The very attractive fish definitives were place on sale in Tuvalu on January 24, 1979. The original set consisted of 18 values. A surcharge and an additional value followed later. There were several reprints, and subsequently six values exist with two distinct border types. In 1981, all values were overprinted OFFICIAL, for use on government mail. Two types of overprints were used, and these, in combination with the border types, produced many very interesting collectable varieties. The overall printing quality of the stamps was quite poor, and therefore many constant flyspeck varieties exist. There are so many, that it is possible to "plate" complete sheets of most values from single stamps.
NOTE. A second series of Fish definitive designs by Gordon Drummond was released in 1997 (which see)
Two types of overprints: Typography and Lithography
See Surcharge Tab for more details
The booklets consist of left marginal blocks of 4 torn from the regular sheets.
Single stamps or panes are therefore indistinguishable as separate varieties.
Date of Issue: 1980-02-20
Date of Issue: 1981-06-16
See Officials Tab
See Specimen Tab
- Original Set -
Sheet Format -
Border Types -
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.
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.
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.
All stamps in the series were printed with a solid border of about 1mm thick around the fish design, and a half-tone coloured screen that extended into the perforations. On each stamp value, both the screen and solid border were printed with the same plate, therefore in the same colour.
Two different distinct screen types were used for the border on the initial printing. One is a fine screen, consisting of about 300 dots per inch at a 60° angle, and was used for 14 of the values. The other is a coarse screen of about 175 dots per inch, at a 45° angle. This was used for 4 values.
The first printing was as follows:
Fine Screen: 1c, 2c, 4c, 6c, 8c, 10c, 20c, 30c, 40c, 70c, $1, $2, $5
Coarse Screen: 15c, 25c, 35c, 50c, 45c new value added in 1981
Fine Screen - 300 dots per inch
CourseScreen - 175 dots per inch
Two types of fine screen borders were used. The 2c and 4c were printed with two colours, while the other values were printed with one colour. Under a magnifying glass, there are some other slight differences between the borders used on the 2c and the 4c and the others, but these are irrelevant as they were not shared with other fine screen values.
With the first printing, there were 4 types of coarse screen borders. This is significant, because further reprints of some values had the borders switched from fine to coarse. Also a new 45c design was added in 1981, and this value incorporated two different border types that had been previously used, and three retouches on one of them.
The 45c Value of 1981
The 45c value, added in 1981, is the only value that is known to have more than one coarse screen border type. However, the oddity about it is that there was only one printing of this stamp, and three different border types were used. As mentioned previously, it was the only value that was not paired with another during the printing. It was printed in two panes of 38 stamps side-by-side, which were guillotined apart for distribution. The left panes were inscribed plate 1A, the right plate 1B.
For some strange reason, the left pane, inscribed plate 1A, had some of the stamps with border type C2, and others with the retouched type C2A. One single stamp has the retouched type C2B, and one type C2C. The 45c value is the only one that has appeared with type C2A, C2B and C2C. The complete second column of all 1A sheets have border type C2, along with stamps in the positions of row 4 stamp 3, and row 8 stamp 1. C2B is located in row 2 stamp 3, and C2C in row 8 stamp 4.
Yet on the right sheet, inscribed 1B, all the stamps are type C3, the same as used for the original 35c stamp, and the 30c reprint. To summarize, the 45c value exists with 5 distinguishable border types:
1981 45c on 50c Surcharge
Date of Issue: 1981-01-19
This value was produced in order to have a stamp available for the new first class airmail rate to North America and Europe, which came in effect on January 1, 1981. Initially, 17,000 50c stamps were sent to the printers in order to apply the overprint. That is all that was available, as sufficient quantities of the 50c value had to be kept for other current rates. At the same time, the 50c stamp (along with several other values) was ordered reprinted, and 60,000 of them were requested with the additional surcharge. These took longer to produce and had to be shipped later.
The initial overprinted stamps were done by typography, and were placed on sale only at the General Post Office in Funafuti, for postal use. The Postmaster did not consider supplies large enough for philatelic sales. The first day of sale was January 19. The second printing, which had the overprint applied by lithography during a complete new printing of the stamp, was not available in Tuvalu until February 26, 1981. These were sold only through the Philatelic Bureau.
By April, the Philatelic Bureau ran low on gutter pairs, cylinder blocks and other configurations from the complete sheets. They were able to acquire about 260 of the typographed varieties from the Post office, in order to meet customer demands. It must be pointed out that at this time that the Philatelic Bureau (and stamp collectors) were unaware that there were two different varieties. They were not identified until well after the stamps were replace by a new 45c design in June.
Identifying the Varieties:
The Philatelic Bureau announced that the total quantity of 45c overprints sold was 60,383. This of course includes both varieties. Since they received some 260 full sheets of 38 of the typographed stamp from the Post Office (10,000 stamps), that would indicate the Post Office sold about 7,000. Most of these would have been used for postage by the natives, and any remainders destroyed. How many of the Bureau's 10,000 were sold is unknown, but since they acquired the additional sheets for breaking up into gutter pairs and cylinder blocks, it must be assumed that most of these would have been torn out and sold as such. Any loose remainders could have been sold as singles or used as postage by the Bureau, but the probability is low. Most standing order accounts would have already been filled with the lithographed version.
The following collectable configurations can be obtained from a single sheet of 38:
The above configurations account for 22 stamps. Assuming they all sold, multiplied by 260 sheets would total 5720. Allowing a conservative amount of 1280 singles, that would give a maximum total of possible mint typographed stamps in existence at 7,000. Many collectors may even be unaware they have this scarce stamp in their collection.
Postally used covers with the typographed overprint are very rare. At least one commercial cover mailed from the Funafuti GPO is known. It is used on an Aerogramme with an enclosure, paying the 45c rate, dated May 1, 1981.
Date of Issue: 1981-07-02
Specimen overprints exist for all basic values except the 45c surcharge and the Official overprints.
There are many constant "flyspeck" varieties on most values of this issue, making it possible to plate the positions of most stamps. Some of the major constant varieties are listed below. More will be added as they are discovered.
This major variety appears only on stamps with border type C2 (coarse screen). The 25c value (1979-D01-10) is part of the original printing, while the 10c (1979-D01-07a) and 40c (1979-D01-13a) are reprints, originally having fine screens. The original prints with fine screen C1 do not have this constant variety. The 45c sheet with the mixed screen types (plate 1A) does not have this variety, as screen type C5 appears in the position at row 1, stamp 3.
This variety exists on the fine screen printings (C1) only (1979-D01-01). It appears to have been corrected on the coarse screen reprints.
This variety exists on the C2 coarse screen reprints only.
This variety may NOT be constant, despite several examples known.
Plate 1A only and is often found in booklets, as the panes were created from blocks of 4 torn from this side of the sheet.
Plate 1A only
Plate 1B only
C4 coarse screen only
50c regular stamp
45c on 50c surcharge, typo overprint (very rare) - Often blocked by the overprint bar
45c on 50c surcharge, litho overprint
50c official stamp, litho overprint
The $5 stamp only exists with the C1 fine screen.
- Original Set -
Sheet Format -
Border Types -