Imperial China: Spoilt for Choice

If you are a collector seeking a region or country with a diverse postal history then you can’t go far wrong with China. The history of China is complex – the demise of imperialism, years of internal feudal conflict, revolution, civil war and overseas occupation has resulted in a postal history that is both rich and varied. Whilst only a limited number of designs were issued during the reign of the last emperors of China, the philatelist is spoilt for choice with the diversity of overprints, variations and postmarks.

For many in China, 1839 is considered the beginning of modern Chinese history. It was the year that the Daoguang Emperor (seventh Emperor of the Qing dynasty) rejected proposals to legalise opium and attempted to halt the trade completely. This led to the Second Opium War (1856–60) that ultimately ended the policy of isolation and resulted in the opening of treaty ports such as Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Foochow and Amoy. More than 80 treaty ports were eventually established in China by foreign powers including Great Britain, United States, France, Italy, Belgium, Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union.

Whilst an earlier mail service had been established to carry consular mail to and from the treaty ports, the first public postal services were not established until 1877. China’s first postage stamps featuring large dragons, were inscribed ‘CHINA’ in both Latin and Chinese characters and were denominated in candereens.

From the 1 January 1897, the postal system was rebranded Imperial Postal Services and cents and dollars were adopted as the units of currency. During the first half of 1897, the existing stock was surcharged in cents. Despite there only being a limited variety of designs at this stage, the diversity of overprints, variations and postmarks would already represent a rich seam for philatelists.

On 16th August 1897, the first new stamps inscribed ‘IMPERIAL CHINESE POST’ were issued, ranging in denominations from from ½c to $5. The low values depicted a dragon, the middle values a carp and the dollar values a wild goose. These stamps were based on lithographic designs produced in Japan and printed on paper watermarked with the yin-yang symbol.

1898 China Chinese Imperial Post 1c stamp, Waterlow & Sons Ltd. of London
1898 Chinese Imperial Post 1c
1898 China Chinese Imperial Post 4c stamp, Waterlow & Sons Ltd. of London
1898 Chinese Imperial Post 4c

On 28 January 1898, these stamps were superseded by an issue with similar designs that were engraved by Waterlow and Sons Ltd. of London. These are commonly referred to as the ‘Waterlow Stamps’ and are easily distinguished from the former issue by the reordering of the inscription to ‘CHINESE IMPERIAL POST’ and the adoption of alternative colours to comply with Universal Postal Union regulations. Further, three new denominations of 3c, 7c and 16c were also added. These stamps would remain in circulation until the fall of Chinese imperialism.

The first commemorative stamps of China were issued in 1909 to mark the first year of the reign of the Xuantong Emperor – the last emperor of China and final Qing dynasty ruler. The set of three stamps of denominations 2c (featured image), 3c and 7c, all depict the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and were again designed by Waterlow and Sons as is clearly identified at the base of the stamp.

1912 China Chinese Imperial Post 5c stamp overprinted with Chinese characters 'Republic of China'
1912 Chinese Imperial Post 5c Optd. with ‘Republic of China’

The Xuantong Emperor was forced to abdicate on 12 February 1912 as a result of the Chinese Revolution. Official overprints of the imperial stamps were issued by Waterlow and Sons, although many postmasters throughout the country also used unofficial overprints. The first new designs of Republic of China were issued on 14 December 1912 featuring Sun Yat-sen who served as the provisional first president.

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

Cayman Islands: Tempting the Tourists

Tourism has been a predominant theme for a number of recent posts relating to Caribbean issues on this blog – notably Martinique (The Unsinkable ‘Stone Frigate’), Jamaica (Local Artist Comes to the Rescue) and St Lucia (A Case of Unfortunate Timing). In the early 1930’s, these stamp issues were unashamedly targeting a small but wealthy audience with images of exotic flora and fauna and scenes of a tropical paradise. Not only were these issues setting a advertising precedent but in many cases they were also the first pictorial issues for many of the islands.

A further example is the 1935-36 pictorial issue of the Cayman Islands – an island group that lies in the western Caribbean Sea, located between Jamaica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and directly south of Cuba. It is believed that the Cayman Islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus on 10 May 1503 during his final voyage to the Americas. He named the islands ‘Las Tortugas’ after the large numbers of resident turtles. Later the islands were to become known as the Caymans after the caiman (or more specifically, the Cuban Crocodile) that were also once resident around the islands. There was no formal colonisation until the mid-1600’s and in 1670 England took formal control of the Cayman Islands along with Jamaica under the terms of the Treaty of Madrid. The close association with Jamaica remained as the islands were administered as a dependency of the Crown Colony of Jamaica until the it’s independence in 1962 when the Cayman Islands reverted to separate Crown Colony status.

Understandably therefore, the Cayman Islands used Jamaican stamps from 1889 and postal autonomy was not established until 1900 with the issue of typographed key-type stamps featuring the head of Queen Victoria. Aside from the 1932 issue commemorating the Centenary of Assembly of Justices and Vestry, the 1935 issue of twelve stamps was the first pictorial set based on five designs with each featuring an oval-shaped medallion portrait of Kind George V derived from a master die used for the 1925-29 issue of Northern Rhodesia. The medallion is surrounded by rope acknowledging the local production of thatch rope traditionally fabricated from the unopened leaves of silver palms.

The five designs feature images of an island map (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) and Queen Conch shells (indigenous to the Caribbean where the sea snail is valued as seafood) and Palm trees as well as vignettes of Hawksbill Turtles scurrying down a beach (featured image), a Cat Boat (a sailboat with a single gaff rigged sail on a single mast) and a colony of Red-Footed Boobys. The Hawksbill Turtle is one of several species that can be found the Caribbean Sea although sadly they were hunted to near-extinction and is now critically endangered. The Red-Footed Booby is a seabird which is noted not only for their brightly coloured feet but also their reputation for clumsy take-off and landing manoeuvres, despite being agile in flight. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac remain home to large populations of both Red-Footed and Brown Booby’s.

The twelve stamps with denomination from ¼d to 10s, were released in two stages and all were recess-printed by Waterlow & Sons on paper with Multiple Script CA watermark, perforated 12½.

  • ¼d Map of Cayman Islands [Black and Brown]
  • ½d Cat Boat [Blue and Green]
  • 1d Red-Footed Boobys [Blue and Red]
  • 1½d Queen Conch Shells [Black and Orange]
  • 2d Cat Boat [Blue and Purple]
  • 2½d Hawksbill Turtles [Blue and Black]
  • 3d Map of Cayman Islands [Black and Green]
  • 6d Hawksbill Turtles [Purple and Black]
  • 1s Cat Boat [Blue and Orange]
  • 2s Red-Footed Boobys [Blue and Black]
  • 5s Hawksbill Turtles [Green and Black]
  • 10s Queen Conch Shells [Black and Red]

To view postal issues of the Cayman Islands, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Martinique: The Unsinkable ‘Stone Frigate’

The feature image depicts a stamp issued in 1970 by the Republic of France with the Caribbean island of ‘MARTINIQUE’ clearly identified in the top left. The scene is one of tranquility – a fishing boat is pulled up on the shore of the Caribbean island, the nets are drying in a breeze and the palm trees sway gently. In the distance, an offshore island stands benign in the calm Caribbean Sea. However the scene belies a violent history and the offshore island is the location of a quite remarkable sequence of events.

The stamp itself was one of three promoting tourism, a series that had been extended since a first related publicity issue in 1961. The other two stamps in the 1970 issue included a 95c denominated stamp featuring Chancelade Abbey in the Dordogne region of France and a 1f denominated stamp featuring Gosier Island, Guadeloupe, a neighbouring island in the Caribbean. The featured 50c stamp is brightly coloured in slate green, bright blue and plum, and in the top right of the stamp are the words, ‘Rocher du Diamant’, Diamond Rock.

Photograph of Diamond Rock taken from Morne Larcher on the Martinique mainland
Photograph of Diamond Rock taken from Morne Larcher on the Martinique mainland

Martinique is an overseas department and an integral part of the French Republic, located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies. Diamond Rock lies just off the south west coast of the island and 3km directly south of the peninsular known as ‘Grand Anse du Diamant’. The basalt rock stands 175m high and is a remanent of volcanic activity. The rock gets its name from the reflections of light off the water that are cast on its sides which evoke images of the precious stone. 

Martinique’s position in the Caribbean Sea (directly north of Saint Lucia, northwest of Barbados and south of Dominica) made it a location of significant importance during the wars between European powers that dominated the 18th and 19th centuries and in particular, during the Napoleonic wars. Diamond Rock itself lies in the northern extremes of the St Lucia Straits and offers a strategic position overlooking the entrance to a large bay formerly known as Fort Royal and access to the Martinique capital, Fort de France.

In September 1803 Sir Samuel Hood, a British Naval Commodore, sailed to Diamond Rock aboard HMS Centaur with instructions to blockade the bays of Fort Royal and Saint Pierre. Recognising the strategic importance of the rock as a lookout for enemy shipping, the British ran lines between HMS Centaur and the shore, hoisting two 18-pounder cannons to the summit of the rock. Fortifications were hastily built on the rock and 120 men garrisoned under the command of Lieutenant James Wilkes Maurice. Hood officially commissioned the rock as HMS Diamond Rock, a ‘stone frigate’. A 24-pounder cannon was placed in a cave halfway up the side of the rock and a further two 24-pounders in batteries at the base, as well as a 24-pounder carronade covering the only landing place. Diamond Rock was a pretty barren and hostile environment and regular supplies were conveyed from supporting ships via pulleys and ropes. A small herd of goats as well as guinea helms and chickens were maintained on the rock, feeding off the sparse vegetation.

The elevation that Diamond Rock was able to provide, ensured that the garrison dominated the channel between the rock and the Martinique mainland for almost 18 months. Harassed French shipping that took a wider berth of the rock discovered that prevailing winds and currents made it almost impossible to enter the Fort Royal Bay and the security of Fort de France. French troops based on Martinique made numerous attempts to retake the rock with little success. Under the orders of Napoleon, Admiral Villeneuve embarked on a voyage to Martinique with a substantial French and Spanish fleet. A combined force of 16 ships under the French Captain Cosmao-Kerjulien blockaded and attacked the rock between 16 and 29 May 1805. On 31 May, the French were able to land troops forcing Lieutenant Maurice to move the garrison to the summit. With dwindling supplies and ammunition, Maurice surrendered to the superior forces on 3 June. The remaining garrison of 107 men were repatriated to Barbados by 6 June and Diamond Rock returned to its tranquil state. 

Painting by Auguste Mayer depicting the French fleet commanded by Captain Cosmao-Kerjulien attacking Diamond Rock, Martinique
French fleet under the command of Captain Cosmao-Kerjulien attacking Diamond Rock – painting by Auguste Mayer

Today, Diamond Rock is uninhabited and remains relatively inaccessible and inhospitable. It is believed to be home to a number of unique species that were once endemic to Martinique but now considered extinct including the Couresse Grass Snake. It is recognised as an important bird sanctuary for breeding population of Brown Boobies, Brown Noddies and Bridled Terns. Below water, the aquatic scape of sea fans and coral is popular with scuba divers and reported sightings have included cannon that the French toppled from the summit during the Napoleonic conflict.

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

San Marino: The Ubiquitous Three Towers

At 38 square miles, San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, located just inland from the Adriatic coast and entirely surrounded by Italian territory. Stamps were first issued in 1877 but look closely – it’s not always obvious – and you’ll notice that three towers feature in many of the issues. It’s an almost ubiquitous design feature. The three towers are sited on the three peaks of Monte Titano (‘Mount Titan’), which forms part of the Apennines and is the highest peak in San Marino at 739m elevation. The capital, also named San Marino, is built on the slopes of Mont Titano and dominates the surrounding landscape.

Flag of San Marino featuring the three towers
Flag of San Marino featuring the three towers

It is believed that San Marino was founded in 301 by a Christian stonemason, Marinus. He had escaped Roman persecution and fled the island of Arbe off the Dalmatian coast, taking refuge on Mount Titano where he founded a small community of Christians. In memory of Marinus, the area was initially named the ‘Land of San Marino’, later becoming the Republic of San Marino. The republic comprised just the immediate territory of Mount Titano until 1463 when Pope Pius II awarded San Marino the towns of Fiorentino, Montegiardino and Serravalle. At this time, the town of Faetano chose to voluntarily join the republic.

So important are the three towers to the San Marino culture, that they appear both on the national flag and coat of arms. The three towers are named Guita, Cesta and Montale. Originally built in the 11th century, Guaita is the oldest and arguably the most famous, acting as a defence during the war fought between San Marino and the House of Malatesta in the 15th century. Cesta is located on the highest of the three peaks of Monte Titano and built in the 13st century on the site of an earlier Roman fort. Today, it serves as a museum in honour of Saint Marinus and houses weaponry from the Medieval period to today. Montale is located on the lowest peak and is believed to have been built as a defence by the Malatesta family in the 14th century.

San Marino postcard featuring a scene of Mount Titano and the three towers
San Marino postcard with a scene comprising Mount Titano and the three towers

San Marino’s postal service was established in 1862 using stamps of Sardinia and then the new Italian Kingdom – these stamps are often only distinguishable by the postmark. The first distinctive stamps of San Marino issued in 1877, all featured the three towers except for the 2c denomination. Since then, the three towers have appeared consistently on stamp issues albeit in cases, somewhat covertly. The following are just a few examples …

San Marino 1946 1l stamp featuring wings over a representation of Mount Titano and the three towers
1l stamp of the 1946 Air Mail issue

The 1946 Air Mail issue comprised 11 stamps with designs all featuring Mount Titano and the three towers. The design adopted on the pictured 1l, also used on the 25c and 10l denominated stamps, features wings over a representation of Mount Titano and the three towers. The feature image is the 6l denominated stamp from the 1947 issue commemorating the centenary of the first US postage stamps. The stamp design comprises the Statue of Liberty and Mount Titano and the three towers.

San Marino 1949 2l stamp featuring town of Serravalle against a backdrop of Mount Titano
2l stamp of the 1949 pictorial definitive issue
San Marino 1958 1l stamp featuring wheat against a backdrop of Mount Titano
1l stamp of the 1958 issue of fruit and agricultural products

The 1949 pictorial definitive issue all featured the three towers in the lower left tablet. The pictured 2l stamp, as well as the 12l and 50l denominated stamps, also feature the vignette of the town of Serravalle against a backdrop of Mount Titano and the three towers. The 1958 pictorial issue comprising 10 stamps commemorating local fruit and agricultural products are attractive in their own right. The set adopts images of wheat, maize, grapes, peaches and plums all set against a backdrop of … yes, you guessed it, the inescapable Mount Titano and the three towers. These are just a selection of the stamps featuring what is clearly a scene of great cultural importance to San Marino.

To view postal issues of San Marino, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

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.

Sarawak: Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak – a life story worthy of film

Sarawak – a place name that has an exotic ring to it and its history is none the less interesting. British trading rights had been established in countries such as India and Malaysia and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, Singapore had become a major trading port. However, further east the influence was less significant. Many of the islands making up the eastern archipelago of the East Indies were covered in dense jungle and inhabited by indigenous tribes (Dayaks). The coastal areas had been settled by people that had migrated from the Malay Peninsula and were ruled by Sultans who often fought over disputed boundaries. The local natives showed no interest in such squabbles unless they had a vested interest.

One of the largest islands in the eastern archipelago is Borneo. Whilst the Dutch had laid claim to the south and east, the north and west were ruled by the Sultans with the Sultan of Brunei being the most powerful. Within his control were Labuan, Sabah, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei itself. However, one Englishman was to have an impact on the development of Sarawak in particular. His name was Sir James Brooke.

James Brooke was a military man that had served in the British Army in India and had taken part in the First Anglo-Burmese War where he was severely wounded. He returned to England in 1825 hoping to recuperate and return to India but the Army authorities considered his injuries sufficient to pension him off from military service. James Brooke visited China in 1830 to ‘improve his health’ and as the ship that carried him passed the islands of the East Indies he was impressed by their natural beauty. His father had once worked for the East India Company so he had some understanding of the significance of trade with the Far East. On his return to England he endeavoured to raise money to pursue his trading interests albeit with limited success. However, James Brooke’s father died in 1835 and he inherited sufficient funds that allowed him to purchase a schooner named Royalist that he sailed to the Far East arriving in Singapore in 1839.

While in Singapore, Brooke heard the story of how a group of British sailors had been shipwrecked off the coast of Borneo and that they had been saved and assisted by Pengiran Haslim, the uncle of the Sultan of Brunei. Knowing that Brooke intended to travel to Borneo, the British Governor General of Singapore asked Brooke to officially thank Pengiran Haslim for saving the British lives. This was how James Brooke came to meet the family of the Sultan of Brunei. The Sultan was troubled by rebellions within his country and attacks from Asian pirates. Being a military man, James Brooke offered his services in quelling the rebellions and curbing the activities of the pirates along the Borneo coast. So successful was he that over a period of a few years, the Sultan gave Brooke large areas of his land that eventually became the State of Sarawak with the main town of Kuching situated on the Sarawak River.

James Brooke was now not only the ruler of the State but also the head of its legal system. He banned slavery, headhunting and piracy, introduced basic law and order, and in doing so, earned the respect of the natives. Brooke still had the ambition to set up stronger trading links with the west. He arranged meetings between the Sultan of Brunei, visiting Royal Navy ships and representatives of the East India Company. He promoted the British interests to the Sultan even when he arguably had no real authority to carry out these negotiations on behalf of the British Government. 

The Sultan still exercised capital punishment in Brunei that Brooke disliked and this caused friction between the two men especially when the Sultan had Pengiran Haslim, his uncle, and members of his family assassinated because they were considered a threat to the Sultan’s rule. In the late 1840s the Sultan ceded the island of Labuan to the British as a naval base under the guidance of James Brooke and with this he achieved yet more power on the island of Borneo. In 1852 the Sultan died and the new Sultan gifted more land to Brooke for his services to Brunei. His exploits in and around Brunei had become legendary – but there was increasing unrest from the native tribes. The disturbances in 1853, 1857 and 1860 shook the Brooke administration in Sarawak. Brooke considered selling his personal ‘kingdom’ but it was not until 1864 that the British recognised Sarawak and James Brooke as its Head of State. 

James Brooke’s nephew, Charles Brooke, who had visited his uncle in Sarawak as a young man was captivated by the country so much so that he stayed on to work in the Sarawak administration. He became the natural successor to James having been beside his uncle for over a decade and so when James returned to England in 1863 he left Charles to run the State albeit with monthly instructions from himself. Mail took about a month to reach Sarawak from England at this time so responses and guidance could hardly have been considered immediate.

Sarawak 1888 20c stamp featuring Sir Charles Brooke
1888 20c stamp featuring Sir Charles Brooke

Back in England, James bought himself a small farm on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon and spent his final years on his smallholding, using a horse drawn cart to enjoy the scenic beauty of Dartmoor. He commissioned the first postage stamp for Sarawak from the Glasgow printers Macdonald and Son but before it could be issued, he suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve 1867 followed by a second in June 1868 that resulted in his death aged 65. In March 1869, 8 months after his death, the postage stamp featuring the effigy of James Brooke was issued in Kuching (featured image).

Postcard of Sheepstor village in Devon, England
Sheepstor village in Devon, England

The churchyard at Sheepstor Church, less than 10 miles from Plymouth, was James Brooke’s final resting place. In acknowledgment of his standing, the Church holds several artefacts and memorabilia associated with Sarawak and has become a focal point for visitors and historians alike. Such was the dramatic life story of James Brooke that he was a model for the hero of Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim, and he is briefly mentioned in Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King. In 1936 a Warner Bros. film about his life called The White Rajah, based on a script written by and starring Errol Flynn was suggested but sadly never made. However, in 2021 the adventure drama film Edge of the World was released starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, based on the life of James Brooke.

Poster for the 2021 film, Edge of the World
Film Poster – Edge of the World (courtesy of Wiki:Contents)

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

British Guiana: Democratising the Philatelic Holy Grail

It’s the most famous philatelic artefact and the holy grail for philatelists – the British Guiana 1c Magenta (featured image courtesy of Wikipedia:Contents). Stamps from this former British colony in South America, now Guyana, are considered some of the rarest in the world. The 1c Magenta comes with quite a back story and that tale has now been further embellished with the announcement that you can own a part of it!

British Guiana’s earliest stamps were printed in black on coloured paper at the offices of the Royal Gazette in the capital, Georgetown, in July 1850. They were imperforate and simply produced in letterpress with circular borders giving rise to their nickname, ‘cotton-reels’. These first stamps were issued in values of 4, 8 and 12c and to combat fraud, each stamp was initialled by the postmaster or one of the clerks. A 2c was later added to the issue in March 1851. New rates of 1c for printed material and 4c for letters, were issued in January 1852 using the more advanced lithographic methods – the first stamps to be issued by Waterlow and Sons in England.

British Guiana 1852 4c stamp featuring sailing ship and motto
1852 4c Waterlow & Sons issue featuring sailing ship and motto

At that time, sailings from England were irregular and supplies of the new stamps were sometimes exhausted. On one such occasion in 1856, a replacement imperforate issue for both the 1c (magenta) and 4c (various shades of magenta and blue) values was printed out of the office of the Official Gazette in Georgetown using former techniques. Like their replacement issue, the stamps featured a sailing ship along with the colony’s motto in latin Damus Petimus Que Vicissim, ‘We give and expect in return’. The 1c magenta is the rarest stamp and only one copy is now known to exist.

However, the British Guiana 1c magenta didn’t come to prominence until it was found by a 12 year old British Guiana school boy, L. Vernon Vaughan, who sold the stamp to a local collector, Neil McKinnon, so that he could buy more stamps. McKinnon paid just 1 dollar 25 cents for the stamp. Since then, the stamp has graced the collections of wealthy philatelists including Philip Ferrari de La Renotière, Arthur Hind and Robert A. Siegel. Ferrari de La Renotière, owner of arguably the largest stamp collection, acquired the stamp for the princely sum of £150. By 1970, Siegel had to part with US $280,000.

Picture of Philip Ferrari de La Renotière (courtesy of Wiki:Contents)
Philip Ferrari de La Renotière (courtesy of Wiki:Contents)

In 1980, John E. Du Pont, heir to the Du Pont family fortune acquired the stamp for US $935,000. Du Pont was later imprisoned for the murder of the Olympian, David Schultz, and the stamp was understood to have been locked in a bank vault. In 2014, the stamp was sold from the Du Pont estate, breaking the world record for a single stamp at auction, reaching US $9,480,000. The purchaser later identified himself as Stuart Weitzman, a shoe designer and businessman.

The stamp was auctioned again on 8 June 2021 and was bought for US $8,307,000. Shortly afterwards, the stamp dealing and philatelic publishing firm of Stanley Gibbons revealed themselves as the buyers of the stamp, announcing that they would place it on public display at their flagship store located at 399 Strand in London’s West End. Stanley Gibbons have also indicated that it is their intention to democratise the stamp’s ownership, making it available for everybody to own a piece of this unique collectable through the concepts of fractional ownership and digital collections. You can register your interest at

To view postal issues of British Guiana, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Papua New Guinea: A Pantomime Tale

The East Indies were first visited by Europeans in 1606 when the explorer Luiz Vaz de Torres passed through the Straits that now carry his name, between New Guinea and Australia. The native inhabitants of New Guinea consisted of numerous close-knit tribes that were wild, feudal and cannibalistic. The island was and still is covered with dense jungle and many of the tribes lived on the coastal fringe in houses that were often constructed on stilts in the sea a short way from the beach.

It was not until 1862 that the Government of Queensland (then one of a number of self-governing States in Australia) took on the role of administering some of the islands in the Torres Strait that were closest to Cape York, the northern most tip of Australia. The nineteenth century was a century of ‘land grab’ by Europeans. The Dutch colonised most of the East Indies including the western half of the island of New Guinea to promote trade. Britain and France were very active throughout the Pacific but few nations had attempted to colonise eastern New Guinea. The first European to land and set up a home in New Guinea were missionaries working for the London Missionary Society who arrived at Port Moresby in 1873. They had sailed along the coast looking for a suitable place in which to start their ministry and decided on Port Moresby, named after the sea Captain that had charted the coast looking for a safe haven where the missionaries might land.

The leader of the missionaries that led the introduction of Christian teaching at Port Moresby was an Englishman, Rev. W. G. Lawes. He was supported by a number of Christian teachers from the Cook Islands, many of whom later succumbed to malaria and died. Lawes was already well known to many in the Pacific Islands where he had worked as a missionary before arriving in New Guinea. He had a certain flair in learning the language of the islanders that he visited, so important in the translation of sections of the Bible, hymns and conversing with the local population. The indigenous residents of the South Pacific welcomed the education that the missionaries provided and many became devoted Christians. The reputation of the missionaries spread to other tribes on New Guinea and Lawes, together with the South Pacific island teachers, went on expeditions along the southern coast of New Guinea to meet them, spreading their missionary message as they did so.

In the late 1870s, Germany started to show a interest in the region and the Queensland Governor became concerned about the eastern half of New Guinea falling into German hands. The Governor sent a message to the British Government early in 1883 requesting that the south eastern quarter of the island be claimed as a British colony. The telegraph messages were not acted upon and with Germany rebuffing claims from the Dutch that the island was totally theirs, the Governor decided to act without authority. He dispatched senior staff to raise the Union flag at Port Moresby and claim that part of New Guinea as British. The problem was that there was only one flag pole in Port Moresby and that was at the missionary’s church. The Rev. Lawes did not want to become embroiled in the politics but allowed the event to take place. With the flag hoisted, three cheers were given to Queen Victoria, a British gunship in the bay fired a salute and so ended the ceremony of annexation. The indigenous natives had little appreciation of what the event was about.

Meanwhile, the British Government came to the decision that they would rather not annex New Guinea. An embarrassing dialogue followed between the Queensland authorities and the British Government with the latter eventually accepting the annexation. Towards the end of 1884 when the annexation had been ratified, the Deputy Commissioner for Queensland returned to Port Moresby to repeat the raising of the Union flag. The south eastern part of New Guinea was now officially recognised as a British Protectorate … or so everyone thought!

A few weeks later, on 2 November 1884, British warships arrived at Port Moresby under the command of Commodore Erskine. He had been given sole authority by the British Government to raise the Union flag and claim New Guinea as a British colony. He was surprised to find that this had already been done but still insisted on going through the process yet again to fulfil the orders given to him by the British Government. A church service was held at Port Moresby to which the tribes in the area were invited followed by a dinner aboard MHS Nelson, the Commodore’s flagship. Papua New Guinea had then finally become a part of the British Empire – on the third attempt!

Papua New Guinea 1934 1d Stamp commemorating 50th Anniversary of Declaration of British Protectorate - Hoisting the Union flag
50th Anniversary 1d featuring the hoisting of the Union flag
Papua New Guinea 1934 5d Stamp commemorating 50th Anniversary of Declaration of British Protectorate - Reception aboard HMS Nelson
50th Anniversary 5d featuring the reception aboard HMS Nelson

In 1934, the Jubilee (50th anniversary) of the declaration of British Protectorate was commemorated with a set of four postage stamps featuring two designs. The 1d red and 3d blue feature a scene of the quadrangle outside the church at Port Moresby with the Union flag being raised. The 2d scarlet and 5d purple feature a scene at the reception aboard HMS Nelson.

To view postal issues of Papua New Guinea, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Martinique: The First Distinctive Issue

Martinique is part of the Lesser Antilles island group of the Caribbean and was discovered by Columbus in June 1502 but not colonised until the French founded a settlement in 1635. The island lies directly north of Saint Lucia, northwest of Barbados and south of Dominica. Before 1886 Martinique used the French general stamp issues and later, provisional stamps were created by surcharging French denominated stamps and the word ‘MARTINIQUE’ or an abbreviated form, ‘MQE’. The widely recognised French ‘Tablet’ colonial design was introduced in November 1892 with the inscription ‘MARTINIQUE’.

However, it was not until December 1908 that the first distinctive Martinique stamps were issued, featuring three designs. The low values (1c, 2c, 4c, 5c, 10c, 15c, 20c) featured a Martinique woman, middle denominations (25c, 30c, 35c, 40c, 45c, 50c, 75c) featured a scene overlooking the capital, Fort de France, and the franc denominations (1f, 2f, 5f) featured a woman carrying a basket of sugar cane on her head. Each stamp is typographed in two colours and is surrounded by a border also incorporating the ‘MARTINIQUE’ inscription as well as the denomination and the words ‘REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE’ or ‘RF’. The definitive series remained in use until 1933.

Martinique 1908 20c stamp featuring a Martinique woman
1908 20c featuring a Martinique woman
Martinique 1908 5f stamp featuring a woman carrying a basket of sugar cane
1908 5f featuring a woman carrying a basket of sugar cane

In 1915, the 10c denominated stamp was surcharged with a ‘5c’ overprint accompanied by a red cross in aid of the Red Cross during World War I. During the 1920s numerous provisional surcharges were applied and in 1922 the series was refreshed with colour changes and new denominations as postal rates rose.

Martinique 1915 10c stamp with Red Cross and 5c overprinted surcharge
1915 10c with Red Cross and 5c optd. surch.

The series was eventually superseded by an equally distinctive issue in January 1933, again featuring three designs – a native village at Basse Point, Government House in Fort de France and two Martinique women in local head-dresses.

Martinique 1922 15c stamp with 0.02 overprinted surcharge
1922 15c with 0.02 optd. surch.
Martinique 1923 75c stamp with 85 overprinted surcharge
1923 75c with 85 optd. surch.
Martinique 1924 2f stamp with 25c overprinted surcharge
1924 2f with 25c optd. surch.

Today, Martinique remains an integral part of the French Republic and an Outermost Region (OMR) of the European Union. Indeed, its currency is the Euro and the population speak predominantly French and/or a French-based creole.

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