There are a set of Primitive British Guiana stamps that don’t get the attention, or level of limelight these days, that their famous predecessors receive, despite them being rare and having a fascinating history. They also offer a treasure trove of varieties and nuances, which in a time gone by were the pleasure of philatelic scholars such as Philbrick, Ackerman, Burrus, and Admundsen who competed uncompromisingly to acquire them. This humble issue is known as the ‘September 1862 Type-Set Provisionals’, and in the upcoming October auction of the ‘Imperium Collection of British Guiana’, we have 35 individual lots of these little gems, including one of the most outstanding covers franked with a vertical strip of four 2 cent yellows (lot 30158), a complete imperforate sheet of 24 1 cent rose (lot 30157), and a host of 4 cent black on blue showing varieties. But what exactly makes these stamps a bit of a philatelic ‘best kept secret’? The answer is in the untold story behind their creation and the distinctive little quirks that set them apart from any other stamps issued from this famed British Colony. Let’s discover more about them…..

1862 Provisionals 1 cent black on rose, roulette 6, type A, position 12, unused, showing vertical bar before “P” of “POSTAGE”, very rare. Lot 30159.

1862 Provisionals 2 cent black on yellow, roulette 6, type C, position 22, unused, very rare. Lot 30177.

1862 Provisionals 4 cent black on blue, roulette 6, type D, position 1, showing distinct arrangement in lower border, unused, very rare. Lot 30181.

A tropical climate is normally bad news to any stamp collector. The heat, humidity and the rains, the latter which can at times be monsoon levels, but all these together are perilous conditions especially for mint and unused adhesives. Storage and care in tropical conditions is mission critical to avoid damage or even worse; things sticking together. And being candid if you want to name one place on earth that you should avoid storing mint postage it might be British Guiana. And there is one incident in philatelic history that occurred there which supports this assertion and indeed the conditions alluded to above conversely worked in the favour of stamp collectors, albeit not so good for the postal authorities and the official printers.

In 1862 the sweltering temperatures, not helped by humidity levels approaching 90%, amidst downpours that could fill a family bath in just a few minutes, saw a stock of 15,000 stamps welded together. In the words of the Government Secretary in British Guiana at the time, who wrote in a letter to the printers Waterlow and Sons, “..hundreds of sheets having become matted together like a piece of thick millboard by adhesion of the gum..”. This amalgamating of the post office stamp stock caused a great inconvenience and lead to a shortage of postage of the one cent, two cents and four cents values to such an extent that an emergency printing of Provisional stamps had to be arranged locally to supplement stocks whilst replacements were printed by Waterlow and Sons in England, notwithstanding the need to ship them to British Guiana once ready.  This unfortunate and rather sticky affair has however provided the world of philately with an unexpected and delightful set of Primitives.

1862 Provisionals 2 cent yellow vertical strip of four (A+A+B+C), signed, tied to entire from Plantation Reliance to Georgetown. Extreme rarity on cover with this probably being the most outstanding item existing. Lot 30158

These stamps were requested in August 1862 and printed at The Royal Gazette newspaper in Georgetown, and consist of the three values; one cent rose, two cents yellow, and four cents blue, and were type-set and printed in sheets of four horizontal rows of six, with three different borders used on the sheet. The top two rows have borders of split ovals, the third row and first two stamps of the fourth row with a border of pearls, and the last four stamps with a border of small ornaments of berries. A gum of a distinctive yellowish colour was applied to the back and then the stamps were rouletted by a basic hand machine, although the outer margins are imperforate. Because of the inaccuracy of the rouletting process, stamps are found of differing shapes and sizes. Varieties exist due to the rudimentary manner in which the plates were prepared for printing, and as well as letter varieties of the wording, there are borders on occasions that have misplaced components among the correct style. As a consequence it is easy to plate stamps and it provides an additional layer of study for the more technical philatelist. Before the stamps were issued to the public they were initialled in the centre with, “R.M. Ac. R.G.” by R. Mathers, who was the Acting Receiver General and Commissioner of Stamps. The initials are also an interesting feature, because on the one cent they are in black ink, red on the two cents, and the four cents appear in white although this colouration was due to the use of an alkali based ink. There are also examples known without initials which were discovered in 1881 and purchased by legendary collector Judge Frederick Philbrick, and they subsequently found their way into many of the top collections of the likes of Count Ferrary, Ernest Ackerman, Arthur Hind and John E. du Pont.

Reverse of 1862 Provisionals 1 cent black on rose, showing the Ferrari trefoil. Lot 30159.

In the authoritative book ‘The Postage Stamps and Postal History of British Guiana’ by Howe and Townsend – which is as scarce as some of these stamps but worth it’s weight in gold – it outlines in chapter 8 these Provisionals and has a helpful detailed breakdown of the varieties and the distinctive characteristics of plate positions to aid identification of where a particular stamp derived from. The above featured 1862 cover with the vertical strip of four (lot 30158) is also featured within this book and has an illustrious provenance having been in the collections of Ferrary (Sale II, Lot 266, Oct. 1921), Maurice Burrus (Lot 142, Robson Lowe, Nov. 1963), Lars Amundsen (Lot 97, Stanley Gibbons, December 1967), and John E. du Pont (Lot 60102, David Feldman SA, June 2014).

The one cent black on pale rose (illustrated above) has on the reverse the distinctive purple trefoil owner mark of Count Ferrary, and is also signed in pencil by the expert Bloch (lot 30159). The unused two cents black on yellow, showing nicely the roulette 6 is from position 22 on the sheet of 24 and mint examples are very rare  and catalogue in the Stanley Gibbons specialised at £10’000. This example is lot 30177 and illustrates the berries border which appears on the last four positions on the bottom row. Now the life of these primitive postage adhesives wasn’t long because the replacement stamps requested by the Government Secretary arrived from Waterlow and Son on 23rd October 1862, although some of these provisionals are known to be used during that month and strangely also extend into January (2nd and 29th) and on the 19th February 1863. These are obviously difficult to locate and highly prized. But as this is a secret, you better keep it to yourself. Otherwise, every philatelist and his or her tweezers will be onto it.