Members were treated to the stamps of St Helena, the first through to 2003, virtually complete and all in mint condition – the high values in the latter meaning some classic stamps were shown. Presenting the display was their guest, Alan Watson of the Falkirk Society, and as well as single items, he also had blocks, plate proofs, die proofs and varieties.
Remote, situated in the mid-South Atlantic and more well known as the island where Napoleon was exiled for a while, the first stamps were issued in 1856, a bd value, this being the rate for letters sent to Britain. By 1885 the first batch of 2,000 had run out and the island authorities requested a further 500 from Perkins Bacon, the printers in London. This number was so small they first assumed it was for 500 sheets of stamps and this was what they printed. Actually is was only 500 stamps – an impossible reprint as that would only have been two sheets!
With all this stock of bd stamps, when new postal rates were introduced they were overprinted with the new value and in subsequent years even the same bd printing plate was used but with different colours.
Being a British colony, all our monarchs appear on the issues, as well as flora and fauna of the area, including the largest earwig in the world (three inches long!). Other stamps were: those overprinted ‘War Tax’ in 1916, surcharged an extra 1d to help the war effort; ships connected with the island (the only way to get there as there is no airstrip); and the strange subject for the 2001 Christmas set, featuring the American country and western singer Tammy Wynette – apparently she is highly regarded by the St Helena islanders.
In 1961 following earth tremors on the island of Tristan da Cunha, a dependency of St Helena, stamps were overprinted and surcharged in aid of a relief fund. However, these were never sanctioned by the Colonial office in London and had to be withdrawn after being on sale for only one week – hence their scarcity and high value. The set, retailing now at £5,000, appeared to be on show to the local philatelists, only for their guest to reveal they were copies – and exceptionally fine facsimiles too!