Overview of Nigerian Philately

Overview of Nigerian Philately

Nigerian philately can be divided into three broad areas, each of which can be further subdivided into smaller areas. Philatellically speaking, the issues of Nigeria can be relatively complex to a budding specialist, although they can also be made as simple as you wish.

At the broadest level, the country can be broken down as follows:

  • Pre-Federation Nigeria - all the issues from 1874 to 1914. 
  • Federated Nigeria to independence - all issues from 1914 to 1960.
  • Federated Nigeria after independence -all issues from 1960 to date.
Pre-Federation Nigeria Before 1914
During the pre-federation period, Nigeria actually consisted of five separate crown colonies and protectorates, each of which issued its own stamps, or had its own handstamps:
  • Lagos, which first issued stamps in 1874 and was amalgamated into Southern Nigeria in 1906.
  • Niger Coast Protectorate, which first issued stamps in 1892 and was amalgamated into Southern Nigeria in 1906.
  • Niger Company Territories, which eventually became parts of Northern and Southern Nigeria used stamps of Great Britain with its own cancellations from the 1890's until 1901.
  • Northern Nigeria, which issued stamps from 1901-1913.
  • Southern Nigeria, which issued stamps from 1901-1913.
With the exception of the issues of Niger Coast Protectorate after 1893, every single issue from these five areas was printed in London by De La Rue and Company. This is important because De La Rue used distinct papers, gums and inks during the life of these issues, and understanding them is the key to correctly identifying and classifying the various printings. It must be borne in mind that the Stanley Gibbons catalogue listings for these areas, as extensive and detailed as they are are still highly simplified in relation to the actual level of detail that can be pursued with respect to different printings. In addition, many of the basic stamps and printing varieties are astonishingly rare and very much underpriced. For example, there are many basic stamps that had issue quantities less than 1,000 stamps. 
The postal history of this period is also extremely interesting and challenging, with mixed frankings being possible with Lagos, Niger Coast Protectorate and Southern Nigeria in the period between 1906 and 1913. 
Nigeria From 1914 to Independence (1960)
During this period, all the stamps were still printed in London, but we begin to see the stamps being printed by the full range of printing firms that were involved in Commonwealth stamp production:
  • De La Rue printed all the keyplate stamps of King George V's reign as well as the 1936 Pictorials, the  2/6d and 5/- King George VI definitives, and finally the 1946 Peace Issue. 
  • Bradbury Wilkinson printed the 1937 Coronation, the King George VI definitives to the 1/3d, the 5/- 1948 Silver Wedding, the 3d and 6d 1949 UPU Issue, the 1953 Coronation Issue, and finally the first postage due issue. 
  • Waterlow printed the 1935 Silver Jubilee Issue, the 1d and 1/- 1949 UPU Issue, the 1953-60 Definitive Issue, and all the commemorative issues from 1953 to 1958. 
  • Harrison and Sons printed the 1d 1948 Silver Wedding stamp.
The papers, inks and gums employed by these four printing firms are all distinct, and share similar characteristics to issues of other Commonwealth countries that were printed by the same firms at the same time. In addition, the attributes of papers, inks and gums evolved over time, so that with care you can learn the difference between a pre WW2 gum, a wartime gum, the gum used immediately after the war and the gum used in the early 1950's for example. This can open up a whole world of specialization that you may not be aware of by looking at the Gibbons listings. 
The postal history is also fascinating with hundreds if not thousands of post offices being open and having their own distinct cancellations. Edward Proud has extensively documented these in his handbooks on the postal history of the various Commonwealth countries, and he has a volume for Nigeria that boasts close to 1,000 pages. 
Nigeria After Independence
Nigeria after independence is extremely interesting for several reasons. Firstly, we have the switch from stamps being produced in London to everything being printed in Nigeria by the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSP&M) that took place in 1968. Then in 1973 the currency was changed from Sterling currency to Naira and Kobo. This means that postal history can be collected that includes mixed, dual currency frankings for a time during the changeover period. Finally, the hyperinflation that hit the country in the late 1980's and early 1990's resulted in a breakdown of quality control at the NSP&M as well as very interesting postal history frankings. The breakdown of quality control has resulted in a multitude of imperforate and part-perforate varieties being produced as well as mis-perfs. 
The majority of issues to 1967 were printed by Harrison and Sons on a paper with a simple FN multiple watermark. Extensive studies have yet to be conducted to locate and find varieties of this watermark such as inverts, sideways etc., as well as missing or broken letters. This watermark was in use until the NSP&M took over production of all Nigerian stamps in 1968. There were a few issues during this time that were printed in Israel, such as the 1963 Republic Issue and the 1964 Kennedy Issue, but all the others were printed by Harrison & Sons, except for some of the 1965 Definitives, which where printed by Delrieu, a Belgian subsidiary of De La Rue. 
The Wildlife definitive issue of 1965-1972 is the first definitive issue to have been printed by three different firms: Delrieu, Harrison & Sons and the NSP&M. In addition to numerous paper, colour and gum varieties, this issue also boasts perforation and imprint size differences. 
The remainder of the sterling period to 1972 is relatively straightforward in terms of the issued stamps. I find the main interest here lies in the die proofs, unfinished designs and unadopted designs (essays) that can be found from this period. 
However, the most interesting issue of the modern period comes at the beginning of the new currency period. I call it the 1973-86 Industry definitives. This issue is one of the most complex that I have ever come across as a philatelist. In addition, to design, paper, colour, and gum differences, a watermark was introduced in 1975 that had "Nigeria" in wavy lines. This watermark can be found inverted and upright, but I suspect it could probably be found reversed and sideways if one looks hard enough. These watermarked issues were used well into the 1980's and emergency printings of them were made during shortages of low value stamps during the 1990's - long after they had been replaced by other issues. As if that is not enough, the order in which the colours were printed often varies, so that this affects the appearance of the stamps and creates additional collectible varieties. 
The 1984-86 definitives and other subsequent definitive issues are extremely challenging to collect in mint condition, with the catalogues being completely out-to-lunch in terms of their pricing. For example the 1984-86 definitives to the 2N are valued at less than $5 for a mint set. I think in 5 years of constant buying I have managed to buy only a handful of sets. This seems to be the case for all definitive issues after 1984. Commemoratives are reasonably obtainable up to the late 1980's and early 1990's, but the issues after that are all quite elusive, especially in corner and inscription blocks. One interesting aspect to the very modern issues that appears in the 1990's are perforation varieties, with 14 and 13 being perforations seen on several issues, with both being seen in some cases. To the best of my knowledge, there have not been any comprehensive studies done to establish the true scarcity of these issues, so some of them may in fact be quite scarce to rare. 
Postal history from the inflation period is very much a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are some amazing frankings possible, especially during the period before the higher denomination stamps became available, with some envelopes having as many as 50 stamps!. However, the quality of cancellations tends to be very poor indeed. When date slugs wore out, they were often not replaced, with the result that many postmarks during this period had no dates, making them of very limited use to the postal historian. 
This concludes my general overview of Nigerian philately. My next post will look at the printing firms that were responsible for printing Nigeria's stamps. 
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