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Austrian Empire

Issues of 1901-1904
With Varnish Bars


Between 1901 and 1904, the Austrian Empire experimented with diagonal varnish coatings, in order to prevent the cleaning and re-use of canceled postage stamps. Russia did the same, between 1909 and 1915, utilizing a lozenge shaped varnish coating.

The re-use of postage stamps had been a problem from the issue of the first prepaid postage stamp in 1840. The 19th Century postal rates may seem meager to us today, but in that time, the cost of mailing a letter, especially a registered or international rate letter, was a substantial part of the average patron's daily wage.

The U.S. Government addressed this by applying grills to sheets of stamps in the 1860's, and the British Government did the same in the 1880's, by using fugitive inks to print the postage stamps. However, both practices were eventually abandoned, as non-soluble canceling inks came into use.

The Scott Catalog is not completely correct, in their description of the process the Austrian Empire used to apply the varnish bars to the stamps. They state: "The diagonal yellow bars of varnish were printed across the face to prevent cleaning".

The diagonal yellowish bars of varnish were applied to the paper BEFORE THE STAMPS WERE PRINTED. Thus the varnish bars are UNDERNEATH the printed stamp design, NOT on top of it!

Initially, this was a great success, as any attempt at soaking or cancellation removal would result in the removal of the design of the Austrian stamps that were on top of the varnish bars. However, in the long run, this was unacceptable. Other environmental effects, such as handling of the sheets by postal clerks and patrons and varying degrees of humidity could also cause the printed stamp design to flake away.

Today, this is very evident on some examples of these stamps that have been repeatedly soaked over the years. In such cases, sometimes the part of the stamp image above the bars has completely faded away, and the only thing still visible is the varnish bar.


In Januray 1901, the Austrian Empire began applying diagonal varnish bars to the paper used for the printing of the Austrian stamp types issued in 1899. They are all shown above. The varnish bars were only applied to the paper used to print the Heller denominations. The Kronen denomination stamps were never used for the varnish bar experiment.

Two perforation gauges were used for these stamps, perforation 13 x 12 1/2 and perforation 13 x 13 1/2. Both perforation gauges are about the same value.

The varnish bars on these issues range from very obvious to barely detectable. Usually, holding the stamp at an angle next to a bright light source, will reveal the reflective varnish bars.

As with the 1899 Austria stamp issues, all the corner numerals on these postage stamps are PRINTED IN BLACK ON A COLORED BACKGROUND.


Also in 1901, the four newspaper stamps, first issued in 1899, were again issued on paper utilizing the diagonal varnish bars. Three of them are shown at the top of the image above.

Also at this time, many people started having the imperforate sheets of these stamps privately perforated, in order to make their separation easier. According to the Michel catalog, the privately perforated examples, such as the one shown at the bottom of the image above, have a 250% premium.


In December 1904, the Austrian Empire completely re-designed their Heller denomination definitive postage stamps. The new issues featured some denomination changes, as well as changes in the appearance of the corner denomination numerals. All of them are shown in the images above.

Two perforation gauges were also used for these new Austria stamps, perforation 13 x 12 1/2 and perforation 13 x 13 1/2. Both perforation gauges are about the same value.

All the corner numerals on the 1 Heller through the 6 Heller denomination postage stamps are PRINTED IN THE STAMP COLOR ON A WHITE BACKGROUND.

All the corner numerals on the 10 Heller through the 30 Heller denomination postage stamps are PRINTED IN BLACK ON A WHITE BACKGROUND.

All the corner numerals on the 35 Heller through the 72 Heller denomination postage stamps are WHITE ON A COLORED BACKGROUND.




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Austrian Empire, Republic of German
Austria, and the First Republic of Austria


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Issues of 1901-1904





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