Ascension has a great deal to interest the collector, but in my view suffers from the lack of commercial usage of its stamps. They have always issued philatelically-inspired stamps, for sound financial reasons. The collector striving for a collection of used stamps which are not cancelled-to-order (CTO'd) faces a task of such impossibility that my advice is simply to forget it and accept that CTO'd is the best one is likely to find.
The Ascension Study Circle (details on request) has published a great deal on the 1938 set, in far more detail than I can cover here. The West Africa Study Circle has also published some material.
There are several useful varieties on the ½d value. The 'long E' (listed by SG and CW) is the best of them and is found on R2/3. It's elusive on the first perforation, but what is far more difficult is a positional block without the variety! Alongside is the R2/2 re-entered right frame. (Other less pronounced doubled right frames exist). The 1944 printing has an elusive flaw on R3/4, a line of dots to the right of 'Georgetown', known as the 'torpedo flaw'. There are other collectable varieties, and indeed a KGVI Collectors' Society member, who had best remain nameless in case the balance of his mind be called into question, has succeeded in plating this stamp.
'cut mast and railings'
The 1½d and 2/6d 'davit' flaw is one of the best-known KGVI plate varieties. It exits in two states, the later state being associated with an 'extra rock' in the sea above the pier. It's a popular variety and prices have climbed in recent years to quite respectable levels. CW and SG both list the 'cut mast and railings' on R3/1, where a diagonal line cuts across the base of the mast by the derrick and continues into the rocks beneath. Had this been in a less densely-printed area of the design, it would have been listed many years ago.
R5/6 has a re-entry to the diagonal shading lines behind the King's head, known as the 'medallion re-entry'. This does not illustrate well but a good magnifying glass will show it clearly. R6/6 had a minor re-entry affecting the vertical lines on the shed at left, and towards the end of the life of this issue a flaw appeared two-thirds of the way along the rope attached to the long arm of the derrick, the 'jibstay' flaw.
R5/4 'large boulder'
The 2d value has a good flaw at R4/4, the 'Mountaineer' flaw, resembling a climber almost central on the mountain. Positional pieces are hard to come by. Attwood recorded the flaw on the original 1d but I have not seen this. As early as 1946 the initials 'JG' were recorded as appearing over R1/3 and 1/4; these are known scratched out (on the sheet) with a sharp instrument. Intact or partially-removed, these initials are elusive.
The 3d in grey boasts three good sky retouches on later printings on R6/5, 10/2 (listed by CW) and 10/4. R10/3 has 'extra rocks' at the left centre of the design, so the bottom two rows make a highly desirable piece. The 6d value had numerous cases of doubling to the lines of shading in the top right corner, which make an interesting study. R9/3, the top left stamp in the imprint block, shows a fine weak entry, where the left half of the ornamentation at left is much reduced in strength. Not at all well-known is a flaw just to the right of the left value table on R5/4, resembling a large boulder.
The 1/- value has a good re-entry to the right frameline on R6/4 (CW 10a and 22a). It's hard to find in positional blocks, especially in the first perforation. The 2/6d had the R3/1 'cut mast and railings' on (certainly) the final printing, as well as the davit flaw.
On the first perforation, the davit flaw has always been hard to find. The 2/6d had the flaw accompanied by a streak through the value at right, on the same position. Recently, members of the Ascension Study Circle found a couple of examples with the streak but without the flaw, seemingly (at this point) proving that the davit flaw appeared during the course of the first print run. However, Murray Payne Ltd have handled an archival Specimen piece consisting of the original set in strips of 3 stuck on a sheet. The 2/6d had the davit flaw on one, showing (amongst other things!) that the sheets taken for Specimen purposes came from 'the top of the pile' of the first printing, and not from the earliest state of the plate, as might usually be imagined. Have fun looking for these!
The 2/6d also boasts a frame printed double, once albino, which is a rare and expensive item. The 5/- has little to excite, except to note in passing that the first perforation is difficult unmounted, especially in a multiple. The same may be said for the 10/-. There, like most of the first perforation, come with brownish gum which is streaky and often patchy: perfection is impossible.
There is little of interest on the commemoratives, which is probably just as well for the serious collector, whose hands will be rather full trying to find the varieties listed above, as well as hunting plate and imprint blocks of each printing.
Acknowledgements are due to: Dr. Richard Baker, Bernard Hughes, J. H. Attwood, Rod Vousden. Global Stamp News, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Richard Lockyer - articles in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, 1986 to date. Stanley Gibbons - British Commonwealth Catalogue 'Part 1'. Dickon Pollard and Iain Murphy Murray Payne Ltd - Commonwealth King George VI Catalogue, 1997.