The first child welfare stamp was issued in Switzerland in 1913 and became known as the Pro Juventute issues because of their Latin inscription meaning ‘for youth’. The stamp, featuring an image of the Matterhorn and Helvetia (the female national personification of Switzerland), was denominated 5 centimes but was sold for 10 centimes with the premium given to children’s benevolent societies. A set of Pro Juventute stamps has been issued in Switzerland every year since raising funds for children’s welfare including holiday camps, medical equipment and Tuberculosis sanatoria.
The 1938 issue comprised four stamps, the 5c denominated stamp featuring Salomon Gessner, a celebrated Swiss painter, newspaper publisher and poet. The others in the set featured Swiss girls in traditional dress including the 30c denominated stamp with a scene of Aargau, one of the 26 cantons forming the Swiss Confederation.
Since 1926, Luxembourg has issued charity stamps including child welfare stamps depicting Grand Duchess Charlotte’s five children and grandchildren. Princess Ferial of Egypt first appeared on a child welfare stamp in 1940 when she was 18 months old. And following the theme, Denmark’s Princess Anne-Marie and Princess Margaret were both portrayed as babies on child welfare stamps.
New Zealand is the only British Commonwealth country to issue regular charity stamps in aid of child welfare, issued since 1929 to fund Tuberculosis sanatoria and children’s holiday camps. Jamaica produced a set of three beautiful stamps in denominations of ½d, 1d and 2½d with premiums in aid of the Child Welfare League in November 1923.
To view Child Welfare postal issues, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
Norfolk Island is a remote island located in the Tasman Sea, mid-way between Australia and New Zealand and is named after Captain Cook’s patron, the Duke of Norfolk. Cook had discovered the island in 1774 during a voyage of discovery to the Pacific and Australia. The island has high cliffs and reefs and the landing was fraught with difficulty. Whilst the island was uninhabited, there was evidence that Polynesians had landed there in the past. The island would become a brutal penal colony but is today celebrated for its diverse wildlife.
Norfolk Island is approximately 5 miles by 3 miles (14 square miles) and is accompanied by two much smaller islands. The island is probably most noted as a former British penal colony. Murder and petty thieving often resulted in a period of hard labour served in Australia. If you were fortunate to survive the harsh conditions, it was possible to return to British shores as is evidenced by the monument on Plymouth Barbican in Devon, England which marks the place where former striking farm workers known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs returned from Australia.
Having colonised Norfolk Island, the British placed a group of marines in control under a succession of ruthless Governors. The early ‘settlers’ brought fruit trees and a wide range of vegetables with them to sustain the island. By 1790 the population had risen to 150 and this number increased to over 1,000 by the early 1800s.
The treatment of the convicts was so harsh that some inmates committed crimes knowing that the result would lead to hanging and a relief from a living hell as they saw it. On learning of the extremely harsh treatment, the British government decided to close its operations on Norfolk Island and transport all the residents to Australia which was completed in 1814. A dozen dogs and some cattle and pigs were left on the island with the expectation that the dogs would ultimately kill the farm animals for food – however, the dogs died and the farm animals multiplied.
By 1824, the penal gaols in New South Wales had become overcrowded and the British government once again turned to Norfolk Island as a place of incarceration. New strict controls were put in place but the governors and marines were no better than before. Following repeated incidents of murder and lynching, the island was abandoned again in 1854 … but not for long. As detailed in an earlier blog (Pitcairn Islands: Mutiny on the Bounty), the population of Pitcairn Island (many of whom were descendants of infamous mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty) were transported to Norfolk Island in 1855.
Norfolk Island has remained inhabited ever since. Today, the main source of income is tourism with most traveling to and from the island by aircraft. A small airport was constructed in 1942 principally as a World War II landing stage for aircraft in transit between Sydney in Australia, Auckland in new Zealand and the the Solomon Islands. The ability to settle on the island is now limited by the island’s council which enjoys partial self-government including an independent postal administration. Norfolk Island issued its first postage stamps in 1947 and many of the issues feature local wildlife including birds and butterflies. Norfolk Island is particularly noted for its pine trees that feature in the first set of postage stamps issued in 1947 (feature image).
As an aside, whilst walking in the Gorge du Verdon in the South of France in 2016, the author met a Australian couple and their teenage son – it the conversation that followed, it was revealed that the man was a wildlife artist whose work had included bird designs that had been used on Norfolk Island postage stamps!
To view postal issues of the Australia, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
The featured image is of an envelope posted in Cairo on 24 February 1936 to an address in Canterbury, England and carries a red prepaid postage stamp. On the back of the envelope is a 1 piastre letter seal beneath the emblem of the Royal Horse Artillery, an arm of the Royal Regiment of Artillery that was formed in 1793 and is recognised today for its role supporting ceremonial duties. The ‘GR’ in the emblem represents George V who had died the month before. Edward VIII was to subsequently abdicate and George VI would not succeed to the throne until December that year. The envelope is a rich piece of both postal and military history – an era when the postal service supported communications between military forces and family at home.
With the defeat of Germany and the Ottoman Empire in World War I the political landscape of the Eastern Mediterranean was to change. The British retained its interest in Egypt even though it had become a kingdom under King Fuad in the early 1920s. With a large British military presence in the country, a cheap and efficient postal service was required for its troops to communicate with families back home.
In 1932 special postal ‘Seals’ were issued to members of the British armed forces – a special discounted postal service. The first issue was denominated 1 piastre and included the words ‘POSTAL SEAL’ but this was quickly replaced with the words ‘LETTER SEAL’.
The elongated seal design was retained with an image of the Sphinx for a subsequent issue, now called Letter Stamps, in 1934 comprised two coloured stamps of Carmine and Green, both 1 piastre in denomination. In 1935, George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee and an Ultramarine issue of the same design was overprinted in red with ‘JUBILEE COMMEMORATION 1935’.
The fact that there was little recognition of King Fuad I as the then monarch of Egypt was a source of some discord and therefore, in late 1935, two stamps were issued carrying the portrait of the King for the sole use by British troops at a special discounted denominations of 3m (Green) and 10m (Carmine).
King Fuad I died in 1936 and was succeeded by King Farouk. The same basic design was retained for a new issue with the same denomination, albeit with smaller dimensions and with the portrait of the new King. The issuing of special stamps ended in 1941 although concessions offered by the Egyptian postal authorities to the British armed forces continued until 1951.
To view postal issues of the Egypt, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
Any philatelist with an interest in Spain cannot ignore the changing portraits that grace the early stamp issues. The profiles belie a period of political turmoil in the country that can be traced from the first stamp issue of 1850. Modern Spain is of course a culturally rich and politically stable country and retains its royal lineage with the current King Felipe VI, a direct descendent of those earlier monarchs.
Queen Isabella II was the first monarch to feature on the stamps of Spain. Indeed, her portrait featured on the first issue of 1 January 1850. Isabella II had succeeded her father, Ferdinand VII, to the throne on 10 November 1843 following a long lineage of European monarchs from the House of Bourbon. His reign had been marked by the loss of the majority of Spain’s empire in the Americas and a succession of Carlist civil wars. Isabella II came to the throne just a month before her third birthday and her reign was immediately disputed by her uncle and founder of the Carlist movement, the Infante Carlos. The beginning of her reign was dominated by the regency of her mother, Queen Maria Cristina, during which Spain transitioned form an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Isabella II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1868 and after relocating to the Palacio Castilla in Paris, formally abdicated in 1870. She died in Paris on 9 April 1904.
Following the revolution, control of the government passed to Francisco Serrano (1st Duke de la Torre) who had been in command of the revolutionary army. He was then appointed successively as President of the Executive, Prime Minister of Spain and finally Regent from 3 October 1868 to 18 June 1869. During this period stamp issues featured a portrait of Ceres, the roman goddess of agriculture and fertility.
Serrano acceded to the governments subsequent selection of Amadeus of Savoy as King. A break from the House of Bourbon, King Amadeo I was an Italian prince who reigned from 1870 to 1873. He appears on stamp issues between 1872 and 1873. His short reign was marred by growing republicanism, the Cuban independence movement and continuing Carlist rebellions in the north. Serrano took command of the king’s army against the Carlists but was subsequently forced to resign as Prime Minister when the monarch declined to give his ministers dictatorial powers. This ultimately led to Amadeus abdicating the throne on 11 February 1873. The ex-monarch left Spain and returned to Italy where he resumed his title as Duke of Aosta. He died in Turin on 18 January 1890.
Spain then entered a short period referred to as the First Spanish Republic – it lasted just two years between 11 February 1873 to 29 December 1874. The period was marked by continuing Carlist wars, the Ten Years’ War and the Cantonal rebellion. In December 1874, General Arsenio Martínez Campos staged a military coup which ended the Republic and brought about the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.
Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, formally succeeded to the throne on 29 December 1874 aged seventeen. Despite the political turmoil in Spain, he had been called to Paris on 25 June 1870, where his mother had abdicated and he had been anointed Alfonso XII in the presence of a number of Spanish nobles. The portrait of Alfonso XII features in several stamp issues from 1 January 1875. Sadly, Alfonso XII died just short of his 28th birthday. He had been suffering from tuberculosis although the cause of death is widely reported to have been dysentery.
Alfonso XII was succeeded by his son, Alfonso XIII, from birth on 17 May 1886 – Alfonso XII had died the previous year. Many will be familiar with the early issues from his reign featuring the portrait of a young child. Subsequent stamp issues would follow his transition through childhood, most of which was under the regency of his mother, Maria Christina of Austria. Alfonso XIII left Spain voluntarily after the municipal elections of April 1931 which had supported a mandate to abolish the monarchy, leading to the Second Spanish Republic. However, he is remember as the only monarch nominated for a Nobel Prize, a nomination earned for his unprecedented work with the European War Office during World War I. On 15 January 1941, Alfonso XIII renounced his rights to the defunct Spanish throne in favour of his son Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona. Alfonso XIII died of a heart attack in Rome on 28 February that year.
The Spanish monarchy would not return until 22 November 1975 with Juan Carlos I, grandson of Alfonso XIII. The Bourbon dynasty continues today with his son Felipe VI who acceded to the throne in June 2014.
To view postal issues of the Spain, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
One of the fascinating aspects of philately is discovering issues of countries that no longer exist. A little research often unveils an interesting history and a link to a region with its own unique culture. One such region is Slesvig and in this post we’ll visit it’s history and culture through the 1920 Denmark issue of five stamps commemorating the recovery of Northern Slesvig.
The German version of ‘Schleswig’ is more traditionally known as Scheswig-Holstein which is today the northernmost of Germany’s sixteen consistent states. Indeed, the name originates from the amalgamation of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein following the Second War of Schleswig in 1864 when the region had been stripped from Denmark by the Prussia and the Austrian Empire. Just two years later, Austria was defeated in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and both Schleswig and Holstein were annexed by decree of the King of Prussia.
The 1920 Denmark commemorative issue marks the next significant event in the regions history. Following the defeat of Imperial Germany in World War I, the Allied powers created two plebiscites – Northern Slesvig (Zone I) on the 10 February 1920 and Central Schleswig (Zone 2) on 14 March 1920. Between 25 January and 21 May 1920, stamps were issued from the Northern Slesvig plebiscite including some overprinted ‘1. ZONE’. However in subsequent elections, 75% of Northern Slesvig voters opted for reunification with Denmark and so it was that on 15 June 1920, Northern Slesvig was officially reunited with Denmark. Central Schleswig remained part of Schleswig-Holstein, a province of the Free State of Prussia.
The stamps that were first issued on 5 October 1920 feature scenes of notable historical buildings in the region. The Kronborg Castle features on the 10 øre denominated stamps. These were initially issued in Red and then subsequently reissued in Green from 19 May 1921. The majestic castle is in the town of Helsingør and is widely believed to the be castle that William Shakespeare refers to as Elsinore in the play, Hamlet. Interestingly, the castle is situated on the extreme northeastern tip of the island of Zealand between Denmark and Sweden, some distance from Slesvig.
The Sønderborg Castle features on the 20 øre denominated stamp which was issued in a Slate colour. The castle is located on the island of Als in the disputed Slesvig region and was used as a camp hospital during the afore-mentioned Slesvig Wars. Following the reunification of the region in 1920, the castle was bought by the Danish state and now houses a museum focusing on the history and culture of the area.
Finally, Roskilde Cathedral features on the 40 øre denominated stamps. These were initiated issued in Brown and then subsequently reissued in Indigo from 25 November 1921. The cathedral, located on the island of Zealand (again some distance from the Slesvig region) is widely regarded as one of the most important religious sites in Denmark and has been the official royal burial location of the Danish monarchs since the 15th century.
To view postal issues of the Denmark, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the rather bizarre commission of HMS Diamond Rock, The Unsinkable ‘Stone Frigate’, as a fortification off the coast of Martinique. However, it seems that the propensity to occupy otherwise barren and hostile rocks in the Caribbean Sea for military purposes is not unique. A set of stamps issued in 1984 by St Vincent introduces us to another such outpost, Fort Duvernette.
Fort Duvernette, also known locally as Rock Fort, is understood to have originally been built by the French on Duvernette Islet (also known as Young’s Sugar Loaf), immediately to the south of Young Island which itself lies just off the south coast of St Vincent. Like Diamond Rock, Duvernette Islet is a volcanic plug of hard basalt that rises 60m out of the Caribbean Sea. It’s position on the windward side of St Vincent, protects the town of Calliaqua which at the time was the colonial hub of St Vincent.
France ceded the island of St Vincent to the British under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Almost twenty years later the French launched an invasion of St Vincent at Calliaqua. Their English built ships were not flying French colours and many local residents assumed they were merchant ships. The British regained St Vincent under the 1783 Treaty of Versailles. Fort Duvernette became a strategic fortification for the British, protecting Calliaqua where sugar was loaded onto ships bound for English ports. The Fort eventually fell into disrepair as the British completed the building of neighbouring Fort Charlotte in 1806. This latter fortification was a more substantial redoubt accessed via viaduct and capable of supporting 600 troops and 34 guns.
The set of four stamps with denominations of 35c, 45c, $1 and $3 were issued in 1984 and feature scenes of the Fort and surrounding area. The 35c stamp features a scene of Duvernette Islet and the $3 stamp depicts a map of the Fort’s location relative to Young Island and the main island of St. Vincent (note that the map is rotated 90 degrees so that south appears to the left of the stamp). This was not the first time Fort Duvernette had featured on a stamp issue of St Vincent – an earlier 1d stamp of the 1938-1947 George VI definitive issue had featured a view overlooking Young Island with the basalt rock of Duvernette Islet clearly visible on the far left.
Today, Fort Duvernette can only be accessed by boat. A spiral staircase of 225 steps that have been carved into the rock take you to the top where you can enjoy commanding views over Calliaqua Bay and Indian Bay. Two batteries of cannon remain that are marked as from the reign of George II and George III.
To view postal issues of the St Vincent, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
Articulating political sentiment through postage stamps has been common theme throughout philatelic history and continues to this day. In some cases this is blatant – imperial and propaganda stamps of the early twentieth centre immediately spring to mind. In other cases, it’s more subtle as is evident in the featured image of a 2.5dr stamp issued by Greece – part of a set that is often referred to as the Enosis issue.
The War of Independence (1821-1832) ended the Ottoman domination of Greece that had existed since the mid- 15th century. Greece emerged as a modern nation state and reclaimed many of the lands that had once been part of the former Byzantine Empire. The centenary of the proclamation of independence was celebrated in 1932 by a substantial issue of 18 stamps ranging in denomination from 10lep to 50dr. The 4dr stamp in that set depicted the extent of Greek territory in 1830 and subsequent expansion by 1930. However, conflict remained and most notably in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean located south of Turkey and west of Syria.
Cyprus too had been part of the Byzantine Empire and later, the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Cyprus was leased to the British Empire under the terms of the Congress of Berlin in exchange of guarantees that would protect the Ottoman Empire against Russian aggression. The island would serve Britain as an important military base in the Mediterranean but in 1915, it was offered Cyprus to Greece on condition that it join the World War I allies – the offer was declined. Following World War I, Turkey relinquished any claim to Cyprus and the island was declared a British Crown Colony.
Following World War II (during which many Greek and Turkish Cypriots had enlisted in the allied Cyprus Regiment), the Greek Cypriot population were hopeful that the British administration would support the ambition of the Greek state to expand into territories inhabited by Greek populations including Cyprus – known as the Enosis movement. Indeed, many supported Enosis as part of a broader political ambition known as the Megali Idea, to reclaim the lands of the Byzantine Empire covering the Southern Balkans, Asia Minor and Cyprus. Initially Turkish Cypriots favoured the continuation of British rule although by the early 1950’s the situation had deteriorated into conflict between Greek and Turkish-backed military factions.
The ongoing situation prompted Greece to issue the curious set of 1954 propaganda stamps that became known as the Enosis issue. The stamps, with different border colours, all feature an extract from Hansard, the official report on proceedings of the British parliament. The text, comprising 691 words, cited the debate on Cyprus in the House of Commons on 28th July 1954.
The text refers to the speech by Labour Member of Parliament (MP), Lena Jeger, who quoted the remarks of Sir Winston Churchill in 1907 when he was then Undersecretary of State for the Colonies, during a visit to Cyprus.
“I think it only natural that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what may be called their mother country as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished. Such a feeling is an example of the patriotic devotion which so nobly characterises the Greek Nation.”
In 1954, Sir Winston Churchill was now Prime Minister and whilst many MPs spoke in favour of a referendum for the island’s union with Greece, the debate was inconclusive. In a gesture of Greek contempt for the proceedings, a large black ink-blot was splashed over the stamp. So contentious was the prospective stamp issue with the British at the time, that it is referenced in official government papers that can now be viewed in the National Archives (1955 FO371/117620/1081/9 ‘Proposed issue of Greek Enosis postage stamps’).
The Greek Prime Minister, Field Marshall A. Papagos, had asked the United Nations to provide a resolution on Cyprus’ independence which had been set for 22 November 1954. The Enosis stamp issue was prepared for issue the same day and in multiple languages – 1.2dr denomination was printed in Greek; 2dr, 2.5dr and 4dr denominations were printed in English; and 2dr and 2.4dr denominations in French. The Greek delegation to the UN then caused a diplomatic storm by presenting participants with a set of the Enosis stamps. In retaliation, all letters posted from Greece to the UK bearing the Enosis stamps were returned to Greece as ‘unacceptable’.
1.2dr Greek text [Yellow border]
2dr English text [Orange border]
2dr French text [Blue border]
2.4dr French text [Lavender border]
2.5dr English text [Rose border]
4dr English text [Green border]
Cyprus attained independence on 16 August 1960 following the London and Zürich Agreements between the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. However, inter-communal violence continued to erupt throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.
To view postal issues of Greece, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
Tune in to any one of the philatelic social media channels and the question that you’ll commonly see posted is ‘What’s it worth?’, accompanied by a photograph of a stamp or collection. Sadly, in the majority of cases the answer is, ‘don’t give up the day job just yet’ or words to that effect! Even where there is potential value, it is often hidden in a plethora of other low-value material. It can be virtually impossible to get a meaningful online valuation. However, there are now a number of tools available to assist those with very little knowledge of Philately.
The first point to note is that the philatelic market is just like any other founded on the principle of supply and demand. A stamp is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it. It can take years to acquire the expertise and knowledge to value a collection. Therefore, not surprisingly, the traditional and more formal approach is either to take your collection to a dealer or to a local philatelic club or society.
A dealer is likely to spend time reviewing the collection and will provide you with a valuation or estimate. However, keep in mind that the dealer is running a business and therefore you can expect to pay a fee for the service or a premium if you agree to consign it to auction. For a more hands-on approach, a club or society will be able to provide advice, guidance and in some cases resources, such as philatelic catalogues, to assist you in valuing.
As more of our daily lives are executed online, many are naturally turning to philatelic social media. The classification and state of the printed material, gum, perforations, colour, watermark etc. all play a part in determining value. In reality, the photograph accompanying a typical online query is far from sufficient to determine all of these variables and therefore its very difficult to get an accurate valuation.
However, there are now a number of tools available to assist even the most novice philatelist derive an estimate. A little bit of homework will save you considerable time and effort later and will enable you to direct the right questions to online philatelic experts. I have found the approach shared below effective and requires very little knowledge of Philately. I welcome feedback and comments from other philatelists willing to share their methods.
Firstly, download the Stamp Identifier App onto your device of choice – it is available on Google Play and App Store. Stamp Identifier uses advanced image recognition technology to find the stamp in the online community catalogue, Colnect (colnect.com). The App is free and you do not need a subscription to Colnect. Once installed, you simply need to acquire an image of the stamp. The simplest way of achieving this is to tap on the camera icon on the Stamp Identifier main menu.
Point your device camera at the stamp in question and within seconds, the image recognition technology will have scanned the image and searched for potential matches on Colnect. You can then select the correct item from a menu of matched stamp images and then view the associated details of the stamp including country, series, catalogue id., issue date, face value, perforation, size etc.
I have the found the App extremely effective and is improving as more material is added to the Colnect. If you are struggling to get a match, I’ve found that placing the stamp on a solid black background significantly improves the matching algorithm success. Alternatively, take a photograph of the stamp and then tap the image icon on the Stamp Identifier main menu. This allows you to crop the image which also improves the accuracy of matching.
Now that you have identified the stamp, you can value it. Conveniently, Stamp Identifier provides a link to eBay where items matching the description can be displayed. The matching is dependent on the accuracy of the eBay descriptions but with a little selective scrolling you should be able to get an indication of the price that the item is selling at on eBay. Of course, eBay provides more advanced pricing tools based on history of similarly classified items but personally, I prefer not to use eBay to price stamps as the descriptions rarely account for the many variations that can influence a valuation – but that’s a topic for a future post.
Most philatelists will refer to one of the many price catalogues. Conveniently again, Stamp Identifier identifies the catalogue identifier for catalogues issued by vendors such as Stanley Gibbons (www.stanleygibbons.com), Scott (www.scottonline.com) and Michel (www.briefmarken.de). Many of these catalogues are available in hard copy form or via an online subscription. If you have access to these catalogues, you will be able to use the identifier to cross reference the item and determine the estimated selling price for Mint / Unused / Used condition. Keep in mind that these are indicative prices only and are typically for items in fine condition. As a general guide, you should assume 20-40% of the catalogue price for estimated valuation purposes.
A novice is unlikely to have ready access to a philatelic price catalogue and are not cost-effective for once-off valuations. If you think you might want to learn more about philately and take up the hobby then they are well worth the investment. If not, there is an alternative free online resource – Stampworld (www.stampworld.com). It may require a little more work but, armed with the country and date of issue from Stamp Identifier, you can search through the catalogue and derive an estimated selling price. Simply, select Catalogue from the main menu on the left of the Stampworld homepage, select the country from the list, select the year from the top right menu and scroll through to the relevant stamp issue.
The approach highlighted above requires a little time and effort. If you find it even somewhat rewarding … you’re on the path to becoming a philatelist … welcome! If not, you are least armed with an indicative value of an stamp or collection. As highlighted earlier, there are limitations to all tools and services as none of them are able to take account of all the variables that influence price. However, it will allow you to focus on the items of most relative value and ensure that you are able to conduct a more meaningful dialogue with the online philatelic community.
For further information about Purchasing, Valuations and Sales, please visit M&S Philately Services.
The featured image is of a 1947 4f stamp issued by the Caribbean island of Martinique. The design is simple, depicting a vista looking across a bay with shoreline buildings in the foreground and an impressive mountain rising up in the background. Surprisingly, the portrayed vista is the scene of one of the most devastating natural disasters of the 20th century.
The 4f brown stamp is one of three stamps (the others being the 5f in green and 6f in magenta) that feature an identical scene of Mount Pelée (Mont Pelé) as clearly identified in the tablet at the bottom of the stamp. Just to the right of the tablet, the engravers Barlangue are named. The stamps were part of a 20 stamp issue of 2 June 1947, including three air stamps. Martinique had become a French Overseas Department on 1 January 1947 and this was to be the last definitive issue of Martinique prior to the use of French stamps which continues to this day. Mount Pelée was to feature again in a French stamp issue of 1955.
Mount Pelée, meaning ‘bald mountain’, is an active volcano in the northern tip of Martinique. Volcanoes feature extensively in stamp issues and are a popular theme for many philatelists, often depicting eruptions and lava flows at locations across the world from New Zealand and the United States to Ecuador, Argentina and Costa Rica. The stamp issues of Iceland are particularly striking and include the notable 1948 seven stamp issue of Hekla, commemorating the eruption of 1947 which started on 29 March and lasted for over a year with a the lava flow covering more than 40 km2.
Mount Pelée has the unenviable reputation of being the site of the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. The eruption on 8 May 1902 destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre lying on its coastal west flank, killing between 29,000 and 30,000 people in just a few minutes. Indeed, it is understood that there were only two survivors of the resulting pyroclastic flow that swept through the town – Ludger Sylbaris survived as he remained protected inside a jail cell into which he had been incarcerated overnight for brawling and Léon Compère-Léandre, a shoemaker who lived on the edge of the city, who escaped with severe burns.
Prior to the eruption, Saint-Pierre had been regarded as one of the most important centres of culture and economic growth in the French colonies. Whilst not the official administrative capital of Martinique – a title retained by Fort-de-France further south on the island – Saint-Pierre earned a reputation as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean’. The coastal resort was a popular retreat for the wealthy French elite who were entertained in lavish theatres and bars. The thriving economy supported a burgeoning population that peaked at approximately 30,000 by 1900. Whilst there had been indications of activity from Mount Pelée, the phenomenon of the pyroclastic flow was not yet understood. Sadly, despite the warnings, the town of Saint-Pierre and its population was completely devastated by the 1902 eruption.
Mount Pelée is part of the Lesser Volcanic Arc of the Caribbean which includes as many as nineteen active volcanoes. La Soufrière on Saint Vincent, which also forms part of the Lesser Volcanic Arc, erupted in the same year killing 1,680 people. Whilst Mount Pelée remains active, it is under continuous watch by geophysicists and volcanologists. The last eruption began in September 1929 and related tectonic earthquakes occur on Martinique every year. The town of Saint-Pierre may not have been fully restored to it’s original state of grandeur but it remains home to a population of more than 4,500.
To view postal issues of Martinique, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.
The Mutiny on the Bounty is a well know tale of insurrection on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty in the South Pacific on 28th April 1789. The mutineers seized control of the ship from their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh, setting him adrift in a launch with 18 loyalists. The story of Bligh’s navigation more than 3,500 nautical miles to reach safety is remarkable enough but equally compelling is the story of the mutineers that led to the settlement of Pitcairn Island.
HMS Bounty was on a voyage to acquire plants and seeds of fruit and vegetables that could be used to feed Britains growing global empire. Following an extended stay in Hawaii collecting plant specimens, the relationship between the Captain and his 45 crew worsened. Bligh was indisputably a harsh captain who treated his crew in a severe manner, winning him few friends onboard ship.
Mid-Pacific, the hostility erupted into a mutiny with sufficient numbers overpowering those that remained loyal to the captain. Knowing that mutiny was a capital offence in the British Navy, the mutineers set Bligh adrift with just a few charts and some meagre supplies – the assumption being that they would perish in the open Pacific. If nothing else, Captain Bligh was an expert seaman. He rationed food consumption, plotted their route due west and eventually made landfall in the Torres Strait on Timor, an island between Australia and New Guinea. Captain Bligh and his men were fortunate that they located the island and eventually were able to return to Britain. Ships in the Pacific were requested to search for HMS Bounty and return the mutineers to justice. The hunt was on!
Meanwhile, the mutineers led by Fletcher Christian returned to Hawaii to pick up livestock and further supplies, and additionally persuaded some of the Polynesians, both men and women that had befriended them, to join them for a destination as yet unknown. The charts for the Pacific were far from complete and Pitcairn Island, little more that a remote volcanic rock, became a welcome sanctuary despite there being no beaches or natural harbour.
Pitcairn Island is a little over a mile long, with a width less than a mile and was uninhabited. It was an ideal location for a hideaway and with cliffs that were unwelcoming to visitors, this made the island even more inviting to the mutineers. The men were able to unload the Bounty of its cargo and establish a community on the island in 1790. Any passing ship would recognise HMS Bounty at anchor off the coast of the island and so it was decided to scuttle the ship, leaving no future opportunity to leave the island. At that point, the settlement comprised 9 Europeans and 18 Polynesians.
It was 18 years later in 1808, that an American whaling ship, Topaz, happened to call at the island by which time the community had become established and grown in size. Of the original mutineers only one remained alive – John Adams. But the secret of the mutineer’s location was now out. The British sent two frigates, arriving at Pitcairn Island in 1814. Whilst there was evidence of feuding, the community had become closely bound to christian beliefs. John Adams was eventually granted amnesty. The main settlement and capital of Pitcairn, Adamstown, is named after him. In 1838, Pitcairn Island became a British Protectorate.
Of the one and three quarters square mile of Pitcairn only 8% can be cultivated, the remainder is too mountainous. As the population expanded the supply of food became such a problem that in 1855 the islanders appealed to the British for help and they were offered another island in the Tasman Sea (between New Zealand and Australia) called Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island had been a British penal colony but had been abandoned years earlier. The Pitcairner’s agreed to the move. Having been transported to their ‘new’ home, several were unable to settle and within 18 months, 17 returned to Pitcairn Island. Five years later, another 27 followed, many of them direct descendants of the mutineers. The population quickly grew to 200. Today, there are fewer than 100 inhabitants and the island is administrated by New Zealand.
In the early 20th century, postal services to and from the island were very irregular, having to rely on passing ships for the collection and receipt of mail. In 1920 a regular postal service was introduced sometimes using a cancellation representing payment with the slogan ‘No stamps available’ and sometimes using New Zealand stamps cancelled with the name of Pitcairn Island in the cancellation. The first distinctive postage stamps for the island itself were issued in 1940 and are featured throughout this post. This pictorial commemorative issue depicts various people and views that have shaped the history of Pitcairn Island including Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian, John Adams and HMS Bounty.
To view postal issues of Pitcairn Island, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.