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Mauritius Stamps 

Mauritius holds the rare distinction of issuing the first stamps in any part of the British Empire outside of Great Britain itself. It was also the fifth country in the world to issue postage stamps at all, only seven years after the first stamps were issued in Britain in 1840. Three years after this Zürich and Brazil both issued their own stamps, followed by the United States of America and Mauritius in 1847.

The most famous Mauritian stamps are also the rarest in the world and are known as the ‘post office’ Penny Red and two Penny Blue, so called because of the words ‘post office’ which appear down the left hand side of the stamps. There are only twenty six surviving stamps of the first issue; twelve one penny cancelled stamps and two mint, and six two pence cancelled stamps with six mint. Because of their rarity, these stamps have an estimated market value of over one million US dollars per stamp.

At the start of the twentieth century, a young French boy searching through a pile of old correspondence discovered what has come to be known as the Bordeaux Cover; an envelope with two franked first issue Mauritian post office stamps; one of each value. This now holds the distinction of fetching the highest price for one single philatelic item; in 1993 it was auctioned for over five million Swiss Francs.

The ‘post office’ stamps were engraved by one Joseph Barnard, an Englishman who had stowed away on a boat bound for Mauritius in 1838. The popular myth surrounding this man is that he was a half-blind old watch maker who engraved the words ‘post office’ in error. According to Georges Brunel’s 1928 account published in Les Timbres-Poste de l’Île Maurice, Barnard had forgotten what he was supposed to print on the stamps and on his way to visit the postmaster to have his instructions reiterated he passed a post office with a sign above it. This sign jogged his memory and he returned to his workshop to finish the stamps with the words ‘post office’ rather than ‘post paid’.

As enchanting as such a story is, unfortunately it bears little resemblance to the actual facts of the matter. Barnard was, in fact, a fairly young man who was neither a professional watch maker nor half blind. While the exact reasons for his use of the words ‘post office’ instead of ‘post paid’ are unclear, it seems likely that the substitution was intentional. Rubber stamps used in Mauritius prior to the first adhesive stamps used the words ‘post office’ as did the first stamps issued by the United States in the same year.

The Blue Penny Museum at the Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis opened in November 2001 and includes a collection of the 1847 Red and Blue Penny stamps. These were bought in 1993 for two million dollars by Mauritius and brought back to their country of origin after almost one hundred and fifty years. For conservation reasons, the originals are not kept illuminated the whole time and for the most part, copies are on public display.






 

 

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