Hello all you stamp friends out there. I represent Stampstars.com. We bring you all the exiting stamp stories from around the world.
Five stamps compete to be the most famous of the world: The british “One penny black” from 1840, British Guiana one cent magenta from 1856, the Swedish “Treskilling” yellow from 1857, “The inverted Jenny” from 1918 and the “Post office stamps” from Mauritius issued in 1847. They all have very fascinating stories, and you can see and hear them all on Stampstars.com. Today we bring you the story of the “The postoffice stamps from Mauritius”.
Fig. 1. Mauritius is an island 1.900 km east of Madagascar.
First a little bit of prehistory
Mauritius is a volcanic Island situated in the Indian Ocean 900 km east of Madagascar. The area of the island is 1.900 km2 and the population is around 1,3 mill. people. Mauritius was discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1510 but first colonized by the Dutch, who declared the island a colony in 1710. They soon left the island again and it became a French colony in 1722 under the name of “Île De France”. The French stayed on the island until 1810 when the British took control. In 1968 Mauritius became an independent state and a member of the Commonwealth.
Fig. 2. First stamps of Mauritius: The orange and the blue Mauritius Post Office stamps
Mail service on Mauritius
Mauritius Post is the company responsible for postal service in Mauritius. The first postal service was established in 1772 by Pierre Nicolas Lambert, the King’s Printer, when Mauritius was under French rule. The service began on 21 December 1772 with eight messengers. Rural post offices were established in 1790.
The first stamps of Mauritius, the orange (one penny) and the blue (two pence) ”Post office “ stamps were issued on September 21. 1847. The design of the stamps, with a portrait of queen Victoria, was taken from the British “One penny black” from 1840. The primitive look of the stamps and the words “Post office” printed on the right panel of the stamps created a myth about how and why the stamps were issued.
In September 1847 the govenor of Mauritius, William Maynard Gomm and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Ann Gomm (1807-1877) wanted to hold a ball. His wife wanted the invitations to be send out using new stamps from Mauritius. The problem was, that there was neigher an engraver nor a printer on the island. Therefore the postmaster contacted an old, half-blind watchmaker to make the stamps: Joseph Osmond Barnard (1816-1865). He engraved the stamps and 500 copies were printed of both the orange one penny stamp and the blue two pence stamp.
A special focus has been put on the words “Post office” printed on the right panel of the stamps instead of the more common “Post paid”. For long, philatelists thought that it was an error.
Fig. 3. Governor of Mauritius William Maynard Gomm (1784-1875) and engraver Joseph Osmond Barnard (1816-1865).
A lot of philatelic investigations have later revealed, that the myth is probably not the truth. Joseph Osmond Barnard was nigher old nor half blind when he engraved the “Post office” stamps. He was born in 1816 and thus only 31 years old. Further, the words “Post office” was probably not an error but rather an inspiration from the first two US-stamps with George Washington, that was issued the same year.
Fig. 4. First US-stamps with George Washington.
Philatelic discovery and history
The first two stamps from Mauritius were unknown to the philatelic society until 1864. At that time the wife on a merchant form Bordeaux, Jeanne Borchard, found 13 copies of the first stamps from Mauritius among her husbands old letters. She sold the stamps to the stamp dealer Marie Desbois (1815-1912).
In 1898 six more copies of the rare stamps appeared. Among them were to letters with an invitation to Lady Elizabeth Gomm´s ball. One of these were later to be the most expensive philatelic item ever sold.
Many famous stamp collectors have since owned one or more of the “Post office” stamps from Mauritius. Among them the worlds greatest stamp collector ever, Philipp von Ferrary (1850-1917) who has owned seven copies of the “Post office stamps”. The Japanese industrialist Hiroyuki Kanai (1925-2012) who owned one of the largest collections of Mauritius stamps ever. Among them six copies of the “Post office” stamps. Compared to that, Queen Elizabeth II owned only two copies.
Fig. 5. Philipp von Ferrary (1850-1917) and the Japanese industrialist Hiroyuki Kanai (1925-2012).
Value of the “Post office” stamps from Mauritius
Today it is generally agreed that only fifteen copies of the One penny stamp have survived (including two unused) and twelve of the Two pence stamp (including four unused). Therefore the “Post office stamps” are not among the rarest stamps of the world. But because of the many myths and stories that have been created around the stamps, they are among the most expensive of the world.
The most iconic “Post office” item is the so called “Bordeaux cover” which was sent in December 1847 with an order to the wine merchant Ducau & Lurguie in Bordeaux. In 1993 The auction house David Feldmann sold the cover for no less than 6.1 mill CHF – a record price at the time.
Fig. 6. The so called “Bordeaux letter” from 1847 sold for 6,1 mill. CHF in 1993.
In 2021 the German auction house Christoph Gärtner sold, a “Ball Invitation” sent by the Governor’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Gomme for 9,6 million euros making it the most expensive philatelic item ever sold at auction.
Fig. 7. “Ball invitation letter” send by Lady Elizabeth Gomme I 1847.
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