A Guide to the Many Different Papers Used to Print U.S. Stamps

There are many different types of paper that have been used to print US stamps.  That includes some styles or additions that, while not necessarily considered types, are worth noting when attempting to identify a stamp.  For example, here are the two paper types most often seen in the Banknote stamps:

Hard White

Other Names:

Thick white wove;

Yellowish wove;

Hard white wove

Dates Used:

Pre-1877 regular-issue US stamps;

1870-73 printings;

1875 printings

Used by:

National Bank Note Company;

Continental Bank Note Company

Rag content paper, gives a sharp, loud snap when gently flicked with a finger.  When held to strong light, is translucent with an even texture, and is usually white.  When viewed from the back, stamp design tends to show through.  Examples:  US #134-181

Soft Porous

Dates Used:

Late 1878;
All of 1879-94

Used By:

Continental Bank Note Company;
American Bank Note Company

Wood pulp paper, gives a duller, less audible sound when gently flicked with a finger.  When held to strong light, appears mottled and opaque with fibers usually bunched in a screen or mesh pattern, color is usually yellowish.  Examples:  US #182-245

Here’s are examples of stamps printed on these types of paper as used on Department of War Official stamps:

The top stamp (US #O88) was printed on hard white paper.  You can see some of the design on the back and can see it’s whiter than the bottom stamp.  The bottom stamp (US #O118) was printed on soft porous paper.  It’s opaque and more yellowish than the top stamp.

There are many other papers you will come across as a US collector:

Thin Bluish Wove

Other Names:

Thin Wove

Where / When Used:


Few copies actually appear “bluish” to your eye, so, it’s more helpful to think of it as thin wove paper.  Very “tight,” and not porous at all.  When held to strong light, no porosity.  Examples:  US #1-2


Where / When Used:


Has parallel lines in the paper, usually observable by immersing in watermark fluid.  Caused by wire cloth used in papermaking process.


Where / When Used:


Used By:

Continental Bank Note Company ONLY

Has parallel lines but cannot be detected in watermark fluid, can only be seen by viewing the stamp under strong light and holding the stamp at an angle.  Lines are much more close together than laid paper (roughly 40 lines per inch on ribbed, less on laid which varies more).  Example:  US #164

Paper with Silk Fibers

Other Names:

Sometimes colloquially called “silk paper,” but properly referred to as “paper with silk fibers” by experts

Where / When Used:

1873 regular-issue stamps

Tiny pieces of black fibers mixed into the paper pulp (require strong magnification of 15X or more to detect).


Where / When Used:

Early Revenue stamps (including some Private Die Proprietary stamps)

Rag fibers scattered over paper during manufacture and then impressed on the surface rather than mixed into the paper pulp like regular-issue stamps printed on silk paper.

Experimental Silk

Where / When Used:

Back-of-the-Book issues ONLY (First, Second, and Third Issue Revenue stamps and some Private Die Proprietary stamps)

Experimental paper type, only includes a few fibers (usually blue) imbedded in the surface of the paper.  Can be viewed on the front or back of the stamp, but most often seen on the back using a strong (10X-30X) magnifying glass.  Second Issue revenue series of 1871 was printed on special “chameleon” patented silk paper which appears very light violet or pinkish in color (though many are simply “white”).  This paper has many silk fibers so is considerably different from the experimental type on the First Revenue issues.  The Third Revenue issue stamps of 1871-72 were also printed on the same paper as the Second issue.


Where / When Used:

Any stamp, but mostly in 1870-1889 issues

Contains tiny pieces of straw that was accidentally added during the pulp-mixing process. 

Double Paper

Where / When Used:


Used By:

Continental Bank Note Company

Not a true paper type, more of a style.  Consists of two layers – a thin surface paper and thicker backing paper.  Used and patented early on by Continental Banknote Company and is considered experimental.

Very Thin

Where / When Used:

Some 1686 grilled stamps

Stamp expert Lester Brookman believed this paper was experimental and “probably to get better efficiency out of the grills.”  Another expert theorized that the thin paper allowed the company to stack and grill a few sheets at a time, increasing productivity.  Much thinner than regular paper, easily identified by flicking the edges and feeling the thinness.

Part India

Where / When Used:

Few denominations of 1851 stamps

Unusual variety, likely experimental, unknown why it was used on some printings of the 3¢ and 12¢ values.


Where / When Used:

Used on Essays and Proofs

Very soft handmade wove paper which holds impressions very well.  Can be distinguished from regular wove paper by its softness and traces of tiny bamboo fibers which can sometimes be identified by dipping in watermark fluid or under a strong (10X-30X) magnifier.  Counterfeit stamps are often made from India proofs by adding perforations or gum or rebacking them to appear thicker.  Can be quite deceptive, so it’s important to examine fibers closely as well as the usually too-perfect perforations (and gauge), fake gum, and superior design image.  Some of the most counterfeited are Official stamps (especially high value State Department), Newspaper stamps, and many 1875-1880 Special Printings.  (India paper was introduced to England from China around 1750 and was once used to print Oxford bibles for distribution in India, earning the paper its name.)


A silky feeling paper used for philatelic repairs.  The US City Despatch Post introduced colored-through papter when it released #6LB3 and its essays in August 1842.  Colored through paper has the same color on both sides and on cut edges.  Same carrier introduced glazed surface-colored paper November 26, 1842, with new printing of green adhesives.  These have a colored coating applied during he finishing process.


Where / When Used:


Used By:

Continental Bank Note Company

Soft paper was used from 1877 onward, but hard paper was still being used, too.  At one point, the company switched to a more “intermediate” type of wove paper which is neither hard nor soft, but somewhere in-between.  Can cause difficulties with identification


Where / When Used:

1895-1938 (Most stamps from 1895-1917 were on watermarked paper, with the very last being in 1938)

Not a type of paper, but worth noting some of its characteristics: 

  • Translucent impression that allows more light to travel through the paper in affected areas
  • Created by impressing a molded wire form called a dandy roll onto wet paper. 

Used on a number of security paper dating before postage stamps.  For US stamps, only two watermarks were used:  “USPS” (double-line from 1895 on and single-line beginning in 1910) and “USIR” (United States Internal Revenue – found only on Revenue stamps).  Detected by viewing back of the stamp.  Can sometimes be viewed with the naked eye, but best discovered by immersing the stamp in watermark fluid.  Can be found reversed, inverted, or both.


Where / When Used:

1909 (More than 3 million 1¢ and 2¢ US stamps printed on this paper and sold in post offices)

Made with 35% rag instead of 100% wood pulp.  This paper is actually more of a blue-gray, and can be clearly seen on both sides of the stamp.  It is easier to detect when placed on either yellow or orange paper, which causes the blue-gray color to be more obvious.  Watermarks are also more prominent and appear heavier on this type of paper.  In the end, this experimental paper was not adopted.  However, Arthur Travers (third assistant postmaster general) requested samples of all stamp values up to 15¢ printed on this paper for Post Office archives.  It was later found that he sold some of these archival stamps to a dealer for a price well over face value.  (He was later fired and indicted.)  All bluish-paper stamps above 1¢ and 2¢ are rare.

China Clay

Caused by silt in the water at paper mills.  No longer listed as a paper type, though still an interest to specialist collectors.

Rotary Press Double Paper

Where / When Used:

20th century – all rotary press stamps may exist on double paper, but most commonly found on the 1938 Presidential Issue

Different from the double paper used in the 1870s.  20th century double paper was caused by a break in the roll of paper which had to be lapped and pasted.  The overlapped portion, when printed on, resulted in double paper.  In some instances, the ends were joined with colored or transparent tape called “splices” or “splice-up.”  Very rarely, two splices are made, leaving three thicknesses of paper known as a “triple splice.”  20th century double paper stamps are considered “freaks.”

Fluorescent or phosphorescent-reactive

Where / When Used:

Introduced in 1950s

Began to increase efficiency in processing large quantities of mail and improve the brightness of papers/appearance of inks used to print stamps.  Stamps give off light when viewed/irradiated with UV light (called luminescence).  If the stamp continues to glow a few seconds after the UV light is shut off, it is “phosphorescent.”  If the stamp stops glowing when the UV light is shut off, it is “fluorescent.”  The coating applied to the stamp is called a “taggant” or “tagging.”


Where / When Used:

Back-of-the-Book issues and Hawaiian Missionary stamps ONLY (especially early Newspaper stamps)

Thin, crisp, hard, quite brittle, transparent paper with bluish or grayish tinge.  Can either be wove or laid, but more often seen on wove paper.


Where / When Used:

Back-of-the-Book issues ONLY (especially Local stamps and Essays)

Easily identified by viewing under a light.  Light will reflect off the surface, causing the stamp to appear shiny.  Sometimes glazing covers the entire stamp, but it most often was used on the front surface only.  May be light or quite heavy.

Surface colored

Dates Used:

Back-of-the-Book issues ONLY (especially Local stamps)

Some Local stamps were printed on paper with a colored surface (unglazed).  Counterfeit Locals can be found on papers of differing colors from genuine examples, so it is important to reference a catalog and check the paper color description.

Colored Paper

Where / When Used:

Back-of-the-Book issues ONLY (especially Locals, Carriers, Telegraph, Revenues, Essays, and Proofs – including the first Proprietary and Beer stamps)

Relatively easy to identify, except the “pink” paper used for some Private Die (Match and Medicine) stamps.  Pink paper is sometimes rather light and can be confused for ordinary white paper.

Old Paper

Where / When Used:

Match & Medicine stamps ONLY

Ordinary wove paper – no different from other stamps of the time period.  Described by catalogs only to indicate the difference from other Match & Medicine stamps on watermarked paper.  Editors sometimes say “old” instead of simply “unwatermarked.”


Where / When Used:

Plate Proofs and Trial Color Proofs as well as some Essays.

Plain white card of varying thicknesses.  Sometimes colored cards.  Example:  “Shernikow” Essays.  Counterfeit stamps are sometimes made by shaving down card proofs to achieve the thickness of wove paper, adding gum and perforations, and sometimes rebacking the paper.  Can usually be identified with watermark fluid which reveals the varying thickness of the paper (can also be seen by holding the stamp up to a strong light).

Tissue, Onionskin, or Goldbeater’s Skin

Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs

Extremely thin, images printed on these papers are easily damaged.  This was likely intentional so as to prevent re-use since attempting to remove them from an envelope they were attached to would destroy them.  Example:  1864 stamps printed on this paper and patented by Henry Lowenberg.

Bond Paper

Where / When Used:


Superior grade, high-quality paper made completely from rag pulp.  Called bond paper because it was originally used to print government bonds.  May be seen in white or colored bond.

Francis Patent

Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs

Dark blue, thick experimental paper that turns dark brown or black when exposed to an acid.  Francis hoped this would help prevent re-use.


Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs

Thicker than India or bond paper.  Handmade rice paper of varying thickness.  Many essays printed on this paper.


Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs

Glazed surface paper, similar to glazed card, but thinner and similar to glazed paper.


Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs (Mostly in 1860s-70s)

Created to prevent re-use, fairly easy to identify.  (Safety overprints or underprints were also created as patterns printed over or under the basic stamp design – all are scarce to rare.)


Where / When Used:

Essays and Proofs

Similar use as Francis Patent paper in that the colors change when the paper is exposed to certain substances.  Can be found in different colors and thicknesses.


Other Names:


Has colored (typically red and/or blue) silk fibers added, making the paper appear bluish-gray.  Fibers can usually be seen with the naked eye.  Examples:  US #1252 & US #1326


Experimental paper with optical brighteners added.  Tested in the Westbrook substation in Maine during Christmas 1954.  Example:  US #1033a

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