Service (IMCS) Book Making Department. The dimension is 22.5 x 25.5mm, and a full sheet contains 40 stamps (2x4x5). The watermarked papers were manufactured by the British. The watermark of the Small Dragons is a circular Taichi logo locates at the center of each stamp. According to I-Ching, an ancient Chinese divination, the Taichi logo supposed to be positioned as white (Yang) on the top and black (Ying) at the bottom. The British manufacturer, however, overlooked this detail resulting the watermarks being an oval shaped Taichi with Ying and Yang standing side by side to accommodate the shape of the stamp.

Furthermore, the workers at the Shanghai printing plant were not aware of the watermark design, so the papers were placed at random directions during the printing process resulting four different kinds of watermark position variations: the correct position, upside-down position, reversed position, reversed upside-down position. Philatelists can, therefore, seek for four different watermark patterns for each denomination of the Small Dragons.

The Small Dragons also have a lot of color variations due to the inconsistency of the original inks and different degrees of fading over the years. Because of the purposely chosen aniline based ink, the printings on the Small Dragons stamps will dissolve completely when it comes in contact with water; it will also fade easily when placed in a humid environment. This characteristic makes gum removal of the Small Dragons challenging as the traditional water submerge technique will damage the printings on the stamps.

Like the Large Dragons, each of printing dies of the Small Dragons were also individually molded and then bundled together during printing. The rearrangement of the printing dies resulted different plate variations since it was not a fixed plate.

The Small Dragons have two different types of perforation. The first perforation type (1885-1888), being 12.5, has rough edges due to the excessive wear of the old punching machines used for the Large Dragons. In 1888, new punching machines were imported, so the second perforation type, being 11.5, has much sharper edges.

The total numbers of Small Dragons issued: 1 Candarin: 508,667, 3 Candarins: 850,711 and 5 Candarins: 348,161.
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