The most important Shanghai Large Dragon discovery in over 30 years has recently come to light. It is a 1 candareen blue with the design characteristics of Chow’s Printing # 30, but instead of being on wove paper as are all previous known examples, this stamp is on laid paper.
The stamp was found in an old European collection recently purchased by a general collector of issues from around the world. He had the presence of mind to show it to one o fhis friends, a specialist collector of China and Shanghai, who examined it and made the identification.
The vast majority of Shanghai Large Dragon stamps are on wove paper with those on laid paper a distinct minority. For example. of the 900 or so Large Dragon stamps in Dr. Chow’s collection, sold by Sotheby’s in November 1996 and Sotheby's and Corinphila in association in February 1997, only 46 were on laid paper. Up to now the Roman Numeral I Printing # 39 was always considered the premier rarity of the I candareen laid papers. Dr. Wei-Liang Chow, in his Shanghai Large Dragons handbook, published in 1996, recorded only four examples, all unused.
The relative scarcity of laid papers, coupled with the fact that several of the scarcer laid paper printings only exist unused, has always begged the question of the true status of these stamps. Were they all regularly issued with the laid papers mixed indiscriminate with the wove papers during the printing process? Might some of them, particularly Printings’ # 26, 27, 39 and 40, none of which are known used, be some kind of proof.
The discovery of this additional laid paper printing which has been used, offers strong evidence that, from the printer's point of view, laid paper was not particularly special in this context, and that the substituting of laid for woven was a normal part of the manufacturing process of the Large Dragon stamps. In other words, the discovery of this stamp, in a sense, legitimises all the laid paper stamps, whether they are only known unused or, as in the case of this stamp, only known used.
The design of the newly discovered 1 candareen shows various characteristics which clearly distinguish it from laid paper Printings # 22, 23 and 39. It also differs in appearance from the wove paper Printings # 29 and 38. The position of the ' Antique I which is tilted slightly to the right and closer to the left inner frameline, is identical to that of the wove paper Printing # 30. Since this stamp is on laid paper, it has tentatively been designated as Printing #30A. The laid lines run horizontally, crossed by a vertical wire line, often seen on other laid paper issues of the Large Dragons.
The laid paper 'Antique I' candareen printings have long been given major status by the general world-wide stamp catalogues, and they have always been considered to have significant commercial value. Taking this into account, one would think that an example of Printing # 30A, even if it has not been correctly classified, should have surfaced long ago purely on the basis of being on laid paper. Dr. Chow certainly would have recognised such a rarity. However, in all his years of research, he apparently has never even heard of such a variety since there is no mention of it in his various articles or in his handbook.
Because the Large Dragon stamps are generally far more common unused than used, surely an unused example of the laid paper Printing # 30A should have been recorded by now. It is tempting to speculate that only one sheet of six was ever printed, with a likelihood that all examples were then used. Although it is theoretically possible that additional examples of this variety might be discovered in the future, after all this time that seems unlikely.
In addition to the all-important difference in the stamp's paper, the new discovery shows other noteworthy characteristics of the printed design, which will be of interest to Shanghai specialists. The Chow collection had only two examples of the wove paper Printing # 30, both used. In his handbook, Dr. Chow pointed out that neither one of his two copies quite corresponded to the description in John Luff’s 1897 reference listing of the Large Dragons. The stamps differ from each other in the relative position of the groups of letters within the word CANDAREEN. Luff, who referred to Chow's Printing # 30 as his reference # 56, stated that the letters ‘CAND' are above 'AREEN'. In this respect, the new discovery corresponds exactly to Luff’s description, except of course that it is on laid rather than wove paper. Incidentally, both of Dr. Chow's stamps were cancelled with blue dated postmarks (Chow Type SLP-2). By contrast, the newly discovered laid paper stamp bears a red undated bilingual postmark (Chow Type SLP-3).
The discovery of this stamp, more than 130 years after the issue date, is an encouraging reminder that there are still many important finds in Chinese philately yet to be made. Less than five years have passed since the release of Dr. Chow's handbook. Its sequential listing of the printings and enlarged colour photographs of each printing has made it possible for even the novice collector of Large Dragons to be able to correctly identify the majority of printings. It is therefore hoped that, with this greater amount of technical knowledge available to all for the first time, other important discoveries will be made in the years ahead. This also means there is a great responsibility resting on the current generation of specialist collectors to record for others their finds, in a way the late Dr. Chow did with such unstinting generosity.