Jamaica: Local Artist Comes to the Rescue

Jamaica’s 1932 pictorial definitives were issued to support the growth in tourism that was sweeping the Caribbean and bringing a much needed economic boost to the islands. The issue featured vignettes selected by the Government Printing Works who were unfamiliar with the stamp design process. Local artist, Stella Shaw, came to the rescue and delivered three simple designs that were to be used across multiple definitive issues and enjoyed for many years thereafter. 

As highlighted in a previous post, St Lucia: A Case of Unfortunate Timing, it was quite common for British Commonwealth islands to promote a design competition, providing local artists an opportunity to have their works commissioned on postal issues promoting tourism. Designs would then be passed to established London stamp printers such as De La Rue and Waterlow & Sons, who would refine the designs and guide the commissions through the print process. However, in the early 1930’s, Jamaica chose to commission a dozen or so photographs of local beauty spots. The Superintendent of the Government Printing Works, F. S. Passingham, then selected just a few to be used as the basis for pictorial definitive issue. These included views of coconut palms at Columbus Cove (now more commonly referred to as Don Christopher’s Cove on the north coast near St Ann’s Bay), the Wag Water River near Castleton St Andrew (north of Kingston and close to the present site of Castleton Botanical Gardens) and Priestman’s River near Portland (in the central eastern region of the island).

Unfortunately, the Government Printing Works had little experience of the design and printing process for stamps specifically. Stella Shaw, a local artist, came to the rescue by tracing the images onto thin paper. She then viewed the sketches through inverted binoculars to assess how the images might appear at stamp size, and then skilfully accentuated certain features and removed superfluous detail. Retaining the enlarged vignettes, the frames were then added – a process that would typically have been performed separately on a two-colour issue such as this.

Jamaica 1932 pictorial definitive 2d stamp featuring Columbus Cove
2d featuring Columbus Cove
Jamaica 1932 2½d pictorial definitive stamp featuring Wag Water River
2½d featuring Wag Water River
  • 2d Columbus Cove vignette in black surrounded in green frame of coconut palms
  • 2½d Wag Water River vignette in turquoise-blue and ultramarine frame of banana bunches
  • 6d Priestman’s River vignette in grey-black and purple frame of star apples (featured image)

All three of the stamps in the 1932 definitive issue feature two tablets – one at the top with ‘JAMAICA’ inscribed and the lower with ‘POSTAGE REVENUE’ and the denomination.

The relatively simple designs were subsequently released to the London printers, Waterlow & Sons, for finalisation of design and printing. However, it is a testament to the preliminary work of the Government Printing Work and Stella Shaw in particular, that the designs remained largely unaltered. For the 1932 issue, the stamps were recess-printed on paper with Multiple-Script CA watermark and perforated 12½. The issue was subject to a staggered release throughout 1932 with the 6d released in February, the 2½d in March and the 2d in November. The designs were retained for the subsequent King George VI issue of 1938, albeit with different denominations, colours and frames which now included a portrait of the King. Indeed, the Columbus Cove vignette would appear again in the single stamp issue of 1953 commemorating the Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

To view postal issues of Jamaica, 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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