Notes from the Past

Gold Coast 20s. Stamp Thefts

Before 1889, the largest denomination of Gold Coast (now Ghana) stamps was the 2s.  In 1889, 5s., 10s., and 20s. stamps were introduced.  The stamps were the usual key-plate type bearing a portrait of Victoria, and printed by De la Rue & Co., Ltd. in sheets of 120 in two panes of 60.  The paper was watermarked Crown CA, and the stamps were perforated 14.  One of the major purposes of the high values was fiscal use to pay fines and penalties of less than £5.

The stamps were issued in late September, 1889, and remained in use for some years.  Reserve stocks were kept in the strong room at the Colonial Secretary's Office.

Among the employees of the Office was one Albert Tetteh, a messenger.  His duties included cleaning the strong room to clear away the litter resulting from opening boxes and removing the contents.  On February 3, 1893, while cleaning the room, he succeeded in getting a packet of the 24 panes of the 20s. out of its box, onto the floor among the litter, and then sweeping it out of the room.

After getting away with the stamps he began their disposal.  He gave or sold some of them to two employees of the Government Printing Office, a bailiff, and a tailor's apprentice.  It was thought that these people may have been his accomplices.

The theft was discovered when a Survey on April 4, 1893, revealed the shortage.  Soon Tetteh and his associates were arrested.  One of the suspects confessed that Tetteh had given him a large number.  The stamps were kept in the house where he, Tetteh and two other suspects lived.  As a result 956 of the stamps were recovered.  Later 40 more were found.

On April 6, telegraphic instructions were sent to the District Commissioner and the Postmaster-General to withdraw the 20s. stamp and to not accept any for payment of fees or fines.

During the subsequent trial in June, 1893, in Victoriaborg, it was stated that 444 of the stamps had not been recovered but only nine were known to have been accepted in Accra Courts and eight others were believed to have been cashed.  Assuming that, at the most, 20 others had been used, the loss of revenue was probably not over £37 which was small compared to the value of the original theft.  All of the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to jail.

The remainders of the 20s red and green were destroyed and an order placed with the Crown Agents for new stamps.  The new stamps were printed in purple and black on red and issued in 1894.

The fate of the missing 444 is unknown.  It has been speculated that the thieves threw them in the ocean to prevent their being found.  This suggestion is based largely on the fact that many of the existing specimens of the 20s. red and green are discolored and stained, as though by sea water.  It is also possible that the discoloration is the result of the humid climate of the Gold Coast.

Posted August 14, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.  My 1997 Scott lists the mint 1889 20s. red and green at $3250 and leaves a blank for used.  The 1894 20s is listed at $150 mint and $37.50 used.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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