Home Up Commentary Victorian Centenary Macarthur Silver Jubilee Tasmanian Cable SA Centenary NSW SESQUI Hermes AIF Peace Gloucester


Background to Rotary Recess Printing.

Rotary recess printing equipment was purchased from London and installed at the Commonwealth Stamp and Note Printing Branch in 1933. A Chambon machine was bought to print postal notes. Letter press machines were replaced by the recess process.

The introduction of Hoe rotary recess presses at the Stamp Printing Office in 1934 foreshadowed the replacement of all other methods of stamp production. Little wonder. Rotary presses were capable of producing 1200 printsheets per hour.  In 1927, standard letter rate consumption was around 2.5 million stamps daily. Output from any flat plate press was approximately 30 ‘sheets’ per hour. This only tells part of the difference. The printsheets used for rotary presses were nearly 5 times larger than flat recess, holding, eventually,  some 640 subjects.

Initially,  curved copper 'plates' were created by transfer roller for direct printing by the rotary press. In the course of experimentation to make printing plates, in general, survive longer, they were backed by nickel, and ultimately, finished with a chrome surface.  The initial Vic centenary was pure copper plate, the subsequent Jubilee experimented with nickel, and by the time of the SA centenary, chromium was added to the plate make-up. ALL are variously termed 'copper', 'nickel', or 'chrome' plates. The emphasis being, they are direct printing plates.

In stark contrast, copper electros  are produced from a single master 'steel' plate which itself is created by transfer roller. Copper electros

From 1934, to the introduction of the zoological series in 1937, various refinements were made in the methods used for and on the rotary presses. Viz.

bullet1934 Victorian Centenary.
First use of rotary presses.
Basic curved  plates.
Chalk surfaced paper.
Dry ink printing.
bulletMarch 1935 2d Anzac.
bulletMay 1935 Jubilee.
Copper electros
bulletApril 1936 Tasmanian Cable
bulletAugust 1936 SA Centenary
Nickel Plated Copper Electros.
bullet1937 Experimental KGVI Series.



In his first report on July 20, 1927, John Ash recommended rotary machines for plate printing and modern letter press machinery: "I hope with the Commonwealth Bank's support to place the organisation on a sound, labour-saving and highly efficient basis with every assistant in each department pulling his weight, so that the Note Printing Department will be a credit to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia . "

When John Ash took charge, the note printing methods were so old fashioned that 66 machines were in constant use. Now 15 do the work of the 66 and the output has doubled. In 1927 employees in factory numbered 374, average costs per 1,000 notes £46/10/8d. Notes produced in the year 47,509,000. In 1939, employees numbered 293, average costs per 1,000 notes, £20/8/-. Notes produced 103,106,000.


On April 5, 1940, John Ash presented his 14th report and retired.

The Herald Melbourne, ran a long article

under the heading "Man who made millions is glad to stop on April 19, 1940:

"The one man in Australia who has made millions, and has seen fabulous fortunes go up in smoke, said today he had had enough and would be glad to get Out of the moneymaking game.

Mr John Ash, Manager of the Note Printing Branch of the Commonwealth Bank, which undertakes the printing of all Commonwealth Currency as well as postage stamps, retires today after thirteen years in that position with thirty-five years experience behind him. When he was brought to Australia by the Commonwealth Bank he was manager of the department of Thomas de La Rue & Co Ltd in London, which printed notes and stamps for the Government of forty-four British Colonies and Protectorates. Mr Ash said today the Commonwealth now possesses the finest securities printing works in any country.

Some of our own special machines were the first in the world to be used and we are the only printing works in the southern hemisphere that engraves and manufactures printing plates on steel which serves as a base for the deposition of nickel steel printing plates for notes and stamps.

When John Ash retired, he was asked by the Editor of the ASM for a parting message to philatelists:
"Well, to do this I would like to say how much I appreciate your friendly criticism, especially those who think that there are too few varieties. This I feel is the highest form of flattery. May your hobby enrich you in mind and body.
With best wishes, Yours sincerely, John Ash

The ASM, in their issue for May 1940 under the heading of A Great Printer, John Ash

Retires :

"Philatelists will be sorry to learn that Mr John Ash has retired.

Mr Ash was responsible for the issue of all except the first of the Australian Commemoratives and in addition to many other Australian stamps, has also printed stamps for Papua New Guinea, Nauru and New Zealand.

As far as his official position would permit, Mr Ash has been most helpful to Australian philatelists and upon a number of occasions facilitated visits by philatelists to the Note and Stamp Printing Works and has gone to considerable pains to explain the various processes of stamp manufacture.

Mr Ash has likewise visited every philatelic exhibition held in Melbourne since 1927 and has always been ready to discuss the technique of stamp production with Commonwealth specialists.


Mr Ash leaves the service of the Commonwealth Bank with the best wishes of every Australian collector and we personally wish him every happiness in his retirement.

Isaac Ash, known to his many friends as Eric, his son, was to carry this famous name associated with Australian stamps for another 53 years. His contribution to the study of our stamps through the British Society of Australian Philately, was outstanding and his enthusiasm and warm friendship was appreciated by all students of Australian philately that knew him.

Some extracts from the Postal Administration report for 1937-38 make interesting reading. Letters, postcards and packets totalling 889,770,900 were dealt with, and there were 8,489,375 registered labels. The number of postal notes sold was 21,425,599 of a value of £7,705,689.



Prior to this momentous event two types of printing techniques were in use, both using flat plates.


a) Flat plate electrotypes as per the combined definitive KGV/Roo series, generally built from individual lead cliches to produce a single electroplate.

b) Flat steel plates as per the 1d KGV and some later, Ash created, KGV denominations (post 1926). Built from a transfer roller from an original steel die (purposely engraved or altered for typography) and generating soft steel plates, later hardened. This process sometimes was further embellished by using the subsequent steel plate as a 'master' for growing alto plates for subsequent electrolysis.


Flat recess steel plates specifically intended for recess (deep impression) printing. The recess technique as such could not be employed on electrolytically grown plates as they were too soft.

Recess printings, being sharper in design, and much slower in output of stamps, were restricted (generally) to commemorative issues on sale for a short period.

The entire method of stamp production changed dramatically on introduction of the rotary presses. Within a few short years all other methods of production were dispensed with. In every way, including ink and perforations, the Rotary presses gave an outstandingly superior result, in huge volumes. There was no reason to continue with other methods.

The rotary presses were so successful they remained in use, practically unchanged, for several years after the change to decimal currency. Only the introduction of the Chambon multi coloured photogravure presses eventually saw their demise. Even then, it was only the efficiencies of producing plates by the Chambon method that replaced the rotary recess printings. The Chambon method was less efficient at producing the actual stamps.

Fuller details of the rotary recess methods are supplied in the zoological chapter, since it was the zoological series, and the introduction of efficient coil making machines, which standardised the method of production for the next four decades.

This chapter surveys the initial rotary recess issues, prior to the zoological series.

In the beginning, the rotary presses were restricted to commemorative issues. This was more a throwback to the belief that recess issues, begin harder to produce, meant commemoratives, whereas the standard letter rate definitives et al, remained surface printed KGV and Roos .

Within three years of introduction this attitude changed. By 1935 it was decided to do away with typographed issues altogether and introduced what became the zoological series. It took however until 1937 for this policy to be put in practice due to circumstances no printer could have control of:- death, and abdication, of kings.




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