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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.

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.