This article is based on an article, which originally appeared in the “Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly”, October 28, 1911.

For philatelic purposes Africa seems to be divided into West Africa, South Africa and Egypt, the little of interest that the East Coast contains being usually absorbed into the collections of South Africa. These notes are concerned with four colonies of West Africa: Gambia, Gold Coast, Lagos and Sierra Leone, with fascinating information concerning their history and useful commentary on De La Rue printings:

Gambia is a Crown Colony with a Governor, whose salary is £2,500. Bathurst is its capital and the Colony takes its name from the River Gambia, discovered by the Portuguese in 1447. In 1588 (the year of the Spanish Armada) Queen Elizabeth, then at war with Spain and Portugal, gave a charter to a British Company to trade with Gambia but the early efforts were unsuccessful. In 1686 a fort was built on a rocky island and named Fort James, in honour of the new king. The English had formidable rivals in the French and Portuguese and it was not until 1783 that the river was recognised British by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1807 it was placed under Sierra Leone, created a separate Colony in 1843, and from 1866 it formed a portion of the government of the West African Settlements until 1888, when it became a separate government. The first stamps were issued in January 1862. There were two values, 4d. and 6d., printed in small sheets of 15 (3 rows of 5), on unwatermarked paper, imperforate, and obliterated by pen and red ink. The second issue, August 1874, was still imperforate, but on paper watermarked Crown and CC; and in 1880 a set of seven values (1/2 d. to 1/-) perforated 14, at first by a single and afterwards by a comb machine, and in this issue the watermarks are found both upright and sideways. The perforated 14 by the comb machine.


Figure 1 left: June 1880 1/2 d. orange. Figure 2 right: January 1898 1/2 d. gray-green.

A variety occurs in the 6d. value, the last stamp in the top row being indented on the right side, and specimens of the 1s. value are found with a double impression of the embossed head, which occupies the central portion of the stamp, one impression being reversed, doubtless resulting from a slip made by the printer in placing the paper in the press without having previously inked the plate, thus causing an albino impression, and the second time the paper has gone through the machine, it has been evidently reversed.

Other minor varieties, where the pendant curl of the chignon touches the nape of the neck were explained as being caused by over-pressure in printing.

Inverted watermarks are found, and the specimens of the 1/-and 2d. values, perf. 12, and printed in wrong colours, which are in the Tapling Collection were judged to be colour trials.

Gold Coast
The first English Company to trade with the Gold Coast was charted in 1662, and was succeeded in 1672 by the Royal African Company, which enlarged and strengthened Cape Coast Castle and built several Forts. This Company was succeeded in 1750 by the African Company of Merchants, constituted by Act of Parliament to trade and form Settlements on the Coast between 20° N. and 20° S. latitude.


Figure 3 left: 1875 4d. red-violet. Figure 4 right: 1889 5 shilling lilac & ultramarine.

These settlements were in 1820 transferred to the Crown, the government of Sierra Leone, being finally separated in 1874, under the title of Gold Coast Colony. The first stamps were engraved and printed by Messrs. De La Rue and Co. in panes of 60 (10 rows of 6) on paper watermarked Crown CC, perforated 12 ½, and issued July 1875.

The next four years saw an issue of five values (1/2d. to 6d.) perf. 14, and in 1883 came the ½ d. and 1d. on C.A. paper, these two in an unused state being very desirable stamps.

The 4d. CC is known cut in four rectangular portions, being cut from angle to angle.

This Colony and Protectorate was united with the Gold Coast from 1874 to 1886. The island, which gives the colony its name is only 3 ½ square miles in area and at its west end stands Lagos town, the only safe harbour for 1,000 miles. The population is 120,000, of which few are Europeans; the climate is unhealthy.


Figure 5: 1874-75 1d. lilac.

The first stamps, engraved and printed by De La Rue in panes of 60, on Crown CC paper, perforated 12 ½, were issued in June 1874, and were printed by two operations, the value forming the label at the bottom of the stamp being printed at the second operation. In many cases the colour varies from the rest of the stamp.

The spacing of the value on the 1s. is found measuring 15 ½ mm. And 16 ½ mm. And there is a variety without the cross bar to the “G” of “SHILLING”.

Lagos was the first Colony to issue stamps of the higher values 2/6, 5/- and 10/-, but the principal use of the 10/- was for fiscal purposes.

Sierra Leone
This peninsula was ceded to Great Britain in 1787 by a native chief as an asylum for the many destitute Negroes then in England, and great numbers of liberated Africans from North America and the West Indies, besides those taken in slavers off the Coast, have from time to time settled there. Resulting from this is the fact that in Freetown, the capital, no less than sixty different languages are said to be spoken there.


Figure 6 left: 1860 6d. Figure 7 right: 1872 1d rose.

The first stamp was formerly thought to have been issued in 1861. The Sierra Leone Gazette only started publication in 1870, but in the Blue Book of the Colony for 1860, the following appears:

Receipts of Post Office: £184, 17s, 7d
Sale of stamps: £5, 3s, 0d

Thus proving that the stamp came into use in 1860.

The 6d. stamp on blue paper, imperforate, exists, but as no used specimen is known, it is believed to be a proof. The 6d. stamps were printed by De La Rue without watermark, and perforated at first 14, afterwards 12 ½, but the sheets show an entirely different arrangement, the pattern of make-up of the sheets being that of the 6d. of Great Britain printed by the same firm (De La Rue & Co.) in 1856. The sheet contained 240 stamps in 12 panes of 20 (5×4) the panes being arranged in four horizontal rows of three.

This unusual arrangement is the reason why the 6d. stamp continued to be printed on unwatermarked paper long after all other values appeared on Crown CC. In fact it was not until 1885 that the stamp appeared on CC paper.

The variety of Crown CC paper the used by De La Rue & Co. was what they made up for stamps of larger size, such as the 5/-. Trinidad of 1869, with the watermarks properly spaced for horizontal rows of 12 of the size of stamp the paper was intended for. Of the two CC papers (the other being arranged in panes of 60) it was no doubt the best adapted for the stamps of Sierra Leone, but was still a most unsuitable makeshift, as the irregularity in the position of the watermarks on the stamps proves.