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Information and Reference of What was Printed and Designed by the Format International Security Printers

Scott Catalog 463-76 Stanley Gibbons 622A-35A, 622B-35B, 760-73

1980 Birds Definitives (1st issue) Stamps
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In my acquisitions of the archival materials saved by the Format International Security Printers Ltd., I found a large box containing color proofs (some call them color trials) which had been retained by the late Kasimir Bileski of Canada. Mr. Bileski was a major buyer of the archived material when the printing company was liquidated in the 1990's.

All documentation on this issue has been lost or destroyed years ago. It is unknown if Mr. Bileski wrote any documentation on this issue like he did with so many other stamp issues found in the archive. To this day (2016) nothing has surfaced on the market in the form of any writings on this issue.

On this page I am documenting what I have discovered about the archived color proof stamps and what Mr. Bileski did with them.

In 1979 Sierra Leone commissioned the IGPC stamp agency to design and have produced a set of definitive stamps depicting birds of Sierra Leone. The first issue of them was on January 29, 1980. The set that was produced was indeed a beautiful set and it was and still is a very popular set to collect. The popularity is proven because the issue was reprinted several times through 1983. the printer IGPC used was the Format International Security Printers.

Other than documented dates of issue in the stamp catalogs there is no other relevant information on the issues.
In Scott catalog the original first issue is listed and numbered but the reprints are only noted. In Stanley Gibbons they did a much better job listing the reprints and giving them numbers. The Scott catalog does not even reference the 1981 imprints at all! Therefore not really a dependable source for this issue.


In my acquisitions of some of the Bileski estate I received a large box filled with little green envelopes. On the envelopes was just a number written in pencil. The box was in complete disarray. In opening several envelopes I saw they were color proof sets in pairs of the Sierra Leone Birds issue. Looking in Scott catalog at the time (I did not have SG specialized) I did not pay much attention to them and put the box aside. It remained so for several years.

I was quite busy working on other materials (some extremely rare) and forgot about the box for a time. Then one day I saw it and started going through it. I discovered to my amazement that what I thought were just pairs in sets in the envelopes were not all that were there! there were gutter pairs, gutter blocks, corners, multi value gutter pairs and interesting enough....all the different year imprints!

As I said earlier the envelopes only had a number on them. these numbers ranged from 1 to 45. They were repeated on many of the envelopes.
I began to sort them by the numbers and ended up with a sort of order. I then looked at the sets in the envelopes closer and found that each number had different year inscriptions on the stamps! I then proceeded to put a year on each envelope according to the imprints on the stamps. It was at this point I realized what the numbers meant. They were Mr. Bileski's reference to the position on the press sheets!

I proceeded to try placing one year by number and denomination onto a table and discovered that they all were in order of location on the press sheet. The Sierra Leone Birds issue was printed on press sheets of four panes. On some the same denomination was used on all four panes. On some two different denominations were used which in turn creates the multi-value gutters. Through the different reprintings the combinations were changed.

Once I found out what position went where on the press sheets I created diagrams showing them.
Horizontal Press Sheet Diagram
Sierra Leone 1980-3 Birds Diagram of Positions on the Horizontal Press Sheets
Vertical Press Sheet Diagram
Sierra Leone 1980-3 Birds Diagram of Positions on the Vertical Press Sheets
I found that quite a few were missing. This was because Mr. Bileski was famous for giving away rare archival materials as bonuses to buyers of Canadian stamps he sold. Perhaps he sold some. We will never know. To this day there are sellers all over the world that once in a while will offer a set of color proofs from this box. In most cases the little green envelope is not offered and therefore the position on the press sheets has been lost forever. Unless it is a corner or a gutter block it will never be known again.

The last reprinting in 1983 was made under new printing standards at Format. The printers had begun a policy of printing 3,000 color proof sets for most issues they were printing. For these color proofs the press sheets were cut into panes and stored at the agencies warehouses. For this set it would be IGPC's warehouse. It is therefore virtually impossible to define single and pair sets for the 1983 issues as coming from the press sheets saved in the archive or the more common panes.

You see, what I discovered was that only one set of color proof press sheets was saved in the archive for each year the stamps were made!

Therefore each positional set of color proofs found in the box is unique. Indeed a fascinating find. I have been offering sets (with the envelopes) on eBay for the last couple of years now and do have quite a few to go. Perhaps you can catch them in auction sometime.

Here are a couple images of rarities from the box!

Sierra Leone 1980 Birds 5Le Bileski Made Color Proof Gutter Block Set
Sierra Leone 1982 Birds 5c Bileski Made Color Proof Gutter Block Set
Sierra Leone 1983 Birds 1c Bileski Made Color Proof Gutter Block Set


No "errors" exist for the earlier issues. For the 1983 reprints several prototype "errors" were made. These are intentional errors and do not have any extreme value as some sellers would like you to think. The standard printing of these made for collector errors was for 3,000. In many cases these "errors" are held by certain dealers who will not tell you they have a stock of them in their back room. The true value for a single example should be no more than $5.00 and only purchased as a novelty for collections.
Noting the two "errors" shown are imperforate. No perforated errors known.

Sierra Leone 1983 15c Missing Red Made for Collector error Stamps
Sierra Leone 1983 Birds 15c African Blue Quail Missing Red Error Stamps
Very similar to the LOTW Cars and Trains Made for Collectors Missing Color Errors.

Sierra Leone 1983 40c Color Shift Made for Collector error Stamps
Sierra Leone 1983 Birds 40c Kingfisher Color Shift Error Stamp
Very similar to the 1985 85th Birthday of the Queen Mother and Michael Jackson color shift error stamps.

No errors are listed for this issue.


It appears again that no SPECIMEN overprinted stamps exist for the earlier sets. Once again they do exist for the 1983 reprints. Again I state that it is at this time that the standards of printing changed at Format. The standard printing of 2,000 sets of SPECIMEN overprinted stamps was used for the 1983 reprints.

Sierra Leone 1983 Specimen Overprinted Stamps
Sierra Leone 1983 Birds SPECIMEN Overprinted Stamps
This sums up the varieties found to exist for the Sierra Leone 1980-1983 Birds Definitive stamps.
If new information is found it will be updated on this page.

References taken from:
Stanley Gibbons West Africa
Scott Catalog
Personal Study of the proofs
Internet research

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UPDATED LAST ON: 13-Dec-2016 03:11 PM