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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.


  1. QV 1/- value. Ince & Sacher “Postal Services of the British Nigeria Region Prior to 1914” states that 370 sheets were printed, 22000 stamps. This book is superb reading for philatelists studying this area.

  2. Thanks Ray! I will have to secure a copy of that book soon, so that my posts can be more factual and less conjectural.

  3. "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." -Why were they printed in low quantities?


  4. That is a very good question, since most Colonial issues were printed in much larger quantities. The reason has to do with collector demand. Nigeria does not have a large collector following after Independence in 1960. Nigerian definitives after 1960 were printed in large quantities, just like the earlier Colonial issues. But because there was not a large collector following, mint stamps were generally used up for postage rather than being saved by collectors, with the results that nearly every definitive issue after independence is scarce. Plate blocks are even scarcer for this reason. The commemoratives were printed with collector demand in mind. But again, because this was relatively low, many issues were printed in quantities of less than 1 million, which for a country of over 225 million people, is relatively low. Canada in contrast in the 1960's and 1970's printed quantities for each issue of between 30 and 70 million and our population is less than 10% of Nigeria's.