Arago: Exhibits

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Virgin Islands' Virgin Mary

At the time the Leeward Islands were federated in 1871, by combining the colonial administration of six separate Caribbean islands (Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat, St Christopher, Nevis and the Virgin Islands), each entity issued its own postage stamps.

In 1890, however, the Leeward Islands General Stamp Act was passed, providing for the introduction of uniform stamps throughout the federation. De La Rue was selected to print these, using its colonial keyplate, and eight values were produced, from ½-penny to 5-shillings, bearing the profile head of Queen Victoria. This measure cut costs at the Colonial Office, but it also led to a loss of revenue for the individual islands. Before the decade was out, a reversal of policy would become expedient.

The U-turn may well have been inspired by hard evidence of how financially useful the growing hobby of philately could be to small colonies. In 1892, Crown Agents offered the remainder of the discontinued stamps from each member of the federation for sale by tender, after arranging to destroy the printing plates.

The successful bidder was an English dealer, T H Thompson, who produced a price list that quoted the numbers of each value that had been remaindered. Some of these quantities were very small, so collectors clamoured to buy copies. Thompson rapidly increased his prices, and soon doubled them again!

This may not have gone unnoticed in the Virgin Islands, where the Post Office’s receipts in 1898 totalled only about £35. Things had gotten so bad that in the House of Commons in June of that year, the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, was asked if the islands were insolvent.

Having been obliged to write off their debts, the British Government agreed to assist their financial position by allowing them to introduce their own stamps once again.

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1/2p yellow green St. Ursula single

The 1/2-penny Virgin Mary stamp was issued in 1899.

6p dark violet  St. Ursula single

The 6-pence Virgin Mary stamp was issued in 1899.