It took 15 years from the first issue of the penny black in Great Britain, before the first Norwegian stamp was printed and used.
The postal department seems to have approached various firms for suggestions for the printing of the stamp early in 1854, but the first documentet approach came 17th of may with a suggestion of a portrait of King Oscar, though this was discarded. More essays followed, and N.A.H. Zarbell´s suggestion of using the lion and crown was accepted. 2nd of June 1854, the postal government orderes 2 million copies of this stamp, with an impression in the paper, a relief watermark of the norwegian lion holding St.Olaf´s axe. Paper was to be supplied by the firm Bentse Brug. 20th of June the contract was approved.
Information in this article is based on “4 skilling 1855″, Centenary of the norwegian postage stamp”, Jellestad 1955 and “Norway number one, the new handbook” by Tore Gjelsvik 1994.
The first essay of King Oscar was quickly discarded, while the essay of the lion and crown was refined and finally accepted.
The nominal value of the stamp was set to 4 skilling, since this was the current cost for sending domestic letters. The department did not consider this stamp to be much used for shipment abroad, since this was at this period not of a large volume. This is also shown in that the country of origin, Norway, is not mentioned on the stamp.
The paper was made of mainly pure hemp, boiled into a mass and smoothed out on a frame where it dried. The thickness hence varies between .06 to .1 millimeters and has a generally grey-white colour. Since the paper contains course fibres, the printing was some times of poor quality. Each sheet is divided into four areas (A, B, C and D) with large areas of unprinted paper between them. The stamps also have a 3 mm horizontal and 3.5 mm vertical clear area, the “cutting area” where postal workers used scissors to cut out individual or strips of stamps.
This manual and local cutting has had a huge effect on the stamps value in our times, since an acceptable stamp is defined as having at least 1.3 mm white border around the print. Larger borders gives higher value. This is comparable to the other stamps internationally that also were manually cut out from the sheet.
The watermark is easily seen, even some times with just holding it up against a light source, showing the lion holding St. Olaf´s axe.
This watermark may in rare casess be found inverted both vertically and horistontally, since the paper may have been set into the printing machine up-side down or flipped.
The reasons for adding such a watermark is to ensure that forgeries would be easily identified. The postal department officials were afraid for such a misuse of the stamps, especially since this was all new to them. In hindisight, we know that few forgeries were made, and those few are fairly easy to identify, making the watermark method a quite effective measure.
The gum varied in both colour and thickness, being at first thin grey-white and later thick yellow. This thick gum is from reapplying new gum to the sheets since they found the quality of the original gum to be unsatisfactorially. Be aware that the gum is extremely seldom to be found on unused copies. Most unused copies we have today are uncancelled stamps taken from covers or stamps with gum washed off.
The gum dries up over time, and has been found to crack up and increasingly may ruin the stamps itself. This is why it is seldom to find true unused stamps, and why the price for such stamps are high. The image is of a stamp with a removed X in ink. Be aware of these so-called unused stamps, that you sometimes find offered on online auctions.
The colour is generally blue, with a range of shades. Usually these shades are divided into light-blue to blue, dark blue, and greenish blue. This greenish blue is considered to be “… especially beautiful”. The printing process in 1854 was manual and the colour of the ink was mixed for each print they did, creating these variations. Also you will find this stamp being printed with thick and muddy ink, giving a blurred impression.