The Prince and the chancer
The so-called Prince Consort Essay was a surface printed stamp sample created in 1850.
The instigator was Henry Archer, who wanted to print and perforate stamps under a contract between himself and the British government.
The Irishman was trying to show that, by using Surface Printing instead of Line Engraving, and perforating the stamps on one of his own machines, the Post Office could achieve a better product and save about £2,000 a year compared to what they were paying the current printer, Perkins Bacon. And Archer would pocket a few quid for himself.
Archer had the plan but was not a designer or engineer. Before he could perforate stamps he had to get some printed so Robert Edward Branston was engaged to produce them from an engraving by Samuel William Reynolds.
The plan was to depict Queen Victoria, but Edwin Hill, older brother of Rowland Hill and Britain's Controller of Stamps, cautioned Reynolds against using the Queen's portrait because, he said, it could look that they were forging stamps. Prince Albert's image was used instead.
All the essays have the check letters "F" and "J", possibly taken from the initials of Ferdinand Joubert who is believed to have played a role in the creation of them and went on to pioneer and design Britain's first surface printed stamp, the 1855 4d.
The Prince Consort Essay was printed from electros taken from a master plate of 12; the dozen positions each have unique characteristics. The essays were printed in Brown, Red-Brown and Black Imperforate, and Red-Brown, Black and Blue perforated 16 by Archer. They were in sheets of 36 (3 rows of 12), as well as 240 and 252 (21 panes of 12).
The majority were left imperforate but there are 36 perforated examples known. Of those 30 are black, three are brown with the same number in blue, one of which made £38,080 at auction a few years back. There is one rouletted example in the Royal Philatelic Collection.
The examples shown here are a “set” of shades issued imperforate.