How To Identify Z Grill Stamps

Z Grill stamps are not the easiest stamps to identify. As with many collectibles, it’s easy to think that only a trained eye can recognize them. But there are a few tips to know if you want to know how to identify Z Grill stamps.

Identifying a Z-Grill stamp requires recognizing the grill markers and the presence of ink absorption, as well as the type of grill used, which varies based on its design. A little familiarity with the grill design is needed to successfully identify a Z-Grill stamp.

Recognizing a Z-Grill stamp requires understanding how it was constructed and how that can affect the signs a person has one. Furthermore, because Z-Grill stamps are rare, identifying one requires being able to differentiate between Z-Grill and non-Z-Grills. Below is how to identify a Z-Grill.

Z-Grill History

The US government became very concerned in the 1850s and 60s with stamp fraud. Specifically, the government was worried about stamp cancellation marks being “cleaned” and the stamps being reused. Reusing stamps was not common but it did happen, mainly because of three things:

  • The government did not provide Postmasters with cancelling devices (these were automatic ink imprints that mark a stamp as having been used)
  • It was common for Postmasters to use everyday ink to cancel stamps when they were used, which was easily reversed by erasing the ink
  • Once the cancel mark was erased, a stamp could be reused, which affected the bottom line of the United States Post Office (USPS)

As with most things in Washington, DC, the easy answer, giving Postmasters auto canceling devices, was not determined to be the best answer. What was determined to work best was a more complex process of marking the stamp with a “grill.” The purpose of the grill was to make it difficult for someone to erase the ink, whether done by hand or by an auto canceling device.

The Definition Of A Grill

With stamps, a grill is a pattern that is embossed onto paper to create a unique marking that is difficult to replicate or in the case of stamps, make it difficult to erase any ink that was applied to the paper. It is embossed on a stamp by a roller that is pitted with the pattern. When applied, the embosser created the image on the roller on the paper it was being applied by “pitting” the paper.

An embossing roller was always a “female” roller. This was because when applied, the embossing, or grill become easy to see. While that was unique, the purpose of the pitting of the paper was fairly simple.

Easier Smudging

When the stamp was embossed, the process would break the fibers of the paper. This would mean that any ink applied to the stamp would saturate into the paper and even smear. It also would mean that the saturation would be uneven, heavy in some areas and light in others. Both characteristics made it very difficult to completely erase the ink.

It is important to note that the paper itself was not damaged. The fibers that made up the paper were broken or slightly torn. This meant that the form of the stamp remained the same. The printed stamp was not blemished, but any ink that was added to it, like a cancel mark, became infused into the breaks in the fibers of the paper.

Experimentation For The Perfect Grill

A Brooklyn inventor, Charles F. Steele, was awarded a patent for a grill design on October 22 of 1867. The government had tried out several grills. Most had flaws or did not perform as well as the government wanted. The USPS wanted a grill that would be impossible to defeat, or at least as difficult as possible.

Steele’s design was chosen because it was dependable and made it virtually impossible to erase ink once it was applied to the stamp. The markings in the paper absorbed the ink inconsistently and created a hazy, inconsistent spread of ink when the cancel mark was applied. This worked with both hand cancellation as well as those stamps that were cancelled by an automatic cancelling device. 

Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill

The Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill stamp was a 1 cent postage stamp, and it was issued to the public in February of 1868 by the USPS. As the name implies, the visage on the stamp was that of Ben Franklin. It was common for 1 cent stamps in the 1860s to have grills, but the Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill stamp was unique.

Stamp grills typically utilized various letters to form the grill. What that means is that a grill pattern would be created by rows of the same letter. The basic design of the grill issue stamps was the same, excepting for the assigned letter. In the Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill, as the name implies, the letter used to make the grill was a “Z.”

Other Rare Z-Grills

This is one of the rarest Z-Grill stamps in existence. The 15 cent Lincoln Z-Grill is another very rare stamp, as is the 10 cent Washington Z-Grill. Each of these versions of the Z-Grill were produced at the same time, along with 2, 3, 5 and 12 cent Z-Grill stamps. The earliest known Z-Grill is from January of 1868.

Z-Grill Uniqueness

Not only was the Z-Grill unique, but so was what it did with the paper. A Z-Grill pattern incised horizontal ridges into the stamp. Other grill patterns incised ridges vertically. The Z-Grill was replaced very quickly. In fact, by mid-February, D and E-Grill stamps were being produced.

That has served to make the Z-Grill rare, and the Lincoln, Washington and Franklin Z-Grills are exceptionally rare.

Grill Discontinuation

While the grill pattern and indentation were a novel response to stamp reuse, it was ultimately discontinued. It was considered to be impractical and costly. Additionally, while reuse of stamps was certainly a legitimate concern, it is not known if it was widespread enough to warrant completely altering the process of stamp making.

Ultimately, cancelation equipment was distributed to USPS Post Office across the country.

What To Look For To Identify A Z-Grill

The Z-Grill had horizontal ridges as opposed to vertical ridges. The number of points both horizontally and vertically is thought to be different from other stamps. That last point has been heavily debated by stamp collectors and dealers.

Generally, it is recognized that a Z-Grill point total was determined by how the stamp was struck, which means there was not a recognized uniformity in production.

Z-Grill Identifiers

With grills the direction of the points is important. With “Points Up,” the embossing runs from the bottom of the paper to the top, creating raised pyramid shapes on the face of the side of the stamp. With “Points Down,” the embossing runs from the top to the bottom and the pyramid is inverted.

Additionally, grills are identified by the letter of the alphabet used in the actual grill. It is generally accepted that the order of letters for each grill was A, B, C, D, Z, E and F for all printings in 1867 and 1868. In the 1869 Pictorial Issue, the grill used the letter G. H was used for the 1870 – 1871 National Issue Stamp.

The letter that was used indicated a measurement. The width and length, in millimeters, was indicated by specific numbers. The best way to measure to determine the dimension of the stamp and the grill is from the bottom up. This makes it easier to discern and not confuse with the stamp’s print design or its cancellation mark.

Grid Specifics

Grids for the exact measurement for all grill issue stamps are available online or with any coin dealer or collector that sells or specializes in grill issue stamps.

Another tip for figuring out the type of grill a stamp has is to identify the tips of the pyramids. This can be done by getting pencil lead on the tip of your finger and rubbing your finger on the grilled area of a stamp placed on a flat surface, bottom side up. This type of identifier does not work as well for grills A, B or C.

This type of revealer does not work if there is any gum remaining on the back side of the grill, and if that is present the stamp can be ruined. Additionally, if the stamp is known to be points up, the technique is not necessary. If there is any doubt about whether there is gum present or not, this technique should not be used.

Final Thoughts

The Z-Grill stamp is easy to identify if you know what to look for. Specifically, you need to know the type of grill used on a grill-stamp. This can be identified by the emboss direction as well as the width and length of the grill pattern. We hope this guide was instructional and can aid you in finding Z-Grill stamps, maybe even an incredibly rare one!

Scroll to Top