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The Tuvalu Historical Ships of 1981 – The “INPEPENDENCE” Error Revisited

February 26 , 2011

Brian Cannon

I originally wrote the following article for KI-TU News, the journal of the Kiribati and Tuvalu Philatelic Society. It appeared in the Issue 82, November 2010.

November 20, 2011Update:
A Tuvalu collector, Herbert Chamberlain has reported that he has a sheetlet with the spelling error overprinted SPECIMEN. That would indicate that two sheetlets per master sheet exist. However, it does not affect the main context of the article, unless there was a mixture of cylinder 1A and 1B in the bundle of 500 sheets released by the Philatelic Bureau.


I recently purchased a complete set of sheetlets of six of this issue on eBay for $4.50 (U.S.), well below the face value of $12.30 (Australian). At the time of bidding, the low resolution photo seemed to indicate that the 35c sheetlet had the “INPEPENDENCE” spelling error. Sure enough, when it arrived, it was the real deal (fig. 1).

Tuvalu Ship Stamp
Fig. 1

This led me to research out this issue, in order to attempt to determine how many copies may be in existence.

The first reference to this variety that I found was the Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau News & Views No. 23, of October 1981 (page 3). The following was written:

Tuvalu Ships

Prior to release date it was discovered that on part of the printing of one stamp the 35c Whaler INDEPENDENCE II in the gutter margin only, the ship's name was incorrectly shown as INPEPENDENCE II. These sheetlets were set aside for use only after tearing into singles for FDC's, mint sets, presentation packs etc. It is now known that one package of 500 sheets was used in the normal course of making up orders, it is most unlikely that all 500 existing sheetlet form, most will have been torn into blocks or gutter pairs or even used on FDC's as gutter pairs. Any customer with either a sheetlet or gutter pair of this stamp with the name incorrectly shown will have it replaced and all costs involved in returning the stamps credited to their account.

The above quote raises the question: how many other sheets with the spelling error were actually produced? And how many now exist?

Speculation on the layout of the  master sheet format and the announced quantity sold of single stamps can help us here.

We know from previous stamp issues that were printed by Format Security Printers, that the layout of the master sheets consisted of 80 to 100 stamps (or labels), cut in two. The amount of actual stamps per sheet was greatly reduced in some cases due to extra gutters, such as those issued in sheets of 16 with cross gutter blocks.

Assuming this format is the case for the Historical Ships, I have digitally reconstructed a sheet, Fig. 2. I have made an assumption on the location of the two different cylinder numbers, 1A at the top and 1B at the bottom. However it is quite possible that 1A is on the left, and 1B on the right.

    Tuvalu Shop Stamp
Fig. 2 (Click on it for enlargement in new window)

The imagined layout indicates that there were 48 stamps in a master sheet. The Philatelic Bureau stated that 71,821 single stamps were sold or used as postage. I round this up to 72,000 to allow for waste or damaged stamps. Doing the math, this would mean 1,500 master sheets were printed. This equates to:

1,500 master sheets x 8 sheetlets = 12,000 sheetlets

There are 4 positions of each sheetlet 1A and 1B, total 8 positions, which means:

12,000 sheetlets / 8 positions = 1,500 sheets from each position, or 6,000 each of 1A and 1B.

The question now is how many positions on the master pane had the spelling error? I have only seen plate 1A with the spelling error – but do any of the other four positions have it? The News and Views article indicated that the sheetlets were packed in bundles of 500. That would indicate that there were 3 bundles of 500 for each position of 1A and 1B.

Assuming that the spelling error was in a single position and only 500 sheetlets managed to slip by, but with many of them torn up into singles and cylinder blocks, that would make them quite scarce. Less than 500 would exist, but it would be virtually impossible to determine the exact amount. This would also indicate that the other two bundles, 1,000 sheetlets, were destroyed, in that they were all torn up so that the gutters were removed. That would indicate then that 4,500 normal 1A sheets would exist, and 6,000 1B sheets. This seems like the most obvious scenario, because if the error was in two positions on row 1A, then that would mean another 1500 would have been destroyed, leaving only 3,000 normal sheets left. That is unlikely, based on the following information that appeared in Maneapa No. 28, First Quarter 1986, Pages 16, Journal of the Tuvalu and Kiribati Philatelic Society:

At a 1984 auction, a full set of sheetlets (including the 35c sheetlet with the label error) went under the hammer for $200. This can be compared with prices of $3.50 (Plate 1A) and $14.00 (Plate 1B) for full sets of the sheetlets without the error.

Quite apart from the $200 tag for the error sheetlet, the difference in prices for the two plates is curious. It would seem to indicate that Plate 1B is in shorter supply than 1A.

However, I doubt the price difference back then between normal 1A and 1B sheetlets would mean anything - $14.00 is just above face value. All indications would indicate 1B would be more common, due to many examples of the errored 1A being torn apart.

Unless of course, sheetlet 1B does exist with the spelling error – if so, then perhaps more sheets than previously thought may exist, as it is very doubtful that sheets with cylinder 1A would be packed with cylinder 1B in the bundles of 500. Has anyone seen an example of the “INPEPENDENCE” error on sheets with cylinder 1B?


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