Notes from the Past

Bahamas' First Stamps

A Bahamian island was one of the West Indian islands on which Columbus landed.  The Bahamas were included in a grant made to Sir Robert Heath by King Charles I.  However, only a few settlers arrived from England and Bermuda.  In 1783, after a brief period of Spanish dominion, the islands were formally ceded to Britain by the Peace of Versailles.

Early postal history of the islands is obscure.  It is probable that, as early as 1733, island mail was included in the system which operated to and from Jamaica and other West Indian islands.  The earliest local postmark known is from 1802.  In 1842 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. obtained the West Indian contract.  At that time letters were postmarked with circular markings containing the town name, and ship letters were marked with 'Bahamas Ship Letter' in two lines.  A crowned circle handstamp went into use in 1846 to indicate prepayment of postage.

Like other colonies in the West Indies, British stamps were put in use after March, 1858, when the process of moving the postal systems from the General Post Office to the colonial governments was underway.  A supply of 1d., 4d., and 6d. stamps was sent to the islands along with handstamps.  Apparently the practice of using British stamps began before this time as stamps with the Nassau A05 oval-of-bars obliterator are known from as early as 1856.  Also, 2d. and 1s. stamps are known cancelled in Nassau.

In 1858, C. J. Bayley, Governor of the Bahamas, wrote the Colonial Office in London suggesting that the colony should have a distinctive issue of stamps.  He included a design suggestion of a circular design of a 'Bahamas One Penny' with a pineapple and conch shell in the center.  He also said the Legislature had approved an outlay of not more than £110 for the die.

The matter was referred to the G.P.O. and in October, 1858, Perkins, Bacon & Co. quoted £84 for making a die, and 1s. per thousand for printing and gumming the stamps.  The circular design was deemed unsuitable.  An alternate design was enclosed based on the Chalon portrait of Queen Victoria with pineapple and conch shell motifs.  The design also included a ribbon inscribed 'Interinslar Postage.'

An order for these stamps was probably placed in November, and on April 23, 1859, the die was finished.  The plate of 60 impressions in 6 rows of ten was completed a week later.  The first supply of stamps was printed in dull lake on thick unwatermarked paper.  A first printing of 1000 stamps (probably obtained by cutting one sheet to provide only 40 stamps) was sent from Liverpool in mid-May, and reached Nassau via New York early in June.  The accepted date of issue is June 10, 1859.

The plate remained in use to print stamps for 25 years.

Posted November 29, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M. Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.

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