By William Kwan
Are these Plate Proofs, as some well known catalogues claim, or are they something else?
According to an article by Marcus Samuel (sent to me by Mr. Patrick Pearson after HONGKONG'97), these are HONG KONG (OR DE LA RUE) CROWN COLONIES STAMP COLOUR REFERENCE SHEETS privately kept by the printer in its archives.
What happened was that on 22 September 1870, Warren William De La Rue proposed to Mr. W.C. Sergeant, the Agent General for Crown Colonies, that De La Rue should be allowed to keep a perfect record of all the Crown Colonies Stamps Printing Plates by making "an impression of each form, printed on its own paper and in the proper colour." Security would be provided by gluing the sheet onto a piece of cardboard. This proposal was rejected on the ground that security was not properly provided and in any event, there was already a specimen book kept by the Controller.
Not to be thwarted so easily, De La Rue wrote once again on 26 November 1870 and proposed to take "an impression on printed enamelled card, which would not possibly be used for stamps" and would therefore "meet all the requirements for security" by adding the word CANCELLED in grotesque bold condensed capitals. He added that it was a pain trying to compare specimens kept by the Controller.
The latest proposal was accepted and a series of the Crown Colonies Stamp colour reference sheets were made between the end of 1870 and early 1874 for Bermuda, Malta, Ceylon, Cape of Good Hope, Dominica, Jamaica, Mauritius, Natal, New Zealand, St.Christopher, Sierra Leone, Strait Settlements, Western Australia and Hong Kong.
Only 1 sheet of 240 stamps of each value of each of these countries was printed and they became available to the public possibly because the De La Rue premises were bombed during the Second World War and most of the archival materials or what remained of them were disposed of through a private well known dealer.