You have probably all heard of the famous 1d red plate 77 lettered B-A or, as its most commonly known, “The B-Blank error” (fig 1, right)
The first run of sheets printed omitted the hand punched letter A in the bottom right corner. When spotted this was immediately corrected and reprinted as plate 77b with the letter A restored.
However, you may not have heard of the problems Perkins Bacon had much earlier with the 1d Black plate 5. The Imprimatur for the plate was first registered on 1st June 1840 with another sheet registered on the 11th June 1840.
It has been suggested that these represent before and after hardening of the plate but there is no evidence to support this. In fact the plate was in continuous use during this time so hardening of the plate seems unlikely. The earliest known use of Plate 5 is 17th June 1840.
Around October 1840 certain units needed to be repaired. This was mainly to repair worn areas around the head or broken side lines.
However, the strengthening of side lines and corners did not always lead to better looking stamps. The repairs were done by re-entering the units with a master impression without corner letters. These impressions lead to a firmer head and side lines
but caused weakening of the upper stars and check letters (these are known in the catalogues as the First Repair State 2).
Although T-A was one of these units that required these improvements, T-B was not chosen at this time but should have been, when you see the weak side lines and corners of the example from the second Imprimatur sheet (fig 3 left).
As a result of the repair to T-A, a large scrape was left in the margin between T-A and T-B (fig 3, above right) together with scratches to the left hand frame line of T-B.
Plate 5 was one of the plates chosen to print the new 1d red stamps and on 4th January 1841 printing began of the 1d red. This is called the pre-provisional printing in red and T-B would have been printed during this time with the scrape as per the 1d black as illustrated by the plate number pair (fig 4, below). This original state in red is particularly rare as they were only printed between 4th and 8th January 1841. This was because the Post Office were running out of black stamps and
requested an emergency supply, as they could not last until the issue of the new 1d red stamps due from 10th February. The red stamps could not be bought forward because the Post Office notices for a new red stamp, with black obliterating ink, had already been published.
In addition, the animosity between Rowland Hill and Colonel Maberley, the secretary of the Post Office, contributed to the latter steadfastly refusing to approve Hill’s recommendation that the new stamps be issued earlier than planned.
Therefore, on the 22nd January 1841, Perkins Bacon reverted to printing plates 5, 8, 9, and 10 in black again and these were known as the “Provisional Printings”. Incidentally, Plate 11 was first printed in the red colour but subsequently was also used for black printings and 700 sheets were printed, in black, during the 1st and 2nd of February, hence their scarcity.
It was realised that before they could enact the provisional printings, certain units required further repair.
One of those was Plate 5 T-B. During January 1841 before the 22nd, which was when they started printing these stamps in black again, they repaired T-B by re-entry to remove the scrape and also to repair the side lines.
The result was that the stars were a bit thinner and the check letters had virtually disappeared, particularly the letter B which I now refer to as the Blank B error (fig 5, top right).
These provisional black stamps were only printed for up to a maximum of 7 days during the period 22nd January to 3rd February 1841, and are understandably rare.
After this period the plates were printed in red again and show the repairs that were put in place for the new black printings (fig 6, bottom right).
The 1d red units were repaired again around April/May 1841 and are known as the post provisional repairs, but T-B was not repaired again at this operation.
Therefore this 1d Red with the almost Blank B, was in use until the plate was taken for its post-provisional repair on 24th March and reintroduced on 7th July until its removal altogether on 7th September 1841. The plate was destroyed on the 12th November 1841.
As a footnote there are some very interesting letterings on Plate 5 which had repairs done throughout each stage. Many other letterings had undergone multiple repairs including the rare P-B.
This is a very nice plate to collect with some real hidden rarities amongst them.
Perkins Bacon GB Postage Stamp Printing 1840 – 1846 Volume 1 and 2 – Alan G Druce
The Essential Guide to the GB Line Engraved 1d and 2d Stars Volumes 1 & 2 Plates 1-11 – Kenneth William Statham
Repairs of the 1841 1d plates 1-40 – J.W.M. Stone M.B., F.R.P.S.L.
Stanley Gibbons – Specialised Queen Victoria Catalogue Volume 1 16th Edition 2011
Thomas Rhein – Fig 1
Stanley Gibbons Ltd – Fig 2
Robin Cassell of Mulready Philatelics – Fig 3
Royal Mail Group, Courtesy of The Postal Museum (Phillips collection) – Fig 4