West Africa Study Circle

Collecting The Gambia

The first Gambia stamps were issued in 1869. The Cameo head of Queen Victoria embossed in white on a simple coloured ground was produced originally for reasons of cheapness, but it comes high in philatelists charts of the best designs of all time.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal – just look at an album page of them, or the miniature sheets of fifteen – the Cameos have several, more technical, points of interest. There were four issues: 1869, 4d and 6d values only, imperforate and unwatermarked; 1874,the same, on watermarked paper; 1880,seven values, perforated; and 1883-7 (illustrated), eight values, with changes of colour. The watermarks, first sideways then upright, and the perforations, first line then comb, give rise to a range of varieties, but the embossing gives an originality. The stamps normally passed twice through the plates, once for printing the colour, and a second time for the embossing. Where the two impressions don’t quite coincide, the embossing is said to be “displaced”. And on rare occasions it was so displaced, indeed sometimes the wrong way up, that a third pass was necessary. These are known as “doubly embossed” and “doubly embossed once inverted”. Good examples are much sought after and expensive.

The numbers printed of the early issues are astonishingly small – fewer than 500 sheets, of fifteen stamps each, of the 1874 issue, for instance. A full discussion of the printing, perforating, and plating of the Cameos with special reference to 1883-7 set can be found in an excellent book by Brian O'Hara:
The 1883-97 issue of The Gambia Cameos. A Study of the Plates, Printings and Perforators
published by B.I.O’Hara, 44 Angelo St., South Perth WA 6151
ISBN 0 646 35313 6.

The Cameos came to an end in 1898

1886-93 1d. showing the Cameo head