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Is this the best ever Barbados Britannia stamp?

Barbados SG1

The Barbados Britannia’s were an iconic stamp, in daily use from 1852 until they were replaced by the Victorian keyplate design in 1882. They did their duty for 30 years, being used on all manner of items from newspapers and letters to parcels and packets.

In total, there were over ten million of these stamps printed during that time and with so many watermarks, perforations, colours and denominations it is surely hard to pick just one stamp to be the best ever? Whilst it’s true, the later De La Rue printings had a much nicer range of colours and were far clearer prints, it’s hard to beat the original Perkins Bacon design of this stamp.

As money was tight in the mid 1850’s, the plate for this was also shared between Trinidad and Mauritius so each country has its own Britannia’s with varying colours and complexity.

The plate of the early Britannia design of the 1850's was shared between Barbados, Mauritius and Trinidad
The plate of the early Britannia design of the 1850’s was shared between Barbados, Mauritius and Trinidad

So, from this bewildering array of stamps with over 30 years of use, how on earth can you pick one for the title of ‘best ever’?

Well, my choice isn’t by chance, it’s built around a range of important factors.

First of all, this stamp I have chosen in Barbados SG1, the very first of the stamps to arrive on the island and be used in 1852.

Barbados SG1
Barbados SG1

This particular stamp is possibly from one of the slightly later printings, as it was printed no less than four times between 1852 and 1855. The only ‘evidence’ for this is the colour, which appears to be a slightly darker green than the more usual yellow-green, that it is on ‘blued’ paper, characteristic of these early stamps and the fact that the printing is crisp and clean; not always the case with later Perkins Bacon printings.

Survival rates of these SG1 stamps are incredibly low. Not a single mint example exists anywhere and many of the used copies are in poor condition. The reason for this is that these stamps were issued imperforate and their initial, and possibly only use, was to pay for the cost of sending newspapers across the island. We therefore have a situation where someone was sitting with a pair of scissors, cutting up great sheets of these stamps ready to stick onto the daily newspaper.

Of course, much like today, newspapers are quickly discarded once used and as there were no stamp collectors on Barbados in 1852, no one thought to save them.

Just a few mastheads still survive with the stamp still attached, and of the stamps that have been saved and soaked off, many have irregular margins, have been damaged or cut into or have a heavy obliterator across their face.

This stamp, however, appears to have escaped that fate and has four large clear margins, a clear number one Bridgetown ‘bootheel’ cancel and no obvious damage. Which makes it a rarity amongst rarities.

And if further weight were needed, this is the stamp that started it all off. This is the stamp that was first used on Barbados to prepay for postage and the forerunner of the wonderful philatelic heritage we have today.

The final factor, however, which leads me to conclude that this is the best stamp ever, is the fact that it has taken me ten years to find. Sure, it’s not the rarest Barbados stamp, nor the most expensive, but for its quality and the pivotal part it played in the development of postal services not just in Barbados, but across the Caribean, it is for me, the best Barbados stamp ever.

So, whilst there may be others that would claim the title, today I am crowning this particular stamp the best Barbados Britannia ever.

And as a small postscript to this story, which I actually wrote a couple of months ago but have saved for now, in the interim I have sent it away and obtained an RPSL certificate to confirm it really is SG1 and it’s a cracking example.

RPSL Certificate for Barbados SG1 - possibly the best Barbados stamp ever?
RPSL Certificate for Barbados SG1 – possibly the best Barbados stamp ever?

3 thoughts on “Is this the best ever Barbados Britannia stamp?

  1. […] all of which have been documented, and examples illustrated, by Roett in his book Barbados: The Britannia Issues, after the earlier work by Jaffe and […]

  2. Nice article! Your example of SG1 is a beauty. I am a collector of the imperforate Britannias of the first issues (SG1-SG12). Right now, I am working on an article about the uses of the 1/2d stamp on blue paper (SG1 & SG2). As you rightly note, the main purpose of the 1/2d stamps was for inland printed matter. Here is my issue: My understanding of the Barbados Postal Act of 1851 is that Barbados newspapers distributed within the island were distributed free from 1851 until 1854, when a 1/2d fee was imposed. I cannot find a copy of the 1851 Postal Act anywhere to confirm this point (or the 1854 amendments). Do you have a copy of the Acts or any insights to the period when the 1/2d fee for newspaper delivery came into effect? Thank you for your assistance. Comment sent October 2023.

    1. Hi Stephen, I’m glad you like the SG1, it’s a cracker!

      In terms of the 1851 Postal Act, there is a full transcript available on pages 312-315 in Bayley’s book ‘The History of the Post Offices in Barbados’. The ISBN is 9789768219916 and it was published in 2009. It is one of several books he wrote that are the most invaluable in this type of research.

      In terms of free distribution for papers, it says under clause 15 “The articles enumerated in the following table may be sent free of postage, or at a rate of postage therein set forth – printed newspapers ½d, printed books and magazines, reviews and pamphlets published elsewhere, at a rate for each publication, not exceeding half a pound in weight 1d.” This suggests that they were not free, but at ½d rate from 1851. There is more in the book from the Act about the clauses supporting this, but it seems that they had to be paid from this point onwards.

      Hope this helps?

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