GB Overprints Society

Oil Rivers Protectorate

In 1855 a British protectorate was declared for much of the coastal area of Nigeria apart from the region around Lagos. From 1891 a consular postal service was set up, based primarily around Old Calabar in the "Oil Rivers" area, becoming authorised post offices in 1892. The first stamps were issued in 1892, and almost immediately the authorities kept running out of particular values - or claimed to have done so to justify the production of some rather philatelic provisionals.

One further provisional overprint appeared later in 1894, but overprinting continued on postal stationery, which can therefore appear with either the "Oil Rivers" or the "Niger Coast" overprint.

All stamps are overprinted "BRITISH PROTECTORATE OIL RIVERS", including the provisionals.

Note: this numbering system was drawn up by the Society for the website, and may not be used without permission.

Queen Victoria

20 July 1892

Oil Rivers set 400d 700p

1 ½d orange

2 1d lilac

3 2d green & red

4 2½d purple on blue

5 5d purple & blue, die II

6 5d die I

Note: the die I stamp with this overprint has been included in catalogue listings since the 1980s, but no independent references to it have been located, nor the existence of any copies documented.

7 1/- green

overprint varieties

Oil Rivers transposed overprint 200

2 v1 1d overprint transposed ("Oil Rivers" at the top)
This was caused by a vertically misplaced overprint, so that "OIL RIVERS" also appeared in the bottom margin (at least one copy of this is recorded); very few copies escaped recall and destruction. Image from Rossi collection, courtesy of Warwick & Warwick.

5 v1 5d overprint partially double

The stamps (and postal stationery) were supplied with red waxed paper interleaving to prevent them sticking together in the damp climate, as shown in the example below: mint items often still show traces of this, and it is quite normal.

 Niger Coast interleaving

3 September 1893 provisionals

Note: most used copies of the bisect appear very philatelic, casting doubt on the need for the issue. Forgeries are also frequently offered for sale, mostly very convincing, both mint and used.

Overprint in violet

This was only used on the top row of the first sheet to be overprinted. The ink was clearly unsuitable and smudged badly, so red was used for the rest of the half-sheet and the other 3 half-sheets overprinted. Although the overprint was ostensibly done in one row of 6 at a time, it is strange to note the existence of double overprints on single copies.

8 "½d" in violet, bisected diagonally
illustration below.

overprint varieties

8 v2 ½d in violet: surcharge double

for copies se-tenant with the red surcharge see below.

Overprint in red

9 "½d" in red on half of 1d lilac, bisected diagonally
illustration below.

overprint varieties

Oil Rivers 7&8 150p ex Rossi

No 9 v4, ie Nos 8 (pair) and 9 (pair) se-tenant, ex Rossi collection,
illustration courtesy of Warwick & Warwick

9 v1 ½d in red: surcharge reversed (line top left to bottom right)

9 v2 ½d in red: surcharge reversed and inverted

9 v3 ½d in red: surcharge double (pair with normal)

Note: this wording in catalogues presumably means "doubled on one half, still joined to other half with normal overprint", but it is ambiguous.

9 v4 ½d in red: se-tenant with surcharge in violet (vertical pair, rows 1 & 2)

Note: this wording in catalogues appears to mean a vertical pair of unsplit stamps, ie 2 complete stamps, but it is ambiguous. See illustration above.

December 1893 provisionals

The provisionals below are deemed to be highly philatelic, and some are not known used. It is alleged that in preparing the emergency issue the post master arranged for all conceivable permutations of the available fonts and colours to be tried out in various orientations, in order to see which combinations worked best. These alleged trial sheets came on the market and produced some remarkable (and highly-prized) se-tenant varieties. Nonetheless they must be regarded at best as "philatelic", and at worst as prepared purely for collectors, though some of them certainly saw genuine postal service. The quantities of some of the scarcer versions are exceedingly small (some as few as 3 or 4), and are often well outnumbered by the number of copies on the market. Forgeries abound.

On many examples of the overprints the line at the bottom is faint or almost entirely missing; these are not different types.

The first four types shown below can be found on the 2d and on the 2½d Oil Rivers overprints, types 5-8 only on the 2½d value.

"HALF PENNY" on 2d green & red

type 1, squat block capitals top line 9½mm, 14½mm line, 1½mm spacing

Oil Rivers (SG 9) 300

No. 10 (courtesy of David Allen)

10 "HALF PENNY." in violet

overprint varieties

10 v1 surcharge diagonally down

10 v2 surcharge diagonally up

10 v3 surcharge inverted

10 v4 surcharge vertically down

10 v5 surcharge vertically up

type 2, without full stop, 13½mm line, 4mm spacing

11 "HALF PENNY" in violet

type 3, in mixed case light italics

Oil Rivers (SG 20) 96

No. 12 (courtesy of Badger Stamps)

12 "Half Penny" in violet

overprint varieties

12 v1 surcharge diagonally down

12 v2 surcharge diagonally up

12 v3 surcharge diagonally inverted

12 v4 surcharge double

12 v5 surcharge inverted

12 v6 surcharge vertically down

12 v7 surcharge vertically up

type 4, in fancy mixed-height capitals

13 "HALF PENNY" in blue

14 ditto, surcharge in violet

overprint varieties

13 v1 blue overprint double

"HALF PENNY" on 2½d purple on blue

type 1, squat block capitals, top line 9½mm, 14½mm line, 1½mm spacing

15 "HALF PENNY." in carmine

16 ditto in vermilion

type 2, without stop, 13½mm line, 4mm spacing

Oil Rivers (SG 19) 300

No. 17 (courtesy of David Allen)

17 "HALF PENNY" in vermilion

overprint varieties

17 v1 surcharge diagonally down

17 v2 surcharge diagonally up

17 v3 surcharge diagonally inverted down

17 v4 surcharge diagonally inverted up

17 v5 surcharge double

17 v6 surcharge inverted

17 v7 surcharge omitted in strip with 2 normals

17 v8 surcharge vertically up

17 v9 surcharge vertically down

type 3, in mixed case light italics

Oil Rivers (SG 21) 300

No. 20 (courtesy of David Allen)

18 "Half Penny" in blue

19 ditto in carmine

20 ditto in vermilion

21 ditto in violet

overprint varieties

20 v1 vermilion surcharge diagonally down

20 v2 vermilion surcharge diagonally up

20 v3 vermilion surcharge diagonally inverted up

20 v4 vermilion surcharge double

20 v5 vermilion surcharge inverted

20 v6 vermilion surcharge vertically up

20 v7 vermilion surcharge vertically down

type 4, in fancy mixed-height capitals

22 "HALF PENNY" in blue

23 ditto in green

24 ditto in vermilion

25 ditto in violet

overprint varieties

23 v1 green surcharge double

23 v2 green surcharge double, one green one vermilion

24 v1 vermilion surcharge double

type 5, similar to type 1 but top line 8½mm, 16mm line, 2½mm spacing closer together.

note: examples with the full stop not showing properly look like the later version, but the latter is only recorded in vermilion.

Oil Rivers (SG 14) 300

No 27 (courtesy of David Allen)

26 "HALF PENNY" in taller letters, in black

27 ditto in blue

28 ditto in blue-black

29 ditto in carmine

30 ditto in green

31 ditto in vermilion

overprint varieties

26 v1 black surcharge diagonally down

26 v2 black surcharge diagonally up

26 v3 black surcharge inverted

29 v1 carmine surcharge omitted in pair with normal

30 v1 green surcharge diagonally down

30 v2 green surcharge diagonally up

30 v3 green surcharge double

31 v1 vermilion surcharge vertically up

type 6, full stop misplaced to before the "Y"

32 "HALF PENN.Y" in vermilion

overprint varieties

32 v1 surcharge double

32 v2 surcharge diagonally up

type 7, mixed case heavy italics

33 "Half Penny" in blue

34 ditto in carmine

35 ditto in green

36 ditto in vermilion

overprint varieties

36 v1 vermilion surcharge diagonally inverted (up/down not recorded)

36 v2 vermilion surcharge diagonally up

type 8, small italic capitals

Oil Rivers (SG 35) 300

No 37 (courtesy of David Allen)

37 "HALF PENNY" in green

38 ditto in vermilion

Higher values

Note: the need for these higher values was highly questionable, especially the issue of 1/- surcharge on the 2d at the same time as 1/- stamps themselves were being used for the 20/- surcharge.


One shilling

There are 3 subtypes of the "One Shilling" overprint:

Type (a): "n" of "One" lines up with the "ll" of "Shilling"

Type (b): "n" of "One" lines up with second "l" of "Shilling"

Type (c): "n" of "One" falls between the two "ll" of "Shilling"

39 "One Shilling" on 2d green & red surcharge in black, type (a)

40 ditto type (c)

41 surcharge in vermilion, type (a)

42 ditto type (b)

43 surcharge in violet, type (a)

44 ditto type (b)

overprint varieties
Note: as catalogues and other listings and study papers do not distinguish the above types when discussing varieties, they are listed with two numbers below.

39/40 v1 black surcharge diagonally up

39/40 v2 black surcharge inverted

39/40 v3 black surcharge vertically down

39/40 v4 black surcharge vertically up

41/42 v1 vermilion surcharge diagonally down

41/42 v2 vermilion surcharge diagonally up

41/42 v3 vermilion surcharge inverted

41/42 v4 vermilion surcharge vertically down

41/42 v5 vermilion surcharge vertically up

43/44 v1 violet surcharge diagonally down

43/44 v2 violet surcharge diagonally up

43/44 v3 violet surcharge diagonally inverted down

43/44 v4 violet surcharge diagonally inverted up

43/44 v5 violet surcharge inverted

43/44 v6 violet surcharge vertically down

43/44 v7 violet surcharge vertically up

Five Shillings

45 5/- on 2d green & red, in violet

overprint varieties

45 v1 surcharge diagonally down

45 v2 surcharge inverted

45 v3 surcharge vertically down

45 v4 surcharge vertically up

Ten shillings

46 10/- on 5d purple & blue, in vermilion

overprint varieties

46 v1 surcharge diagonally up

46 v2 surcharge inverted

46 v3 surcharge vertically down

46 v4 surcharge vertically up

Twenty shillings

47 20/- in violet on 1/- green, in black (Dec 1893)

48 ditto, surcharge in vermilion

49 ditto, surcharge in violet

overprint varieties

49 v1 violet surcharge inverted

June 1894 provisional

A large figure "1" handstamped on the left or right half of a bisected 2d green & red. There are many forgeries.

Whether or not this provisional was needed, a large number appear to have survived on rather philatelic-looking pieces. The overprint is reported to have been made from 3 different carvings by hand on blocks of wood.

50 "1", 12mm on half of 2d

51 "1", 4¾mm on half of 2d

52 "1", 3¾mm on half of 2d

overprint varieties

50 v1 12mm surcharge double (either half)

50 v2 12mm surcharge inverted

51 v1 4¾ mm surcharge se-tenant with 3¾mm

In 1893 the protectorate was enlarged and renamed "Niger Coast Protectorate". The dies for stamps ordered with the country name inscribed had unfortunately already been engraved, so Waterlows simply engraved the new country name over the old one, looking like an overprint but not being one. This set was issued on 1 January 1894, though clearly the previous overprinted stamps continued in use, as is shown by the June 1894 provisionals.

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page last updated: 11 March 2007, 5 May 2011, 6 March 2013, 7 March 2016

gbos: GB Overprints Society