Sierra Leone The Rice Fields Stamps of 1932-1937

Sierra Leone was one of a number of colonies which decided in the early 1930s to replace their formal Royal portrait stamps with ones that would have a local interest. On May 18th 1931 the Crown Agents wrote to the three firms of security printers to invite tenders for the new Sierra Leone definitive stamps. ‘The design,’ they said, ‘is to comprise a vignette of H.M. King George V. placed centrally at the top of the stamps (the Crown being omitted). In addition to the vignette it is desired to include an Oil Palm, a Kola Nut tree and Rice plants, the general arrangements to be somewhat similar to that of the designs recently submitted to you for the 2 and 4 cents British Guiana Centenary stamps. As regards the Kola Tree a picture of this is available for inspection at the Colonial Office library (No.22 of Vol.I Medical Pamphlets NO 11202). The size of the stamps to be approximately 1.3/16" x 15/16" or such size as the designer considers suitable, and it is open to you to submit designs in alternative sizes. It is also open to you to submit designs and prices for surface printed stamps. Your offer with designs should be lodged with us not later than noon on Monday 8th June.’ Details of the paper and proposed set of the printing were supplied as an Appendix.

Some further details were sent at the same date. Eight values up to and including the 6d were to be single colour stamps. A schedule of prices gives the cost for direct plate printed stamps, per thousand, in a range between 6,000 to 1,500,000, at prices between 13/6d and 2/3d. The original die and duty dies were to cost £105 and the printing plates for the 8 duties were to be £120. For surface printed stamps the prices would differ per thousand from 6/- for 6,000 to 10½d for 1,500,000. The cost of the Original die and Duty dies would be £125, and for printing plates of 8 duties £145. Proofs of the dies were needed in triplicate as would be subsequent colour proofs. The cost of paper in various sizes and two thicknesses was given.

De La Rue’s tender was not accepted and they were informed of this by letter dated September 2nd. Their two designs had been submitted as photographic essays, each in two sizes. These were sold by Robson Lowe at auctions on 24th November 1976 and 21st December 1978. The other two printers each had one design accepted. Waterlows won the contract for the lower values and these were engraved by J. AC. Harrison using the same head as for the British Guiana Centenary issue. A series of seven colour proofs showing stages of the engraving process in various colours was presented to the British Library and some duplicates have appeared on the market. The seven comprise the head and part of the frame in black dated September 11th, a pull in blue still with incomplete frame dated the 17th, and one with the frame completed on the 21st: the other four are the finished proofs in violet, blue and brown. A colour proof of the head in violet is also known, and the printer’s reference copy of the completed stamp, but without value, struck in black, has also been offered at auction. The latter has written across in red ink ‘Cancelled Record Proof 1.11.3 .’, the last digit being obscured. Above the proof are written the numbers 13265,8314,8315 and below are the values ½d to 1/- for which the stamp was used. The British Library also has the Crown Agents’ imperforate proofs of the ½d in darker shade than was issued and a 3d in a lighter shade, these being dated and approved 14.10.31. Their proofs of the remaining values are similarly dated and are in the issued shades. This is a most successful design, finely executed, all the parts being in balance. Printing was in multiples of 120, two panes each 60 set.

Bradbury Wilkinson’s higher values have a head that seems large for the stamp and so the balance of the whole design is not as effective as for the lower values. Two proofs without value in a reddish brown are known, one of which is due at auction in 1986, and the British Library has imperforate proofs of the four stamps dated 8.10.31. A further set of the four was sold on the 30th September 1986 by Robson Lowe. The printing was also in multiples of 120, two panes each 60 set.

As usual, the artwork and successful designs for the whole issue were sent to the Royal Collection. They are handpainted on card in watercolour, the Waterlow’s in blue, the Bradbury Wilkinson’s in brown. All stamps are on watermarked Multiple Script C A paper, the lower values being perforated 12½, the higher 12. Specimens of the former are Type W8 and of the latter B9. There are no significant shade varieties. One variety is listed by Gibbons of two 1½d stamps imperforate between. It has been seen on two complete panes of stamps, occurring between the second and third stamps on each row.

Stamps were put on sale on March 1st 1932 and were withdrawn on June 30th 1938. They remained valid for postal use until April 1st 1939 when all King George the Fifth issues were demonetised following a notice in The Gazette.


  1. The Postal Service of Sierra Leone: Its history, stamps and stationery until 1961 by P.O.Beal, RPSL, 1988.