The Hong Kong 'China' Overprints
British Offices In China 1917 - 1930

The First Issue – Watermarked Multiple CA Varieties

I strongly recommend that, if you wish to learn more about the varieties of both the "China" overprints and the regular Hong Kong issues, that you buy a copy of Mr. Halewood and Mr. Antscherl's book "A Study Of Hong Kong Definitives: King Edward VII and King George V"

A total of 6 shipments of the first issue on watermarked multiple CA paper were sent to the agencies.  From examination of the different requisition numbers, individual stamps can be identified by the shades of ink used as it appears that the initial requisition was printed in bright colors and succeeding issues became more muted and dull.   The first shipment of stamps to the Agencies did not have a requisition letter printed upon them by Somerset House and are referred to as the Nil Requisition.  The five succeeding requisitions were numbered A through E respectively but, what is interesting is that for some reason some denominations of some issues were not printed with Requisition numbers or Sheet Numbers. The 1c to 10c denominations were printed on ordinary paper, whereas the 12c to $10 denominations were printed on chalky paper.  In addition, the 50c denomination of the F Requisition, which was the first of the issues printed on Watermarked Multiple Script CA paper, was still printed on the regular Multiple CA paper even though it was printed and shipped at the time of the first requisition on the second issue.

First Issue Paper Varieties

A number of watermark varieties have been reported over the years.  The 1 cent has been reported with a watermark appearing sideways and another has been reported with the watermark inverted. 

The pair of the sideways watermark shown below are dated May 21, 1919 from Tientsin.  I believe that only one sheet of this exists as, so far, all examples have been reported as used with Tientsin cancels and, indeed, I believe that this pair was originally from a block of at least 4 (probably 6) as a second block of two with what appears to be the lower part of the Tientsin cancel was offered for sale by Stanley Gibbons in 2010. 

In addition, the 10c value has been reported with the watermark inverted and reversed (but only one used example is known to exist). 

An unreported variety of the 2 cent green with an inverted watermark has also just been discovered. A couple of examples exist, both of which appear to have been cancelled in Shanghai

First Issue Printing Varieties

Although some printing varieties appear on both the regular and Hong Kong overprinted issues, due to their being some Requisitions where only stamps to be overprinted were printed, most varieties are unique to the CHINA overprinted issues.  The most complete study of varieties of the Hong Kong issues was conducted by Halewood and Antscherl in their book and the listings below combine their classifications along with those varieties listed by Webb and others. It is unknown at this time if these varieties even appear on the 'China' overprints but it is possible that they do and so are listed for research purposes. Varieties of the stamps can be categorized by the following tables:

Large Multiples of the Stamps

The following links will show you large multiples of the stamps. These images are huge and take a long time to load but, if saved and opened in a program such as Photoshop, the close ups will clearly show varieties.
Block of 56 of the 1c (MCCA)
Requisition A 25c SW Section Full
Nearly full sheet of the 25c (Huge file size)
Another nearly full sheet of the 25c (unknown watermark)

Defects of the Crown

The Broken Crown

The most well known error of printing on the first issues is known as the “Broken Crown” which occurs at position SE 9-2.  Previously this error was thought to only appear on the Nil requisition and had been repaired by the time of the D requisition.  The two examples below not only prove the position but also show that the error still appeared at the time of Requisition A in November 1917, which was previously unknown.  The error had been retouched by the time of Requisition D and was later repaired. This variety, which appeared on both Hong Kong and China Overprinted stamps, makes a fascinating tale.  Although the stamps had been printed for some time, and indeed there had been two requisitions of these stamps sent to the Agencies (the Nil and the “A” requisition), it was not until the 2nd February 1920 that Postmaster of the British Post Office at Shanghai brought the matter to the attention of the authorities.  He pointed out that errors were being bought locally as “philatelic curiousities” and asked whether the Hong Kong PMG had been made aware of the error as he assumed that this was appearing on the Hong Kong issues as well and asked whether the unissued sheets would be withdrawn or if the defective plates would be discarded or corrected for future issues. The Crown Agents forwarded this complaint on February 3rd 1920 to De La Rue.

On the 10th February, 1920, De La Rue responded that the plate in question was satisfactory and that in printing “a sheet of paper may have sustained a particle of hard substance which damaged the overlay”

H&A # Webb # Position Image   Notes
  6 NW 2-3    

HK M Printing
Left side of orb defective. Bar below orb shortened on left. Dot on right eighth scallop usually also present

HAG8 14 SW 5-1

HK M to E* Printing
Second right pearl defective or absent. Also left extremity of diadem often thinned or showing break
Found on:
Req. A 25c

HAG14 20 SE 6-2   HK M Printing
Gap in center of right arch
HAG11 25 SW 6-6   HK ? to E* Printing
Diagonal cut on second right pearl sometimes involving adjacent diadem (a small defect with a long life)
Not found on:
Req. A 25c
HAG12 26 SW 7-1 Entire First Issue
Fourth pearl right side damaged
Found on:
Req. A 25c
HAG12a 26 SW 7-1   Entire First Issue
Fourth pearl right side missing
HAG15 31 SE 9-2

Nil and A Requisitions - 1 cent only
The Broken Crown
HAG15a 32 SE 9-2   D Requisition - 1 cent only
Broken Crown Repaired
  37 SW 10-4    

HK M to E* Printing
White horizontal scratch on flower above right side of circlet. Usually also a white fleck to left of forehead
Not found on:
Req. A 25c

HAG17       Broken circlet right base
HAG19       Defective right arch
HAG20       2 states - damaged crown top


Defects of the Portrait

H&A # Webb # Position Image   Notes
HAG54 40 SW 5-3

HK M Printing
Defect on tip of nose. Varies a great deal

  41 SW 6-4     HK M Printing
Small white patch above center of hair parting
Not found on:
Req. A 25c
HAG104 42 SW 6-6

Previously only reported around 1923-24
The Cigarette Flaw
    SW 6-6  
Cigarette Flaw precursor
HAG53 43 NW 8-6   All printings
2 mm cut on scalp from above head downwards towards left
HAG55 44 SW 8-6   All printings
The White Dot Flaw. Blank area at root of nose which on well marked specimens encroaches on eyebrow and gives a plain background to left. Retouched, possibly in two states, for a smaller flaw appeared for a time.
    SW 8-6   White dot inside medallion level with eyebrow
Interestingly found on the following without the White Dot Flaw (above) being noted:
Req. A 25c
HAG50 45 SW 7-3 All printings? 6c and 25c sheets badly printed
Wooly mark about the tip of the nose
Found on:
Req. A 25c
HAG51   NW 5-1 Broken shading on face
HAG56       White eyelid
HAG57       White cheekbone
HAG58       White temple
HAG59       White forehead
HAG60       White cheek and dot on eye
HAG61     White mustache
HAG63       Eyebrow nicked

White spot on neck

        Circle between eye and ear
1st issue 4c
    N? 10-?   Missing nose

Defects of the Medallion

H&A # Webb # Position Image   Notes
  49 SE 4-6     All printings?
Thickened marginal line in NE section. Constant for many years and never corrected. Varies in degree.
HAG105 53 SE 7-3

A small cut or fleck on medallion at center foot. An early defect later corrected.
Seen on 1c, 25c
  55 NW 8-3     All printings?
Cut from inside medallion through scallop 17L.
HAG175 69 SW 1-1   L21 Scallop.
HAG156 71 SE 1-3

R6 Scallop. (Not previously reported on the China overprints)
HAG177 88 NE 6-1   L20 and L21 Scallop.
HAG186 90 NW 7-1   L17 Scallop.
HAG186a 90 NW 7-1 L17 Scallop State 2
HAG189 94 SW 10-6 HAG189

L16 Scallop
Proved position on full sheet of 25c Requisition A

HAG100   NW 5-2 Dot level with mouth.
HAG101   NW 1-1   Dot above head.
HAG102   SW 2-6   Dot on coupe line.
HAG107       Two white dots at 9 o'clock (also found with HAG61.
HAG108       Crack in plate at 9 o'clock.
HAG109       Dot on medallion line at 3 o'clock.
HAG111       Defect on medallion line at 5:30 (HAG64 on same).
HAG155   SE 1-1   R5-R6 damaged.
HAG162       Break between R11-R12.
HAG163       R14 damaged.
    SW 5-6   R15 damaged
Found on:
Req. A 25c
HAG164   NW 9-2   Break between R15-R16.
HAG166       R17 damaged.
HAG172   NW 6-1   R19 damaged.
HAG173       R19 damaged.
HAG174       R20 damaged
HAG176       L21 damaged.
HAG178     Break between L20 - L21.
Found on 4c Nil Requisition
        L20 damaged
HAG179   SW 2-5   L19 - L21 damaged.
HAG180       L19 damaged.
HAG181   NW 8-3   L18 L21 damaged.
HAG182       L18 L21 damaged.
HAG183   NE 1-6   L18 damaged.

Break between L117 and L18
HAG187       L16-L20 damaged.
HAG188       L16-L17, L19 damaged.
HAG193       L6 damaged.
HAG194       L3-L4 damaged.
HAG195   ?E ?-1   L3 - L4 damaged.
HAG196   SW 6-4   R6 - R13 damaged.
HAG197   NW 5-2   R11, R15-R22, L15-L21 damaged
HAG199   NW 7-5   R17-R22, L19-L21 damaged.
HAG201   NW 6-2   R18-R22, L17-L21 damaged.
HAG202       R19-R20, L18-L19 damaged.
HAG203   NW 8-1   R19-R21, K17-L19 damaged.
HAG206   NW 6-5   R13-R22, L18-L21 damaged.
HAG208   NW 5-3   R16-R19, R21-R22, L14-L21 damaged.
HAG209   NW 6-3   R16-R22, L15-L21 damaged.
HAG210   NW 6-4   R16-R22, L15-L21 damaged.
        L20 damaged

Defects of the Duty Plate

H&A # Webb # Position Image   Notes
    NW 2-1   DISCOVERY COPY - only 1 reported so far.
1 cent
Joined sin (lower left) only seen on Requisition Nil so far
  60 NE 3-6     20 cents
NE floral ornament, circle at base broken
  64 All     25 cents
Left upper chinese character, short stroke across foot of diagonal.
HAG251       1 cent
Blob below Character "cent"
HAG264       2 cents
Nick on outside of inner left frame line just belo character "Two" and break in top of character "Cents"
    NE 2-6   Outer Frame Line Repaired Shown A damaged frameline has previously been reported on the 5c regular Hong Kong issues in three states ranging on Hong Kong requisitions G, P and Q.  This 2c overprint appears to have had the frameline thickened and repaired at some point.
        4 cents
Broken swastika
HAG310       6 cents
Two blobs below character "Cents"
HAG310a       6 cents
Two spots below character "Cents"
HAG310b       6 cents
Two small spots below character "Cents"
HAG311       6 cents
One small spot above character "Cents"
HAG312       6 cents
One blob below character "Cents"
        Broken Ornament
HAG350       12 cents
State 1 - damage to top inner frame line above left flower
HAG350a       12 cents
State 2 - damage to top inner frame line and left flower
HAG350b       12 cents
State 3 - damage to top inner frame line above left flower
HAG362       20 cents
Damage to bottom inner frame line above "cents"
HAG400       $1
Break in vertical ornament at bottom right
        Badly printed left ornament and flower
HKSC Jn 358/27 Ms. Susan Crewe

First Issue Stamp Booklet

The stamp booklets for both the first and second issues are shrouded in mystery.  While they have been listed in some of the catalogs they have been unpriced and there is no information in any of the standard sources other than the following: “March, 1912, P.M.G. Hong Kong had sent and example to the G.P.O., produced by the Hong Kong Printing Press, to contain16 4c, 12 2c and 12 1c stamps, total price $1.  The text on the back gave details of certificates of posting.  However, in 1916, the G.P.O. said there would be difficulty in producing them (it is not clear why), and it would prefer them to be made in Hong Kong.  It suggested that the cover should show the Royal Arms and “British P.O. Agencies in China” and that the booklets should contain (as proposed in 1912) 16 4c, 12 2c and 12 1c……The G.P.O. agreed to the Hong Kong proposal in December, 1916, subject to some adjustments in format and the printing of the booklets in red.  However it is not known whether they were actually produced, and no examples have been recorded; it seems possible that, as in Hong Kong itself at that time, the scheme was dropped.” (Perrin p. 14) The first mention of the existence of one of the booklets came in the HKSC Bulletin 235/22.

Since that time, some remarkable and extensive research has been conducted by Mr. Paul Campion who published his findings in the Hong Kong Philatelic Journal 18 in March 2014. (Which just goes to show how much is still to be discovered about the 'China' overprints!) His article is as follows:

Stamp Booklets at the Agencies in China, 1904 to 1930

By Paul Campion

A stamp booklet for use in Hong Kong and at the Agencies was introduced on 1st January, 1904 and until 31st December, 1910 sales at the Agencies were combined with sales in Hong Kong for the purpose of reporting to London. 

Use of the ‘Imperial Penny Post Scheme’ at the Agencies, however, generated significant losses for Hong Kong and on 1st January, 1911 London directly assumed the financial responsibility.  In 1910, combined booklet sales were exactly 9,000: 2,717 sold at the Agencies (2.1% of Agency stamp sales) and 6,283 sold in Hong Kong (1.9% of Hong Kong stamp sales).  After 1st January, 1911 booklets became unavailable at the Agencies and booklets sold in Hong Kong were amended to remove all reference to the Agencies.

There was, however, still demand for booklets at the Agencies and a request was made to London for new Agency booklets.  The GPO London wrote to Hong Kong enquiring as to booklets in use there and in March 1912, the Hong Kong PMG sent an example of Hong Kong booklet SG SB4a to London; he explained that they were locally produced.  Nothing further happened at that time.

The subject of Agency booklets next arose in 1916 when preparations were being made for the introduction of the ‘CHINA’ overprints.  The GPO London said that there was a difficulty in producing booklets and that it would be preferable for them to be made in Hong Kong.  The ‘difficulty’ was that booklets made in the UK, by De La Rue, were machine made and required a special set of printing plates, in a completely different format to normal sheet stamps; this was expensive and the additional cost could not be justified.  As a result of the 1912 correspondence, the GPO London already knew that booklets being sold in Hong Kong were made locally from ordinary sheet stock and their suggestion was for a similar booklet to be made in Hong Kong, for use at the Agencies. 
The GPO London wrote to Hong Kong proposing that the cover should show the Royal Coat of Arms and the title: “British Post Office Agencies in China” and that the booklets should contain: 16 at 4¢, 12 at 2¢ and 12 at 1¢ – as used in Hong Kong.

In reply the Hong Kong PMG proposed a revised format of: 8 at 2¢, 6 at 4¢ and 6 at 10¢ as this would be more useful given the postage rates at the Agencies, where there was also little use for 1¢ stamps; he further proposed a red cover for the booklets.  This was agreed by London and from 1917 to 1922 an annual batch of 5,000 Agency booklets was produced in Hong Kong.  Initially booklets contained the 1917 ‘multiple crown CA’ watermark issue (SB1); in 1922 the ‘script’ watermark issue was used (SB2).

All Agency booklets were made using covers produced by ‘Hongkong Printing Press’.  The back cover showed: “RATES OF POSTAGE FOR LETTERS”.  The covers were always printed in black ink.  The paper used for the covers was ‘stiff wove’ but there are some variations in the shade of red from batch to batch.  Booklets were assembled by hand; the 3 panes of stamps were inter-leaved with 3 sheets of glassine and the booklets were stapled using a ⅝ inch wire-spool stapler (diameter 1⁄100 inch).  Whilst the back covers of all booklets are identical, the front was adjusted for each batch.

SB1 Type 1 (1917 – 5,000 produced, 1 recorded example) has poor vertical alignment and omits the last “s” in the 2¢ description.  [Note: break in ‘N’ of AGENCIES]:


SB1 Type 1
Cavendish March 2004 (#488) ex. Richard Chan

SB1 Type 2 (1918 – 5,000 produced, 2 recorded examples) has improved alignment (the 2¢ and 4¢ lines were moved to the left and the spacing adjusted) but the “s” is still missing in the 2¢ description.  [Note: break in ‘N’ of AGENCIES as Type 1]:

 Agencies Type 2.jpg

The booklet shown was misdescribed in the auction catalog when sold as an SB2

SB1 Type 2
Spink Hong Kong 2001 (#2227), 2002 (#1612) and 2003 (#1184)

SB1 Type 3 (1919-21 – 15,000 produced, 5 recorded examples) “Stamp.” became “Stamps.” and full stops were added on the 4¢ and 10¢ lines.  [Notes: i) break in ‘N’ as Type 1; ii) breaks in ‘ES’ of AGENCIES; iii) the right edge of the ‘S’ of AGENCIES and the added full stops have perfect vertical alignment; iv) varieties of Type 3 exist: the Coat of Arms was moved to the left by 0.7mm and the printer’s name was adjusted; whilst such varieties allow each batch to be identified, they are not as immediately obvious as the differences illustrated here]:

 Agencies Type 3.jpg

Agencies Booklet 4 SB1 Type 3.jpg
SB1 Type 3

SB1 Type 4 (1922 – 1 recorded example).  The broken ‘N’, ‘E’ and ‘S’ of ‘AGENCIES’ were all replaced.  [Note: the new ‘S’ protrudes 0.5mm beyond a vertical line drawn through the full stops after ‘Stamps’]

SB1 Type 4
Spink 2003 (#1183)

SB2 Type 1 (1922 – 2 recorded examples).  This is exactly the same cover as SB1 Type 4 but contains the 1922 ‘script’ issue stamps. 
The watermark had no significance in making up a booklet; all that mattered was that it contained the correct number of stamps.  It is likely that 5,000 booklets were made up in 1922 containing either issue; the number of each issue is not known. It is even possible that a single booklet might have contained both issues (but none has ever been reported).
The ‘script’ issue stamps were only available from 1st March, 1922 and by November 1922 Hongkong Printing Press had been replaced by Ye Olde Printerie as printers of booklet covers.  Thus the batch of 5,000 booklets produced in 1922 (SB1 Type 4 and SB2 Type 1 combined) must have been produced between these dates.

SB2 Type 2 (1922 – 3 recorded examples).  The 1918 (SB1 Type 2) cover is known containing the 1922 ‘script’ issue stamps with 4 interleaving panes.  The circumstances surrounding this issue and how many booklets were produced, are not known.  All that can be said is that, for some reason, a number of 1918 booklet covers were printed but not used in 1918, and, in 1922 or later, these covers were used to produce additional booklets.

The image shown in the linked article came from an internet auction and has no stamps inside. It was wrongly described by the seller and was, in fact, SB1 Type 3

SB2 Type 2
Unitric July 2013 (#1542)

Whilst the exact annual sales numbers of Agency booklets is not known, it is likely that all SB1 type booklets were sold (at the rate of 2% of stamp sales 1917-22, approximately 27,000 booklets would have been sold during the period).  Following the closure of all other Agencies on 30th November, 1922, unsold booklets were returned to Hong Kong and later sent to the Wei-hai-wei offices. Sales of both types of SB2 were, most likely, less than 5,000 and were predominantly issued at the Wei-hai-wei offices, which closed on 30th September, 1930.  No new booklet covers were printed after 1922.















Stamp sales at Agencies:







Stamp sales at Wei-hai-wei (included above): 1921 – $11,287 and 1922 – $12,635.