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Types of printed First-Day Cachets

by Marjory J. Sente

Every cachet can be defined or classified by how it is produced. Among the broader classifications are printed, rubberstamped, attached, handcrafted, handdrawn and handpainted cachets.

Let’s review the types of printed cachets — by far the largest category of cachets, and the most complex to understand.

The act of printing a cachet is the making of an impression on an envelope from type or plates.

Printed cachets were introduced on first-day covers not long after people first began servicing them. Perhaps that is because many of the first servicers and cachetmakers were printers.

George Linn, who produced the first commercial FDC in 1923 for the Harding Memorial issue was a stamp dealer and publisher of Linn’s Stamp News.

A. C. Roessler, easily the most popular of the early cachetmakers, was in the printing business. Some of his FDCs for the Huguenot-Walloon commemoratives also carry his advertisement as “Printers for Cleaners and Dyers.”

Over the years, printing processes have changed greatly. With the introduction of xerography, quick printing and the laser printer, many of today’s cachetmakers produce relatively high-quality printed cachets rather inexpensively and quickly.

The most common type of cachet printing is letterpress or relief printing. In this method, the design or type is above the main carrier surface.

Think of the metal letters on a typewriter, and how they strike the paper. Relief printing is very similar, and frequently the printed design is visibly depressed in relation to the envelope. The vast majority of the printed cachets have been produced using this method.

One printing process that produces an outstanding looking cachet is the line-engraved intaglio method. The process is also called recess printing, because the printing area is recessed in relation to the main carrier surface.

Designs printed by this method are called engraved cachets, and appear on some of the most attractive first-day covers. Produced from carefully engraved steel plates, they are high in quality with sharp details and a very clean appearance.

The ink on an engraved cachet is slightly raised, which is characteristic of this printing process.

First, the design is engraved into a plate. Ink is then applied and forced into the recesses of the plate. After the plate’s surface is cleaned, the paper or the envelope is forced by a press into those recesses on the plate, where the paper receives the raised lines of ink. The result is a fine line design with minute ridges that can be detected by the fingertips.

The most famous of the engraved cachets are those of ArtCraft and its familiar trademark.

The first ArtCraft engraved cachet appeared in 1939 on the FDCs for the New York World’s Fair commemorative, and ArtCraft engraved designs have been produced for every United States issue since.

Henry Grimsland, however, produced the first engraved cachet known on a first-day cover. In 1933, the first engraved Grimsland cachet appears on the Proclamation of Peace FDCs cancelled on April 19, at Newburgh, N.Y.

Grimsland’s cachetmaking continued until 1951. The design he produced for the 1934 Byrd souvenir sheet was hailed as one of his most outstanding efforts. An enlargement of his “HG” monogram is concealed in tiny letters in the cachet.

Fulton made engraved cachets. Artmaster and House of Farnam produce engraved cachets, as well.

Engraved cachets should not be confused with cachets made by a thermographic process. While both have raised print, the thermographed design has thick, heavy and usually shiny lines produced by a printing and heating process.

Thermography is sometimes called “poor man’s engraving,” because it is an inexpensive technique to simulate the look and feel of engraved cachets.

In the thermographic process, using a relief printing technique, a cachet is printed with slow-drying ink. It is then dusted with powdered rosin and heated until the ink and the powder fuse, giving the finished design a raised effect.

W. G. Crosby and Walter Czubay used this technique to thermograph the texts and borders of their cachets. However, although they used similar techniques, and both produced cachets in the late 1930s, their cachets are quite different.

Crosby continued his cachetmaking efforts until his death in 1947; his wife then continued the line for another two years. In addition to using this printing technique, Crosby frequently included a small photo as part of the cachet.

One such example is a Crosby cachet for the 1942 5¢ Chinese Resistance commemorative, combining a thermographic cachet in blue with added photographs of Abraham Lincoln and Sun Yat-sen similar to the images that appear on the stamp.

In 1986, Key Kachets introduced its line of thermographic cachets. These cachets differ from those prepared by Crosby and Czubay, because Key Kachets were printed using a four-color, or full- color, process.

Woodcut cachets are produced by the relief printing method. To make a woodcut, a design is transferred onto a block of wood and the excess wood is carved away from the intended design. This method is similar to the linoleum and potato prints that you might have made in elementary school.

When the carving is complete, the woodcut is inked and the block is pressed onto the envelope. If you use more than one color in the cachet, you must prepare a woodcut for each color, and care must be taken to register the additional colors correctly for a pleasing final effect.

Torkel Gundel prepared the best-known woodcut cachets. He explained that the Depression initially made him turn to this medium in the 1930s. Money was scarce and he could not afford to have zinc printing plates made, so he used his time to chisel his designs into the wood.

Blind printing, or embossed cachets, are interesting designs. Embossing is the printing of raised letters or designs by carefully pushing the paper up by applying pressure from the back.

The term blind printing also is used, because the design is raised and usually not in color. In fact, it is very similar to Braille lettering used by the blind to read.

Sometimes foil is added to the cover before embossing, adding a handsome metallic look to the finished design.

Embossed cachets are not very common and are relatively seldom seen. However, you will frequently see printed cachets that include embossing as a design element rather than the entire motif.

One of my favorite examples is House of Farnum’s cachet for the 15¢ Emily Bissell commemorative of 1980. For this cachet, the firm used a combination of engraving and embossing to simulate a seal as part of the overall cover design.

I consider flocked cachets to be printed because relief printing is usually the technique that is used to lay down the sticky substance on the envelope.

Particles of velvet cloth are applied to the wet, sticky surface, making delightful designs. Flocked cachets look fuzzy and have a nappy feel to them.

In the 1950s and ’60s, flocked FDCs were marketed under the tradenames of Velvatone Cachets, Flok Cachets, Texture Craft and Rank II.

The Rank II designs are add-on cachets, while the others were prepared when the stamps on the FDCs were canceled. Most were made in rather limited quantities, due to the technique used.

A Flok Cachet showing the seal of Pennsylvania State University was created for a 1955 first-day cover for the 3¢ Land Grant Colleges commemorative. The crest itself is rendered in an attractive shade of royal blue.

Laser-printed cachets are a product of the computer age. With some desktop skills, a little time and a good printer, you can turn out an attractive cachet. This has become my favorite method for producing cacheted covers, and is increasingly popular with many of the newcomers.

With a little bit of practice, you should be able to correctly determine how a cachet was printed. Once you determine which ones best suit your taste, you might even want to think about selecting a category, such as woodcut cachets or flocked cachets, and trying to collect as many examples as you can.