Inverted Head 4 Annas

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Inverted Head Four Annas

The Inverted Head Four Annas of India is a famous stamp prized by collectors.


  • Country of Production = India
  • Location of Production = Survey Office, Calcutta
  • Date of Production = 1854
  • Nature of Rarity = Very rare
  • Number in Existence = Less than 30
  • Face Value = Four Annas
  • Estimated Value =


The 1854 first issues of India included a Four Annas value in red and blue[1]. However, an error occurred during production, showing the head "upside down." This is one of the world's first multicolored stamps; the Basel Dove preceded it by 9 years.

The Four Annas Stamps

The Four Annas stamps were lithographed by the Survey Office in Calcutta. Two colors were used, red for the frame and blue for the head. During production, the paper was first imprinted with the red frames and later the blue heads were superimposed within the frames. The First Printing began on October 13, 1854, using Head Die I and Frame Die I. There were 12 widely spaced stamps in each sheet. Exactly 206,040 stamps were printed from this Head Die I issue.

The Inverted Head Four Annas

Among these First Printing stamps, at least three sheets with the red frames had been inadvertently placed in the press backwards, head to foot. Hence, the heads appear to be upside down, although in actuality the red frames were inverted.

The surviving examples of this error are low in number. E. A. Smythies states, "Details and illustrations of all the known copies are given in that interesting publication, Stamps of Fame, by L. N. and M. Williams."[2] All of these are postally used. Only two (or three) are known cut square; another 20 or so are cut to shape (that is, in an octagonal shape). One from the collection of the Earl of Crawford was exhibited in the World Philatelic Exhibition in Washington in 2006.[3]

Discovery of the Error

This error was not found before the stamps were issued, of course, and it seems to have been not discovered for many years after. None of the 1870's publications mentions the Inverted Head Four Annas. The 1891 reprints provide the first conclusive evidence that the error was known, but E. A. Smythies said the error was first noticed during a meeting of the Philatelic Society of London in 1874.[4] In 1907 Hausburg mentioned the Inverted Head Four Annas, but incorrectly, as he was not sure whether it came from the First or Second Printings. Mr. Séfi described this error in the West End Philatelist, January, 1912.


Three cut to shape examples of the Inverted Head Four Annas repose in the Tapling Collection at the British Museum, London, including two (positions 3 and 4 on the printed sheet) on piece, showing that the error was created by an incorrect sheet placement rather than by a careless die transfer. One carefully cut to shape is found in the Royal Collection, position 5 on the sheet. The Government of India Collection, in Delhi, has a cut to shape example on piece, position 2 on the sheet. Two examples cut square, one of them on cover, were in the collection of Desai. Desai "raised" his stamp from its cover for study. The provenance of several other examples is described in Martin and Smythies, as cited below.


Dangerous forgeries have been made by chemically erasing the upright head or the frame and then printing over it. These can be detected using "black light" and other techniques. One of these fakes appeared in the Masson sale, and one or two in the Ferrary auctions. Some clever forgeries purport to show an inverted head with different head dies, which are obvious, and crude forgeries are plentiful.

See also



  • D. R. Martin and E. A. Smythies, The Four Annas Lithographed Stamps of India, 1854-55 London, Philatelic Society of India and Stanley Gibbons Ltd. (1930), pages 36-8.
  • Robson Lowe, Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage Stamps, vol. III, p. 171.
  • E. D. Bacon, The Essays, Proofs and Reprints of the first issued Postage Stamps of British India of 1854-55. Third edition, 1927 (with supplement in P.J.I, 1933), page 19.
  • Leslie L. R. Hausburg, The Postage and Telegraph Stamps of British India ... Part I. Postage Stamps, RPSL and Stanley Gibbons, London (1907).
  • The Monthly Journal, v. X, p. 167.
  • Bertram W. H. Poole, West End Philatelist, June, 1910, page 10.
  • Alexander J. Séfi, West End Philatelist, January, 1912.