Northern Rhodesia KGVI Dies and colour trials

In October 1937 Gibbons Stamp Monthly quoting the Crown Agents’ Bulletin for the third quarter of 1937 (see Appendix 2), reported that the KG VI definitive stamps for Northern Rhodesia would be based on the same design - including elephants that looked more Indian than African - as the stamps for the previous reign and the colour scheme retained, but the words ‘POSTAGE & REVENUE’ would be omitted. It is not surprising therefore that there are no essays for the issue. As far as die proofs are concerned, the following are listed in Waterlow’s index of their die proofs, a photocopy of which is held by the Royal Philatelic Society, London, but the accompanying photographic record does not include any proofs for this issue. This is confirmed by Fraser and Lowe in their published record of The die proofs of Waterlow and Sons; “no proofs for the King George VI issue [for Northern Rhodesia] are found in the record books”. They quote the listing reproduced here (in a different order), with the additional comment, “It is not possible to identify the dies used for the 4½d and 9d denominations issued in 1952”.

Waterlow’s dies for Northern Rhodesia’s KG VI postage and revenue stamps

Die Number Description, Name Date
15820 Stamp die; Northern Rhodesia 12.8.37
15823 Stamp; Northern Rhodesia. This die cancelled 5.10.37 12.8.37
15830 Stamp die Northern Rhodesia Blank 20.8.37
15862 1d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15863 2d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15864 1 1/2d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15865 6d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15866 3d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15867 1/2d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15868 4d Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15870 10/- Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15871 3/- Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15872 20/- Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15873 5/- Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15874 2/6 Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37
15875 1/- Northern Rhodesia 2.9.37

Ignoring the die that was ‘cancelled’, the two “stamp dies” are likely to have been the master die - with blank value tablets - for the small format stamps and the master border-duty die - again with blank value tablets - for the large format stamps. Fraser and Lowe comment with regard to the first of these master dies (no. 15820), “? high value vignette”. This seems unlikely in view of the holdings of the British Libraiy, and also because there is a possibility that the plate used for the vignette in the large-format 1s to 20s duties, the key plate from which the bush scene was printed, was in the first instance the plate used for the KG V issue. It must be significant that the vignette in the KG VI large-format stamps shows a concave blank zone immediately below the oval containing the King’s portrait, where the words ‘POSTAGE & REVENUE’ appear on the equivalent KG V stamps. Moreover neither the vignette plate for the KG V issue, the master die or the roller die are among the plates and dies held by the Livingstone and Johannesburg Museums.

This hypothesis can, however, be challenged. Drysdall and Lane, quoting the relevant entry in the Crown Agent’s Register of Dies, Plates, Formes, etc., relating to Northern Rhodesia’s QE II postage stamps record that the list includes a KG VI vignette roller die made under requisition 2635 of 1937, the first requisition for KG VI stamps, that was replaced in 1953. A new roller die would only have been made if a new plate was required. Unfortunately the Register of Dies, Plates, Formes, etc., for the KG VI issues has not survived, and it is therefore impossible to completely discount the possibility that the “KG VI old roller [die]” was not carried over from an earlier requisition, i.e. the first requisition for KG V stamps.

The replacement vignette plate, numbered 2, could only have been made with the “KG VI old roller [die]”. This roller die and the one that replaced it in 1953, must have been made from the master vignette die originally made for the KG V large-format postage and revenue stamps.

There would appear to be very few, if any, proofs or colour trials in private hands. However, the Crown Agents’ archive, held by the British Library, includes a range of key items. These are mounted, usually one above the other in a single vertical line on the right half of a sheet of double foolscap folded so that the left portion forms a cover. The first of this sequence of folders contains imperforate die proofs with blank value tablets for the small format design and the frame of the large format design printed in black. The page is headed “G/ N. Rhodesia 2635/1 & 2 / Die Proofs” in manuscript, and is handstamped ‘27 AUG 1937’ in purple at top-right. ‘2635’ is the number of the original requisition for this issue, and these must therefore be proofs from the dies identified as numbers 15820 and 15830 in the list reproduced above. The sheet is annotated “Appd for dies to HS (the initials of Henry Stanfield) / 31/8 [31st August, 1937]” at bottom-right. It is significant in view of the possibility that the plate used to print the vignette in the high-value stamps was the one originally made for the George V issue that there is no die proof of the vignette. The right-hand pages of the second and third folders in the sequence are also headed “G/ N. Rhodesia 2635”, and bear imperforate die proofs with wide margins in the issued colours of a) the small format duties, ½d to 6d, and b) the large format stamps, 1s to 20s. However, although the former is annotated “Appd for Colours / HS / 4/10”, the latter is annotated, “Appd for Colours / Except 5/- / HS / 14/10”, and there is an additional annotation, “Not Appd / (initials) / 14/10”, alongside the proof of the 5s. The pages on which these proofs are mounted are illustrated (overlapping) as Figure 2 (see also the frontispiece). The next folder in the sequence is headed “Further colour proof / 5/- value” and contains a die proof in colour of the 5s duty. The page is annotated “Approved for colour / HS / 14/10”, i.e. this alternative for the 5s duty was approved the same day as the colour trials for the other bicoloured stamps, and the sheets were therefore presumably submitted together. The difference in the shades of the two 5s proofs is subtle rather than blatant, the approved version containing less red and tending towards violet rather than purple. The vignettes are printed in the same shade of grey. Why Waterlows (or the Crown Agents) considered it necessary to provide alternatives for the 5s duty is not known.

The last group of folders relates to colour changes of the small format stamps in 1941 and 1951, and the introduction of two new duties in 1952.    The first contains die proofs, again with wide margins, of the 1½d in yellow-brown and the 2d in carmine-red on a page headed, “G/Northern Rhodesia 3700/1”, and annotated “Appd / HS / 12/8” (12th August, 1941). The second contains similar die proofs of the ½d in brown, the Id in green, the 2d in purple and the 3d in scarlet, approved on the 18th May, 1951. The final folder contains proofs of the 4½d and 9d duties in the issued colours, approved on the 21st August, 1951.

The only proofs in the Royal Collection are of the small format stamps issued when the colour changes were introduced in 1941 and 1951. Like those in the British Library’s collection they are printed from the dies in the issued colours with wide margins. They differ in that the 1951 colour changes are mounted on two sheets with different dates - the 18th and the 21st May - rather than a single sheet dated the 18th May, 1951.

  • 1½d yellow-brown and 2d carmine-red on a sheet headed ‘G/Northem Rhodesia 3700/1’ and initialled as approved on ‘12/8’ (1941);
  • 2d purple and 3d scarlet approved 18.5.51;
  • ½d brown and 1 d green approved 21.8.51;
  • 4½d and 9d approved 21.8.51.

No revenue stamps - as distinct from dual- purpose postage and revenue stamps - comparable to the KG V £2, £5, £10, £30 and £50 duties but bearing a portrait of KG VI were ever requisitioned, and there are therefore no proof items.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection - originally the Colonial Office Collection - held by the British Library, includes samples of the original issue in the form of single, perforated, unoverprinted stamps to 20s in the original colours with ½d green, 1d brown, 1½d carmine, 2d yellow-brown and 3d ultramarine, annotated, “NEW ISSUE - 4.3.38”. This is the date the samples were received; the issue date quoted by Gibbons is the 1st March, 1938. Subsequent reprintings are represented as follows:

Duty/duties Annotation Issue date quoted by Gibbons
1 ½d yellow-brown and 2d carmine-red “NEW COLOUR 15.1.41” 10.1.41
½d chocolate “NEW COLOUR Rec’d 23.10.51” 15.11.51
1d green “NEW COLOUR / released 15.11.51 - Rec’d 16.1.52”. 15.11.51
2d purple and 3d scarlet “NEW COLOURS Rec’d 24.6.52” 1.12.51
4½d and 9d “NEW VALUES Rec’d 24.6.52” 5.5.52


  1. A.Drysdall, I.Lane, J.Cheston. The KG VI Postage and Revenue Stamps of Northern Rhodesia, 2006