Thematics: Britannia

Perkins, Bacon & Co. will forever be identified as the printers of the first adhesive stamps, the Penny Black in 1840. They were the designers of many other early influential stamp issues including the Britannia type. These represented many of the earliest issues of Barbados, Mauritius and Trinidad.

Jacob Perkins was an inventor, mechanical engineer and physicist, born in Massachusetts, US in 1766. Amongst his many inventions is the first patent for the vapour-compression refrigeration cycle in 1834 which has led to his recognition as the father of the refrigerator. However, prior to that, Perkins had developed important innovations in printing technology including the use of soft steel engraving plates. In 1816 he set up a printing shop and became noted for quality printing of American bank notes. In 1819 Perkins moved to England and formed the partnership, Perkins, Fairman & Heath producing books, currency and the first adhesive stamps. After several changes to ownership, the company would eventually be named Perkins, Bacon & Co. in 1852.

The stamp design used for some of the earliest issues of Barbados, Mauritius and Trinidad depicted Britannia seated on sugar bags with a sailing ship in the background – a controversial image by modern standards. The design was introduced for Barbados in 1852, for Mauritius in 1854 and for Trinidad in 1851. Initially, each denomination was identified only by the different colours of the stamps.

Trinidad 1854 1d Britannia Imperf. stamp
Trinidad 1854 1d Britannia Imperf.
Trinidad 1879 ½d Britannia Surch. stamp
Trinidad 1879 ½d Britannia Surch.

Later issues from 1858 were redrawn with the name of the colony as a header and the denomination in words at the foot. The Britannia stamps had a comparatively long lifetime and were used in Barbados until 1882, in Mauritius until 1860 and in Trinidad until 1883. As a thematic topic they represent an interest to philatelists due to the numerous changes in paper, watermark, perforation and colour.

Barbados 1852 1d Britannia Imperf. stamp
Barbados 1852 1d Britannia Imperf.
Barbados 1875 6d Britannia stamp
Barbados 1875 6d Britannia

Whilst Perkins, Bacon & Co. were highly successful, the company found itself in repeated financial difficulties. In 1861 they temporarily lost the contract to print stamps as punishment for undisclosed distribution of new issues to friends of the management. Perkins, Bacon & Co. completed their printing contract for stamps on 31 December 1879, losing subsequent business to competitor De La Rue. They went out of business in 1935 and the records were acquired by the Royal Philatelic Society London.

To view Britannia postal issues, 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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