Fortunately, an excellent resource for identifying early New Caledonia surcharges can be found at https://www.rfrajola.com/NCE/nce.pdf. At this site, Richard Frajola has published the Frederick Mayer collection of pre-1900 New Caledonia stamps. These overprints commonly turn up in feeder albums, so most world-wide collectors have at least few of them. My assortment is showing at the beginning of the supplement pages (below).
No doubt the main reason for the deluge of overprints was slow delivery of stamps from France. But social turmoil may also have contributed to the necessity for overprints -- New Caledonia was a prison colony for French convicts and political dissidents, indigenous people were largely excluded from the French economy and restricted to reservations, French ranchers’ cattle ate locals’ vegetable gardens, violence erupted, and European diseases decimated the native population. Collectors might wonder if their early New Caledonia stamps franked a prisoner’s mail to France.From 1859 through 1881, New Caledonia used French Colonies stamps without overprints, as was the case in other colonies. Stamps cancelled in New Caledonia, however, can sometimes be identified by a distinctive dot matrix lozenge authorized for Nouméa, New Caledonia’s capital and largest city. Scott’s catalog numbers these with an “A” prefix. I located my collection of Nouméa cancels in Big Blue’s French Colonies pages rather than with the New Caledonia supplements. Here are four examples; the first three show the dot matrix while the fourth has a standard circular cancel
Scott’s Catalog makes an exception for the first New Caledonia stamp -- it’s an 1859 local issue rather than an officially authorized stamp. Apparently, it was in use only a short while, then, when the French Colonies stamps became available, it was discontinued. According to comments in the Mayer collection (cited above), it was carved by a Colonial French Marine sergeant on a stone plate of 50 stamps, each being separately drawn. Since each of the 50 originals is different, forgeries, which abound, are difficult to detect. These local stamps were intended for service between Nouméa and Canala, an outlying town. A total of 1500 stamps were printed. Of the two in my collection, the first may be authentic while the second is an exceptionally crude imitation. The image is meant to be Napoleon III.
Census: 125 in BB spaces, 101 on supplement pages.