Beauty on a Budget.
The Gambian first issues broke many rules, the size of the sheets at only 15 stamps each (3 rows of 5 with full selvage on all sides) is highly unusual, the exact printing methods are still open to debate, and the beautiful embossed head of young Victoria was a unique feature in British Colonial stamp production.
Gambia was a tiny colony with an equally small budget and it appears that De La Rue not only produced the plates & stamps cheaply, but created a stamp design classic at the same time!
Records suggest that De La Rues first estimate was probably well beyond the colony’s purse and major efforts were made to produce a cheaper stamp, the reduction in plate size must have helped and it is possible that once the embossing dies (which were probably already in use for other stationery items) had been suitably arranged the need for expensive watermarked paper was deemed unnecessary as the embossing itself would prove a deterrent to forgery.
A few other small colonies asked for stamps similar to Gambia’s, including St Kitts in 1869, but none were produced perhaps because De La Rue didn’t want to feed a trend in cheap stamp production!
The iconic design, with changes to colours, papers and perforation, was in use for almost 30 years until the Crown Colony small keyplate stamps were introduced in 1898.