Notes from the Past

First Stamps of Mauritius

Mauritius will ever loom large in philately for its famous "Post Office" 1d and 2d stamps of 1847.  These were the first stamps of a British Colony and were issued on September 21.

Philatelic lore has long held that the stamps, which were engraved by Joseph Barnard, a jeweler in the Mauritius capital city of Port Louis, were the brainchild of Lady Gomm, the governor's wife.  It is said that she wanted to show that Mauritius society was just as sophisticated as that of London by using the then-new idea of adhesive postage stamps to frank invitations to a ball she was giving.

The story goes that Barnard made a mistake and engraved "POST OFFICE" instead of POST PAID" and that there was not time to correct the error before the invitations were to be mailed.

Romantic as this tale is, the truth is probably a bit more mundane.  It seems very likely that 1846 postal reform in Mauritius had already put stamp production under way, and that Lady Gomm's desire to use stamps in some quantity may have caused an additional number to be produced, thus sparking a story that has become somewhat embroidered over the years.

Ernest A. Kehr, in The Romance of Stamp Collecting (Crowell, New York, 1947), notes that since Mauritius was already using handstamp postal markings reading "Post Office," it seems probable that Barnard simply copied this when engraving the dies on a small copper plate.

There is only a handful of copies of these rarities known, and since both Kehr and Cabeen (The Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting, Crowell, New York, 1979) report that 500 of each denomination were produced, who knows what treasures still remain to be discovered in some Port Louis attic?

No matter what the truth is, the "Post Office" Mauritius stamps will always be among the brightest of philately's gems. 

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume Two G-P
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted October 1, 2000

Editor's Note:  Mauritius is an independent nation in the British Commonwealth.  It is an island in the Indian Ocean about 500 miles east of Madagascar.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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