Collecting: Firm Has World of Stamps Licked; Harry Hawkes Sees a Brilliant Future Expanding the Country's Biggest Postage Stamp Printers Here in the Midlands

Article excerpt

Byline: Harry Hawkes

The announcement of the formation of a new international consortium of specialist security printing firms, headed by a company here in the Midlands, should bring whoops of joy from industry in the region.

Walsall Security Printers, the enterprising, innovative firm leading the consortium forming the new firm, International Security Printers, the new name more accurately describes the firm's activities.

Founded as a private family business in 1894, Walsall Printing Company set about building up what was to become an unsurpassed knowledge of design and printing techniques which enabled it to establish itself at the forefront of reliability and quality of work.

In the 1960s, Walsall Security Printers Ltd was floated off from the family printing firm as a separate private company producing millions of valuable security items each year.

Today, this includes millions of stamps for Royal Mail together with the postage stamps for more than 60 overseas countries stretching from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

In fact, today, WSP - the initials by which the firm has come to be known - has steadily grown into one of the world's leading security printers, not only of postage stamps but also of non-philatelic security documents for companies and official organisations worldwide.

It has been building up its teams of experienced designers and printers over many years and offers customers research and design services. Meanwhile it has its own laboratory where there is a continuing programme of research into new printing materials, techniques and production methods.

It was the success of these research personnel which led to the world's first self-adhesive postage stamps being issued by Sierra Leone in February 1964. The ten stamps in this set, developed, designed and printed at Walsall, represented one of the most significant steps in stamp production since the days of Queen Victoria and Sir Rowland Hill.

Certainly, whether it be from hygienic or other reasons, millions of people the world over have been busy buying these non-lick stamps in preference to those with gummed backs, so many in fact, that it looks possible that the gummed versions will disappear altogether eventually - a good example of how research and development carried out by forward thinking firms such as WSP can change the habits of a lifetime for millions of people around the world.

With such an apparent bright commercial future ahead, it could be easy to forget some of WSP's earlier successes.

One such occasion was the time when the firm was invited to take a stand at the prestigious London International Stamp Exhibition of 1980. This was a noteworthy occasion as the Queen was expected to pay a visit to the show and call at the WSP stand.

Seeking to produce something really exceptional, it was decided to re-create the world's first postage stamp printed by the lithographic printing process.

The stamp, from the Swiss canton of Zurich had been issued in 1843, just three years after the Penny Black.

By 1990 however, the centuries-old lithographic printing method from a stone had faded away in the face of the more modern printing techniques in the industry. While many of the older printing hands who were familiar with the techniques of litho printing were still around, the actual machines used for the process had long been withdrawn from use, scrapped and broken up.

For 12 months employees of the Walsall firm searched everywhere for an original litho printing press to reproduce an authentic facsimile of the black Zurich 4 rappen local stamp.

Surprisingly, after inquiries all over Britain and abroad, the search for an original century-old printing machine was successful only a few miles away from WSP's factory in Midland Street, Walsall. Broken and unusable, and believed to be 120 years old, it was discovered in the basement of the Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham. …