Friday 30 December 2011

Jaws - New Bahamas Definitives - How To Encourage Tourism

The designers of modern stamps and the post offices and advisory committees and philatelic agencies which choose the designs do often give one the impression that they are quite mad. I ask this question - what is the principal source of income to the Bahamas government? My knowledge of international finance and economics is, at best, scanty, but I should think that the answer to that question is a pretty sure bet - tourism. Next question - what do tourists to Bahamas like to do when they are there? Answer - swim and frolic in the turquoise blue, warm Caribbean sea. Next question - what don't tourists like to think is swimming around in that warm, turquiose blue water? Answer - SHARKS! Final question - isn't it a completely daft idea to feature a large, menacing-looking shark on one of the values of your definitive stamps series which tourists, and potential tourists, are likely to see in their thousands? I think so, but then you see so many ridiculous things shown on new stamps nowadays that nothing can truly surprise one. I bet the Bahamas Tourist Board are delighted about the stamp design-clearly The Bahamas Post Office has found a brilliant way to boost tourism - hasn't anyone there seen the movie "Jaws"? Fortunately the remaining values of the set show less menacing marine life of the local waters with a cheerful dolphin featured on the $10 value although I don't like the look of the rather ferocious-appearing moray eel on the 40c value.
Sharks have featured quite regularly on the stamps of various Commonwealth territories, the most notable set of all being the excellently designed definitive set issued by The British Indian Ocean Territory on 1 November 1994. All 12 designs showed a different shark, beautifully painted by Nick Shewring and the £1 value featured Jaws itself, the great white shark. On 18 August 2005 The BIOT revisited the theme of sharks by issuing a set of 8 stamps, again designed by Nick Shewring, each depicting a different species of shark or ray. The good thing about the BIOT is that it is not really a place renowned for its tourism industry, being a large, high-security American base in the middle of the Indian Ocean which is surrounded by a few tiny islands from where all the local inhabitants were expelled in the most disgraceful example of behaviour by the British that has been seen in many a year. So, no worry about sharks on stamps ruining the BIOT's tourism industry then.

On the subject of definitive issues, it would appear that The Maldives will soon release a new set of 13 stamps following the advertising on the Maldives Post website on 20 October 2011 of an invitation for expression of interest to print and provide postage stamps for the Maldives Post Office. The specifications lay down that there will be 13 denominations with a total quantity of 780,000 stamps, there being 3 x 10,000 stamps for the 10L, 15L and 25L values, 9 x5 0,000 stamps for the 1Rf, 2Rf, 3Rf, 5Rf, 6Rf, 8Rf, 16Rf, 18Rf and 20Rf values and 1 x 300,000 stamps for the 12RF value. It is stated that the printing should be full colour and include a security feature embedded in the stamp so that it can not be replicated and the size of the stamps will be 40 x 27.715mms including the perforations. The closing date for quotations was 29 October 2011 and so I suppose that the new stamps should appear in the first part of 2012. Let us hope that The Maldives, whose economy again is based on tourism, has the good sense not to emulate The Bahamas and feature any sharks on this new definitive series.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Wei Hai Wei

Flag of Liu Kung Tau 1899 - c.1902

Following a war between China and Japan which lasted from 1894 to 1895, China was faced with paying large indemnities to the Japanese and to raise money to pay these the Chinese government leased the naval base at Port Arthur to Russia and to counter this, the British took out a lease on the walled city of Wei Hai Wei, south of Port Arthur and west of the Korean Peninsula. The town was leased from 24 May 1898 and it was originally intended that the lease should last as long as "Port Arthur remained in the occupation of Russia" although the territory remained British much longer than that since it was not returned to Chinese sovereignty until 30 September 1930, 25 years after the Russians gave up Port Arthur. In the absence of an organised mail service a private local post was established by a trader in Wei Hai Wei whereby mail was carried from the town to the Chinese port of Chefoo, 63 miles away. Mr. G. K. Ferguson, the manager of Cornabe & Co., and Captain Harrison established the courier service on 8 December 1898 and Mr. Ferguson became the postmaster. Provisional postage stamps were produced by stamping Cornabe's chop (trademark) on sheets of native red paper, applying the chop once for the 2c value and twice (one inverted) for the 5c. The value was written in the top corners with CP in the lower corners on the 2c. In all 784 of the 2c were produced and 392 of the 5c (both in sheets of 98). The cover depicted below bears one of the 2c stamps and is addressed to Chefoo and additionally has a 1c Chinese Imperial Post stamp applied which was cancelled at Chefoo (dated 7 January 1899). The service operated until 15 March 1899 when a Chinese Imperial post office opened in Wei Hai Wei. The first British post office opened on the island of Liu Kung Tau, where the British administration was first located, on 1 September 1899 and a second office opened on the mainland at Port Edward on 1 April 1904.

Wei Hai Wei is one of the very few British colonies never to have had postage stamps produced with its name on them and indeed it was not until 30 November 1922 that it had stamps produced uniquely for use in the colony. Until 1 January 1917 the stamps of Hong Kong were used on mail in Wei Hai Wei. A number of postmarks were brought into use. The illustration below shows a postcard sent to Devonport in England franked with a 4c Hong Kong stamp of 1903 and cancelled by a violet oblong postmark of Port Edward, dated 30 June 1905.


From 1 January 1917 Hong Kong stamps were sold at Wei Hai Wei with the overprint "CHINA" applied to them; thus George V, King and Emperor, was depicted on stamps bearing the inscription of China, itself an ancient empire - surely this must have been the very peak of imperial pretension as had ever been depicted on a postage stamp. The overprinted stamps were not only for use in Wei Hai Wei but also from existing agencies in the so-called Treaty Ports of Amoy, Chefoo, Canton, Foochow, Hankow, Hoi how, Ningpa, Shangai, Swatow and Tientsin. This latter usage ended on 22 September 1922 from which date until 1930 Wei Hai Wei finally had its own postage stamps of a sort.

Flag of Wei Hai Wei 1902- 30

The above illustrations show a pair of Hong Kong 1891 definitives cancelled by an oval violet Liu Kung Tao postmark dated 15 July 1901 which was replaced by the circular Liu Kung Tao postmark, shown in the second illustration above, used on Hong Kong stamps of 1910 (1c) and 1912 (3x4c) and dated 13 July 1914. The final illustration shows the three top values of the 1917 - 21 series of Hong Kong stamps overprinted "China" which had been overprinted at Somerset House. As stated above, Wei Hai Wei was restored to the sovereignty of The Republic Of China on 1 October 1930 and with that the use of overprinted Hong Kong stamps in the territory came to an end.

Tuesday 27 December 2011


The December "Dealer Interactive" section of a New York-based stamp agency features 119 items and of these, 41 are items which are said to have been issued by the individual islands of the small Commonwealth territory of St. Vincent & The Grenadines. In this particular month's listing, only two of the items are said to have been issued for Bequia (pronounced Bek-way) which is the largest island of the Grenadine group which is possessed by St. Vincent although it is still very small with a total population of about 4,300, said to be of African, Scottish and Carib Indian origin. The island capital is Port Elizabeth where the main post office is situated (pictured above). The Post Office of St. Vincent first issued stamps inscribed "St. Vincent Grenadines" on 14 November 1973, ostensibly for use in the small islands which belonged to it, and they commemorated the royal wedding of Princess Anne to Mark Phillips in the standard design used by the Crown Agents for its client territories.

Stamps were then issued for The Grenadines of St. Vincent until 1994 when the last issue appeared which consisted of 12 stamps (SG 1010 - 1021) which featured medicinal plants. One interesting issue had been released on 26 September 1976 which had consisted of 7 booklets priced at $2.50 each and each containing 4 different se-tenant panes of 3 stamps and one label and each booklet produced for a different island in the group. The cover of that produced for Bequia is illustrated below.

During the 21 years of being a philatelic entity "The Grenadines Of St. Vincent" had had a chequered career as regards the issuing of new issues including the participation in the notorious "leaders of the world" series of stamps produced by the equally notorious Philatelists Limited and, as if that was not bad enough, then allowing the New York agency to take over control of its new stamp issues so that there was an even greater flood of new issues, celebrating themes of such great relevance to these tiny islands as the death centenary of Vincent Van Gogh (16 stamps and 4 miniature sheets), Japanese railway locomotives, several sets depicting Walt Disney characters, the 15th death anniversary of Elvis Presley and so on, ad nauseum.
But although general issues for The Grenadines ceased in 1993, some one thought it was a good idea to produce stamps for each tiny island and these were produced from 1994. Mercifully, Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue recognised these for what they are from the word go and columns of print have been added to their catalogue appendix listing these labels - islands with their names printed on these items are Bequia, Canouan, Mustique, Myreau, Palm Island, Tobago Cays, Union Island and Young Island; thus none of these "issues" has received a Gibbons catalogue number and none appear in the main list of stamps issues. And yet they continue to be produced and somebody, presumably, buys them. I visited Bequia in March 2008 and visited the post office in Port Elizabeth and saw with my own eyes that not a single example of these individual island stamps was on sale at the post office - certainly not for use on mail and not even as a philatelic souvenir for tourists to buy. The items on sale then were all the values of the 1996 Crotons definitive set for St. Vincent itself (apart from the ultra-scarce 20c value which I have never seen offered for sale), the 80c value of the St Vincent Grenadines birds and eggs definitive set of 1978 i.e. it was being sold 28 years after it had first been issued, the 75c value of the St. Vincent 1984 flowering trees definitive series, 2 values of the 2007 local insects set of St Vincent, the 20c value of the 2006 set from St Vincent which commemorated the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the 20c fish stamp (SG 5537) of 2006 and, bizarrely, the $1.40c value of the St. Vincent 1999 dinosaurs "Australia '99" set. I made three covers with all the available stamps (apart from the high values of the crotons definitives) and they arrived when I returned home, cancelled with a double ring "BEQUIA ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES", dated "MR 4 08", each stamp being neatly and individually cancelled (Royal Mail please note - see previous blog).

Unless things have changed at Bequia Post Office in the past three years, the numerous individual issues which have been produced seem to represent something of a fantasy and in the case of that particular island, certainly when I visited, they have not been obtainable at the post office (nor, for good measure, did any gift or souvenir shops seem to be selling them either). Under these circumstances they can not be described as postage stamps and Stanley Gibbons are more than justified in not giving them full catalogue status.

Friday 23 December 2011

Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue Southern & Central Africa

I have been much anticipating the publication of the Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue covering Southern and Central Africa if only to see what the editor has made of the issues of Mozambique since the country joined The Commonwealth on 2 November 1995 and also to see how he was faring with making sense of the issues of Malawi over the past few years. As regards the latter, issues up to the European Union Projects set of 18 January 2011 are included with one or two omissions - the European Union miniature sheet which will follow no doubt, the 2nd SAPOA set featuring wild animals, originally scheduled for release in 2007 but seemingly delayed until 2010 and the Rotary stamps from ordinary sheets issued in 2005, the catalogue continues only to feature the miniature sheet for that issue. I remember that several people made bids of 2 - 300 US dollars on E Bay for the set of protected butterflies issued in 2007 and Gibbons now price the set at a mere £6.75p - somebody who spent such a lot of money on them must be feeling a little sick right now!
As regards Mozambique, the editor has had a brilliant stab at trying to make some sense of what the Mozambique Post Office is said to have produced since 1998. Many of the known surcharges have not yet been given catalogue numbers but at least lists of the various surcharge types are provided in the catalogue although they are a little difficult to find among the large number of foreign-agency produced stamps which were released from 1999 to 2004. The lists show that an enormous number of different surcharges were produced from 1997 to 2006 - so far 51 different stamps are identified - and the thought of attempting to obtain a fraction of these for one's collection is a daunting thought and no doubt there will be more for the editor to add to the list - I have several surcharged stamps which do not seem to be known to the editor and some of which I have illustrated in previous blogs so those alone increase the number of these items from the catalogue's current total of 51.
The dimensions of the catalogue make it much more user-friendly than many of the other earlier supplements to The Commonwealth Catalogue and the editor is to be congratulated on his work in producing this excellent book given the minefield that one or two of the included countries have posed. In particular I am especially pleased that he has consigned most of the 100's of thematic stamps produced by Mozambique since 2007 to an appendix, I only wish that he would retrospectively do the same with those produced from 1999 to 2004 but I suppose that having "catalogued" them it is rather difficult to "uncatalogue" them. Perhaps having appendicised about 147 different issues from Mozambique covering the period 2007 - 10 the editor may feel a little more able to similarly deal with a few other Commonwealth countries where the crimes of excessive issue are carried out if not quite to the extent that Mozambique has been guilty of. However the editor certainly showed double standards when he recently announced in Gibbons Stamp Monthly that he would continue to include in the Gibbons Catalogue any "prestige" booklets issued by Royal Mail in the future which are sold for above face value despite that completely contravening Gibbons' own rules for inclusion of stamps in the catalogue.
On that subject, and thinking about the future privatisation of Royal Mail, I think the Catalogue editor should begin to include stamps produced by other mail companies which have international validity and which therefore can not be dismissed as mere "locals" (though a similar status for the stamps produced by the Indian States did not prevent their inclusion in the Commonwealth Catalogue). The prime example of such stamps in Britain are those produced in booklets of 5 and freely available in various outlets, often at places of a high degree of tourist interest, by Universal Mail United Kingdom. Nearly all of the items produced have been available for use on international postcards although two booklets, each of 5 stamps and depicting the Union Jack, were issued in October 2008 and September 2009 respectively for use on letters being sent abroad. In July 2011, six more booklets were produced; of these three, each containing five different designs, were produced on behalf of "Historic Scotland", there are 2 (each with 5 different designs) which depict the Union Jack and British Historic Royal Palaces, and there is one (again containing 5 stamps) which depicts showing different famous road signs - Abbey Road, Oxford Road, Piccadily Circus, Trafalgar Square and Baker Street. These are tremendous items for the tourist trade; they are very interesting and colourful and are highly collectable and make great souvenirs for visitors to Britain. And from the philatelic point of view, must be seen as real stamps, freely available to the public for use on international mail and in consequence they demand inclusion in a catalogue of postage stamps.

The first Universal Mail United Kingdom booklet, no. UK0001, issued in October 2008. Note the inscription at the upper edge of the booklet saying "London Day 1st Edition Souvenir stamps".

One of the 2011 "Historic Scotland" booklets, no. UK0030, issued in 2011.

The road signs booklet, no. UK0034, issued in July 2011.

Finally, a little gem of post office worker vandalism - a cover I recently received with a "Post & Go" label from the 16 September 2011 birds (IV) set used as the stamp and lightly cancelled but then vandalised by a postal worker who drew a thick black line with a felt tip marker pen right across the stamp just to make sure you knew it had been cancelled and to ruin any pleasure that a stamp collector would have had from obtaining such a neat little cover. Honestly, who'd be a stamp collector? You have to be quite mad or at least a severe obsessive-compulsive with the patience of Job.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Pacific Events:- Fiji, Tokelau and Nauru

2011 has seen more locally printed surcharges being produced by Fiji, now on the 31c value from the 1995 definitive series. The stamp features a mangrove heron and so far 6 new values have been produced on this particular stamp:- 1c, 2c, 3c, 4c, 5c (all illustrated) and 20c. These surcharges have been produced since 2006 to make up for a chronic shortage of low value stamps although why the Fiji Post office just can not produce some basic new low value definitives is beyond me (yes, I understand that it's cost effective to use up surplus old issues but this process has been going on for 5 years now).

Meanwhile New Zealand Post has taken over the production and distribution of the stamps of the tiny island of Tokelau, one of the territories of New Zealand, and will fulfill the role on a 5-year contract. This is pleasing news as New Zealand Post has taken on this role for other territories such as Niue and has maintained an excellently conservative programme of well-designed stamps for their client territories, certainly their displacement of a New York-based agency in Niue was a great relief given the awful stamps of no relevance at all to Niue that were produced with Niue's name on them during their aegis. Sadly the first set that New Zealand Post has produced for Tokelau is remarkably dull and uninteresting and apart from the inscription "Manuia te Kilihimahi", apparently Tokelauan for "Merry Christmas", the monochrome stamps feature nothing else with any relevance to Tokelau, depicting as they do Christmas tree decorations which could have been featured on the stamp of any country which celebrates Christmas if it were unimaginative enough to do so. Pity. I hope that designs will improve in 2012.

Finally, a rather odd issue from Nauru which has a fairly conservative new issue programme which sounds good but sadly rarely includes any stamps with subjects which have direct relevance to Nauru. The Nauru Post Office has had only 2 issues produced for it so far during 2011 - one miniature sheet inevitably commemorating the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a second issue, released on 12 April but which has only just come to light, commemorating the Russian space programme, which seems like a subject of rather distant relevance to a tiny Pacific island, not previously known for either having a close relationship with Russia or being involved in space exploration. The stamps were designed by Denise Durkin and printed in lithography by Souther Colour Print of New Zealand and this designer and printer are often associated with items produced by New Zealand Post for their clients and I wonder if New Zealand Post Office will be moving in on Nauru as well as Tokelau and displacing CASCO which seems to mainly produce stamps for its client territories which depict aspects of British history and warfare in general even when one is strained to understand what relevance the theme has to the client territories. The oddity of the Nauru issue should not surprise given that other sets equally hopelessly irrelevant to the island have been produced by CASCO for Nauru in recent years including stamps depicting dinosaurs and commemorating the bicentenary of Battle of Trafalgar!

Monday 12 December 2011

More Difficult Mozambique Issues.

I include here more Mozambique stamps issued between 1998 and 2005 which I have acquired over recent years and which, I suspect, are generally rather difficult to locate.

A pair of crustacean stamps first issued in 1981 apparently reissued in 2000 with a 10,000 MT surcharge and overprinted "CORREIOS - 2000". I have them on a cover dated 19.05.04 at Nacala.

6 values of the set of 10 originally issued in 1998 which depict "typical buildings", all surcharged 17,000 MT with the former value obliterated by 3 small stars and issued in 2002. Other values of the same set may exist with this surcharge or surcharged with a different value, as demonstrated by the 3,000 MT on 6,000 MT depicted in the previous blog.

Flower stamp surcharge of 2,000 MT originally released in 1998, additionally overprinted "2000" in blue, presumably re-released in 2000. This stamp is fixed to the cover of 2004 on which the above "crustacean" stamp was applied.

Various "flower" stamps with different surcharges applied. The first is the 2,000MT surcharge without the additional "2000" overprint.

2 values of the set of 8 pottery stamps which although inscribed "CORREIOS 2001" were apparently issued on 2 December 2002. I have never yet seen the complete set being offered for sale.

Example of 1 value of the pottery set surcharged 6,000 mt with the previous value obliterated by 2 stars and 1 stamp from a set depicting minerals, inscribed "CORREIOS 2003" and additionally surcharged 33,000 MT/33,00 Mtn with the original value similarly obliterated by 2 small stars. I have never seen the original "minerals" set being offered for sale.

I have my suspicions that discovering how many different stamps were issued during this period will prove to be a life-long quest and that obtaining an example of each one would be an even greater task. Still, all very interesting is it not?

Sunday 11 December 2011

Grenada $100 stamp; Mozambique surcharges

I am very much looking forward to the imminent publication of the Stanley Gibbons Central and Southern Africa Catalogue which the editor recently mentioned in an editorial in Gibbons Stamp Monthly and which will feature, for the first time, the stamps issued by Mozambique since it joined The Commonwealth (although issues up to 2004 have appeared in the catalogue supplement published in the monthly magazine). I am not keen to see the listing of the flood of agency-produced stamps which have been "issued" since 1999 but will be very interested to see what the catalogue makes of the numerous locally surcharged stamps which were produced between 1998 and, I think 2005, most of which are extremely hard to track down and some of which, I suspect, are not yet even known about.

I recently obtained several of these surcharged stamps in a pack of kiloware and that was the first time I had seen any of them being offered for sale. I had long been searching for the Mother Theresa stamp of 1998 surcharged 3,000 Mt and had never really expected to find it. This stamp is listed by the Michel Catalogue in Germany. The other stamps in the illustration were previously unknown to me and are a 1981 flower stamp overprinted "2000" and surcharged 6,000 Mt (I had previously acquired the same stamp similarly overprinted "2000" but surcharged 10,000 Mt. on a cover dated 12.09.2002 and on the cover was another value from the same set of flowers stamps featuring the flower "stapelia", also surcharged 10,000 Mt and overprinted "2000") and a 100 Mt stamp from the 1992 Olympic Games set surcharged 17,000 MT with the old value partially obliterated by 2 little stars.

Also in the kiloware that I bought, was the 6,000 MT of the 1998 housing set with the value obliterated by 3 small stars and surcharged 3,000 MT. I had previously obtained unused examples of 5 values from the original set of 10 similarly surcharged 17,000 MT with the 3 little stars obliterating the original value and later on obtained another value, the 100,000 MT, again surcharged 17,000 MT in the same way, in used state. How many versions of these stamps exist with surcharges applied is unknown to me and I am looking forward to seeing what the Gibbons Catalogue has to tell us about them.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Hard on the tail of an issue of a $65 Brunei dollar (about £32) miniature sheet from Brunei and some horribly expensive definitive and official stamps from the agency which is producing stamps for the Cook Islands, I have obtained an excruciatingly expensive miniature sheet which was allegedly issued during 2011 by Grenada. It is part of an issue of 4 low value definitive stamps, the two highest values of which are no more than $1.50 and $2, but apparently has a face value itself of $100 (£23.63p). This is a far higher value than Grenada has ever issued before and given the rest of the values in the set, one can not help but think that the value must be an error and was originally intended to be $1.00 but having produced something priced a hundred times greater, somebody gave the go ahead for it to be released any way - you don't have to sell many of these to recoup the cost of production of these stamps. That's my theory anyway. I hope the New York agency responsible for Grenada's stamps issues does not feel that it is a good idea to extend this precedent to other Commonwealth territories for which it is responsible so that we see a flood of extremely expensive stamps in 2012.