Home Up Background d Roo 1d QM Die1 1d QM die2 1d QM Brown 1d green 1d brown 2d Die1 2d Die2 2d purple 3d Blue 3d Brown 4d Koala 5d 6d Kooka 9d Platypus 1sh Lyre 1/4d KGVI


The Printers
1st Issue
2nd Issue

The Zoological Definitives are stunners. They are my all time favourite issues of Australia, with Chambons from a different era coming  second.

The designs and the colours are simply gorgeous. Put yourself back to before WW2 and imagine the impact these issues had.

The genesis of a definitive series without a royal head began with the Tasmanian pictorials of 1897.  The sky did not fall in, war was not declared, and cows still milked in the morning. This 'precedence' continued with Australia's first definitives, the dual Roo / KGV issues, which were an each way bet (KGV did not replace Roos, they are the same series, created, and printed, identically, in the same print runs.)

Australia was a young, confident nation, very firmly 'British', and no pressing need to keep stating it. The public's acceptance of pictorial issues, most notably the zoo theme, was firmly entrenched with (of course) the kangaroo and, the 3d/6d kookaburra commemoratives).

What changed here was the production method. A massive, earth shaking change.


Rotary Recess printing presses were introduced in 1930. They were initially restricted to banknotes but, also used from 1934 on for commemoratives stamps. 

It was time to replace the kgv/roo printing method. And that occurred 3 years later in 1937. It was always intended.

It is a mistake to view the earlier commemoratives as a learning curve for what came next. Granted, experiments with chromium plating were taking place, and a few other modest innovations, BUT, the long format rotary plate layout was established from the outset. The eventual small format, 640on zoo printsheets were experimental from the very first issue and were reworked many times in the first two years. The 'learning curve' for this series, was, this series.

The revolution however, was massive. Instead of producing a few sheets of 120 KGV 'subjects' on a warm day, these machines (eventually) produced 640on printsheets per minute. Of course, the workforce never got the benefit with shorter hours, or better pay, the excess were sacked.

ALL initial plate makeups (and printings) were experimental. Not one layout survived into the change of perforation. Imprints were moved, gutter lines narrowed, multiple pane layouts were trialled (eventually settling with 640on), copper plate versus electro plates (plural) were experimented with. Coils and booklets trialled.

A wonderful, rich, harvest for the philatelist. The last word will never ever be written on this series.


wpe11.jpg (32037 bytes) Unissued KE8th 2d.

waterlow essays

This design was to appear on the 1d, 1d, 2d, 3d and 1/4d. Dies and plates having been completed. One sheet was presented to the Governor of Victoria, Baron Huntingfield before the abdication during a visit to the printing works. He removed this block and returned the rest for destruction.

The new series was intended for 1936 but was abandoned due to the death of KGV on Jan 20th 1936. Again, the series was redesigned for issue in 1937, but for the abdication of KE VIII on December 10, the same year. The series was redesigned a third time and issued appropriately at the coronation of KGVI in May 1937.

The series was intended to replace all permanent issues. Specifically typograph issues, specifically KGV and Roo. Thus all current denominations were replaced, with the exception of the 2 Roo value that was deemed no further use, and the 2/- Roo continued. There is some irony in these two values as the initial 2 Roo was designed and printed in error. J.B.. Cooke misread a request for a 2/6d roo as 2!

The replacement series comprised of











Roo not replaced










KGV (Airmail discontinued.)






Roo discontinued





Roo (KS Airmail discontinued.)











Only two different image sizes were employed for the series. Medium format - high value (1/6d and beyond) were 32 x 22mm all others were a not-seen-before small, coil format 17 x 22mm. The small format was no doubt influenced by Britain’s coil design. It matters not that the design-image is horizontal or vertical in these issues there are only two formats ever used. The small format persisted throughout the use of the rotary presses into decimal currency.

By convention, this series is separated into small (Zoo) and medium (Robes) format.

The small format is referred to as zoological rather than KGVI because of the dominant presence of Australian flora and fauna.


Meaning a collection of generally different denominations, of ten of different designs, and not necessarily issued at the same time, but making up a grouped issue of stamps.


Steel plate engravings where the surface of the steel is recessed with the ink part of the design. The raised metal of the plate forms the white impressed part of the paper.)

Volume Stamp Production’.

Typography, or surface printing, was the most economic method of reproducing ‘plates’ for large volumes of stamps. The alternative method used in Australia was flat recess plates that while producing far superior images were restricted to limited issues such as commemoratives. The difference between Typography and Flat Recess in this instance was the ability to quickly reproduce ‘electros’ as the typographed ‘plates’ wore out.

‘Printsheet’ is a term that declares a full-size printing sheet on the press. This was generally 4 times larger than sheets issued to post offices (after guillotining). See related terms 640 on, millsheet and po sheet.

Rosenblum page 197.

Die. The general term for the original stamp sized image that is subsequently transferred multiple times onto a printing plate, directly, or otherwise.

transfer roller’

Generally, the original die is not used for direct impressions onto a plate. Instead, the die is impressed into a circular steel roller, which contained one or many impressions of that die. The roller subsequently was used to ‘roll in’ the impression into a steel plate (or other medium). This method had the practical benefit of speed and preservation of the original die from excessive wear. Because the transfer roller was rolled down the plate, making successive impressions, varieties on plates can be categorised as being in ‘repeating strips’ (being on singular roller positions), or unique plate flaws ( flaw inherent on the plate rather than the roller). Naturally, unique die flaws do not exist when only one die/ transfer roller is used on a plate, as whatever inherent ‘faults’ are in the die design are present on all units!

Chalk Surface’

Chalk or Enamel coated paper was initially used as a pre-requisite of the new ‘fast drying’ inks, that didn't require dampened paper. The ‘chalk’ being there to soak up the ink before it left the presses.. Subsequent improvements to the fast drying inks were found not to require chalk paper.

Dry ink printing’

First introduced specifically for the rotary presses, this process allowed pre-gummed paper to be used. All previous issues (typo and recess) were ‘damp printed’. This meant that gumming had to be performed as a 2nd operation (generally by hand) after printing. The repercussions were significant. Dry ink printing was subsequently extended to the final (1935) flat-recess printings of the 1/- lyre, 3d airmail, and probably the 1934 printing of the KS 6d Airmail (distinctive dark Grey brown). This resulted in these specific printings of these particular issues being somewhat larger in design, having no shrinkage. Eg to the usual Type A/B airmail and horizontal / vertical mesh of the 1/- Lyre must be added the overall larger stamp!

Copper Electros.

The jubilee issue saw the change from curved steel to copper electros. This partly because of the poorer dry ink adherence to the steel plates in the earlier 1d Die 1 Macarthur issue, and mostly because of a desire to add the benefits and experience in manufacture of electros (in typography) to quickly produce ‘plates’. It should be remembered that in the early part of the century, Australia was a front runner in innovation. It did not have the manufacturing base to produce quality machinery and consequently purchased from England, but in all other aspects, technology was transferred back to the ‘mother country’. This and all other innovations, leading up to the zoo series were purely Australian in origin.

Nickel-plated electros’

The experimental use of copper electros on the Jubilee was a disaster, with the largest quantity of varieties of any Australian issue before or since. For reasons unknown the subsequent 1936 Tasmanian Cable issue didn't suffer. However the next issue of SA Centenary introduced, again experimental, nickel plating on the copper electros. Again, due to the new technique, there are many varieties.


Home Up Next