Ghana was the first of the African colonies ruled from Britain to gain independence in the postwar period, and the first to do so under majority rule. it was very clear, from the first issues of the new state in 1957, that stamp design in what had been the British Empire could never be the same again. The new stamps were multicoloured, vibrant and big. They attracted much interest, but not all-round praise. Unlike other British Commonwealth issues, they were not marketed from London through the Crown Agents, but from New York, through the Ghana Philatelic Agency, of Wall Street. This made it very difficult for British collectors to obtain them as there were still restrictions in the UK on dollar purchases until mid-1958. 

Ghana UN Day
Ghana UN Day

Here is perhaps the first issue to be supplied direct to the UK from the agency. I show the back as well as the front to show that in those far-off days, First Day Covers for the trade really did go through the post. 

UntitledUntitled 2

In early 1961 the British philatelic press reported that wholesale quantities of several issues from the previous four years had appeared in the US ‘cancelled to order’ by being overprinted with lithographed ‘postmarks’ two of which I show. 

The Philatelic Agency took responsibility for the practice, stating that they wanted to make these stamps cheaply and easily available to young collectors. But it met with hostility and rejection from the British philatelic press. Gibbons dropped the country from its New Issue Service in April and advised collectors ‘there is only one thing to do with remainders — destroy them!’

Looking back, I wonder if the exuberance and colour of these first pictorial stamps from independent black Africa just did not fit in to the British Commonwealth collection of the time. Gibbons remarked in their Stamp Monthly in May that ‘they have had numerous requests to omit Ghana’ from their New Issue Service. So perhaps the practice helped them to a decision which their customers already wanted. At that time, it was practice to take new issues from the whole British Commonwealth.


A 1959 design, with splash of movement and an adventurous choice of font for the country name. 

To this day Gibbons flag up these early issues used, and warn us with a note that used will often mean cancelled-to-order. This seems unfair, as almost every postal authority these days prepares ‘used’ material for the trade, by cancelling the stamps themselves. Furthermore, they charge for the service of cancelling as well as the denomination of the stamp, in that a used set of newly issued stamps will cost more than the unused. And when it is stuck on a ‘First Day Cover’, how often has that cover actually been on a journey to a postal destination? At least the Ghanaians, as were all the Eastern Europeans at the time, cancelling material as a way of making it available to collectors at low price while of course ensuring that their Post Office would not be defrauded of the revenue for its services. 

Scan 53

A design to remember, from Michael Goaman. It has been used since, but by whom? Afghanistan’s design of 1967 borrowed the idea