Mauritius “Post Office” Stamps
The Mauritius "Post Office" stamps were issued in Mauritius in September 1847. There were two stamps issued: an orange-red one penny and a deep blue two pence. Both are amongst the rarest stamps ever produced, and have legendary status amongst philatelists.
History and design
The stamps were engraved by the Englishman Joseph Osmond Barnard, born in 1816, who had stowed away on a ship to Mauritius in 1838. The stamps were printed using the intaglio recessed printing method and bear the engraver's initials "JB" at the lower right margin of the bust.
Barnard based his designs on the then current issue of Great Britain stamps: the Penny Red (released 1841) and the Two Penny Blue (released 1840). The stamps both featured an image of the profile head of Queen Victoria, with the word ‘postage’ above and their value (‘one penny’ or ‘two pence’) below.
The words "Post Office" appear in the left panel, but on the following issue in 1848, these words were replaced by "Post Paid." A legend arose later that the words "Post Office" had been an error.
Although Barnard had described himself in an advertisement in Le Cernéen the local newspaper, for 9 March 1839 as a Miniature Painter and Engraver it seems that he had but little experience of engraving portraits, at any rate, miniature portraits.
His attempts to copy the noble lines of the Heath's engraving of the Queen's head were crude.
The slightly amateurish nature of the design helped give the stamps a distinct primitive character, which is one of the reasons they are so popular with collectors (along with their incredible rarity). The stamps made Barnard’s “name immortal in the postal history of Mauritius”.
'Post Office' inscription
In 1928, Georges Brunel published Les Timbres-Poste de l'Île Maurice in which he stated that the use of the words "Post Office" on the 1847 issue had been an error. Over the years, the story has been embellished, but is purely fictional; philatelic scholars have confirmed that the "Post Office" inscription was intentional.
Adolphe and d'Unienville wrote that "It is much more likely that Barnard used 'Post Office' because this was, and still is, the legal denomination of the government department concerned”, and several rubber stamps used in Mauritius on letters prior to these stamps also had featured the words "Post Office".
Rarity and collections
Five hundred of each value stamp were printed and issued on September 21, 1847. Many of those stamps were used by Lady Gomm, the wife of the Governor of Mauritius, who sent them out on invitations for a ball she was holding the following weekend.
These envelopes, now known as the “Ball Covers”, are incredibly rare. Only three are known to survive today: the British Library Museum holds one, another is owned by Queen Elizabeth II as a treasure of The Royal Philatelic Collection, and the third was purchased in 2008 by the renowned philatelist Vikram Chand.
Discovery in 1864
The Mauritius "Post Office" stamps were unknown to the philatelic world until 1864 when they were found by Madame Borchard, the wife of a Bordeaux merchant, amongst her husband's correspondence. She traded these copies of the one and two pence stamps to another collector, and through a series of sales the stamps were acquired by the famous collector Philip von Ferrary, who sold them at auction in 1921.
Surviving stamps are mainly in the hands of private collectors but some are on public display in the British Library Museum in London. They can also be viewed at the Blue Penny Museum in Mauritius, The Museum for Communication in Berlin and in the Postal Museum of Sweden in Stockholm.
Mauritius "Post Office" stamps and covers have been prize items in collections of famous stamp collectors such as Sir Ernest de Silva, Arthur Hind, Alfred F. Lichtenstein, and Alfred H. Caspary.
The greatest of all Mauritius collections, that of Hiroyuki Kanai, included unused copies of both the One Penny and Two Pence "Post Office" stamps, the "Bordeaux" cover with both the one penny and two pence stamps which has been called "the greatest item in all philately”, and numerous reconstructed sheets of the subsequent issues.
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