Although the Kingdom of Bhutan is not, nor has ever been, a member of The Commonwealth, it has a long history of close relations with, firstly, Great Britain, and after the independence of India, with the latter. Various references state that Bhutan was a Protectorate of Great Britain but that was not its formal relationship, rather it was described as a country with special treaty relationships with Britain. Ugyen Wangchuk had become ruler of Bhutan in 1885 and was elected King in 1907. Three years later he signed the Treaty of Punakha with the British and Britain held responsibility for Bhutan's external relations while the country had internal self-government. At the independence of India, these relations continued with the independent India which recognised the independence of Bhutan but it was only in 1971 when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. These long-standing close relations with Britain and India make Bhutan a reasonable candidate for Commonwealth membership if it were ever interested in applying to join the organisation.
The country did not issue any stamps for use on external mail until 10 October 1962 although fiscal stamps had been used for postage on internal mail from 1954 and in use with Indian stamps on external mail. The first set of definitives consisted of 7 values which depicted local subjects but increasingly, from 1964 onwards, many stamps were issued which had been produced by a New York-based philatelic agency and often their subject matter had little or no relevance to Bhutan. More recently, the Bhutan Post office has changed its philatelic agents and has had a moderately conservative new issue programme usually on subjects of direct national relevance. A number of issues have been about recent political developments in Bhutan such as the introduction of democracy and constitutional monarchy as well as a number of sets on the subject of the Bhutanese monarchy.
Exactly one year after the event, on 13 October 2012, 6 miniature sheets were released which commemorated the first anniversary of the wedding of the fifth King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, who succeeded to the throne in 2006, and his bride, Jetsun Pema:-
The current monarch succeeded his father, King Jigme Wangchuk, who had ruled Bhutan from 1972 and who is judged by his abdication and his announcement of a general election in 2008 to be the founder of democracy in Bhutan. An issue of 2012 commemorates the former monarch's role in bringing democracy to his country and calls him the "Father of Our Democracy":-
The present king's wedding was celebrated by the issue of 4 stamps and 4 miniature sheets which were issued on 9 October 2011:-
and the country's international relations were highlighted by a sheetlet of 8 stamps and a miniature sheet which were issued on 16 April 2010 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of SAARC and the holding of a meeting of the organisation in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu. The stamp designs feature the flags of the member states of the organisation and notably five of the eight are members of The Commonwealth.
The close relations with India were also commemorated by a set of 4 stamps in sheetlet form and an accompanying miniature sheet which were issued on 15 August 2011 to recall the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Bhutan which took place in September 1958:-
It can be seen that where once Bhutan had a rather poor philatelic reputation, so bad that some of its stamp issues were relegated to the appendix of Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogues, its stamps of recent years have been of considerable interest and great relevance. Recent issues have been relatively conservative but exciting in design and very well printed. Issues since 2010:- 14 February 2010: Lunar new year (2 miniature sheets); 7 April 2010: World Health Day (6 stamps and 1 m.s.); 16 April 2010: Silver jubilee of SAARC (see above); 1 November 2010: 2nd anniversary of the coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk (18 stamps and 2 m.s.); 17 December 2012: Queens of Bhutan (8 stamps); 17 December 2012; The Wangchuk Dynasty (6 stamps); 3 February 2011: Lunar new year (2 stamps); 25 May 2011: 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Japan (4 stamps); 15 August 2011: Visit of the Indian prime minister (see above); 9 October 2011: Bhutanese Royal Wedding (see above); 2012: Education (1 stamp and 1 m.s.); 2012: Lunar new year - year of the dragon (1 stamp and 1 m.s.); 2012: The Father of Democracy (see above) and 2012: 1st anniversary of the Royal Wedding (see above). As an adjunct to a collection of Commonwealth stamps, a collection of stamps from this country is full of interest and it is not too expensive to obtain the recent issues. I have made a collection of Bhutanese stamps up until 1971 because in many ways the territory was then closely linked to India and I have collected stamps issued over the past few years which are relevant to the country which, as I try to illustrate above, is true of pretty well every stamp issued by Bhutan in recent times. Perhaps Bhutan will one day apply for Commonwealth membership given its links to the SAARC nations, its previous close relationship to first Britain and then India and its now burgeoning democracy which is one of the great principles of Commonwealth membership.