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Friday, November 8, 2013

Off to London to the West Africa Study Circle Meeting

Again, another month has just flown by with no posts. The reason for this is that I have been working frantically to get my 12 frame exhibit of postal history ready for the West Africa Study Circle Meeting in London tomorrow. I committed to give this presentation just over a year ago. Back then the plan was to go to the UK for a week. But my life turned upside down this year, and I used all my vacation time. So I'm going to London for 1 day!! I know, it sounds crazy, but I just had to make good on my commitment.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want to share with you the experiencing of preparing a philatelic exhibit. I have been a philatelist for 36 years now. In that time I have only exhibited once - when I was 12. Back then I knew nothing about exhibiting, and I just threw together all my cheap Canadian stamps on to home-made album pages and sent it in. My exhibit was so bad, it got only a 'merit' for participation. In the intervening years, I have seen many exhibits of very high calibre and thought 'I'll never be able to do that'

The first aspect of exhibiting that you will experience is the indecision of what topic you can choose that will be interesting to your fellow collectors, and that you can assemble enough material in to provide reasonable coverage of the topic at hand. When I was first thinking of what to do, two topics came to mind: one was the Queen Victoria Definitives of Lagos, and the other was the 1973-86 definitive issue. But there were two problems. In the case of the Queen Victoria issues, although I have a lot of the stamps, I am still missing some of the key rarities, and I don't yet know enough about them to write up a 144 page exhibit. In the second case, I have some fantastic material, but again, I have not studied the stamps sufficiently well to write about them.

In the end, I decided to make an exhibit of covers. This way I knew that if I covered the entire Nigerian area from 1874 to date, there would be no expectation of depth in any one issue. Furthermore, I could limit my comments on each cover to a short paragraph describing the attributes of the cover.

So I set about going through my collection of thousands of Nigerian covers to identify what to include in the exhibit. Now when you first hear that you have to compile 144 pages of material, it seems like a lot of material. But as you begin to assemble it, you invariably find that it is not much at all, and less than what you would like to include. I had to "raise the bar" several times to narrow my covers down to a selection of the best covers in my collection. I went for unusual destinations, scarce and unusual combinations of stamps (frankings), and other points if interest. When you start collecting the postal history of Nigeria, you soon realize that covers to the US or UK are relatively common, and you appreciate mail going to other destinations.

After a considerable amount of editing, I put together a 12 frame exhibit of 204 covers, that covers the gamut of different rates, destinations and issues. It was an immensely satisfying experience watching it take shape, and learning about my covers. I cannot wait to hear what the members have to say about huge covers, and how much I will learn from their feedback.

Once I return, I will begin to post the exhibit in its entirely.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Eleven More Interesting Classic Covers

I am long overdue for another post. Gosh how time flies! It is hard for me to believe that nearly two months has flown by since I wrote my last post. I have, as I write now selected all the covers that I wish to include in my exhibit at the upcoming West Africa Study Circle meeting in London. I have selected 207 covers from Lagos, all the way through a strong showing of the 1973-1986 definitive issue. This selection  includes nearly all of the covers that I have presented in previous posts, plus all the best covers from my collection. In selecting them I have focused on exotic destinations, and multi-stamp frankings, as well as famous recipients and postage due covers. 

The covers that are the subject of this post, are a small batch that I have acquired over the past few months from various sources and with one exception, all are from Southern Nigeria. However, the first cover is from Nigeria, featuring the common 1d stamp from the 1921-1936 Script Watermark Issue:

The cover is an underpaid  first class cover to Germany, franked with a single 1d carmine die 2, which has been tied by a strike of Proud type D53 or D54 Lagos hand-stamp dated October 14, 1929. The postage was supposed to be 3d, so a Proud type UP8 taxation handstamp was applied to indicate the shortpayment. The deficiency when doubled, translates into 35 pfenings, which has been indicated on the front of the cover in blue pencil. 

The next cover is a double weight cover from the German West African Trading Co. in Calabar, to Lome in Togo: 

The cover has been franked with a pair of the 2.5d King Edward VII stamps, which have been tied by a strike of either Proud type D30, D31 or D32 Lagos CDS handstamp. The cover left Lagos, and arrived in Porto Novo, Dahomey on November 7, as indicated by the receiving backstamp. It then went on to Agoue, Dahomey on November 9. There was no backstamp to indicate when it arrived in Lome. 

The next cover originates from the same organization, but this time has been sent from Calabar, and instead of being double weight, it is a single weight letter rate:

The front of this cover, like the one above indicates that the cover was to be routed via Lagos, although this one specifies that it was to be carried on a steamship, although I cannot read the second name. The cover is addressed to Anecho, Togo, and the stamp is tied by a clear strike of Proud type D15 Calabar CDS. 

The back of the envelope shows that while there is a Lagos transit backstamp, there is no receiving handstamp for Anecho, Togo. 

The fourth cover in the lot is one of my favourites. It is a registered single weight cover sent from Lagos on April 28, 1907 to Brussels, Belgium:

The cover is franked with single copies of the 4d and 1/2d King Edward VII keyplate definitives, printed on chalk surfaced paper in the first head plate die. These stamps together pay 2d registration, plus 2.5d postage. They are ties by strikes of Proud type R9, Lagos registered oval handstamp. There is a red registration transit stamp dated May 19, 1907 when the cover arrived in London. 

The back of this cover shows the transit handstamp applied in London on May 18, 1907, when the cover left the U.K. To the left of this, is a small oval receiving handstamp applied in Brussels, but unfortunately the date is missing. 

The next cover illustrates nicely how the stamps of Lagos continued to be used after amalgamation with Southern Nigeria in 1906. This cover is also a single weight registered cover, sent from Lagos on August 26, 1907 to Brussels, Belgium:

The cover is franked with a single 2.5d Lagos King Edward VII keyplate, and a pair of the 1d carmine King Edward VII keyplate definitives printed from the die A headplate. It should be noted that this was a very early use of the 1d stamps, which were issued two weeks earlier on August 12, 1907. The stamps are tied with clear strikes of Proud type R9 Lagos oval registered handstamps.  A registration label has been affixed at the London Foreign Sorting Office, and two strikes of the Proud type R5 registration marking appear in the upper left corner. 

The back of the above cover shows that it reached London on September 13, 1907 and was despatched on the same day, arriving in Brussels late in the evening. 

The next cover was a single weight envelope from the same correspondence as the second and third covers above, sent from Calabar to Lome, Togo on August 26, 1910. 

The postage was paid with a 1/2d bicoloured Edward VII keyplate, printed on chalk surfaced paper (a late use, as the 1/2d green was already in use), and two 1d carmine keyplates printed from headplate die B. All are tied with Proud type D15 Calabar CDS.

The back of the cover shows the transit backstamps quite nicely, with the cover arriving in Lagos on August 29, Porto Novo, Dahomey on August 30, and both Grand Port, Dahomey and Agoue, Dahomey on September 1, 1910. 

The next cover is a single weight registered cover sent from Lagos, on November 29, 1909 to Old Calabar:

This cover is franked with a single copy of the 3d brown on lemon, King Edward VII keyplate definitive, which was issued just a few months earlier in July 1909. It pays 2d registration, plus 1d inland postage. The stamp is tied with clear strikes of Proud type R9 Lagos oval registered handstamp. Although the back is not shown, there is a similar Proud type R9 oval registered handstamp for Calabar, which shows that the cover arrived on December 8, 1909. 

The next item is a scarce example of a commercial use of the surcharged postcard for Southern Nigeria, which is part of the same German West Africa Trading Company correspondence as covers 2, 3, 6 and 7 above. It was sent from Lagos to Lome, Togo and has been uprated by affixing a 2.5d bicoloured Edward VII keyplate, making 3d total postage. I believe that this card may be registered, as the rate for a standard postcard overseas was 1d. However, there are no registration markings on the card. It left Lagos on April 5, 1910 and arrived in Porto Novo, Dahomey on April 11.

The next cover is a single weight surface cover to the U.K, carried aboard the S.S Tarquah, sent on October 9, 1902 from Bonny River:

The cover is franked with a single carmine and sepia 1d Queen Victoria keyplate definitive, tied by a single strike of Proud type D2 CDS. The S.S. Tarquah was a commercial ocean liner that was built by Stephen and Sons Ltd. in Glasgow in 1902, so this cover was sent in its first year of service. The ship was sunk on July 7, 1917 by a German U-boat. The back of the cover shows a Chippenham receiving handstamp dated October 28, 1902.

The next cover is a single weight cover to the Funk and Wagnalls Publishing Company in New York. It was sent on March 15, 1908 from Forcados River

The postage has been paid with a strip of 5 1/2d bicoloured Edward VII keyplates printed on unsurfaced paper, and are tied by strikes of Proud type D4 Forcados CDS. 

The last item is another scarce commercially used example of the 1/2d surcharged postcard from Southern Nigeria, sent from Lagos to Halberstadt, Germany, on April 8, 1908:

The card has been uprated to 1d by affixing a copy of the 1/2d green Edward VII keyplate definitive, printed from headplate die B. The stamps are tied with clear strikes of the Proud type D24 Lagos CDS

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Plate Block Collecting

I am going to veer off the topic of the last couple of posts and show you another aspect of Nigerian philately that is particularly satisfying over the longer term: the collecting of plate blocks. Plate blocks for the colonies of the British Empire is not a prominent field largely due to the fact that the blocks are very scarce and because the standard catalogues do not list them - so collectors do not know what exists. Because of this, it is possible to obtain some very scarce material for a fraction of what they should be worth based on their scarcity.

As an example, I illustrate a 1/- orange Queen Victoria, crown CA plate block that I acquired several months ago on e-bay:

This stamp was issued in 1885 and represents the highest of what at the time were low-value definitives. So in North American terms, this would be the equivalent of a 10 cent stamp from that period. I have not seen any data on what the issue quantity was, but I do know from a German publication that the print quantity of the bicoloured 1/- black and green that replaced it, and was in use from 1887 until 1903, was 26,220. Given that this stamp was in use for less than three years, is seems probable that the quantity was probably between 12,000 and 18,000. The stamps were printed in sheets of 60, so the number of sheets would probably have numbered between 200 and 300. There were two plate markings on each sheet - one at the bottom and one at thee top, so there would have been 2 blocks per sheet. Thus the total number of blocks printed was probably somewhere between 400 and 600 blocks. How many have survived? Its anyone's guess, but I would suggest that 5% of the original quantity would be high, and that would be just  20-30 blocks! How much do items that scarce sell for at auction when the country is US, Great Britain, or Australia for example.

I paid $296 for this block of 12. The stamps are all never hinged. The gum is a bit suntanned, which is normal for this issue, but the paper is still bright and fresh. Stanley Gibbons prices a hinged  mint single at 14 pounds. While they do not price never hinged stamps, a reasonable premium for this time period would be about 200%, so each stamp in the block would have a notional catalogue price of 42 pounds. Thus the singles would notionally catalogue 42 x 12 = 504 pounds. So I paid 58% of that notional value, ignoring the exchange rate between dollars and pounds. Without any premium for being never hinged, Gibbons would value the singles at 168 pounds, so I paid roughly full Gibbons for hinged singles. This is a phenomenal bargain. Can you imagine being able to buy a 10 cent US Banknote plate block of 10 never hinged for the price of 10 hinged singles? I doubt it.

Most Nigerian issues were printed in relatively low quantities, and plate blocks were not generally saved,  so that now they are all scarce, even for the very common stamps. So this area of collecting offers a considerable amount of potential for the patient collector.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Six More Interesting Covers...

In this post, I will show you six interesting covers that I have recently acquired. I have not yet decided whether or not to enter all of them into my November exhibit, but I thought that I would show you all of them and see if any of you can offer any comments on them:

This first cover is my favourite. It features a complete souvenir sheet from the 1986 Insects issue, but with an added twist: the sheet is mis-perforated, with the horizontal perforations missing and the vertical perforations shifted in such a way as to bisect each stamp in the sheet. Most of the Nigerian stamps from the mid 1980's to the early 1990's exist mis-perforated and completely imperforate, from what were probably stocks of printers waste that somehow got out to the public. The backstamps indicate that the cover reached Vienna on July 8, 1992, which is just under six years after the issue came out. By western standards this is a very late usage that would almost certainly place the cover in the philatelic category. However, late usages of commemorative stamps are not unheard of in Nigeria, judging from the number that I have come across that are not philatelic. It would appear that Nigeria does not have the same withdrawal and destruction policy for unsold remainder stocks that the western countries have: stamps remain on hand at the post offices until sold. Because new issues are likely stacked on top of old sheets at the post offices, it is quite possible to have late usages that result from a stamp not being sold until well after its issue date. 

In addition to this fact, the total postage paid was 3.5 Naira, which is consistent with other registered covers from this period. So it would appear to be a commercial cover. It is the first of only two covers that I have come across that feature commercial usage of a Nigerian souvenir sheet. Philatelic or not, this cover is simply spectacular in my humble opinion. 

Here is a commercial cover sent from Lagos to Nicosia, Cyprus on February 1, 1967. Cyprus is a fairly exotic destination in that I have not seen very many covers from Nigeria to Cyprus, which makes it a cover of interest. The 1/6d first class airmail rate was paid with two pairs of the 4d Hydrological Decade issue, which came out on February 1, 1967, making this a First Day Cover! Additionally, there are no markings to indicate that it is a First Day Cover, and the haphazard arrangement of the stamps on the envelope supports the notion that it was not sent as an FDC, making it far more collectible. Finally, it is unusual to see covers from this period paid with a large number of low value stamps, given the relative abundance of 1/3d and 1/6d stamps with which to pay the rate. 

This cover from Zaria to Central African Republic is interesting to me for three reasons. The first is the destination - the first cover in thousands from this issue to the Central African Republic. Secondly, it is franked with 8k of postage, which seems quite low for an airmail cover sent on December 10, 1974, when first class airmail rates were 18k. The 8k is paid with three low value stamps - a mixture of the photogravure and lithographed definitives. The 1k and 5k are lithographed, while the 2k is the photogravure printing. The explanation for the low rate of postage appears to come from the missing backflap and the note below "Air Mail" in the upper corner that reads "card only". It is likely that the 8k represents an unsealed rate, with the backflap being removed from the envelope by the sender after inserting the card. 

I like this cover sent from the Swiss Embassy in Lagos to Basle, Switzerland on October 30, 1975 mainly because of the combination of lithographed definitives that pay the double airmail rate of 36k The 12k and 7k values are not common on cover, so to get both on the same cover is quite nice. 

For this registered cover that was sent from Aba to London on April 30, 1973, I show both sides to illustrate the many points of interest. The first is that it is a mixed currency cover, in that the 74k  postage rate has been paid with five 1/3d Crown Bird stamps, and single 10k and 1k photogravure definitives.  The currency change from Sterling to Naira took effect on January 1, 1973, and so for a time, stamps of the old Sterling currency were accepted for use, rounded down to their nearest equivalent rate. For this purpose, 1/- was taken to equal 10k. Here, the five 1/3d stamps adds to 6/3, which would convert to 63k. The addition of the 10k and the 1k, making the total postage 74k. I think that the registration rate during this time was 20k, or at least that is what my study of many dozens of registered covers from this time seems to suggest. The first class airmail rate to the UK was 18k per ounce, so a three ounce cover would cost 18k x 3 = 54k. Add the registration fee of 20k and you get a total rate of 74k. So I think that this is a triple weight registered cover to the UK. The 1/3d from the NSP&M definitive issue is not a common stamp in used condition, so a cover with franked with five copies is quite a nice find. 

The back of the cover provides a nice illustration of multiple backstamps and how these backstamps can show the route that a cover takes. Although there are several strikes, there are really five different handstamps on the back of this cover:

1. The company chop in violet, which although not clear, appears to read "Nmar Bros. Company, Aba Nigeria. 
2. An Aba skeleton postmark, dated April 30, 1973 (not listed in Proud).
3. A Port Harcourt oval registered cancel dated April 30, 1973 (slightly different from Proud type R14).
4. A Lagos oval registered cancel dated May 3, 1973 that is similat to Proud type R51.
5. Red London registered receiving stamp dated May 5, 1973

All of these stamps indicate that the cover made the entire journey from Aba, a town 39 miles northeast of Port Harcourt, which is itself 270 miles east, southeast of Lagos, to London in 5 days. The longest portion of the journey was the 270 miles from Port Harcourt to Lagos!

This last cover is a an official First Day Cover featuring the values of the 1965-1973 Wildlife Issue that were released on May 2, 1966. FDC's of this issue are seldom seen - this is the second one I have seen in almost four years, the first one slipping through my fingers on e-bay. I like this cover especially because it has been signed by the designer of the stamps, Maurice Fievet. 

As always, I welcome your comments on these covers, as I am keen to learn as much about them as possible. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Technical Terms in My Posts

One reader has commented that I use a fair number of technical terms in my posts, which is true. What I had not considered, and perhaps I should have, is that many of you may be new to philately and have not had exposure to many of the technical terms.

As the next several posts are going to explore covers and postal history, I thought that it would be prudent to define some of the terms that will appear again and again in my posts:

Proud Type Such and Such:

Edward Proud is a prominent UK philatelist who has undertaken and completed a study of all known postmarks and cancellations for the entire British Empire up to Independence. This phenomenal undertaking has resulted in the publishing of a book for nearly every country in the Empire that lists, alphbetically all of the postmarks for every known post office. The listings are all fully illustrated and each mostmark is denoted by a alphanumeric type. So when I describe a postmark, I will generally refer to the type as listed in Proud's book.


A stamp is tied to a cover, or other document, when its cancellation extends from the stamp to the cover continuously. This is important because it proves the authenticity of the cover, and supports the notion that the stamps on the cover have not been added to the cover after the fact. Occasionally it is possible for a genuine cover to have stamps that are not tied, due to the postmark being poorly struck, but a firmly tied stamp is usually preferred by philatelists.


A duplex cancel is one where there is a dumb obliterator, usually consisting of an oval of bars, next to a circular date stamp (CDS). Postal regulations generally called for the postal clerk to apply the cancel in such a way that the killer would obliterate the stamp, leaving the CDS legible on the left side of the stamp to be read by the postal clerks. Occasionally, the cancels would be misapplied, which results in the beautiful and rare CDS used examples of classic stamps that we see today.

Circular Date Stamp (CDS):

This is the most common type of town cancellation. Generally it will consist of a town name, date and either a time code, or an actual time of day. Together this data is referrd to by philatelists as indicta. The CDS cancellations had a limited life span, as the hammers used to strike them wore out with use. There were therefore often many different types of CDS cancellations used for a particular town over time, each differing slighly in terms of the font used for the indicta, and the spacing of the letters.


A strike is an impression of a cancellation. When the cancellation or other postal marking is clearly readable on the cover or the individual stamp, we say that the cancellation has been clearly struck. A full strike means that the entire cancellation is visible, as opposed to a partial strike, in which only a portion is visible, but enough to enable philatelists to identify the marking.


A franking is the combination of stamps used to pay the postage rate and any other charges that the cover was subjected to. The franking is important because certain combinations of stamps are more commonly found than others.


When a cover is in transit it will pass through several points, or at least they did up until direct airmail flights replaced land and ocean based modes of transport. It was customary, when a cover reached each point on its journey for the post office to apply a CDS to the back of the cover. These markings are important because they reveal the route that the cover took to reach its destination, and the dates give clues about how long the cover took to reach its destination. Some routes are common, while others may be rare and desirable.

Hopefully these definitions will make the last post and the next several much easier to follow and understand. I will try to define terms as I introduce them in future posts.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The First Six Postal History Items For My Exhibit..

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wanted to depart a bit from my practice of writing about definitive sets, and take you through the process by which I am actually approaching my study of Nigerian stamps and postal history. I had decided that since I would be presenting an Exhibit at the November 2013 meeting of the West Africa Study Circle in London, that I would devote the next several posts to showing you the covers and postcards that I have selected for my exhibit. Each item has been selected either because I feel that the frankings are especially spectacular, the covers have been to unusual destinations, or there is some other feature of the cover that makes it especially interesting. When one collects postal history from this country for a while one becomes aware of how common covers to the USA or the UK are after about 1930. Prior to that, all covers are scarce. So without further ado, I present the first 6 items that I have selected, all from Lagos, during the reigns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII:

The first of these is a one and a half penny postcard, sent from Lagos on February 2, 1886 to Hamburg, Germany. This is an early date, as most of the postcards like this that I have in my collections are used between 1889-1893. Another point of interest is the Lagos postmark, showing the time code "A" and" FE 2", but no year date. This is a variation of the commonly seen CDS cancellation for this period (type D6 in Proud), which always has a year date. This one does not, which makes it unusual. 

Here is an interesting and early business reply envelope with what appears to be a stamp dealer's advertisement at the top. Upon reading it, the advertisement tells the sender that they should use halfpenny stamps only and that they will be paid for the stamps on the letter. Presumably they wanted halfpenny stamps because they would have been easier to to use as packet material and they would have been more popular among collectors at the time. The red "Liverpool Packet" handstamp at the left indicates that the cover reached the UK on December 3, 1896, although the Lagos CDS on the back of the envelope is only partially complete, and the portion that would have shown the date is missing. The envelope has been franked with a 2d mauve and blue, and a single halfpenny stamp, paying the two and a half  penny rate to the UK, and the stamps have been tied to the cover by two strikes of the Proud type K5 oval obliterator. 

Here is a cover sent to Germany on November 30, 1901. This is after the death of Queen Victoria, so technically this is a KEVII cover. Franked with the same combination of stamps as the cover above, which shows that the rate probably applied to all of Europe. The stamps are tied to the cover with strikes of the Proud type D13 Lagos CDS cancellations. 

This cover was sent from Lagos on what was probably March 18, 1891 aboard the S.S. Niger, to Berne, Switzerland. The cover reached the UK on April 16, 1891 and Berne on April 18, 1891, judging from the backstamp date on the cover. I particularly love the penmanship displayed by the sender. The Lagos CDS is  Proud type D7, which was first used in 1873.The cover is franked with a lovely copy of the 4d bicolour, showing much deeper lilac colour than is normally seen on this stamp. I'd be interested to know exactly what the nature is of the red "3" marking at the top of the cover.i.e where was it applied, and what was it meant to indicate?

An early registered cover sent from Lagos in February 1903 to the Mead Cycle Company in Chicago Ill. Again, although the stamps on the cover are Queen Victoria, the cover is technically from the reign of King Edward VII. The cover bears an oval "R" registration mark (Proud type R5). The Lagos CDS is unclear, but appears to be Proud type D13, as on the third cover above. This was in fact the most common cancel of this period. The registration rate was 2d, which when added to the 2.5d postage rate, gave a total rate of 4.5d and this was paid with a strip of 4 1d carmine rose stamps and one halfpenny stamp. 

My research indicates that Mead was a very prominent Chicago manufacutrer of bicycles. Below is an example of a US postcard from 1914 showing an advertisement for their bicycles:

Mead Cycle Company Chicago Illinois Bicycles Advertising

This is an example of the 1890's Lagos postcard, which is not that uncommon. However, what makes this one interesting is that it was re-directed. It was sent from Lagos on December 7, 1896, and was addressed to Lieutenant Abel in Berlin. The card arrived in Berlin on what appears to be January 2, 1897. It was re-directed to Blankenburg, arriving there on January 3, 1897.

I would very much appreciate any comments that you can offer about the above six covers.

Here They Are: The Two Rarest Stamps of Lagos...

As promised, I am posting the pictures of the used 5/- blue and 10/- brown stamps of Lagos that arrived last week:

I have read in several sources that there were no more than 480 or so of each of these two stamps printed. Given that these were printed in panes of 60, that means there were no more than eight sheets issued. They were issued in October 1886 and were in use for less than 6 months, before being replaced by the bi-coloured stamps in March 1887. How many of these have survived since then is anyone's guess. However, I will note that the vast majority of the stamps that I have seen offered for sale are mint. Used copies seem to be very rare, and when they are found, they generally are heavily cancelled - much more so than the 10 shilling value shown above. While it may not score top marks for eye appeal, it is a very sound and presentable example of this very rare stamp. 

So there you have them: the 5/- blue and 10/- brown Vickies of Lagos. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Comments Settings Changed

I had kept wondering why no comments were appearing on my posts. My very astute girlfriend and I were discussing this the other day and she told me that my settings restrict people from posting comments, because she had tried on several occasions. I was surprised, because this was not my intention. So I have now changed my settings and you are all free to comment.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Total Shock - I did not Succeed in Purchasing the Mint 5/- and 10/- Lagos Stamps

The old adage, "don't count your chickens before they hatch" is such a tried, tested and true piece of wisdom, that I am amazed that I don't follow it more often. A few days ago, I proudly proclaimed that I had acquired both the mint and used examples of the 5/- and 10/- Lagos first issues. While it is true that I have actually bought the used stamps, I jumped the gun on the mint ones.

You see, a seller on e-bay had them listed for opening bids of $450 and $900 respectively. This is about 60% of their Scott value. Knowing their true rarity, I placed a bid of $1,000 on the 5/- and $2,000 on the 10/-. I was so sure that I would succeed in purchasing these at significantly less than these amounts, that I went ahead and announced that I had acquired them.

Up until an hour before closing I was indeed the high bidder. I went to the gym for my weekly workout, came back and to my shock, the 5/- sold for $1,025 and the 10/- for $2,025. Both stamps were purchased by a buyer, who up until an hour before had been the underbidder. He had out bid me by one increment - but who knows what his high bid was?

The moral of this story, apart from not jinxing your chances of success by jumping the gun, is that the market is beginning to wake up to the rarity of this material, and prices are rising accordingly. I have another chance to purchase a 10/- at retail, but I honestly don't know when I will see another 5/- blue in mint condition that was as fresh as the one I lost out on today. So when you see a rare item and you have an opportunity to buy it - bid boldly because chances are increasingly that you are not alone in your evaluation of an item.

I will still post the pics of the two stamps that I did acquire when they arrive.

Comments Please...

Before I publish my next post I would like to call upon all of you to comment on my posts. This is a vast and complicated area of philately. While there is a considerable body of knowledge that exists, much if it resides either between the ears of many established philatelists, or has been published in newsletters or journals that are either out of print, or not widely available. If you go to any seller of philatelic handbooks, you will find very few reference sources for Nigeria. Those publications that do exist tend to focus on pre-1914 issues. Except for articles written by King George VI specialists, articles dealing with the King George V Keyplates and articles written by my esteemed colleagues Rob May and Jeremy Martin dealing with modern definitives, there are very few sources dealing with the issues of post 1914 Nigeria.

Therefore in the interests of increasing the existing body of knowledge, I think it is important to share our knowledge with one another. Commenting is one of the best ways to facilitiate this exchange of ideas. Most of what I will present on this blog are my observations arising out of my study of Nigerian stamps and postal history. Very little will be undisputable fact. I am most interested in engaging all of you regarding the subjects that I am posting about.

So please, speak up. Don't be shy!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Hiatus in Posts

I keep starting all my posts of late with the same apology, where I mention how few posts I have been writing along with a renewed commitment to post more often, one or two posts, and then nothing. This has weighed heavily on my mind since my last post. The truth is, I have been struggling with the issue of how to go about presenting the fascinating topic of Nigerian philately to all of you interested collectors. I have been trying to avoid going into the level of detail that excites me, largely because I am afraid that to do so, without first properly introducing my subject, would bore too many of you. So with that in mind I have tried to stick to introducing you to the many stamp issues that this fascinating country has to offer. There are still so many more though, and it will take me many posts to show them all to you.  I must point out that I am studying the stamps of this country one issue at a time, going into as much detail as I can before I get tired of it and move on to something else. So I think that I will be able to write more interesting posts and more frequent posts if I take you on the journey that I am on, as I go through it, sharing with you the knowledge that I acquire, as I discover it, or as I acquire it as the case may be.

As I had probably mentioned in an earlier post, I am a relatively new member of the West Africa Study Circle. They are meeting in London in November this year and I had signed up to give a presentation on one aspect of Nigerian Philately. Originally, I had committed to prepare a presentation on the 1973-1986 definitive issue. However, that has turned out to be a very complicated issue,I have not gotten very far in my research, and it is already July. So I have had to accept the fact that I am not going to be in a position to present on that topic by November. However, I will have enough time to present on a different topic – one with much less scope and rigour, and one that is more geared to fun.  A typical exhibit is between 60 and 120 pages. So, after much thought, I have decided to prepare a presentation on the postal history of the country, in which I select the 120 most interesting covers that are currently in my collection, and write a story about each one. With thousands of covers in my collection, clearly the most difficult part will be selecting the covers.

Over the coming months, I will be presenting one or two of the covers as often as time with my research permits. I may also post the occasional tidbit about some discovery I have made, but generally I expect that for the next several months, my posts will focus on the covers.

One exciting acquisition to my collection, that I will present, as soon as they arrive are the rare 5/- and 10/- first issues of Lagos. A few months ago, I had stated that my goal was to obtain these two stamps without the specimen overprint. I was fortunate a few weeks ago to acquire both stamps in used condition with certificates. Then a few weeks later, I was offered the same two stamps in mint condition! So my Lagos section is nearly complete, both mint and used, with only a few stamps missing.

I have noticed from my viewership statistics that many of my fellow West Africa Study Circle members have been visiting this blog. I welcome all of you and hope that you will offer comments on my posts and will enrich this blog with all of your collective knowledge on this fascinating subject. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

My First Post of May - Exciting Acquisitions of Late: One Shilling Vickies and A Stunning Biafra Cover!

First of all, I would like to express my sincere apologies for taking so long to post. I had said I would be posting prolifically this month and we are already at the 10th. I am about to leave on vacation for a week, so I thought I had better post something before I go.

March and April were very exciting months for acqusitions, as I was able to secure several very rare items for my collection. One of the things I have been able to let go of over the years as a philatelist is my insistence on perfection. This has stood me in good stead, as Nigeria is a country that is very challenging from a condition point of view. Many of the rarest stamps are simply not available in the condition that many North American collectors are used to insisting on.

The first of these key purchases were all three of the crown CC one shilling orange Lagos Queen Victoria Issues shown below:

These stamps were issued between February 1875 and 1879 and were printed by De La Rue. The two stamps on the left are both perf 12.5, while the one on the right is perf 14. In addition to the perfs, there are very noticeable differences in the shades of orange, with the right hand stamp being a distinct red-orange, while the one on the left is yellow-orange. The difference between the two stamps at the left, lies in the width of the inscription "one shilling". The first stamp, which was issued in February 1875 has the inscription measuring 15.5mm, while the stamp in the middle, which was issued in July 1875 has a 16.5mm inscription.

With a combined Gibbons catalogue value of 1,950 pounds, these three stamps illustrate two things:

1. The catalogue value is not a good indicator of scarcity in many cases, and
2. Perfection is often not attainable, but stamps can be imperfect, and still very collectible

I have been buying daily on e-bay and Stamp Auction Network, and I can tell you that I have only seen maybe 5 or 6 mint examples of any of these three stamps offered for sale in the past four years. Nigerian material in general is scarce, but the infrequency with which these are offered, tells me that these are phenomenally rare stamps. In used condition, they are are readily available, though nice examples are still rare. However, the catalogue value suggests that they are merely pricey and scarce. There are lots of stamps that catalogue in the 300-400 pound range in Gibbons that are quite readily available to the buyer with deep pockets, but not so with these stamps. Of the 5 or 6 mint stamps that I have seen, all have been the more common middle stamp with the 16.5mm inscription, and three of these had no gum. I have never before seen an example of either the 15.5mm perf. 12.5 crown CC, or the perf. 14 crown CC.

This brings me to my second point: condition. The two perf. 12.5 stamps at left are in fantastic condition for this issue, being well centered, with full perforations. But at first glance the perforations seem a bit rough and irregular. However, many stamps of this issue have short or pulled perforations, so to find examples with full perfs is a delight. Also, both stamps have original gum, although it is heavily disturbed from prior hinging. Again, this is a delight, as experienced collectors can tell you that most mint stamps of the crown CC period have no gum at all. The right stamp has a couple of pulled perfs at the bottom right and a small surface scuff, which bring the grade down quite a bit. However, the colour is fresh, there is full original gum and I have no idea when I will see another, better example. When I do, I will replace this one, assuming that I can afford the stamp at that time.

The second exciting acquisition is the cover illustrated below, which was from the Biafran Civil war:

The fascinating thing about this cover lies in the route that it took, as indicated by the cancels and the dates of those cancels.

If you look at the 15c Canadian Centennial definitive, the postmark date is October 31, 1968, and the cover is addressed to Copenhagen, Denmark, with the definitive paying the first class airmail rate to Denmark. There is a November 4, 1968 receiving backstamp in Danish, proving that the cover arrived in Denmark.

But then, in the middle of the cover, are two 4d Biafran Independence stamps, cancelled on November 12, 1968. The Umahia registered oval cancels, just tie the stamps to the envelope. Although nearly all of the cancel falls on the stamps, the cancels tie the stamps to each other, and the M of Umahia is clearly appearing on the envelope. Examination under high magnification reveals the ink to be the same as the rest of the cancel, and not drawn in after the fact. So there is no chance that these stamps were not originally on this cover. Clearly, somehow, this cover wound up in Biafra between the time it arrived in Copenhagen on November 4, 1968 and the day it was mailed back from Biafra on November 12.

The most likely explanation is that it was taken by the recipient, back to Biafra by mistake, and then sent back. Biafran stamps were not recognized by the U.P.U. as valid for postage, so consequently, there is a "T" postage due marking on the envelope, just below the Centennial definitive.

Biafran covers are very rare, with only one cover cropping up for sale every year or so. This one, I like especially because it has three points of interest: a postage due marking, it is from Biafra and it features the Centennial issue of Canada.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tax Season is Almost Over

It has been over a month since my last post. As some of you are aware, I am an accountant. April in Canada is the month for the filing of personal income tax returns. So I have been working very long days and have not had time to put up more posts.

However, it has been an exciting month for acqusitions. Among other things that I have acquired are the 1935 Silver Jubilee Issue in complete sheets of 60 and the first shipment of a stock of covers from a penpal agency in Finland. This stock consists of approximately 27,000 (!) covers covering the period from 1973 to 1996. I purchased the first 2,700 this month, and those arrived this week.

The next few posts will veer off showing you the basic issues of Nigeria and will feature a few of my exciting finds from the cover stock and the sheets, if I can get them to scan properly.

Watch this space for posts in May.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Issues of Niger Coast Protectorate - Part One - 1892-1894

Switching gears completely from the modern flavour of the last several posts, I felt it was time to take a large step back in time to the 1890's, before Federation, to show you the first issues of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which changed its name to the Niger Coast Protectorate on May 12, 1893. The Protectorate came into being on June 5, 1885, when the Brisish proclaimed its existence. It extended over the entire southern coast of what is now Nigeria, and excluded only the then colony of Lagos, and the centre of the Niger Delta. The main port areas included Benin, Bonny, Brass River, Forcados River, Old Calabar River and Opobo River.

There are only a handful of territories whose stamps differed in design from the standard Perkins Bacon Britannias and Chalons, or the De La Rue Queen Victoria Keyplates. One of these was the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which started off with Great Britain Jubilee issues that were overprinted, and then went on to feature beautiful Widow's Weeds designs, that were wonderfully executed by Waterlow and Sons, who during that era, had given Philatelists, absolutely wonderful stamps from Costa Rica, Uruguay, North Borneo and Labuan, to name just a few.

The overprinted issues of Great Britain, first appeared on July 20, 1892, and continued in use until the beginning of 1894. So they were in use for a little under a year and a half. There were five denominations: the 1/2d vermilion, the 1d lilac, the 2d grey-green and carmine, the 21/2d purple on blue, the 5d dull purple and blue, as well as the 1/- dull green. The overprint consisted of the words "British Protectorate" and "Oil Rivers" in three lines, with two appearing at the top of the design and the third line appearing at the base. The first five designs appear as follows:

1/2d deep vermilion - this stamp exists in at least two distinct shades of the vermilion. 

1d lilac - again, I have seen several shades of the lilac. 

2d grey-green and carmine - I have not seen much variation of this stamp, even though I know there are some fantastic shade varieties of both the green and red that exist on the regular British issue. 

The 21/2d purple on blue. This exists in at least two shades of the purple. 

The 5d lilac and ultramarine - again, I have only seen subtle variation in the shades of both the lilac and the ultramarine, but I know that some more marked shades must exist. 

I recently had the pleasure to acquire, two mint never hinged blocks from this issue, which I have never seen before, in any condition. All one usually finds with this issue are singles, so blocks are a very rare treat indeed:

On January 1, 1894, the first Waterlow Engraved Issue appears. Interestingly, the stamps were all originally inscribed "Oil Rivers". However, before they were issued, on May 12, 1893, the Protectorate was extended into the interior, and the name was changed to "Niger Coast Protectorate". So to avoid having to destroy these stamps, the inscription "Oil Rivers" was obliterated, and "Niger Coast" was added. This is a fairly sought after issue, that is difficult to locate in good condition. The designs are as follows:

1/2d vermilion

1d pale blue. There are some really prominent shade differences on this value, from a very deep blue to a dull blue. 

2d green. Again, there are some subtle shade variations to be found with this value. 

21/2d carmine-lake. 

5d grey-lilac. This value exhibits the largest range of shades. The above is called grey-lilac, but is really more of a pure grey. 

1/- black. The lathework in the background of this design is simply stunning, I find. 

The main point of interest with these stamps lies in the perforations, which display an amazing amount of variation, as well as the papers, which vary from thin to thick, and exist in both horizontal and vertical weaves. 

The above set had a very short life of only four months, being replaced by the following set, in which the correct name of the protectorate was integrated into the design. As with the above set, there are a large number of different perforations, and the papers all vary from thin to thick. The set consisted of the same values as the previous one, with the paper being unwatermarked, as the previous set. 

1/2d green - on this issue there are some subtle variations of the green. On the watermarked stamps, which will be shown in the next post, there is much more variation. 

1d orange-vermilion. There is considerable variation in the shades found on this stamp. The above is a much lighter, pure orange, compared to what is usually seen, which is a much deeper vermilion. 

2d lake. There is some variation in the shade of this stamp, that is worth mentioning. Some examples are much closer to a carmine red than a lake. 

21/2d pale blue. This colour varies quite markedly from the pale blue that you see here, to a deep dull blue. 

5d deep violet. The colour of this stamp varies from the deep violet above, to a deep purple, that contains more red, and is brighter. This is the only value for which Gibbons lists no perforation varieties, with the perforation being 141/2 to 15. The selvedge tab illustrates very clearly the difference in the size of the perforating pins used to perforate the sheets: if you look carefully, you will see that six holes up from the bottom of the stamp, the holes become much larger. 

1/- black. I have a better looking example, which I will replace this image with, when I can locate it. 

Well there you have a quick introduction to the first three issues of Niger Coast Protectorate, that are not the rare overprinted and surcharged issues. These are unfortunately so scarce and pricey, that I do not have any in my possession to show you. Hopefully that will change over the next several years. In my next post, I will show you the watermarked stamps, as well as some of the covers and postal history.