British Colonies Postage Stamps.

During the last decades of the 19th century, and well into the first five decades of the 20th century, the British Empire was not only the ruler of the seas but also the sovereign power of approximately sixty other countries of various size and distance. The sun never set within the boundaries of the Empire. Bearing in mind Australia, India and Canada, one may have more than just an idea of the vast revenue generated by both Britain and the British companies which monopolized the products and resources of the countries under their rule.

All that came to an end after World War II, when the British economic disaster brought the USA into the ruling foreground. On behalf of all their colonies, the British issued postage stamps some of which are nowadays considered to be classic items for their superb printing method.

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Pic 1

Up to 1930, those stamps are not characterized by any particular variety of image as they strictly adhered to the royal portrait, which was of utmost importance for the projection of the British power. From 1901, in particular, we almost have no other postage stamps than those depicting Queen Victoria in a variety of colors and wonderful printings lacking, however, in thematic imagination (Picture 1).

Those postage stamps are much sought after. From 1902 to 1910, once more, we have only one theme and that is the head of Edward VII (Picture 2). From 1911 until 1936 we have George V: a king who is known as one the finest collectors in the world. He had also made “The Stamp Day” an institution during which absolute silence was observed. He would not even receive his ministers so as not to be distracted during his work with his stamp collection (Picture 3).

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Pic 2                                                       Pic 3

From 1930 onward  there has been a significant turn in British Colonial stamps. We have images depicting wonderful landscape, animals, fish, birds, historical buildings as well as any other theme which featured a particular colony and for which those exquisite London printings were produced (Pictures 4). You may have a look at the balancing stones (Picture 5) of the nowadays Zimbabwe (the then Rhodesia): a recurrent theme which is still present on their banknotes today. The printing is made through the use of the engraving method and it is of high standard on quality paper having the royal crown as a watermark. On the upper corner we notice the royal head of Edward V, just… in case.

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Pic 4

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Pic 5

Within the 1937-1952 period, which was the era of the next king, George VI, there is a continuation of those wonderful issues, and, above all, those of great definitive issues that are really very impressive with their minute detailed engravings (Pictures 6).

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Pic 6

One cannot possibly ignore the fine workmanship done by the engraver in the depictions of all the above-mentioned issues. The circulation of those fine issues lasted until the enthronement of Queen Elizabeth II in 1965 (Pictures 7). After 1965, their method of printing is gradually changing as there are new methods which are faster and more cost-effective.

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pic 7

It is most evident that such postage stamps (with features of landscape, animals and with the royal head in the upper corner) were considered as Colonial type by the British! They had never issued similar stamps for their own country! In this way they “bequeathed” those masterpieces to their ex-colonies. Today, among others, English-speaking collectors are obsessed with English Colonial postage stamps.

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What is characteristic is the fact that the definitive issues almost always “ended up” in postage stamps of high nominal value such as 10 shillings or one pound. Naturally, therefore, those values could not be used to post single letters but only parcels. Used postage stamps of those values are very rare indeed and they do attract the collector’s interest.

The topic of the British Colonial postage stamps is a vast one and it surely cannot be fully covered within the bounds of this article as it concerns about sixty countries. However, new collectors may well have an idea of those, gone for ever, golden ages of this particular philatelic field.

And a very RARE colonial example!

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“Britannia” combination franking with “De La Rue” issues 1859 (9d) dull magenta together with 1859-61 blue and two De La Rue 1d plus 2d singles, all tied by mute cancels on 1860 small size envelope to Scotland, showing London registration cds on face, MAURITIUS AU7 60 GPO dispatch cds on reverse, together with Scottish arrivals. A very rare combination cover!

KO for eCharta

13 thoughts on “British Colonies Postage Stamps.

  1. I have inherited a huge collection of stamps including boggling amounts of British Colonial stamps. I am slowly wading my way through the plethora and marvel at the quality and detail of the stamps. Thank you for your wonderful article. By the way, so far I have found issues from 72 colonies – not including obvious locations such as Australia, NZ and Canada

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