FIJI; KING GEORGE VI
The set issued by Fiji from 1938-55 has just about everything for the collector. In fact, I feel as if I shouldn't be encouraging people to collect Fiji; there are quite enough people doing it already, and it's difficult to find enough interesting items to go round. Quite a lot has been written about the set, and I hope to be able to select the more significant varieties from the large sheaf of reference material in front of me. Obviously, any such selection is a personal one, and I apologise in advance if I omit anyone's particular favourites.
The set is notorious for three design peculiarities, which were later corrected. The original 1 1/2d, showing a canoe in the middle of a lagoon, looked decidedly odd, due to the omission of anyone sailing it. The first 2d and 6d omitted the '180°' which should have appeared by the relevant meridian of longitude. The initial 5d showed the sugar cane plants in a rather startling shade of blue. Sir Harry Luke, who was Governor of Fiji at the time, was a keen philatelist and was in part responsible for the relatively-rapid correction of these peculiarities. This immediately created four scarcer stamps for the collecting public to hunt down; the 1940 corrections showed a man in the canoe, the 2d and 6d with '180°' added, and the 5d showed the cane in a new colour - a rather more appropriate green.
The 1/2d value. Frank Saunders, the late founder of the King George VI Collectors' Society, was one of the people who have studied this stamp in depth. He found that it was possible to 'plate' any single stamp from the later perf 13.5 printings. Damage to the plate had begun by the fourth printing, in 1942, and continued up till the final printing in 1948. Some remedial work was carried out on the plate before the 1948 printing but most of the flaws remained untouched.
On R1/7 there is a horizontal bar of colour in the right frame opposite the second section of sail from the top. R6/6 has a similar bar, but lower down. R5/3 is a very interesting stamp, in that, seen in a block, it can be seen to have a different appearance from its neighbours; it is a stronger impression and looks deeper. Presumably this was due to re-entering, following an initial entry which was too weak. It is one of those cases of a variety which is clearly visible to the naked eye, but very difficult to illustrate! R5/8 on the final (perf 12) printing has a variety known as the 'extra palm frond', additional marks by the palm leaf nearest to the rigging. This is listed by Stanley Gibbons and is now very difficult to find.
The 1d value. Richard Lockyer has given this value a very full treatment in his articles for Gibbons' Stamp Monthly. There are a number of minor re-entries, and also a series of marks in the middle triangle on the bottom frame. The cause of these marks is uncertain, and they are small, but nonetheless interesting. R3/10 is the best of the re-entries, with doubling of the figure of value.
The 1 1/2d value. This is a complex stamp, with 11 printings including two of the first Die, and two changes of perforation. The final printing was not until 1956, so perhaps it is not surprising that there is plenty to collect. The 1940 (third) printing introduced the man in the canoe, the June 1942 (fourth) printing was perf 14, the 1944 (sixth) printing was a strong deep carmine shade listed by the Gibbons and Commonwealth catalogues; the final four printings were perf 12. Plate damage developed and increased as printings progressed, until the 1949 printing (perf 12) when the plate was cleaned and re-entered. There are many noticeable plate flaws and I list only my favourites.
R6/1 shows a strong diagonal scratch running from the top left of the design, to the bottom frame through the seventh 'shell' from the left, and on into R7/1. There are numerous dots of colour around the palm trees on various positions, usually called 'falling coconuts'; Lockyer lists them on R2/3 (the biggest, halfway down the left palm), R7/6, R8/1, and R10/3. Three 'coconuts' above and to the left of the left palm tree on R1/4 are sometimes called the 'flying' coconuts. There is a 'flock of birds' above the sail (under the 'J' of 'Fiji') on R3/4. R7/4 on the 1944 printing had a spot above the horizon at the extreme left known as the 'rising moon'; on the 1945 printing there is an additional dot in the sea, almost in a line with the prow of the canoe, and these two together are known as 'the moon and reflection in sea'. R10/1 developed a number of spots under the 'FI' of 'FIJI', known rather dramatically as the 'spotted plague'. This was later partly touched out on the plate, leaving the background shading lines smeared.
When the plate was cleaned up and re-entered in 1949, all these disappeared. Doublings occurred in several positions, the best of which is on R4/2, which shows as doubling of the top frame at the right-hand side. This is listed by Commonwealth.
The 2d Die 1. There are a number of varieties which are common to many, or most, of the printings of the 2d, the 2½d and the 2½d/2d. We will get on to these shortly but, first, I want to mention a few varieties which occur on Die 1 only. Until recently, I had not seen any of these varieties and was entirely mystified as to where they had all gone! The first to be mentioned in the philatelic press was the 'White Face' variety, where all the ink had stripped off the face of the King. Although this sounded to many collectors (and to me) like a non-constant variety, its discoverer insisted that they had appeared in some numbers and he believed that they were from a defectively-printed batch that had been sent to the islands, and not been put on sale in London.
There were also plate varieties on, amongst others, R5/1, a heavy scratch on the left side of the stamp into the '2'; R2/6, two marks before 'Taveuni' combined with a mark in the second 'I' of 'FIJI'; and R2/1, a vertical line midway between 'Levuka' and the 180 line of longitude. R9/1 has a flaw at the top right corner of the value tablet, known as the 'fern' flaw. R10/2 has a major scratch left of 'FIJI' in the central vignette, a variety which is so large that if baffles me as to why it is so little-known. (This was written before SG listed this variety.) R2/2 has another long brown mark, almost as prominent, in the form of a long tail to the '°' of '178°'.
The 2d Die 2. Continuing from Die 1 were three varieties; R1/2 has a weak entry just to the right of the portrait medallion, showing as a paler patch above and around the dot to the left of 'Fiji'. R8/1 has a mark above the second 'I' of 'Fiji', between the top two framelines.
Newly appearing on the plate is a flaw on R8/5, called either 'two islands' or 'ditto marks', just to the left of '180'.
R9/6 has a curved mark to the left of Vitilevu, the main island, which just happens to be in the right place for a real island, called Vatulele. Hence, the variety is known as the 'Vatulele curl'. None of these are easy to find and all are expensive - most people are content to collect them on the later 2½ds, or the provisional.
The 2½d value. Not much extra appeared to add to items from the 2d plate, save for a variety on R10/5, the 'extra island', which appears as a large dot to the left of the 'T' of 'Taveuni'.
The 2½d on 2d provisional. J.G. Rodger's monograph on the issue draws attention, again, to the influence of the Governor. In 1940 he used his influence to persuade the Executive Council that ("as a sort of war tax", to quote Rodger) the inland and empire letter rate should be upped from 2d to 2½d within five weeks. In view of the delays involved, particularly due to the war, the Council recommended that a provisional surcharge be issued. London objected and the issue date was postponed, but events conspired in Sir Harry Luke's favour. The entire first printing of 2 1/2d stamps (1,092,000) was destroyed in the bombing of the De La Rue works in London, with the exception of 30,000 which had already been despatched.
Work on preparing the surcharge went ahead, and it was duly issued on 10th February 1941. Later, the demand from collectors in England and elsewhere made a further printing desirable and (surprisingly) London acceded to the inevitable request from the philatelically-minded governor. In fact, there were 11,300 sheets surcharged in all and many were bought for speculative purposes. There were no major errors in the surcharging, which is a great credit to the government printers. However, the type became worn, and a number of constant varieties appeared. The best of these was a break near the base of the large '2' on R10/4. Also, all the stamps in columns 1, 3 and 5 had a chipped head to the large '2'; columns 2, 4 and 6 were normal.
Of course, all the constant varieties from the 2d Die 2 plate appear on the provisional. The 'fern flaw' is, however, often obliterated by the surcharge.
The 2d 'Government Buildings'. The design was changed to avoid confusion with the 2½d Map. It appeared in two perforations, 13½ and 12. My favourite variety on this stamp appears on Centre Plate 1, at R10/2. There are two good scratches across the white face of the building under the 'IJ' of 'FIJI'. There are other minor doublings, but the only other item worth mentioning is on R5/6 of the final three printings (all perf 12). Inside the inner right frame there are four vertical broken lines of shading. On this stamp only there are definite fifth and sixth lines.
The 3d value. R4/2 has a spur inside the arms medallion at about 8 o'clock. Prior to it's listing, we used to sell these at £7.50! R2/2 on later printings has doubling of the top frame at right, which is listed by Commonwealth.
The 5d value. R3/4 has doubling of the left frame at base. The 1/- value. There are a number of instances of re-entering, mainly to the right of the value (best seen by the diagonal stroke) and the right frame. The best are on R1/6 and R1/9.
The 2/- value. There is a good example of doubling on R1/6 on this value, and other cases of doubling that I have not yet been able to position. R1/6 is best seen at the top of the right frame.
The 2/6d value. Bentley Kettle recorded minor doublings on R1/3 and 1/4. I can add a slight re-entry at the top left on R1/6, also affecting the palm, and a good re-entry on R10/1 also at the top left corner.
As regards the values of the definitive set which have not been covered here, I have no information. This doesn't mean that there is nothing to be found; rather that I haven't seen anything worth recording. If anyone knows of any other items of interest, please let me know. You can, of course, also have a great deal of fun (or anguish, if you prefer; it seems to me that the dividing line is sometimes a very fine one in philately!) attempting to sort out the printings, and accumulating Plate/imprint blocks.
Thinking generally about condition, the first Dies of the 2d and 6d often present a problem. The gum on the stamps that went to the colony is often quite unpleasantly brown, sometimes to the extent that this affects the appearance of the front of the stamps. My view is that it is impractical to aim for perfectly white gum, but you should steer clear of examples with very brown gum.
Still on the definitive set, two booklets were issued in 1938. The 3/- turns up occasionally. It contains two panes of six of the 2d value, and panes of 8 of the ½d and 1d. The booklet is often affected by a rusty staple, as is often the case with booklets of this era. The 5/9d booklet is very rare - It has three panes of nine of the 2d, and one pane of 10 of the ½d and 1d.
On the commemoratives issued during the reign, there is not much of note except on the 2½d Victory. Reputedly, just one sheet of this value was discovered doubly printed, once albino. This sort of variety is not easy to describe but, from the reverse of the stamp, a second impression can be seen. On the 3d Victory, there are three minor varieties. R1/5 has slight horizontal doubling in the sky adjacent to the head oval; R6/4-7/4 have a vertical scratch to the left of centre; R8/1 has a spot just to the right of the launch's flag. The 2½d from Plate A1 can be found with a 'P' in the top right corner.
To conclude this article, it seems worth recounting the tale of the 1940 Postage Due set as told by J.G. Rodger. In 1938 airmail rates from New Zealand to most destinations, including Fiji, were increased and this increase was poorly publicised. In consequence, up until March 1939 there were considerable quantities of underpaid letters from New Zealand arriving at Suva - about 1500 in one week's mail in January, for example.
This seemed to the Governor to be the ideal excuse to call for a set of Postage Due stamps. Fiji had originally issued Postage Dues between 1916-8, but these were not used sufficiently to warrant their continuation. Sir Harry Luke saw his opportunity and wrote to the Colonial Office in London asking if there would be any objection to an issue of 'Unpaid letter stamps'. London did not object, but the Postmaster-General did; he locked horns with the Governor, but the Governor won the day and the set came into use in July 1940. The stamps are easily available mint, but very hard to find used. This fully supports the view of the Postmaster-General, whose arguments for their withdrawal were heeded in 1946.
There has for a long time been a problem with forged postmarks on this issue, but most of them have been crude. However, a few years ago there appeared on the market a quantity of 'used' sets which were cancelled by an apparently genuine Suva C.D.S. These sets even appeared in used blocks. In my opinion, the C.D.S.s were indeed genuine, but obviously whichever official cancelled the stamps had qualms about backdating the canceller (as had no doubt been requested). Probably the official had also been instructed that under no circumstances was the real date (presumably some time in the 1980s) to appear. He/she reached a compromise; the date was removed entirely from the CDS. These illegitimately-cancelled sets can always, in my experience, be distinguished by the neatness of the cancels and the complete absence of any part of their central lines. Avoid these!
Acknowledgements; Murray Payne Ltd., Commonwealth King George VI Catalogue 18th editionRichard Lockyer, articles in Gibbons Stamp Monthly J.D. Rodger, Fiji's Postage Due Stamps (Philatelic Society of Fiji Study No. 3), and information contained in his collection John RayRod Vousden Global Stamp News