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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where to Start?

The first question that I have been grappling with this past week is where to start this blog. I know that I need to upload some actual stamps to bring this subject to life. Once I get some items scanned, I will make this the subject of my next post. But first, a brief overview.

Nigeria as we know it today, was formed in 1914, when Northern and Southern Nigeria joined to form the country. Northern and Southern Nigeria, at least from a philatelic perspective, did not themselves exist until 1901. Northern Nigeria was formed then from the northern region of what was called the Niger Company Territories, plus some other regions to the west, which had not previously had postal service. The Niger Company Territories were composed of what is now a large part of Cameroun, plus the area around Port Harcourt. Southern Nigeria was formed from the southern region of the Niger Company Territories and the Niger Coast (Oil Rivers) Protectorate. Lagos was a separate colony, which did not join Southern Nigeria until 1906.

Each of Lagos, Niger Coast Protectorate, Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria issued their own stamps. The Niger Company Territories did not use their own stamps, but rather made use of British stamps, which at that time were the 1887 Jubilee Issue. The subject matter of all these, plus the Nigerian stamps up to 1936, depicted only the monarchs - Queen Victoria from 1874-1902; King Edward VII from 1902-1912 and King George V from 1912-1936. Most of the interest in studying these issues lies in the cancellations (postmarks, handstamps) which depicts a rich postal history, and the different printings of the stamps, which differ in small details, such as the papers and colours in which the stamps were printed, among other things. I will introduce you to these issues in later posts.

Starting in 1936, Nigerian stamps began to illustrate aspects of life in Nigeria as well as industries: Cocoa palms, tin dredging, the docks, a fishing village, canoe pulling, Fullani cattle herd, Habe minaret, cotton ginnery, the bridge at Jebba and Buea Road. Some stamps still showed just the monarch, being King George VI, but starting in 1953, all stamps illustrated some industry, place or aspect of Nigerian life. The 1953-60 issue, depicts ancient currency, Bornu horsemen, tin mining, the intersection of the main rivers, cocoa plantations, groundnut farming, timber, the Ife bronze mask, coconut oil palms, bananas, cattle farming and new and old Lagos.

Independence came on October 1, 1960, and with it, a complete modernization and change in design. The first series, which was released on January 1, 1961 depicts all the hope and promise of a new nation, illustrating industries, artifacts and national landmarks with pride: groundnuts, coal mining, education, Oyo carving, weaving, pottery, masks, camel train, hornbill, Central Bank, Nigeria Museum, Kano Airport and Lagos Station. From here, every year there would be a set to celebrate the anniversary of independence, and starting in 1963, the Republic. There were sets to commemorate the tourism industry and other events throughout the 1960's. but a large number of the issues until the 1970's celebrated the heroes of independence: President Azikiwe, King Jaja of Opobo and Herbert Macaulay. In 1965, a new series appeared which depicted Nigeria's range of wildlife: Lions, Elephants, the Spendid Sunbird, the Cheetah, Leopards, Saddle Billed Storks, Grey Parrots, Kingfishers, Crown Birds, Kobs, Giraffes, Hippopotami and Buffaloes.

Then on May 1, 1967 civil war breaks out when Biafra declares its independence. Biafra issues its own stamps and achieves international recognition. Many of the issues depict the bloodshed that Biafrans endured and towards the capitulation, which came in 1970, the issues depict the ongoing hardship suffered during the war. Throughout the rest of the 1960's, the stamps depict the ongoing modernization of Nigeria.

In 1973, Nigeria adopts its own currency, abandoning the pound-shilling-pence system. The 1973 series, which ran until 1985 depicts Nigerian industry: hides and skins, oil refining, petroleum, cattle ranching, timber, Yankari Game Reserve, civic development, sugar cane, oil palms, vaccine production, docks, fishing festival, pottery, Eko Bridge and Lagos Teaching hospital. Throughout the 70's the theme was the international presence of Nigeria and the organizations that Nigeria is involved in: OPEC, the African Development Bank and the OAU.

In the 1980's, the inflation began. Up until this point, the highest denomination was 2 Naira. The standard stamp was 30k (kobo). By the early 1990's the standard stamp was 10 Naira and then 30 Naira. The fight against corruption became a theme that was depicted more than once, and by the 2000's the return to democracy was celebrated heavily and the concept of freedom and its past fighters from around the world were recognized.

I have only just done a brief overview of the history of Nigerian stamps. My next post will illustrate the various issues I have just described with some scans, and then I will begin to discuss each issue in further posts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Putting Nigerian Stamps on the Map

I have been collecting stamps for almost 34 years now. In that time, I have specialized in the stamps of Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Commonwealth King George VI and many more. For 32 of those years I struggled to find a collecting area that could sustain my interest. For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to write a philatelic work - to contribute in some lasting way to this fantastic hobby.

Two years ago, I started collecting the stamps and postal history of Nigeria and what an amazing area! What is so amazing about it? Well, I love detail - papers, shades, watermarks, perforations, errors, cancellations etc. I also love a challenge, and so my stamps have to have some scarcity factor. This is why I would not stick to the major industrialized countries - I found the material too expensive for how un-scarce it actually is.  Nigeria has it all. First, there is the fact that until 1914, it was several separate colonies and protectorates: Niger Coast Protectorate, Lagos, Niger Company Territories, Northern Nigeria, and Southern Nigeria. All of the issues of these territories were printed in the UK by two printing companies: De La Rue and Company and Waterlow & Sons. Both companies experimented with different inks, resulting in shade varieties, while Waterlow's perforations exhibited several different gauges, resulting in upwards of 5 types of a basic stamp.

In 1914 all of the above mentioned territories formed Nigeria as we know it today. Nigeria is the 8th most populous country on earth, and one of the wealthiest countries on earth. One would expect its stamps to be popular with collectors given its stature on the world stage. Sadly, this has not been the case historically. However, what this means to the budding specialist looking for a rich, fertile field to study, is that Nigeria is replete with affordable and scarce material. Most of the collector interest historically has been focussed on the colonial material up to independence. However, even these issues have not received anywhere near the attention that they deserve.

But where the country really gets interesting and exciting is after independence in 1960. Some of the sets issued are the most complicated that I have ever studied and some of the material is very scarce, while at the same time being completely affordable. There is also the hope and promise depicted on these issues associated with the birth of a new nation and its continual growth and improvement.

As I got more and more interested in this area, I knew what I had to do: publish a book that would show other collectors what could be done with this fantastic country. Put it on the map so to speak. But, it is taking me far longer to research the stamps than I expected. So I decided that I had better start with a blog. I also want to hear your comments and your ideas, as my work progresses.

So over the months and years to come, I will try to share the discoveries I make as I study the stamps of this country. Right now, I am working on the first Kobo-Naira Definitive issue that came out in 1973. This issue was reprinted until it was replaced in 1984. This issue is without a doubt the most complicated I have ever studied, given that it was only out for just over 10 years. Of course countries like the UK have the Machin Heads, which are in their 44th year now, so in terms of complication, it is hard to beat. But this little set from Nigeria has everything a detail freak could want:

1. Different printing processes: photogravure and lithography.
2. Numerous shade varieties of virtually every colour used to print the stamps.
3. Fluorescent paper varieties.
4. Different paper types, in terms of texture and thickness.
5. Different gums.
6. Watermarked and unwatermarked, as well as watermark varieties.
7. Fluorescent inks that appear the same under normal light as non-fluorescent inks.
8. Clean cut and rough perforations.
9. Different printing orders of colour (i.e. black on blue versus blue on black).
10. Design detail differences.

Anyway, I think this is long enough for a first post. I'm off to go study some of the 30K value and pull out the ultraviolet lamp. I'd love to hear your comments.