Fish Definitives: 1979-1983

Sheet and Printing Configurations

The final pane layout that was delivered to Tuvalu must be one of the oddest ever used for definitive stamps. Each pane consisted of 38 stamps and two labels, divided by horizontal and vertical gutters. It would appear that this method was used in order to obtain as many collectable configurations as possible.

  1. Sheetlets of 4 with 2 labels
  2. Sheetlets of 2
  3. Cross gutter blocks of 4
  4. Horizontal gutter pairs
  5. Vertical gutter pairs
  6. Cylinder gutter blocks of 4
  7. Printer inscription blocks of 4
  8. Booklet panes of 4 stamps.

(Click on the numbers in the regions to see actual stamp samples from the boxed off areas)

The panes were available for sale intact, and the miniature sheetlets of 2 and 4 were cut out on demand. There does not appear to have been much demand for the sheetlets of two as they rarely appear on the philatelic market.

The booklet panes were torn from the sheets (8 different values) and stapled between printed cardboard covers. As a result, they do not really have any separate collectable status without the covers.


Another unusual aspect of the printing format was that the original stamps were printed in sheets with panes of two different values side-by-side. These were then guillotined into separate panes of individual values before shipping to Tuvalu. The combinations used are illustrated below.

Horizontal Stamps: 1c to 50c

Vertical stamps: 70c to $5.00
(Sheet turned sideways)

The 45c value was added later, and was printed in sheets of similar panes, one inscribed 1A in the lower right margin, the other 1B. (See Border Types)

When some of the values were reprinted with different border screens, it did not necessarily mean that the partner stamp received a new screen. For instance, the 8c was reprinted with the coarse blue screen, while the 20c remained unchanged, virtually identical to the original. However, both the 30c and 40c were reprinted with the coarse screen.

When Format International went into receivership after the Leaders of the World scandal in the mid-1980's, some quantities of certain values of the Fish definitives became available to the philatelic trade in imperforate form. It is unknown whether the panes of twin values were perforated before or after splitting. I have yet to see any imperforate pairs of different values, which would have to span a gutter and match with the pairings above. This may indicate that the sheets were split into the two panes BEFORE the perforation process.

The 45c on 50c overprint is yet another item of interest. It is known that the typography version was applied to perforated panes of the 50c value sent back to the printers from Tuvalu. However, this was not the case for lithographed version. According to research by members of the Tuvalu Philatelic Society in 1982, in cooperation with the Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau and the printers, it was learned that the printers could apply the lithograph overprint only to imperforated sheets of stamps. This would indicate that the surcharge had to be applied during a new printing, as it is known that the printers did not have any imperforate over-runs on hand at the time. Since the 35c stamp was paired with the 50c, that stamp would have to have been reprinted also. This would seem to indicate that a large amount of unneeded 35c stamps (60,000 plus) would be on hand, but some were most likely used for the new booklets issued in June, 1981.

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