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Mauritius “Post Office”: Prehistory and Myths

December 19, 2018

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The two world-renowned stamps of Mauritius.

In 1846, the Governor of Mauritius issued a decree on the transportation and payment of postal items, according to which each letter, newspaper or any other item sent inside the colony (and paid with a stamp issued by the government) was sent without paying a postage fee. The state had set certain tariffs: one penny was charged per ounce of weight, and for a letter sent within the colony it was necessary to pay 2 pence per half-ounce. The cost of the letter outside the area was the same if it was sent from Port Louis, and it doubled when sent from other places. Due to the fact that stamps from England were not available, the state decided that it should issue its own stamps. The local engraver created a printed form and a cliché of stamps of one and two pence. Stamps were printed alternately (from the first and then from the second cliché).

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The cover with the two stamps of Mauritius sold for approximately $4 million.

Most of the Mauritius stamps were used by the governor’s spouse to send invitations to her ball. On July 14, when the lady was returning home from some reception, she was surrounded by a crowd that demanded the cancellation of a law, which was to take effect the following day. In particular, since July 15 of the same year, the use of French in court was to be officially prohibited and people were indignant about this. In order to pacify the angry mob, a group of soldiers had to be summoned. However, in order to level the consequences of the conflict and restore relations with the French-speaking part of the population, a ball was organized at the governor’s residence. Invitations sent on this occasion had the new stamps of 1847 on them.

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A close-up of the cover.

The surviving rare stamps have a high philatelic value and most of them are kept in private collections or are put on public display in the London state library. One of the most notable copies of that issue is an envelope with a glued stamp used to invite the guests to the above-mentioned ball. One of the clean two-pence copies were acquired in 1904 at one of the stamp auctions by the Prince of Wales. In 1993, a consortium of Mauritian businessmen purchased two clean two-penny stamps, which were subsequently returned to the island and exhibited at a museum. These two stamps are some of the most expensive pieces in the world since the cost of one copy, according to different sources, reaches $15 million. However, in fact, the maximum price of the blue piece is about $1,15 million, and the pink one is around $1,07 million, but it’s quite difficult to make an objective estimation. The value of these two pieces lies in the fact that they were the first stamps of the British Empire issued outside the metropolis, and also in that their initial issue contained the inscription “Post Office” instead of “Post Paid”. Contrary to the existing legend, this is not an engraver's mistake but an officially approved inscription. The postage stamps of the next issue were printed with the “Post Paid” inscription.

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Mauritius