Sierra Leone: Mixed message



Britain’s 1964 International Botanical Congress stamps highlighted the talents of the husband-and-wife design team of Michael and Sylvia Goaman. They had previously produced botanical designs for Sierra Leone’s Flowers set in 1963.

Printed in photogravure by Harrison & Sons, this attractive multicoloured issue seemed to mark the newly independent nation’s determination to make an impression on the philatelic world. But what must Michael, whose obituary in The Times in 2009 praised his ‘eye for the integral message’, have thought of the mess that was soon to be made of his work?

In 1964 decimal currency was introduced to Sierra Leone, and various stamps began to be surcharged locally. In 1965 it was the turn of the Flowers 6d, illustrating the climbing lily, to be overprinted ‘Airmail 30c’ in red.

This was all very well, but unfortunately it coincided with the deaths of Sierra Leone’s first Prime Minister, the much respected Sir Milton Margai, and Sir Winston Churchill, the British Empire’s great war leader. The temptation to link the two men in a philatelic memorial was apparently too much to resist.

Thus, a very substantial overprint was applied in white to various horizontal designs, including the 30c on 6d. Illustrated and rather wordy, it comprised an ‘In Memoriam/Two Great Leaders’ headline, a double portrait flanking a wreath, and the names and dates of both men.

Not only did this rather ruin the botanical illustration, but it carelessly overlapped the name of the country at the bottom.
But that was not the final indignity for the once charmingly simple design. In 1966 it received a final killer punch in the form of a large, heavy, black surcharge of ‘Two Leones’.

The stamp was now a 2l on 30c on 6d, even more multicoloured than it had started, and embodying a handful of different philatelic requirements all rolled into a single stamp. In short, it was a mess.

With all available space on the stamp apparently utilised, the authorities mercifully rested their case. And set to work on an issue of imperforate, embossed, self-adhesives printed with silver foil...