Bahamas #108 (1938)
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas occupies the Lucayan Archipelago consisting of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba and Hispaniola, northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, southeast of the U.S. state of Florida, and east of the Florida Keys. Its capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. The name Bahamas is derived from either the ba ha ma (“big upper middle land”), which was a term for the region used by the indigenous Taino Amerindians, while other theories suggest it derives from the Spanish baja mar (“shallow water or sea” or “low tide”) reflecting the shallow waters of the area. Alternatively it may originate from Guanahani, a local name of unclear meaning.
The Bahamas were the site of Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the New World on October 12, 1492. At that time, the islands were inhabited by an estimated 30,000 Lucayan, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people. Columbus went ashore on an island he named San Salvador (known to the Lucayan as Guanahani). Some researchers believe this site to be present-day San Salvador Island (formerly known as Watling’s Island), situated in the southeastern Bahamas. An alternative theory holds that Columbus landed to the southeast on Samana Cay, according to calculations made in 1986 by National Geographic writer and editor Joseph Judge, based on Columbus’s log. Evidence in support of this remains inconclusive. On the landfall island, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayan and exchanged goods with them.
Although the Spanish never colonized the Bahamas, they forced much of the Lucayan population to Hispaniola for use as forced labor. The slaves suffered from harsh conditions and most died from contracting diseases to which they had no immunity; half of the Taino died from smallpox alone. The population of the Bahamas was severely diminished and were mostly deserted from 1513 until 1648, when English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera. The Eleutherian Adventurers, led by William Sayle, migrated from Bermuda. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named for the Greek word meaning “freedom.” They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle’s Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers salvaged goods from wrecks.
In 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas in North America. They rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country. In 1684 Spanish corsair Juan de Alcon raided the capital, Charles Town (later renamed Nassau). In 1703 a joint Franco-Spanish expedition briefly occupied the Bahamian capital during the War of the Spanish Succession.
During proprietary rule, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard (c.1680–1718). To put an end to the “Pirates’ republic” and restore orderly government, Britain made the Bahamas a crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers. After a difficult struggle, he succeeded in suppressing piracy. In 1720, Rogers led local militia to drive off a Spanish attack. During the American War of Independence in the late 18th century, the islands became a target for American naval forces under the command of Commodore Esek Hopkins. US Marines occupied the capital of Nassau for a fortnight.
In 1782, following the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau. The city surrendered without a fight. Spain returned possession of the Bahamas to Britain the following year, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Before the news was received, however, the islands were recaptured by a small British force led by Andrew Deveaux. After American independence, the British resettled some 7,300 Loyalists with their slaves in the Bahamas, and granted land to the planters to help compensate for losses on the continent. These Loyalists brought their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. Africans constituted the majority of the population from this period.
In 1807, the British abolished the slave trade, followed by the United States the next year. The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves. During the following decades, the Royal Navy intercepted the trade and resettled thousands of Africans in the Bahamas who they liberated from slave ships. In addition, American slaves and Seminoles escaped here from Florida, and the government freed American slaves carried on United States domestic ships that had reached the Bahamas due to weather. Today the descendants of slaves and free Africans make up nearly 90% of the population and issues related to the slavery years are a part of society.
The postal history of the Bahamas began in the 18th century, with the earliest known letters dating from the 1760s. One of the oldest post office buildings in the western hemisphere is located in Pitts Town, Crooked Island. This building served as the Packet Station and General Post Office of the Bahamas from October 1787 to about February of 1793. It reopened about June of 1802 and finally closed in 1843. It is now a restaurant.
In 1804 a straight-line BAHAMAS handstamp came into use. The Royal Mail Line initiated a regular mail service in 1841, and from 1846 used a Crown Paid handstamp along with a dated postmark for New Providence.
The use of postage stamps began in April 1858 with a consignment of British stamps. These were cancelled A05 at Nassau. The use of British stamps was brief however; in the following year the Bahamian post office became independent of London, and issued its own stamps beginning June 10, 1859. These stamps featured the Alfred Chalon portrait of Queen Victoria, along with symbols of the islands (pineapple and conch shell) and the inscription INTERINSULAR POSTAGE, because at first the stamps were used only locally, with London continuing in charge of external mail until May 1860.
Printed by Perkins Bacon & Co. of London, initially unwatermarked and imperforate, perforation was introduced in 1860, and the “Crown & CC” watermark in 1863. The transition to local control left Bahamians with only their 1 penny stamp to pay all rates of postage, and covers to foreign destinations show blocks of the stamp used to cover the 4 pence rate to North America and the 6 pence rate to Great Britain. The government remedied this in 1861 by contracting for 4d and 6d stamps, still using the Chalon head, but with a simpler design. Thomas de la Rue & Company took over printing duties in 1862, their product being differentiated by an 11½-12 perforation, as opposed to the previous 14-16. A one shilling value appeared in 1865.
In 1884, a new design employed the ubiquitous Victoria profile of the time, with the symbols retained, and BAHAMAS inscribed with colored letters in an arch over the vignette. Values issued ranged up to one pound. In 1901, the Bahamas became one of the Empire’s early issuers of a pictorial stamp, with a depiction of the Queen’s Staircase in Nassau. The same design was reused for 5 pence, 2 shilling, and 3 shilling values in 1903.
In 1915, the Bahamas concluded an unusual agreement with Canada, in which the two countries arranged special delivery services by exchanging stamps, this being done for the benefit of tourists visiting from Canada. The Bahamians accomplished by overprinting 5d Staircase issues with SPECIAL / DELIVERY and sending them to Canada, where they were on sale in four post offices (Ottawa, Toronto, Westmount, and Winnipeg) for 10 cents each. The arrangement was short-lived, with only about 430 overprinted stamps being sold in Canada while it was in effect. The special delivery stamps of 1916 to 1918 (Scott #E1-E3) were the only special delivery stamps to be issued by a Commonwealth country other than Canada, New Zealand, and Mauritius.
The years from 1902 into the 1930s involved the usual profiles of Edward VII and George V. In 1920 a set of five stamps celebrated peace after World War I, and in 1930 another set of five depicting the Bahamian seal marked the 300th anniversary of the colony’s founding. In 1935, a pictorial stamp depicted flamingos in flight; this design was re-used in 1939 replaced with George VI’s profile, along with designs showing Fort Charlotte, and a “sea garden”, likely the first time underwater scenery appeared on a stamp. But the mainstay of the George VI period was a set of small definitives only slightly updated from previous designs.
The Bahamas had the world’s only undersea post office between August 16, 1939, and June 25, 1942.
In August 1940, after his abdication of the British throne, the Duke of Windsor, was installed as Governor of the Bahamas, arriving with his wife, the Duchess. Although disheartened at the condition of Government House, they “tried to make the best of a bad situation”. He did not enjoy the position, and referred to the islands as “a third-class British colony”. He opened the small local parliament on October 29, 1940. The couple visited the “Out Islands” that November, on Axel Wenner-Gren’s yacht, which caused controversy; the British Foreign Office strenuously objected because they had been advised (mistakenly) by United States intelligence that Wenner-Gren was a close friend of the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring of Nazi Germany. The Duke resigned the post on March 16, 1945.
In October 1942, the definitives were overprinted to mark the 450th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing. In 1948, the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Eleuthera was commemorated with a set of 16 pictorials (somewhat belated in a way, since most of the Empire’s colonies had extensive pictorial sets issued for them in 1938). The designs were re-used in the issue of 1954, replacing the portrait with one of Elizabeth II, and removing the commemorative inscription. The Bahamas issued commemoratives for the centenary of Bahamian stamps in 1959, and for the centenary of Nassau in 1962. Also in 1962, two stamps were overprinted to mark the talks that led to the Nassau agreement. In 1964 the entire set of the 1954 issue was overprinted NEW CONSTITUTION / 1964 in recognition of self-government.
A new set of 15 definitives in 1965 featured an updated layout, but repeating many of the same themes as seen in the 1954 stamps. These were overprinted with new currencies in the decimalization of 1966, and then redesigned in 1967 with the new values. From the 1970s on, the Bahamas issued an assortment of large and colorful stamps aimed at collectors, though not in great numbers.
The British House of Lords voted to give the Bahamas its independence on June 22, 1973. Prince Charles delivered the official documents to Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, officially declaring the Bahamas a fully independent nation on July 10, 1973. It joined the Commonwealth of Nations on the same day. Sir Milo Butler was appointed the first Governor-General of the Bahamas (the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II) shortly after independence.
Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. Significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, housing, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti continue to be issues. In terms of gross domestic product per capita, the Bahamas is one of the richest countries in the Americas (following the United States and Canada).
Scott #108 was issued on July 1 1938, recessed printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. in carmine & ultramarine (Stanley Gibbons calls this ultramarine and scarlet). Perforation gauge is 12½ on paper watermarked with multiple script CA‘s. As mentioned previously, the design of flamingos in flight was reused from a stamp originally issued on May 22, 1935 (Scott #96), with only the Royal portrait changed. I find it slightly amusing that George VI seems to be looking after the flamingos while George V was pointed in the opposite direction. although that wasn’t the intention.
The Stanley Gibbons catalogue states that these stamps picture the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) which is the most widespread species of the flamingo family. It’s found in Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, in the Middle East and southern Europe. Closely related to the American flamingo, this is the largest species of flamingo, averaging 43–59 inches (110–150 cm) tall and weighing 4.4–8.8 pounds (2–4 kg). The American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) breeds in the Galápagos, coastal Colombia, Venezuela and nearby islands, Trinidad and Tobago, along the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cuba, Hispaniola, The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is also known as the Caribbean flamingo and in Cuba it is also known as the Greater Flamingo, which may be the source for Stanley Gibbons’ supposed misidentification. It is the only flamingo that naturally inhabits North America.