Early stamps, definitive series and special covers
First Mauritius stamps
“Post Office” issues: 21 September 1847
In 1847, Mauritius was the first British colony (4th country in the world, after the U.K, Switzerland and the USA) to issue postage stamps, although the first post office was already in operation in Port Louis since 1772.
On 21 September 1847, Mauritius issued two stamps: an orange-red one penny (1d) and a deep blue two pence (2d). The words “Post Office” appear in the left panel. These two stamps are among the rarest stamps in the world. Only 500 of each were printed from a single plate bearing both values. They were notably used on invitations sent out by the Governor’s wife for a ball which she was holding.
The stamps were engraved by Joseph Osmond Barnard in Mauritius and the designs were based on the then current issue of Great Britain stamps (first released in 1841), bearing the profile head of Queen Victoria. The first two stamps were issued in two denominations in similar colours to that of the British stamps.
“Post Paid” stamps: Issued between 1848 and 1859
1. Early impressions: “Post Paid” issue, engraved by J. O Barnard in 1848
A new set of 1d and 2d postage stamps was issued in June 1848. In this second series, the words “Post Office” were changed to “Post Paid”. A legend arose later that the words “Post Office” had been an error.
2. “Post Paid” Lapirot issue, 1859
In 1859, a third design was issued, a two pence stamp very crudely engraved by Jules Lapirot. The “Lapirot” issue is the most poorly engraved of the “primitive” series. Locally known as the “tête de chien”, the issue was in use between March and November 1848 and was subsequently removed.
3. “Post Paid” Sherwin issue, October 1859
This fourth design was engraved by Sherwin. It only exists in “2 pence” blue stamps and remained in use during only 3 months.
4. Dardenne Issue, December 1859
This stamps issue was not engraved. It was lithographed instead. The issue did not have the mention “Post Office”. It lasted less than 6 months and was replaced in April 1860 by the new ‘De la Rue” stamps, printed in England.
1854 – 1863: The Britannia issue
In 1854, it was decided to order stamps in England. The “Britannia” design was first intended for Mauritius, but later was issued in other British colonies, like Trinidad and Tobago. The first series did not have a postage value expressed on them.
1. 1854 – 62: Britannia with no value shown
2. 1858: Britannia ‘surcharge’
3. 1859 – 61: Britannia with value shown
The Victoria issues and overprints
1860 – 1882: Victoria issue, De la Rue issue
This new postage series was printed by De la Rue in 1860. A standard design was used for all stamps, in a variety of colours.
1876 – 77: Victoria issue with surcharge
1878: Victoria issue with overprints, reflecting change in currency from Pounds to Rupees
In 1878, the currency changed from pounds sterling to Mauritian Rupees and stamps were surcharged with their equivalent in cents.
1879 – 1894: First Victoria issue in Mauritian currency
In 1879, a set of 9 dissimilar stamps with values in rupees and cents were issued for the first time. These stamps show a variety of colours and designs, lacking consistency – they include circles, ovals, octagons, squares and rhombuses.
In 1883 , a new design was introduced (with new values and new colours).
1883 – 1893: Victoria definitive surcharge
The Rupee was devalued in the 1890s and the postal rates were changed so that, in the 19th century, Mauritius produced the second largest amount of surcharged stamps among the British colonies.
15 April 1898: First Commemoratives: Diamond Jubilee
Mauritius was among the first countries to issue commemorative stamps. A 36 cents stamp was issued on 15 April 1898 to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. The stamps were subsequently overprinted with lower values (12 cs in 1902 and 15 cs in 1899)
13 December 1899: Birth Bicentenary of Labourdonnais
In 1899, Mauritius issued one 15 cs stamp to mark the birth bicentenary of Admiral Bertrand-François Mahé de Labourdonnais, Governor of Isle de France, 1735 – 1746. He is one of the most respected figures of the history of Mauritius. This was the first stamp representing a Mauritian historical theme. It was quite unusual for a British colony to issue a stamp with a French personality.
1895 – 1905: Coats of Arms Definitives
The Coats of Arms design was issued in 1895, typographed by De La Rue. The series represent a 3-mast ship, three sugarcane plants, a key and wedge and a star, called in heraldry, the pile and the mullet. Stamps were reprinted over many years with various types of inks and on different types of papers to avoid fraud.
Among the latest stamps in the first Arms design, are the three high values of 1902 (Re. 1; Rs. 2.50 and Rs. 5). These designs are bigger than the lower denominations and were printed in grey-black and carmine, green and black on blue paper and carmine on red paper.
Overprints: July 1902
1902 – 1910: King Edward VII Definitives
Edward VII was crowned King of the UK in 1901 (until his death in 1910) after the passing of his mother, Queen Victoria. He is represented in a series of 8 postage stamps of different values.
Keyplate designs were used for the first time in 1910 for the definitives of King Edward VII.
1910 – 1936: Coats of Arms Definitives
In 1906, under the administration of Sir Cavendish Boyle, the Arms were corrected because some elements of the designed appeared to be against the rules of the heraldry. A re-designed version was issued in 1910: the galleon was replaced by a lymphad (a galley – the caravelle), palm trees replaced the sugar cane; the key was flipped and the star became five pointed. The overall designed remained however the same. The inscription ‘postage and revenue’ was included on each side of the stamps.
November 1925: Coats of Arms, Surcharge
1921 – 1934: King George V Pictorial Definitive series
George V became King of the UK on 6th May 1910 until his death in 1936, following the death of his father, King Edward VII. Keyplate designs were used for this series of definitive stamps.
6 May 1935: King George V Coronation Silver Jubilee
On 6 May 1935, a set of commemorative stamps was issued for the Silver Jubilee of the monarch. The production is a set of 4 stamps, supervised by the King himself, and is among the most remarkable stamps of Mauritius.
12 May 1937: King George VI Coronation
The three coronation stamps of 1937 were the first of the 5 sets of commemorating stamps issued during the reign of King George VI. No official FDC was issued by GPO, however a few private commemorative covers were released, as the one shown below.
(i) King George VI Coronation First Day Cover (unofficial, Ruislip Cover)
(ii) King George VI Coronation, First Day Cover, unofficial I
(iii) King George VI Coronation, First Day Cover, unofficial II
(iv) Commemorating the Coronation of HM George VI, King of England, Emperor of India, Defender of the Faith, May 12, 1937 (special cover)
(v) Coronation Celebrations, 12 May 1937 (unofficial)
1938 – 1949: King George VI Pictorial Definitives
King George VI was crowned in 1936, following the unexpected abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII (less than 1 year after his coronation). The first George VI definitive series was issued in 1938.
The George VI keyplate stamps are particularly interesting for philatelists, because they present a large number of varieties.
15 August 1945: V Day: End of World War II, Commemorative Cover, unofficial
November 1946: Victory omnibus
In November 1946, two postage stamps were issued to celebrate peace and reconstruction following the end of World War II. They became known as ‘Victory” and feature the British Parliament.
A special commemorative cover was issued on 20 March 1946 on the theme “Peace and Reconstruction” to mark the end of World War II.
15 December 1947: Centenaire du Diocèse of Port-Louis, special commemorative cover
To mark the centenary of the Port-Louis diocese, a special cover was issued on 15 December 1947, following a writ of Pope Pius IX from 7 December 1847 to create the Diocese of Port-Louis.
In fact, when the Diocese was created, the catholic religion was already present in Mauritius for about 125 years. But development of the catholic region was slow and precarious, complicated by the difficulties inherent to its colonial history (successively Dutch, French and British) and a suite of disparate ruling systems (East India Company, 1722-1766, French Royal Government, 1767-1790, 1790-1803 French Revolution, French Empire 1803 -1810 and British administration, from 1810).
In addition, the lack of priests made that, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Church present and religious practice in Mauritius underwent a significant decline. The arrival of Father Jacques Désiré Laval and Bishop Collier in the 1840s marked an important turn for the catholic church of Mauritius. They created new parishes, increased the size of the clergy and worked with the nuns to provide education, in particular to poor children and slave descendants.
22 March 1948: Centenary of the first British colonial postage stamp
Four postage stamps were issued in 1948 to mark the centenary of the first British colonial postage stamps. No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists. Three such covers are shown below.
(i) This cover is often called the “Bouais cover”
(ii) Centenary of the Post Office – Special private cover (unofficial)
(iii) ‘Post Office’ Centenary Day of Issue: special private cover (unofficial)
(iv) 1847 – 1947: Centenary Celebration of Mauritius Post Office (unofficial)
1 December 1948: King George VI – Royal Silver Wedding
In 1948, two omnibus stamps were issued to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of the Royal couple. Photogravure was first introduced on Mauritian stamps in this issue. No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists. One such cover is shown below.
(i) 25 Oct 1948: King George VI Silver Wedding, 1st Day Cover (unofficial)
(ii) (Unofficial) First Day Cover to commemorate their Majesties’ Silver Wedding Anniversary
(iii) 1923 – 1948: Silver wedding anniversary, The Mauritius Stamp Agency Ltd.
1949: 75th Anniversary of Universal Postal Union
In 1949, four postage stamps were issued to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a body for cooperation and mediation between postal services, which aims to ensure an effective universal network. It has its headquarters in Bern, Switzerland and has over 190 members. The International Postal Union was established on 9th October in that same year and this date is now known as World Post Day. This 1949 UPU omnibus was the last issue of the reign of King George VI.
No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists. Three such covers are illustrated below:
(i) UPU First Day Cover I (unofficial)
(ii) UPU First Day Cover, British Philatelic Association
(iii) Envelope with 4 stamps on the day of issue (unofficial)
1 July 1950: King George VI Pictorial Definitives
This issue depicts 15 pictorial values, showing various aspects of Mauritian history, geography and economy. This issue contains a famous ‘error’ in the 12c stamp, where the latitude is written as 21°10′, instead of 20°10′.
The stamps depict the following:
- A 1 cent stamp showing a sugar factory. Introduced by the Dutch from Batavia (Java) in 1650, sugar production has been the main industry in Mauritius for centuries. The first factory, in Villebague, was set up in 1744 by the French;
- A 2 cents stamp showing a scene from Mahebourg Bay in Grand Port, in the South East. People and goods were transported across villages using a barge;
- A 3 cents stamp depicting an aloe plant (fourcroya gigantea or Mauritius Hemp plant), which grows wild on Mauritius. The leaves are used to produce a hemp fibre to produce bags and the stems are used for roof hatches;
- A 4 cents stamp showing a scene of the Tamarind Falls, one of the 7 waterfalls on the Tamarind river;
- A 5 cents stamp depicting Rempart Mountain, 545 mts high, located in the east. The mountain is mention in the story of Paul and Virginie;
- A 10 cents stamp showing an ox cart transporting cane, which was then grown on 90% of cultivated land in Mauritius and accounted for 95% of exports revenues.
- A 12 cents stamp showing the Dodo and a map of Mauritius. The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) became extinct around 1700. The stamp shows the latitude incorrectly as 21° 10´ (instead of 20° 10). The error was corrected when the same design stamp with the head of Queen Elizabeth was issued in 1954;
- A 20 cents stamp illustrating the Legend of Paul and Virginia, from a famous novel written by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a french author who visited Mauritius in 1768. His novel was published in 1787 and is based around a true event: the wreck of the ship Saint Géran in 1744 off Île d’Ambre, near the north east of Mauritius;
- A 25 cent stamp showing La Bourdonnais Statue, former Governor of the Île de France (Mauritius) and the Île de Bourbon (Réunion). His statue stands at the entrance of the avenue leading from Port Louis harbour to Government House;
- A 35 cents stamp showing the Government House also known as Le Réduit, built in 1748 by Governor Barthélemy David. It served as the Governor’s residence, but was initially built as a place of safety for women in the event of a British attack;
- A 50 cents stamp showing Pieter Both Mountain, the 2nd highest mountain in Mauritius. It is famous for its rock which is balanced at the top of the mountain;
- A Re. 1 stamp showing the Mauritius Deer, introduced from Java in 1639 by Adrien van der Stel, a Dutch Governor;
- A Rs. 2.50 stamp showing a scene of Port Louis, the capital and harbour, founded by the French around 1735 and named in honour of King Louis XV;
- A Rs. 5 stamp showing a beach scene, characterised by white sandy beaches and lined by green filao trees;
- A Rs. 10 stamp showing the Coat of Arms of Mauritius, granted in 1906 by King Edward VII. Designed by the Lord Mayor of Johannesburg, Johann Van Der Puf, it depicts the dodo and the deer as “each supporting a sugar cane erect proper”.
A Presentation card was also issued to mark the new issue. It mentions the name of the official printer and Royal photogravure specialist, Harrison and Sons Ltd.
2 June 1953: Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the British throne after the death of her father, King George VI on 6 February 1952. The Coronation ceremony was held on 2 June 1953.
To mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a number of special commemorative covers were issued. Below is a few examples of such special covers (10 in total, including envelopes and post cards). Mauritius did not issue an official first day cover on that occasion.
(i) Commemorating Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (unofficial)
(ii) Queen Elizabeth II: First Day of Issue (unofficial)
(iii) Coronation – H.M Queen Elizabeth II (unofficial)
(iv) Coronation: H. M. Queen Elizabeth II – 6 stamps envelope (unofficial)
(v) Commemorating the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (unofficial)
(vi) Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Special mounted sheet (unofficial)
(vii) Queen Elizabeth II Coronation – special postcard (unofficial)
(viii) Special cover issued by the London Assurance (unofficial)
(ix) Special cover for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain (unofficial)
(x) Special Quantas cover for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
3 November 1953 – 58: Pictorial Definitives
For the first definitive set of 1953, the same designs of the 1950 George VI Pictorial issue was used but the value changed for some stamps. However the mistake in the latitude (on the George VI 12 cent) was corrected on the 60 cent. The only change in the pictorial motif was the ox-drawn cart, which was replaced by the Historical Museum of Mahébourg on the 15c stamp. No official first day cover was released by the GPO.
A stamp booklet was also issued, with all the stamps
1953: Postage stamps booklet comprising of 20 mint stamps, of 3 values (5 cs; 20 cs; and 50cs) for Queen Elizabeth pictoral definitive series
1 June 1954: First Day of Issue Definitive Set – Special Cover (unofficial)
22 March 1960: Special card to thank ‘Friends of Mauritius’ for support to Cyclone Carol
In March 1960, Mauritius suffered from a severe cyclone named Carol. A number of houses were destroyed. Friends of Mauritius in France contributed to support people who suffered from material losses. This special thank you post card has a franking that thanks ‘friends of Mauritius’ for their generosity. It was sent to the French radio Europe 1.
11 January 1961: 150th Anniversary of British Post Office
On 11 January 1961, a set of 4 postage stamps was issued to mark the 150th anniversary of British post office. The four stamps illustrate King George III (the reigning Monarch at the time the British Post Office was created) and Queen Elizabeth II.
No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but some special commemorative covers were issued by private philatelists to mark the event. One such issue is shown below.
A special commercial cover to mark the release of the Sequicentenary of Post Office stamps was issued on 11 January 1961 (unofficial)
4 June 1963: Freedom from Hunger
On 4 June 1963, a unique stamp was issued to mark the Freedom from Hunger campaign. The stamp shows protein foods. No official first day cover was issued by the GPO, but few special private commemorative covers were issued (three examples below).
(i) Commemoration of Freedom from Hunger Campaign, First Day Cover (unofficial)
(ii) Freedom from Hunger – Special Cover (unofficial)
(iii) FAO Cover: Freedom from Hunger (unofficial)
2 September 1963: Centenary of the Red Cross
On 2 September 1963, to mark the centenary of the International Red Cross, a set of 2 stamps were issued, both featuring the red cross emblem. No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists.
First Day of Issue to mark the centenary of the Red Cross, First Day of Issue (unofficial)
16 March 1965: Birds Definitive Series
On 15 March 1965, a new set of 15 definitive stamps was issued. They depicted native birds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Some interesting varieties occurred as a result of the unintended omission of special colours used in the printing process.
The stamps depict the following birds:
- 2cs Grey White-eye or oiseau manioc: a native bird of Mauritius, found in many parts of the island. It can easily be recognised by its prominent white rump;
- 3 cs Rodrigues Fody or oiseau jaune: a yellow breasted bird native of Rodrigues. It has now become rare;
- 4cs Olive White-eye or oiseau pit-pit: there remains only a few dozens of pairs, confined to remote forest areas;
- 5cs Paradise flycatcher or coq des bois: the number of this insectivorous bird has diminished sharply over the years. It was common in wooded riverbanks and mow can only be found in forest areas;
- 10cs Mauritius Fody or colin: a bird about the size of a bunting with a shorter tail and longer wings. The male is red-breasted and beautiful whereas the female is rather dull;
- 15cs parrakeet or grosse cateau verte: the bird can nowadays be found in the forests of the western plateau of Mauritius. Its colours are yellow and green with a black collar and red and light blue feathers on the nape;
- 20cs cuckoo shrike or merle cuisinier: one of the rarest birds found in remote wooded areas. As its french name denotes, it became the fowler’s object of attention;
- 25cs kestrel or mangeur de poule: vert few pairs are still living in the forests of the south-western region of the island;
- 35cs pink pigeon or pigeon des mares: this rare bird is very tame and of trustful nature. It cannot fly far and it is an easy target of the fowler;
- 50cs: mascarene bul-bul or merle: this unusual type of startling is not in anger of extinction. Generally white and light brown with a darker coloured crest;
- 60cs Dutch pigeon or pigeon hollandais: this pigeon became extinct towards 1850. The name comes from the colours of the plumage, resembling the Dutch flag;
- Rs. 1 Mauritian Dodo: a unique and gigantic member of the family of pigeons. Unfit and unable to fly, it was exterminated around 1693;
- Rs. 2.50 Rodrigues Solitaire: a relative of the Dodo, believed to have evolved separately in Rodrigues. It laid only one egg every year and since it was an edible bird, it became extinct towards 1760;
- Rs. 5 Red Rail or poule rouge: a bird about the size of the domestic rail. It had small wings and could not fly and became an easy prey of the first settlers in Mauritius. It was extinct by 1675;
- Rs. 10 Broad-billed parrot or perroquet de Maurice: the overall stale-blue plumage made it one of the most remarkable indigenous bird of Mauritius. It probably could not fly and is believed to have been already extinct by 1650.
No official first day cover was released by the GPO but few unofficial covers were issued by private collectors (one such cover is shown below).
Special Birds Issue – Special Envelope (unofficial)
17 May 1965: International Telecommunications Union Centenary
To mark the centenary of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a set of 2 stamps were issued on 17 May 1965. The stamps have the same design representing the ITU emblem, but have different values and colours. No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists (3 are shown below).
(i) International Telecommunications Union 1865 – 1965: First Day of Issue,(unofficial)
(ii) International Telecommunications Union Centenary: First Day of Issue (unofficial)
(iii) Centenary International Telecoms Union, First Day Cover (unofficial)
25 October 1965: International Cooperation year
To mark the international co-operation year (ICY), a set of 2 stamps were issued on 17 May 1965. The stamps have the same design, illustrating the ICY emblem, but have different values and colours. No official first day cover was released by the GPO, but few special commemorative covers were released by private philatelists. One such cover is shown below.
International Cooperation Year First Day of Issue (unofficial)
24 January 1966: Sir Winston Churchill
A set of 4 postage stamps was issued in honour the memory of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II, who died on 24 January 1965. The four stamps, issued on the 1st anniversary of his death, illustrate Sir Winston Churchill on the left, the Queen on the right, and St Paul’s Cathedral during War time in the background.
On that occasion, Mauritius released its first Official First Day Cover. Other private covers were also issued on that occasion (3 of those are featured below).
(i) Crown Agents’ Special Cover (unofficial)
(ii) Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill – First Day of Issue (unofficial)
(iii) Sir Winston Churchill – 1874 – 1965 (unofficial)
(iv) Sir Winston Churchill, 1874 – 1965, Official First Day Cover
1966: Postage due series
1 December 1966: 20th Anniversary of UNESCO
To mark the 20th anniversary of UNESCO, a set of 3 postage stamps was issued on 1 December 1966. The three stamps illustrate the following:
- 5cs, symbolises “education”;
- 10cs, represents “science”; and
- 60 cs, represents “culture”.
No official first day cover was issued by the GPO.
1 September 1967: Special birds issue self government
In its march towards independence, Mauritius obtained self-government status in 1967. To mark the event 4 postage stamps, illustrating rare bird were issued, with the mention self-government on the stamps themselves, showing the political affirmation of pre-independent Mauritius. The stamps are as follows:
- 2cs showing the red-tailed tropic bird, commonly known as Paille en Queue, found in Indian Ocean islands;
- 10cs, picturing the Rodrigues Brush-Warbler, an endemic bird found only on the island of Rodrigues and critically endangered;
- 60 cs, showing the Rodrigues Parakeet, an extinct species of parrot that was endemic to island of Rodrigues; and
- Re. 1 stamp, featuring the Mauritius swiftlet, also found in Reunion Island.
No official first day cover was issued by the GPO but a few special commemorative covers were released by private collectors to mark the occasion. Two of those are shown below.
(i) In commemoration of the Mauritius New Political Development, First Day Cover (unofficial)
(ii) Special birds issue self government – First Day of Issue (unofficial)
(iii) Special commemorative cover Mauritius achieving Self Government, 1967
1 December 1967: Birds Issue Overprints – Self-Government 1967
The set of birds stamps issued initially in 1965 were re-printed in 1967 with the ‘self-government’ over-print.