British Crown Colony of Mauritius H&G #B10 (1878)

Mauritius H&G #B10 (1878)
Mauritius H&G #B10 (1878)

Mauritius was a British colonial possession from 1810 to 1968, the year of its independence. The island of Mauritius is of towering importance in the world of philately for a number of reasons. Its first two postage stamps issued in 1847, called the “Post Office” stamps, are of legendary rarity and value. They were the first stamps issued in any part of the British Empire outside of Great Britain. The unique cover bearing both “Post Office” stamps has been called “la pièce de résistance de toute la philatélie” or “the greatest item in all philately”. The cover was sold at auction, in Zurich, on November 3, 1993, for 5.75 million Swiss francs (inclusive of 15% buyers premium), the equivalent of about US $4 million — the highest price ever paid for a single philatelic item up to that time. In addition, Mauritius is well known for the subsequent locally produced issues known as “primitives,” also prized by collectors. It lies in the Indian Ocean about 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The colony included the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues (350 miles, 560 km east of Mauritius) and the outer islands of Agaléga, St. Brandon, Tromelin and the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, as well as some 49 uninhabited islands and islets the lie just off the Mauritian coast. The total land area of the British Crown Colony of Mauritius was 812 square miles (2,103.17 km²) in 1952. Its capital was Port Louis.

The first historical evidence of the existence of an island now known as Mauritius is on a map produced by the Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502. From this, it appears that Mauritius was first named Dina Arobi around 975 by Arab sailors, the first people to visit the island. In 1507, Portuguese sailors visited the uninhabited island. The island appears with a Portuguese name Cirne on early Portuguese maps, probably from the name of a ship in the 1507 expedition. Another Portuguese sailor, Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, gave the name Mascarenes to the Archipelago.

In 1598 a Dutch squadron under Admiral Wybrand van Warwyck landed at Grand Port and named the island Mauritius, in honor of Prince Maurice van Nassau, stadholder of the Dutch Republic. Later, the island became a French colony and was renamed Isle de France. On December 3, 1810, the French surrendered the island to Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Under British rule, the island’s name reverted to Mauritius. It is also commonly known as Maurice and Île Maurice in French, Moris in Mauritian Creole.

The island of Mauritius was uninhabited before its first recorded visit during the Middle Ages by Arab sailors. However, the island might have been visited well before by sailors of ancient times; wax tablets were found on the shores of Mauritius by the Dutch, but since the tablets were not preserved, it cannot be said whether they were of Greek, Phoenician or Arab origin.

The first historical evidence of the existence of an island now known as Mauritius is on a map produced by the Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502. Cantino shows three islands which are thought to represent the Mascarenes (Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues) and calls them Dina Margabin, Dina Arobi. What is known is that the medieval Arab world called the southwestern Indian Ocean island region Waqwaq.

In 1507, Portuguese sailors came to the uninhabited island and established a visiting base. The three islands (Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues) were encountered by chance during an exploratory expedition of the coast of the Bay of Bengal led by Tristão da Cunha. The expedition ran into a cyclone and was forced to change course. The ship Cirne came into view of Réunion island on February 9, 1507. Diogo Fernandes Pereira, the ship’s captain, was the first European known to land in Mauritius. He named the island Ilha do Cirne.

Five years later, the islands were visited by Dom Pedro de Mascarenhas who left the name Mascarene for the whole region. The Portuguese took no interest in these isolated islands. They were already established in Asia in Goa, on the coast of Malabar, on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and on the Malaysian coast. Their main African base was in Mozambique, therefore the Portuguese navigators preferred to use the Mozambique Channel to go to India. The Comoros at the north proved to be a more practical port of call. Thus, no permanent colony was established on the island by the Portuguese.

In 1598, a Dutch expedition consisting of eight ships set sail from the port of Texel (Netherlands) under the orders of admirals Jacob Cornelisz van Neck and Wybrand van Warwijck towards the Indian subcontinent. The eight ships ran into foul weather after passing the Cape of Good Hope and were separated. Three found their way to the northeast of Madagascar while the remaining five regrouped and sailed in a southeasterly direction. On September 17, 1598, the five ships under the orders of Admiral Van Warwyck came into view of Mauritius. On September 20, they entered a sheltered bay which they gave the name of Port de Warwick (present name is Grand Port). They landed and decided to name the island Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland, after Prince Maurits of the House of Nassau, the stadtholder of Holland, but also after the main vessel of the fleet which was called Mauritius. From those days, only the name Mauritius has remained. On October 2, the ships took to the sea again towards Bantam.

From then on, the island’s Port de Warwick was used by the Dutch as a stopover after long months at sea. In 1606, two expeditions came for the first time to what would later become Port-Louis in the northwest part of the island. The expedition, consisting of eleven ships and 1,357 men under the orders of Admiral Corneille came into the bay, which they named Rade des Tortues (“Harbor of the Tortoises”) because of the great number of terrestrial tortoises they found there.

Dutch sailors shifted their choice to Rade des Tortues as their preferred harbor. In 1615, the shipwrecking and death of governor Pieter Both, who was returning from India with four richly laden ships in the bay, caused the route to be considered as cursed by Dutch sailors and they tried to avoid it as much as possible. In the meantime, the British and the Danes were beginning to make incursions into the Indian Ocean. Those who landed on the island freely cut and took with them the precious heartwood of the ebony trees, then found in profusion all over the island.

Mauritius Map - Dutch East India Company
Mauritius Map – Dutch East India Company

The island was not permanently inhabited for the forty years after its discovery by the Dutch, but in 1638 Cornelius Gooyer established the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius with a garrison of twenty-five. He thus became the first governor of the island. In 1639, thirty more men came to reinforce the Dutch colony. Gooyer was instructed to develop the commercial potential of the island, but he did nothing of the sort, so he was recalled. His successor was Adriaan van der Stel who began the development in earnest, developing the export of ebony wood. For the purpose, Van der Stel brought 105 Malagasy slaves to the island. Within the first week, about sixty slaves were able to run away into the forests; only about twenty of them were eventually recaptured.

In 1644, the islanders were faced with many months of hardships, due to delayed shipment of supplies, bad harvests and cyclones. During those months, the colonists could only rely on themselves by fishing and hunting. Nonetheless, Van der Stel secured the shipment of 95 more slaves from Madagascar, before being transferred to Ceylon. His replacement was Jacob van der Meersch. In 1645, the latter brought in 108 more Malagasy slaves. Van der Meersch left Mauritius in September 1648 and was replaced by Reinier Por.

In 1652, more hardships befell the colonists, masters and slaves alike. The population was then about a hundred people. The continuing hardships affected the commercial potential of the island and a pullout was ordered in 1657. On July 16, 1658, almost all the inhabitants left the island, except for a ship’s boy and two slaves who had taken shelter in the forests. Thus, the first attempt at colonization by the Dutch ended badly.

In 1664, a second attempt was made, but this one also ended badly as the men chosen for the job abandoned their sick commander, Van Niewland, without proper treatment, and the latter eventually died.

From 1666 to 1669, Dirk Jansz Smient administered the new colony at Grand Port, with the cutting down and export of Ebony trees as the main activity. When Dirk Jansz Smient left, he was replaced by George Frederik Wreeden. The latter died in 1672, drowned with five other colonists during a reconnaissance expedition. His replacement would be Hubert Hugo. The later was a man of vision and wanted to make the island into an agricultural colony. His vision was not shared by his superiors, and eventually he could not fully develop his vision.

Issac Johannes Lamotius became the new governor when Hugo left in 1677. Lamotius governed until 1692, when he was deported to Batavia for judgment for persecuting a colonist whose wife had refused his courtship. Thus in 1692 a new governor, Roelof Deodati, was appointed. Even if he tried to develop the island, Deodati faced many problems, like cyclones, pest infestations, cattle illnesses and droughts. Discouraged, Deodati eventually gave up and his replacement would be Abraham Momber Van de Velde. The latter fared no better and eventually became the last Dutch governor of the island for that period. The Dutch abandoned the island in 1710.

Abandoned by the Dutch, the island became a French colony when, in September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel landed and took possession of this port of call on the route to India. He named the island Île de France. The French government turned over the administration of Mauritius to the French East India Company, but it was only in 1721 that the French started their occupation. Until 1735, Île de France was administered from Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion.

By 1726, the company had made land grants to colonists, soldiers and workers. The grants’ covenants specified that recipients of the grants who could not cultivate their land for a period of three years would lose them. Each colonist was given 20 slaves and in return had to pay yearly one tenth of their production to the French East India Company. The attempt to develop agriculture resulted in an increasing demand for labor.

According to Lougnon, 156 ships called at Mauritius between 1721 and 1735, prior to the arrival of Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, most of them being Company ships. Slave traders brought a total of 650 slaves to Mauritius from Madagascar, Mozambique, India and West Africa. Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding center. Under his governorship, numerous buildings were built, a number of which still stand today: part of Government House, the Chateau de Mon Plaisir at Pamplemousses and the Line Barracks.

International trade, in particular long-distance trade, grew in the eighteenth century and by the 1780s, France was the largest trading maritime power in Europe. The total value of French long-distance trade with Africa, Asia, America and re-exports to the rest of Europe was £25 million, whereas Britain’s trade amounted to only £20 million. This state of affairs explained the growing importance of Port Louis as a center of entrepôt trade. Among the French colonists, the lure of easy money and the importance of commercial activities contributed to their lack of interest in agriculture. Slave trade, both legal and illegal, was an important aspect of the French international trade in the Indian Ocean. A class of traders and merchants developed and thrived.

French map from 1791 depicting Mauritius (then called Île de France).
French map from 1791 depicting Mauritius (then called Île de France).

The governor, suspicious of the English ship who called in there to effect repairs in 1803, imprisoned its captain Matthew Flinders on the island for several years. Flinders was returning to England from Australia with the logbooks and records of his scientific explorations.

In 1806, the Governor General, Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen, created the city of Mahébourg, named in honour of Mahé de La Bourdonnais. It was originally known as Bourg Mahé. From that year until 1810, the island was in charge of officials appointed by the French Government, except for a brief period during the French Revolution, when the inhabitants set up a government virtually independent of France.

During the Napoleonic wars, Île de France had become a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island. A preliminary attack was foiled during the Battle of Grand Port on August 19 and 20, 1810, but the main attack launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured during the same year, was successful. Rodrigues was before visited for only fresh water and food by the British In 1809. The British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French. Mauritius was captured on December 3, 1810, by the British under Commodore Josias Rowley.

The British possession of the island was confirmed four years later by the Treaty of Paris on May 30, 1814, by which time it had been renamed Mauritius and ceded to Great Britain together with Rodrigues and the Seychelles. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language was at that moment still used more widely than English.

The British administration, which began with Sir Robert Farquhar as Governor, led to rapid social and economic changes. However, it was tainted by the Ratsitatane episode. Ratsitatane, nephew of King Radama of Madagascar, was brought to Mauritius as a political prisoner. He managed to escape from prison and plotted a rebellion that would free the island’s slaves. He was betrayed by an associate and was caught by the British forces, summarily judged, and condemned to death. He was beheaded at Plaine Verte on April 15, 1822, and his head was displayed as a deterrent against future uprisings among the slaves.

In 1832, Adrien d’Épinay launched the first Mauritian newspaper (Le Cernéen) which was not controlled by the government. In the same year, there was a move by the procureur-general to abolish slavery without compensation to the slave owners. This gave rise to discontent, and to check an eventual rebellion, the government ordered all the inhabitants to surrender their arms. Furthermore, a stone fortress, Fort Adelaide, was built on a hill (now known as the Citadel hill) in the center of Port Louis to quell any uprising.

Slavery was abolished on February 1, 1835, and the planters ultimately received two million pounds sterling in compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important impacts on Mauritius’ society, economy and population. The planters brought a large number of indentured laborers from India to work in the sugar cane fields. Between 1834 and 1921, around half a million indentured laborers were present on the island. They worked on sugar estates, factories, in transport and on construction sites. Additionally, the British brought 8,740 Indian soldiers to the island. Aapravasi Ghat, in the bay at Port Louis and now a UNESCO site, was the first British colony to serve as a major reception center for slaves and indentured servants for British plantation labor.

An important figure of the nineteenth century was Rémy Ollier, a journalist of mixed origin. In 1828, the color bar was officially abolished in Mauritius but British governors gave little power to colored persons, and appointed only whites as leading officials. Rémy Ollier petitioned to Queen Victoria to allow coloreds in the council of government, and this became possible a few years later. He also made Port Louis become a municipality so that the citizens could administer the town through their own elected representatives. A street has been named after him in Port Louis, and his bust was erected in the Jardin de la Compagnie in 1906.

In 1885, a new constitution was introduced to Mauritius. It created elected positions on the governing council, but the franchise was restricted mainly to the French and Creole classes.

The laborers brought from India were not always fairly treated and a German, Adolph von Plevitz, made himself the unofficial protector of these immigrants. He mixed with many of the laborers, and in 1871 helped them to write a petition which was sent to Governor Gordon. A commission was appointed to look into the complaints made by the Indian immigrants, and in 1872 two lawyers, appointed by the British Crown, were sent from England to make an inquiry. This Royal Commission recommended several measures that would affect the lives of Indian laborers during the next fifty years

In November 1901, Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius, on his way from South Africa to India. He stayed on the island for two weeks, and urged the Indo-Mauritian community to take an interest in education and to play a more active role in politics. Back in India, he sent over a young lawyer, Manilal Doctor, to improve the plight of the Indo-Mauritians. During the same year, faster links were established with the island of Rodrigues thanks to the wireless.

In 1903, motorcars were introduced in Mauritius, and in 1910 the first taxis, operated by Joseph Merven, came into service. The electrification of Port Louis took place in 1909, and in the same decade the Mauritius Hydro Electric Company (managed by the Atchia Brothers) was authorized to provide power to the towns of upper Plaines Wilhems.

The 1910s were a period of political agitation. The rising middle class (made up of doctors, lawyers, and teachers) began to challenge the political power of the sugar cane landowners. Dr. Eugène Laurent, mayor of Port Louis, was the leader of this new group; his party, Action Libérale, demanded that more people should be allowed to vote in the elections. Action Libérale was opposed by the Parti de l’Ordre, led by Henri Leclézio, the most influential of the sugar magnates. In 1911, there were riots in Port Louis due to a false rumor that Dr. Eugène Laurent had been murdered by the oligarchs in Curepipe. Shops and offices were damaged in the capital and one person was killed. In the same year, 1911, the first public cinema shows took place in Curepipe and, in the same town, a stone building was erected to house the Royal College. In 1912, a wider telephone network came into service and it was used by the government, business firms, and a few private households.

World War I broke out in August 1914. Many Mauritians volunteered to fight in Europe against the Germans, and in Mesopotamia against the Turks. But the war affected Mauritius much less than the wars of the eighteenth century. On the contrary, the 1914–18 war was a period of great prosperity because of a boom in sugar prices. In 1919, the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate came into being, and it included 70% of all sugar producers.

The 1920s saw the rise of a “retrocessionism” movement which favored the retrocession of Mauritius to France. The movement rapidly collapsed because none of the candidates who wanted Mauritius to be given back to France was elected in the 1921 elections. Due to the post-war recession, there was a sharp drop in sugar prices. Many sugar estates closed down, and it marked the end of an era for the sugar magnates who had not only controlled the economy, but also the political life of the country. Raoul Rivet, the editor of Le Mauricien newspaper, campaigned for a revision of the constitution that would give the emerging middle class a greater role in the running of the country. The principles of Arya Samaj began to infiltrate the Hindu community, who clamored for more social justice.

The 1930s saw the birth of the Labour Party, launched by Dr. Maurice Curé. Emmanuel Anquetil rallied the urban workers while Pandit Sahadeo concentrated on the rural working class. Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938. More than 30,000 workers sacrificed a day’s wage and came from all over the island to attend a giant meeting at the Champ de Mars.

The Mauritius Territorial Force comprising coastal artillery and infantry formations was created in 1934. Due to the escalation of the Second World War, the force expanded to comprise two battalions. It was renamed the Mauritius Regiment in 1943.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, many Mauritians volunteered to serve under the British flag in Africa and the Near East, fighting against the German and Italian armies. Some went to England to become pilots and ground staff in the Royal Air Force. Mauritius was never really threatened, but several British ships were sunk outside Port Louis by German submarines in 1943.

The 1st Battalion with a strength of 1,000 men landed in Diego Suarez on December 1943 to relieve Imperial Forces who had invaded and seized the island from Vichy France in the 1942 Battle of Madagascar. Shortly after landing the battalion mutinied due to protests at their conditions and the breaking of their guarantee they would not leave Mauritius. Disarmed by the King’s African Rifles, 300 soldiers were arrested and 500 soldiers tried but only six remained imprisoned by 1946. There was also a home guard formation, the Mauritius Defence Force of 2,000 men and a naval Coastal Defence Force.

During World War II conditions were hard in the country; the prices of commodities doubled but the salaries of workers increased only by 10 to 20 percent. There was civil unrest, and the colonial government crushed all trade union activities. However, the labourers of Belle Vue Harel Sugar Estate went on strike on September 27, 1943. Police officers eventually fired on the crowd, and killed three laborers including a boy of ten and a pregnant woman, Anjaly Coopen.

Elections in 1947 for the newly created Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius’s first steps toward self-rule, and were won by the Labour Party, headed by Guy Rozemont. It was the first time the elite Francophones were ousted from power.

The first general elections were held on August 9, 1948, and were won by the Labour Party. This party, led by Guy Rozemont, bettered its position in 1953, and, on the strength of the election results, demanded universal suffrage. Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1955 and 1957, and the ministerial system was introduced. Voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage on 9 March 1959. The general election was again won by the Labour Party, led this time by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.

A Constitutional Review Conference was held in London in 1961 and a program of further constitutional advance was established. The 1963 election was won by the Labour Party and its allies. The Colonial Office noted that politics of a communal nature was gaining ground in Mauritius and that the choice of candidates (by parties) and the voting behavior (of electors) were governed by ethnic and caste considerations. Around that time, two eminent British academics, Richard Titmuss and James Meade, published a report of the island’s social problems caused by overpopulation and the monoculture of sugar cane. This led to an intense campaign to halt the population explosion, and the decade registered a sharp decline in population growth.

At the Lancaster Conference of 1965, it became clear that Britain wanted to relieve itself of the colony of Mauritius. In 1959, Harold Macmillan had made his famous Winds of Change Speech where he acknowledged that the best option for Britain was to give complete independence to its colonies. Thus, since the late Fifties, the way was paved for independence.

Later in 1965, after the Lancaster Conference, the Chagos Archipelago was excised from the territory of Mauritius to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A general election took place on August 7, 1967, and the Labour Party and its two allies obtained the majority of seats. Mauritius adopted a new constitution and independence was proclaimed on March 12, 1968, with Elizabeth II as Queen of Mauritius, represented as head of state by the Governor-General.

Mauritius’ first post office was opened on December 21, 1772, when the island was under French rule. Mail was delivered internally and by ship to and from France and India. Great Britain took over the island on December 3, 1810, and continued the overseas mail service. The internal service apparently dwindled and terminated but was revived in 1834. A few pre-stamp markings, applied by rubber stamp, exist from the 1780s during the French administration, and more are known from the subsequent British period.

In 1847, Mauritius followed Great Britain in issuing stamps carrying the image of the current regent of Great Britain, Victoria, which practice would be followed throughout the British Empire. Most of the early issues of Mauritius were locally designed and produced and have a distinct “primitive” character.

On September 21, 1847, Mauritius issued its first two two stamps, an orange-red one penny (1d) and a deep blue two pence (2d). The words POST OFFICE were inscribed in the left panel, but were changed to POST PAID in the following issue, and are the source of the stamps’ common name. The “Post Office” stamps are among the rarest stamps in the world, and are of legendary status in the world of philately.

They were engraved by Joseph Osmond Barnard, born in England in 1816, who stowed away on a ship to Mauritius in 1838. The designs were based on the then current issue of Great Britain stamps (first released in 1841), bearing the profile head of Queen Victoria and issued in two denominations in similar colors: one penny red brown and two pence blue. Although these locally produced stamps have a distinct primitive character, they made Barnard’s “name immortal in the postal history of Mauritius”.

Five hundred of each value were printed from a single plate bearing both values using the intaglio method (recessed printing), and bear the engraver’s initials “JB” at the lower right margin of the bust. Many of the stamps were used on invitations sent out by the wife of the Governor of Mauritius for a ball she was holding in late September 1847.

The stamps, as well as the subsequent issues, are highly prized by collectors because of their rarity, their early dates and their primitive character as local products. Surviving stamps are mainly in the hands of private collectors, but some are on public display in the British Library in London, including the envelope of an original invitation to the Governor’s ball complete with stamp. Two other places where they can be seen, in Mauritius, are at the Postal Museum and at the Blue Penny Museum, both in Port Louis. The two stamps also can be seen at the Museum for Communication (Museum für Kommunikation) in Berlin and in the Postal Museum of Sweden in Stockholm. A two pence blue is also at display at the Museum for Communication (Museum voor Communicatie) in The Hague.

The Mauritius “Post Office” stamps were unknown to the philatelic world until 1864 when Mme. Borchard, the wife of a Bordeaux merchant, found copies of the one and two pence stamps in her husband’s correspondence. She traded them to another collector. Through a series of sales, the stamps ultimately were acquired by the famous collector Philipp von Ferrary, and were sold at auction in 1921.

In 1928, Georges Brunel published Les Timbres-Poste de l’Île Maurice in which he stated that the use of the words “Post Office” on the 1847 issue had been an error. Over the years, the story was embellished. One version was that the man who produced the stamps, Joseph Barnard, was a half-blind watchmaker and an old man who absent-mindedly forgot what he was supposed to print on the stamps. On his way from his shop to visit the postmaster, a Mr. Brownrigg, he passed a post office with a sign hanging above it. This provided the necessary jog to his memory and he returned to his work and finished engraving the plates for the stamps, substituting “Post Office” for “Post Paid”.

These stories are purely fictional; philatelic scholars have confirmed that the “Post Office” inscription was intentional. Adolphe and d’Unienville wrote that “It is much more likely that Barnard used ‘Post Office’ because this was, and still is, the legal denomination of the government department concerned”. The plates were approved and the stamps issued without any fuss at the time. Joseph Barnard was an Englishman of Jewish descent from Portsmouth who had arrived in Mauritius in 1838 as a stowaway, thrown off a commercial vessel bound for Sydney. He was not a watch-maker, although he may have turned his hand to watch repairs; not half-blind; and certainly not old; he was born in 1816 and was therefore 31 years old when he engraved the stamps in 1847. In addition, several rubber stamps used in Mauritius on letters prior to these stamps also used the words “Post Office”, as did the first two stamps issued by the United States in July 1847.

Over the years, the stamps sold for increasing and ultimately astronomical prices. Mauritius “Post Office” stamps and covers have been prize items in collections of famous stamp collectors, including Sir Ernest de Silva, Henry J. Duveen, Arthur Hind, William Beilby Avery, Alfred F. Lichtenstein, and Alfred H. Caspary, among other philatelic luminaries.

King George V paid £1,450 for an unused Two Pence “Post Office” at an auction in 1904, which was a world record price at the time. Adjusting by inflation rate it is about £141,000 in 2015. Reportedly, one of his secretaries commented that “some damned fool” had paid a huge amount of money for one postage stamp and George replied “I am that damned fool”.

The greatest of all Mauritius collections, that of Hiroyuki Kanai, included unused copies of both the one penny and two pence “Post Office” stamps, the “Bordeaux” cover with both the one penny and two pence stamps which has been called “la pièce de résistance de toute la philatélie” or “the greatest item in all philately”, and numerous reconstructed sheets of the subsequent issues. Kanai’s collection was sold by the auctioneer David Feldman in 1993, the Bordeaux cover going for the equivalent of about US $4 million.

Postcard showing the famous "Bordeaux" cover of the Mauritius "Post Office" stamps
Postcard showing the famous “Bordeaux” cover of the Mauritius “Post Office” stamps

Following the “Post Office” stamps, Mauritius released several stamps also bearing Queen Victoria’s profile, locally designed, and primitive in appearance. In 1848, Mauritius issued the first denomination (two pence) of the “Post Paid” issue, one and two pence stamps closely similar to the “Post Office” issue also engraved by Barnard. The one penny orange was issued in 1854.

In 1859, Mauritius released a third design, a two pence stamp very crudely engraved by Jules Lapirot, and known as the “Lapirot” issue. The stamp was described as “the greatest libel upon Her late Majesty Queen Victoria that has been ever been perpetrated” and it was nicknamed in France as the tête de singe (monkey head) issue. In 1859, the two pence blue was re-engraved by Robert Sherwin. The final local product was a one penny red and two pence blue lithographed by L. A. Dardenne in 1859.

The “Post Paid” through the Sherwin issues were printed in sheets of 12 and stamp collectors have “plated” or reconstructed full sheets from individual or pairs of stamps, relying on small variations in the individual plates. The sheet size of the Dardenne issue is unknown.

From 1859 to 1862, Mauritius issued several stamps in the key type “Britannia” design engraved and printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. in London. This design was previously used in Trinidad (1851) and Barbados (1852) and were issued during the period when Mauritius was also issuing locally produced stamps. From 1859 to 1902, Mauritius issued stamps typical of those of colonies of the British Empire, including a number of stamps depicting Queen Victoria in profile and stamps with Mauritius’ coat of arms.

The twentieth century issues of Mauritius, like those in other British colonies, generally depicted the current monarch, Edward VII, George V and George VI, and Elizabeth II, as well as Mauritius’ coat of arms. In 1950, Mauritius began issuing more colorful stamps with images or scenes of local interest. The definitive series of 1950 was issued during the reign of King George VI but a new series was required in 1954 following the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the British throne. The same designs were used for both series.

The first items of postal stationery to be issued by Mauritius were envelopes in 1861 followed by postcards in 1879 and registered envelopes in 1891. Newspaper wrappers were first issued in 1896 and lettercards were first issued in 1909. All these items of postal stationery were last issued in 1938 and when stocks run out they were discontinued. Aerogrammes were first issued in 1953 and are the only items of postal stationery currently available.

Postal stationery items, other than those of the United States, are out of the scope of the Scott catalogues and are thus termed “Scott unlisted”. For these items, the Higgins & Gage World Postal Stationery Catalog is the most recent encyclopedic catalogue of postal stationery covering the entire world. Despite most volumes not having been updated for over twenty years, the catalogue and the H & G numbering system are still widely used by philatelists and stamp dealers although the values given in the catalogue are out of date. It was published between 1964 and 1986 and comprises nineteen alphabetical volumes with supplements, listing stamped envelopes, postal cards, lettercards, wrappers, aerograms and registration envelopes. The earlier volumes were edited by Edward Fladung who worked with Alexander D. Gage in the production of the catalogue. Later editions were edited by Melvin Feiner. Originally published by Higgins & Gage Inc., the catalogue has now been acquired by Classic Philatelics of Huntington Beach, Pasadena, California. Classic Philatelics also produce a new issue postal stationery report.

Mauritius is included in Volume 12, which covers Macao to Muscat. H&G #B10 was issued in 1878, described as a 25-cent violet embossed Queen Victoria envelope on thick white wove paper,

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