A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. Interested? So into the Blues...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Japan- Definitive Issues 1913-38

1938 Scott 255 3s rose
Type of 1913-26, Coil Stamp
Quick History
I thought I would break out the 1913-38 definitive issues of Japan, because they can be a bit tricky. Paper, Watermark, and Die (slight changes in size), are all variables. In particular, the new 1913 design for the definitives, illustrated above, is parsed into four major groupings.

1929 Scott 142 30s orange & green, "New Die"
Into the Deep Blue
A closer look at the stamps and issues
1913 Scott 118 2s green "Imperial Crest & Characters"
Ordinary paper, unwatermarked
In 1913, a new definitive set emerged for Japan. The design had the Imperial Crest and Japanese script in the center. This basic design would be used on stamps through 1938.

1913 Scott 124 25s olive green
Ordinary paper, unwatermarked
The middle denominations had the numerals on a white background (shown above), while the lower denominations had their numerals on a colored background.

The highest denomination, the 1 Yen, was bi-colored. Although additional denominations were added with subsequent issues, the basic numeral design format always follows this pattern.

1913 "Imperial Crest & Characters" Set
Ordinary paper, unwatermarked
The 1913 set consisted of eleven stamps. The CV is <$1-$2+, except for the 4s red (CV $10+), and the 1y yellow green & maroon (CV $20+).

The distinguishing characteristics of this set are it is on ordinary paper, and is unwatermarked. The next issues, the 1914-25, and the 1924-33, are on granite paper, and have watermark 141, the zigzag lines.

Let's look at the paper....

Left column: ordinary paper
Right column: granite paper
The easiest way to distinguish the Japanese granite paper issues is to look for the small embedded colored threads in the paper.

A closeup....

Granite paper
A close look should reveal the threads in the paper. If one compares with ordinary paper, the difference is even clearer.

Now, let's look at the watermark....

Upper row: watermaked 141 "zigzag lines"
Lower row: unwatermaked
As stated, the 1914-25 and the 1924-33 issues have the (usually) easily seen zigzag lines watermark. The 1913 issue is unwatermarked.

Well, what distinguishes the 1914-25 and 1924-33 issues?

Some differences are obvious: Different colors or denominations that are unique to the issue. But there is also plenty of overlap.

And the 1914-25 issue (18 stamps) are all given a major number in Scott. In contrast, the 1924-33 issue (10 stamps) are given major numbers for three stamps, and minor numbers for seven stamps.

But the major difference is one of Die and size. Let's look further...

1914-25 Scott 131 3s rose
Granite paper, Wmk "Zig-Zag", "Old Die"
The 1914-25 set consists of 18 stamps, and is on granite paper, and has the watermark "Zig Zag".

All of the colors and denominations found in the 1913 issue are also found in the 1914-25 issue. Clearly, a paper and watermark evaluation is necessary.

In addition, there are seven new denominations and colors found with this issue.

1914-25 "Imperial Crest & Characters"  Set
Granite paper, watermarked "Zig-Zag", "Old Die"
Shown above is the 1914-25 set. CV ranges from <$1-$9, with most stamps closer to the lower end.

Let's take a closer look at the 1 yen, and the 5 & 10 yen values...

1914-25 Scott 145 1y yellow green & maroon
Granite paper, watermarked "Zig-Zag", "Old Die"
As mentioned, the higher denominations in these issues are bi-colored. Rather attractive, Yes? 

But, the 1 Yen value is found in four permutations: unwatermarked, wmk "Zig-Zag" & "Old Die", wmk "Zig-Zag & "New Die", and wmk 257 "Curved Wavy Lines". A word to the wise. ;-)

1914-25 Scott 146 5y green "Empress Jingo"
1908 Scott 114 10y dark violet "Empress Jingo"
Be aware that the 1908 5y and 10y "Empress Jingo" is engraved, and unwatermarked, while the 1914-25 5y and 10y "Empress Jingo" is lithographed, and watermarked "Zig-Zag".

1930 Scott 135 7s red orange
Granite paper, wmk "Zig-Zag", "New Die"
The 1924-33 issue has 10 stamps, as mentioned, and has three new denominations (All given major numbers). The 7s red orange illustrated above is one of the new colors and denominations.

1929 Scott 144 50s yellow brown & dark blue
Granite paper, wmk "Zig-zag", "New Die"
Shown above is a new denomination color scheme found in the 1924-33 issue.

Let's take a look at the entire issue... 

1924-33 "Imperial Crest & Characters"  Set
Granite paper, wmk "Zig-Zag", "New Die"
As mentioned, seven of the ten stamps in the set are given  minor numbers by Scott. But there really is nothing "minor" about them. Fortunately, the Steiner album recognizes that fact, and provides a space for all of the issue.

The CV for the stamps in the set is <$1.

O.K, but what about this business between "Old Die", and "New Die", and how does one tell the difference- and consequently, the difference between the issues?

One will need to get out the Millimeter Ruler, usually found on the Perforation Gauge.

Measuring "Old Die" and "New Die" issue stamps
19 mm vs 18 1/2 mm width
"Old Die" stamps (The 1914-25 issues) measure 19 X 22 1/2 mm.

"New Die" stamps (The 1924-33 issue) measure 18 1/2 X 22 mm (flat plate), or 18 1/2 x 22 1/2 mm (rotary).

I find it is fairly easy to distinguish the width of the stamps, and 19 mm vs 18 1/2 mm is discernible.

Bottom line: For the "Zig-Zag" watermarked stamps that are 1/2s, 1s, 1 1/2s, 3s, 5s, 13s, and 25s- measure the width of the stamps to distinguish "Old Die" from "New Die".

Are we finally done with the "Imperial Crest and Characters" design?

No, some of them are included in the 1937 set with "Curved wavy lines" watermark, so we will revisit them presently. ;-)

But, beginning in 1922, there was also a definitive known as "Mt. Fuji". Let's take a look now..

1922-29 Scott 8s rose  "Mt Fuji","Old Die"
Between 1922-29, there was a 6 stamp issue with the "Mt Fuji" design, as shown. Of interest, this design is also found with the "Old Die"-"New Die" dichotomy.  This "Old Die" issue has two major numbers, and four minor numbers. Essentially, Scott took the "Old Die" stamps that were also issued later under "New Die", and gave them minor numbers.

1930-37 Scott 172 4s orange "Mt Fuji". "New Die"
Then between 1930-37, 5 stamps (4 major, 1 minor number) were issued with the "New Die". This 4s orange "New Die" was given a major number, while the 4s orange "Old Die", issued  in 1929, was given a minor number in Scott.

Just as I love all my children equally, I love all my stamps equally, and I will collect both the major and minor numbers of these issues. ;-)

Top row: 1922-29 "Mt Fuji" issue with "Old Die"
Bottom row: 1930-37 "Mt Fuji" issue with "New Die"
In Deep Blue (Steiner), there are spaces provided for both issues, as there should be.

Let's take a look at the "Old Die"/"New Die" size differences for the Mt Fuji issues...

20s brown violet
Left: "Old Die"-19 mm wide
Right: "New Die"- 18 1/2 mm wide
For the Mt Fuji issues, the "Old Die" stamp size is 19 X 22 1/2 mm, while the "New Die" size is 18 1/2 X 22 mm. Comparing the widths of the stamps (using a mm ruler if necessary) is easily accomplished.

1923 Issue "Cherry Blossoms, Sun and Dragonflies"
Imperforate, Wmk Parallel Lines
In 1923, a nine stamp issue was produced, illustrated above. CV is <$1-$20+. Of interest, the issue was imperforate, and without gum. But there are no complications with this issue, so just enjoy. ;-)

Let's take a closer look at the designs...

1923 Scott 183 4s gray green
"Cherry Blossoms"
The seven lower denominations had the "Cherry Blossom" design, although one can spot Mt Fuji and  dragonflies also. ;-)

1923 Scott 187 20s deep blue 
"Sun and Dragonflies" 
The two higher denominations had this rather interesting design. The imperial Chrysanthemum Flower Seal is placed above. The Sun is center, and a powerful symbol of Japan. The dragonflies? I don't know enough about Japanese symbolism to know if they are more than that.

 Wmk 142- "Parallel Lines"
Just to complete the picture, here is a view of the "Parallel Lines" watermark which is found, I believe, only with this issue.

"Empress Jingo"
1924 Scott 188 5y gray green, wmk "Zig-Zag"
1937 Scott 254  10y dull violet , wmk "Curved Wavy Lines"
In 1924, a replacement for the previous high denomination "Empress Jingo" design was issued. The 5y gray green and 10y dull violet were engraved, and with wmk 141 "Zig Zag".

But be aware that these stamps were also issued in 1937 with the wmk 257 "Curved Wavy Lines".

More about the rest of the 1937 issue soon.

1926-37 Scott 195 6s carmine "Yomei Gate, Nikko", wmk "Zig-Zag"
1937 Scott 247 10s carmine "Nagoya Castle", wmk "Curved Wavy Lines"
Between 1926-37, a four stamp issue was produced. Besides the stamp color and designs shown above, there was also a 2s green "Mt Fugi", and a 10s dark blue, also with the "Nagoya Castle" design. CV is <$1-$7. This stamp set has the "Zig-Zag" watermark.

But the 1937 issue also had the 6s carmine and 10s carmine, illustrated above, now with the "Curved Wavy Lines" watermark. So check out your 6s carmine and 10s carmine stamps, as they can belong to either issue. ;-)

Now let's take a look at the 1937 issue in its entirety...

1937 Issue with watermark "Curved Wavy Lines"
Includes the "Imperial Crest and Characters", "Mt Fuji",
6s carmine & 10s carmine (just discussed), and "Jingo" designs.
The 1937 issue, some 16 stamps, were based on the previous types of 1913-26. They are a hodgepodge of previous designs as outlined above. Many are the same colors, some differ slightly. But all have wmk 257 "Curved Wavy Lines".

Let's look at some examples...

1939 Scott 239 1/2s brown "Imperial Crest and Characters"
Watermark "Curved Wavy Lines"
The 1/2 s brown stamp in this design, then, can be found unwatermarked (1913), watermarked "Zig Zag" with "Old Die" (1914-25), watermarked "Zig Zag" with "New Die" (1924-33), and watermarked "Curved Wavy Lines" (1937). Similar choices are found for the other stamps in the 1937 issue.

1937 Scott 246 8s olive bister "Mt Fuji"
Wmk "Curved Wavy Lines"
The "Mt Fuji" 8s olive bister shown here has a doppelgänger issued earlier in olive green. But the colors are close enough, that watermarking is necessary in order to have certainty.

O.K., but what does the "Curved Wavy Lines" watermark look like?

Upper row: Wmk 257 "Curved Wavy Lines"
Bottom Row: Wmk 241 "Zig-Zag"
The reality is the "Curved Wavy Lines" watermark tend to have a lighter impression than the "Zig Zag" watermark, which is often obvious. But the watermark is there, and looks a bit like an EKG tracing.

This ends the close-up review of the tricky definitive stamp issues of Japan during 1913-1938. I enjoyed putting this together, as it helps to clarify my own thinking on these stamps. :-)

1919 Scott 143 50s dark brown
Granite paper, wmk "Zig Zag", "Old Die"
Out of the Blue
Most of the 1913-38 definitive stamps of Japan are inexpensive. So, grab the watermarking tray, the millimeter ruler, and combine with a close look at the paper (ordinary vs granite), and have fun! ;-)



  1. Re the Imperforate 1923 issue, the reason for the issue being imperforate, IIRC, is because of the massive earthquake that destroyed most of Tokyo in 1923 (The Great Kanto Earthquake). The '23 issue was thus an emergency issue to provide stamps for Japan in the interim until reconstruction of the metro Tokyo area allowed for resumption of normal stamp production (which would also account for the New Die varieties that begin to appear in 1924, as new printing equipment was brought in to replace what had been destroyed).

  2. Thanks for the historical explanation. That explains a lot and definitely clears up why one finds different Dies.

  3. Scott catalog also mentions that these imperforate stamps were privately perfed. I'm curious if anyone has any information on these. I appear to have one of the 4 sen copies.