Virgin Islands Stamps
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 B.V.I. Specialised Stamp Catalogue 1787-2001, and author of fourteen books on stamps and postal history, explains why Virgin Island stamps are treasured by collectors worldwide.
The first two Virgin Islands adhesive postage stamps – a One Penny and a 6 Pence – were produced in London and arrived in Tortola in December 1866.
The first two stamps issued by the Virgin Islands in 1866 were produced by a small printer in London who farmed out some of the work to another company
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 the Virgin Islands stamps of the Victorian era 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 most valuable stamp of the Virgin Islands was never put on sale at the Road Town post office. In 1890, twenty-three years after its printing, the Virgin Islands 1 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 between 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.
Beginning in 1890, and through 1956, the British Virgin Islands 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 for King George V were issued in 1913 and also between 1922 and 1929.
First issued in 1867, the 1 shilling stamp underwent many changes and transformations
A set of four stamps was issued in 1935 as part of an omnibus set celebrating the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The British monarch was a very avid stamp collector and formed what is now known as The Royal Collection – the most impressive and grandest collection of British Empire stamps
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 B.V.I. has issued about 1,300 stamps and in the last forty years they have been constantly featuring more some of the most popular thematic aspects. In fact one of the major reasons for their great popularity is that B.V.I. stamps depict extremely interesting topics such as sport, ships, stamps on stamps, pirates, historical figures, scientists, flora and fauna, birds, orchids, mushrooms, maps, Rotary, Lions, chess, medicine, coins, sealife, sea shells, members of the royal family, authors, politicians, and famous Virgin Islanders. Masterpieces have been perfectly reproduced on B.V.I. 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 British Virgin Islands. Both were Quakers and both have been honoured philatelically in 1973. Lettsom was featured again on a BVI stamp in 1998 depicting his native island: Little Jost Van Dyke.
There is clear evidence that Norman Island is Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”
World-famous personalities and historical figures are well represented on the stamps of this country: in 1968, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill in 1974, not to speak of 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 the entertainer was prepared for the B.V.I. Philatelic Bureau by its marketing agents. 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 received quite a few philatelic tributes by the B.V.I. Post Office, and these include a 1980 set of four stamps and a large souvenir sheet, a 1997 sheet of twelve stamps depicting the famous explorer, his coat of arms, Queen Elizabeth I, a 16th century compass rose, Drake’s astrolabe, the Golden Hind beakhead, and in addition 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 which 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 feature Drake’s ships. Additionally the 40c. 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 and by Genoese bankers.
There is evidence that Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” was set at Norman Island, a desert island and a park and nature’s sanctuary in the Virgins group. 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 Robert Louis Stevenson.
Features and design elements of B.V.I. stamps issued during the last forty years are quite distinctive and often unique. Most modern BVI stamps include either the Queen’s cameo (or alternatively her cypher) 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: from King George V to Queen Elizabeth II, to a famous British millionaire, from Prime Ministers to Hollywood stars, to the tourists who visit our islands: all are mesmerized by the beauty of the local stamps. BVI stamps will continue to be coveted by collectors from all over the world and their value will increase steadily as in the past fifty years and if the present trend is an indication they will most likely perform even better and reward the wise investor.
VIRGINSTAMPS.COM has a good stock of BVI stamps; please feel free to contact us to start or to complete your collection