Search This Blog

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Printing Firms That Produced Nigeria's Stamps

Understanding the work of the firms that printed Nigeria' postage stamps is absolutely critical if you want to be able to study and understand the country's stamps. Each of these firms used their own papers, their own inks and their own gums, as well as their own printing processes. These things evolved over time as well and understanding precisely how this happened and how the characteristics of paper, ink and gum changed over time is one of the cornerstones of British Commonwealth Philately in general.

While there were a couple of firms in Israel and Portugal who printed a few of the issues of Biafra and some commemorative sets issued between 1963 and 1965, these comprise only a very small number of Nigeria's stamps. So we can ignore them for the purposes of this discussion, since familiarity with their work is only essential to understanding the specific issues that they produced, rather than Nigerian philately as a whole. By and large, nearly all stamps issued for Nigeria and its component colonies, since 1874 have been printed by six firms, four of which were based in the UK:


1. Thomas De La Rue and Co., and its Belgian subsidiary Delrieu.
2. Waterlow and Sons Ltd.
3. Bradbury Wilkinson
4. Harrison and Sons
5. Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSP&M)
6. Jon Enschede and sons of the Netherlands.

I will discuss the general characteristics of each printer' work with respect to:


  • Printing process
  • Paper employed
  • Inks used and use of shades to identify printings
  • Other characteristics used to identify printings
  • Gum used
and any other considerations that come into play when specializing in issues printed by these firms. 

Thomas De La Rue and Company

This venerable London firm has been responsible for printing most currency and the vast majority of all postage stamps of the British Commonwealth up to the 1930's. Their primary printing process, which they had perfected was surface printing, otherwise known as typography. Typography is a process where flat printing plates are used to print the designs, as opposed to recessed plates. The ink is applied to the plate after oil has been applied to the design portion of the plate. The excess ink is then wiped off and stays on the part of the plate where the design is. The plates are then applied to the sheets and the design is transferred to the paper. After the 1930's they started printing stamps using engraving, usually in two colours. There is one instance in 1972 where De La Rue produced the issue using Lthography, and several values of the 1965-1972 definitive issue were printed by the firm's Belgian subsidiary using photogravure. 

Printing Process

De La Rue's typography process typically employed two different plates, which were fitted together to form the complete design. Most British Commonwealth issues often had the same basic design, with only the country name, currency name and value being different. In order to avoid duplicating the work required in preparing separate plates for the issues of each and every country in the Empire, De La Rue would produce a head plate for the generic design that would consist of the frame and monarch's portrait, and then a separate duty plate, which would consist of the country name, currency and denomination. Occasionally both the head plate and duty plates would be printed together in one single pass through the printing press. In these instances you can always tell because the ink colour will be uniform throughout the stamp. However, there are many, many instances where printing was accomplished through two separate press runs. Sometimes these are very obvious where the colour of the country name and value tablets are a completely different colour from the frame. However there are also some instances where the colours are very close, but different when examined closely. Sometimes these are listed in Gibbons, but many times they are not. 

Plate Characteristics and Layout

De La Rue usually laid out their plates to print sheets of 120 stamps separated by horizontal gutters into two panes of 60 stamps for colonial stamps. For Great Britain issues, they were usually sheets of 240 stamps, separated into four panes of 60 by horizontal and vertical gutters. These gutters and the edges of the sheets usually contained coloured lines, called rulers. The purpose of these rulers was to enable the press operators to judge the wear of the plates and also to keep track of the number of times the plates were re-worked, as marks would be made to the rulers every time the plates were modified. Often these marks are the only way to positively identify certain printings of the stamps. In the margins above the corner stamps would also appear the plate number, in white, inside a solid circle printed in the colour of the stamp. Until the late 1890's, a second number would appear in a fancy truncated rectangle, and this would appear in the lower margins. This number is NOT the plate number, but some kind of print order number. For their engraved stamps, they generally had the same sheet layout, but instead of rulers and plate numbers in all corners, there would be a simple inscription "Thomas De La Rue and Company, London" in the centre of the bottom sheet margin, along with a plate number in sans-serif letters and numbers. Often these plates would be numbered 1, 1A, 2, 2A, 2B etc. 

The Delrieu issues usually bore no plate number, but would have the printing date printed in the lower right corner of the sheet thus: "3.8.1965", or something like that. As with most previous issues the sheet number would be handstamped or printed separately into the top right corner of the sheet. 

Paper and Gum Characteristics

In terms of paper, De La Rue used a high quality wove, that had a smooth, shiny appearance on the printed side. This generally facilitated adhesion of the printing inks and resulted in a high quality finish. The very first issues of Lagos were printed using a paper that had a crown over "CC" watermark. This paper was in general use until about 1880, when the watermark was changed to a crown over CA. The gum on this paper is very distinct. It is a thin, matte colourless gum. So generally if you see a crown CC stamp, with thick, yellow or thick shiny gum, it has been re-gummed. Original gum on the crown CC issues of most Commonwealth countries is scarce, and Lagos is no exception to this. The crown CA paper was in use until 1904, when it was replaced by paper that had the multiple crown CA watermark. It is this crown CA paper that we first see the rulers appear with regularity and the gum on this paper is usually, thick, yellowish and shiny on the later printings, and yellow and crackly on some of the printings made prior to 1886. Due to problems with tropical climates disturbing the gum and reducing the tack of the gum, there is a period during the late 1880's where De La Rue double gummed their stamps, resulting in gum that is extraordinarily thick compared to normal. Such stamps almost look re-gummed, but are actually not, and could be misidentified by someone not familiar with this practice. 

The multiple crown CA paper came into use in late 1904 and had the same gum characteristics as the earlier paper. This paper continued in use until 1921-1922, when the crown over multiple script CA watermark replaced the multiple block crown CA watermark. There were two important developments to by De La Rue during this period:

  • The introduction of chalk-surfacing to the paper used for most intermediate and high-value denominations. Generally speaking, these were any stamps above those required to pay postcard, printed matter and local letter rates. The introduction of this paper generally started in 1905 and there was more than one type of chalk-surfacing, although Gibbons generally only lists one type. I have seen thin papers with a thin chalk coating, as well as very thick papers with a thick, opaque white chalky coating similar to the Dickinson coated paper found on the 6d Edward VII issue of Great Britain printed by Somerset House in 1913. 
  • The introduction of coloured papers and papers that had a different colour on the surface and a different colour on the back. There were four basic colours used: green, yellow, red and blue. These will be discussed in detail in another post, but the surface and back colours of these stamps varied greatly and is a very useful aid in identifying printings. These papers continued in use well into the multiple script period. 
The crown over multiple script CA period was the longest period lasting from 1921/22 until about 1964, when the format of the watermark went back to a crown over block CA in single lined, sans-serif block letters. This later watermark was never used on Nigerian stamps though as Independence had been attained by this time and a different watermark was in use. The finish and gum characteristics of this paper on the typographed stamps are similar to the earlier period, but for some of the later issues, the gum is sometimes streaky and toned. 

For the engraved stamps printed by De La Rue, the paper also has a smooth surface finish, but is much, much thicker than that used to print the typographed stamps. The gum on the stamps printed between 1936 and about 1940 tends to be either very thick, yellowish and shiny, or somewhat dull and toned, when affected by the tropical climate of Nigeria. Stamps that were actually sent to Nigeria will have the tell-tale signs of tropicalization, whereas those that were sold to collectors in London will have the fresher, whiter gum. From about 1940 to 1946, the gum becomes almost colourless and matte, but under magnification can be seen to have a diagonal criss-cross pattern of very fine cracks. After 1946, it becomes shinier and less crackly and by 1950 it is very shiny and smooth. The issues printed by De La Rue in 1961-1962 after they took over from Waterlow tend to have a much less shiny, white gum. 

The Delrieu issues of 1958-59 and 1965-1972 employed completely different papers and gums. The 1958-59 issues employed the paper with multiple script CA watermark, but the gum was an olive colour. It appeared smooth and shiny, but under magnification, could be seen to have an extremely fine pattern of diagonal cracks. The stamps from 1965-72 were printed on a thin, chalk-surfaced paper that would show a lot of woodpulp fibres if viewed under long-wave ultraviolet (UV) light. Furthermore, the brightness of the paper would vary under the UV light. The gum employed was, a thick, shiny, yellow dextrose gum, quite unlike anything that came before or after. 

Inks and Shades

De La Rue used both singly fugitive and doubly fugitive inks to print their stamps. Singly fugitive inks are those that run in mineral spirits. Doubly fugitive inks are those that run in water as well as mineral spirits. Up until about the mid 1880's most all of De La Rue's stamps were printed using singly fugitive ink., so soaking them in water is completely safe. However, starting in the mid-1880's all mid-range and high values were printed using either doubly fugitive ink on ordinary, unsurfaced paper, or doubly fugitive ink on chalk-surfaced paper. Specifically, the purple and green inks are particularly fugitive and affected by soaking in water in the following way:

  • The true purple colour is a deep and dull purple, which is not bright in any way. When first soaked, the ink will become bright purple and then will fade into very pale purple with prolonged exposure. When used on chalky paper, the fading can be so pronounced that it almost appears as if the ink is missing. 
  • The true green colour is a deep and dull green. When first exposed to moisture it becomes a bright blue green, fades with prolonged exposure to yellow-green and then finally to a bright greenish yellow. 
Very badly faded used stamps from the Commonwealth are generally regarded as being worth very little, so it becomes very important in Commonwealth philately to recognize whether a colour variation is a genuine one on a stamp that has retained its original true colour versus one that is merely faded and washed out by exposure to moisture. 

By the time De La Rue began moving away from surface printing, the use of doubly fugitive ink fell more of less by the wayside. Consequently, fine used stamps become much easier to find. 

That concludes my general overview of  De La Rue's work. The next four posts will examine the work of the other five firms. 



No comments:

Post a Comment