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In the Gutter

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From the Great Britain Royal Silver Wedding set of 1972 until the 1979 Christmas set, the printer Harrison & Sons Ltd. placed what have become known as “traffic lights” in the gutter margin of stamp sheets, giving rise to the term. They also exist with the large format Great Britain Machin high values.

“Traffic lights” are colour registration dots. They come in many shapes and sizes. Harrison used the dots inside a box which then resembled traffic lights. The dots correspond to the colours used in the printing process.


Great Britain gutter pairs 1974

Stamps are usually printed in sheets that are much bigger than the sheets post office counter clerks have in their books. The panes are separated by gutters and cut through those margins before distribution. Counter sheets of commemorative stamps often were distributed as double pane sheets. 

Questa, a small print company founded by three partners in 1966 using one Heidelberg lithographic press similar to that shown below, grew rapidly as it gained a reputation as a quality printer. As a result of becoming known as a reliable company producing high quality work it gained contracts to produce stamps for the British Post Office and many other countries.

The first stamps produced by Questa were for a 1970 Trinidad and Tobago series celebrating carnivals.

Trinidad and Tobago 1970
Samoa 1978

By 1978, when the Samoa stamps shown here were issued, the company had been renamed The House of Questa. The firm was often a takeover target and in 1984 John Waddington PLC acquired The House of Questa, which then merged with the John Waddington Security Print division. After further takeovers, finally ending up in the hands of De La Rue in 2002, the Questa brand was replaced by “Alnery no. 2273 Limited”. 

Great Britain 1979

In 1979 the European Economic Community consisted of nine member states: West Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg. That year parliamentary elections were held across all 9 member states. They were the first European elections to be held, allowing citizens to elect 410 representative to the European Parliament. This event was also the first international election in history. The gutter pair stamps above show the flags of the nine nations represented as a voting paper being placed in a ballot box.

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