Danish West Indies: Not to be Forgotten

Think of Denmark’s colonial past and you are most likely to cite the Viking heritage and associated former possessions in the North Atlantic such as Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. However, it’s later colonial power stretched across four continents including on the Gold Coast (Africa), eastern India (Asia) and in the Caribbean (America).

The Dansk Vestindien (Danish West Indies), also known as the Danish Antilles, comprised more than 50 islands including St Thomas, St John and St Croix. The Danish West India Company first took possession of St Thomas in 1672 and St John in 1675. St Croix was later purchased from the French in 1733. The Kingdom of Denmark-Norway took control of the islands in 1755 when the Danish West India Company got into financial difficulty, and the reverted to the Danish crown in 1814 when the union between the two countries was dissolved.

Like many Caribbean colonies at the time, the economy was founded on the sugar trade and due to its convenient location, St Thomas became an important centre for freight, passengers and mail. Indeed, the British Royal Mail Steam Packet Company found it more convenient as an operational centre than many of the British islands.

The first adhesive postage stamps were issued in 1855, just four years after they were introduced in Denmark and followed the same design (featured). The 3c stamp features the crown, sceptre and sword framed by a wreath. The outer frame includes the inscriptions ‘KGL.’ (abbreviation for ‘kongelig’ meaning ‘royal’), ‘POST’ and ‘FR.M.’ (abbreviation for ‘frimaerke’ meaning ‘stamp’). The stamp was initially issued as imperforate and in carmine although other shades were later issues. A perforated issue was released in 1872 and a 4c blue added in 1873.

The country name did not appear on the stamps of the Danish West Indies until the new definitives were issued in 1873 – again based on a design issued in Denmark. The format comprised a numerical value in a central circle headed by a crown and the denomination in words below. Nine denominations were issued from 1c to 50c. Like their Denmark equivalent issues, the stamps are available in a variety of shades and inverted frame varieties are quite common. Several overprints were also issued.

Danish West Indies 1873 3c definitive stamp
1873 3c issue
Danish West Indies 1873 3c definitive stamp with colour variation and inverted frame
1873 3c with colour variation and inverted frame
Danish West Indies 4c definitive stamp bisected on piece postmarked 23 January 1903
4c bisected on piece postmarked 23 January 1903

Several more issues were released but, with the population and prosperity of the colony dwindling, Denmark sought an exit strategy in the early 20th century. Negotiations with the United States were protracted but with German submarines targeting Atlantic shipping at the advent of World War I, the US agreed to pay Denmark $25m in gold for the islands. The official transfer of power took place on 31 March, 1917, just days before the US declaration of war on Germany. The islands were renamed the US Virgin Islands.

Danish West Indies 1902 3c definitive stamp with overprinted surcharge of 2 cents
1902 3c with optd. surch. of 2 cents
Danish West Indies 1902 10c definitive stamp with overprinted surcharge of 8 cents
1902 10c with optd. surch. of 8 cents
Danish West Indies 1905 4c definitive stamp with overprinted surcharge of 5b
1905 4c with optd. surch. of 5 bits

To view postal issues of the Danish West Indies, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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