Virgin Islands Stamps: Treasured and Uniquely Beautiful
Two major collections of BVI stamps and covers auctioned in 2003 (New York) and 2004 (London) resulted in stunningly high realizations totalling in excess of US$650,000.
Stamp expert Giorgio Migliavacca, editor of the BVI Specialised Stamp Catalogue 1787-2001, and author of 14 books on stamps and postal history, explains why collectors worldwide treasure Virgin Island stamps.
The first two Virgin Islands adhesive postage stamps — a One Penny and a Six Pence — were produced in London and arrived in Tortola in December 1866.
These early stamps depicting St. Ursula are keenly studied by specialists and collectors who appreciate their beauty, exotic background and intrinsic rarity. The price of Victorian era Virgin Islands stamps is still within reach of collectors with relatively modest means, and the existence of three highly priced rarities is no deterrent for the serious collector. The Virgin Islands' most valuable stamp was never put on sale at the Road Town post office. In 1890, 23 years after they were printed, the Virgin Islands' one-shilling error with the letterpress printed figure of the Virgin omitted was discovered in London in a shop in the old Booksellers Row. The remarkable error, of which only five examples are believed to exist, was nicknamed "The Missing Virgin." Its 2006 catalogue value is estimated at around US$130,000, but it is believed that when an example of this rarity is to be auctioned, it may fetch a much higher sum.
From 1890 through 1956, the BVI was a presidency of the Leeward Islands' Federal Crown Colony. Stamps of the Leeward Islands were meant to replace local stamps but for practical considerations were used concurrently with the stamps of the Virgin Islands.
After the death of Queen Victoria, a new set of definitive stamps depicting her successor, King Edward VII, was issued by the Virgin Islands post office in 1904. Similarly, definitives of King George V were issued in 1913 and also between 1922 and 1929.
The Three-Kings era continued in 1937 with the coronation set of three stamps marking the accession of King George VI to the throne.
Since 1866 the BVI has issued about 1,300 stamps and in the past 40 years has featured some of the most popular thematic aspects. In fact, one of the major reasons for their great popularity is that BVI stamps depict interesting topics, historical figures, members of the royal family, famous Virgin Islanders and more. Masterpieces have been perfectly reproduced on BVI stamps, and the works of such masters as Carpaccio, Pinturicchio, Raphael, Luini, Crivelli, Titian, Massys and Van Gogh adorn many issues of this country.
The reader may be surprised to learn that William Thornton, the architect of Washington's Capitol Building was born in Tortola, and John Coackley Lettsom, founder of the Medical Society of London was also born in the BVI. Both were Quakers and both were honoured philatelically in 1973. Lettsom was featured again on a BVI stamp in 1998 depicting his native island, Little Jost Van Dyke.
World-famous personalities and historical figures are also represented on the stamps of this country: in 1968, Martin Luther King; Winston Churchill in 1974; Princess Diana, with sets issued for the royal wedding in 1981, and her 21st birthday in 1982, and more recently in 1998 following her tragic death. In 1985, a set of stamps depicting Michael Jackson was prepared for the BVI Philatelic Bureau by its marketing agents, but the stamps were vetoed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London on the basis that no living person is to appear on stamps of the Territory except for Her Majesty and members of the Royal Family.
Sir Francis Drake has also received quite a few philatelic tributes by the BVI Post Office, and these include a 1980 set of four stamps and a large souvenir sheet; a 1997 sheet of 12 stamps depicting the famous explorer, his coat of arms, Queen Elizabeth I, a 16th century compass rose, Drake's astrolabe, the Golden Hind beakhead, as well as Drake's ships — Christopher & Marigold, Golden Hind, Swan, Cacafuego, Elizabeth, and Maria. Information on the ships and the itinerary of Drake's Voyage is given on the margins of this picturesque sheet that features a map of Drake's Voyage enclosed in a rococo frame. The 1997 commemoration was completed by a $2 miniature sheet depicting a modern ship named Sir Francis Drake plying Virgin Islands waters, and several stamps of the late 1960s and early 1970s featuring Drake's ships. Additionally, the 40 Cent denomination of the 1974 "Historical Figures" set features the famous discoverer.
Christopher Columbus has equally received special attention with a stamp in the very same 1974 "Historical Figures" set and then with colourful annual series from 1989 to 1993 to celebrate the Quincentenary of the discovery of America. It was Columbus who discovered and named the islands in 1493 during his second voyage of discovery, which was financed by the King and Queen of Spain as well as Genoese bankers.
There is evidence that Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island was set at Norman Island, a desert island and park and nature's sanctuary in the Virgin Islands. We are reminded of this by a very captivating set of four stamps issued in 1969 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the death of Stevenson.
Features and design elements of BVI stamps issued during the past 40 years are quite distinctive and often unique. Most modern BVI stamps include either the Queen's cameo (or alternatively her cipher) and, at the same time, feature a currency expressed in U.S. dollars, while the inscriptions clearly read British Virgin Islands.
These idyllic and unique islands have stamped their presence in philately. Since their inception some 140 years ago, Virgin Islands stamps have fascinated collectors from every corner of the globe and from all walks of life.
More information can be found in the recently published Specialised Stamp Catalogue of the British Virgin Islands. To order this catalogue, as well as obtain new stamps of the BVI, contact the British Virgin Islands Philatelic Bureau, Sir Olva Georges Plaza, G.P.O. Road Town, Tortola, BVI. For other stamp publications and older stamps of the BVI, contact the BVI Philatelic Society, P.O. Box 704, Road Town, Tortola, BVI (or e-mail email@example.com).
Sports Enthusiasts Love BVI Commemorative Stamps from The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
The BVI Postal Administration commemorated the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the BVI's national Olympic living heroes with a series of four stamps creating another set of collectors editions stamps. The Beijing 2008 Olympic logo and the Royal Cypher (the sovereign's monogram) appear on each of the four stamps.
Featured on two of the four stamps, is the image of 2008 IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championship bronze medalist Tahesia Harrigan, one of two BVI Olympic athletes who hoped to bring home medals from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in the 100 meters sprint. (She was eliminated from participating in the semi finals after coming in 5th in the second round heat.) Harrigan, ranked among the top 30 100-meter sprinters in the world in 2007.
The 18-cent stamp features Robbie Hirst , a two-time Olympian, sailing with his crew during the IC24 Class in the Nation's Cup in 2007. Hirst, competed in the laser class in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and secured the BVI first World Championship medal at any level when he won a silver medal in the International Sailing Federation ISAF Youth Championships.
John Shirley is featured on the $1 stamp. The image depicts Shirley during the Queen's Baton Relay in a tour of Road Harbor in 2005. He was part of the BVI's 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games sailing team.
Both Robbie Hirst and John Shirley are active in sailing and have sailed together in the BVI Spring Regatta, winning their division on several occasions.
Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Commemorative Stamps
Images courtesy of BVI Postal Administration
According to Deputy Postmaster Goldie Gumbs, this is an historic milestone, having been granted permission through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to feature living people, for the first time on the territory stamps.
For more information contact the BVI Philatelic Society, P.O. Box 704, Road Town, Tortola, BVI, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about the XXX Summer Olympics and the BVI Olympic team.
Take me shopping in the BVI.