Caribbean stamps

Currently on work experience at the Postal Museum from my first year at Exeter University studying History. I've been lucky enough to have been given the great opportunity to write this article! It focuses on four islands in the Caribbean and their particular individualities within the British Empire.

The British Empire and Commonwealth spanned a vast area over the 20th century being at its largest in 1922, unfortunately I don’t have the space or time to delve into the stamps of every area or the Commonwealth nor would most have the patience or interest to read it all. Instead I bring you a relatively short piece about four of the Caribbean islands under British control with two still being British Overseas Territories. It follows the journey from the inception of their stamps until independence and looks at the individuality of each despite the power of the colonial government. The Caribbean islands were also relatively different as a whole, being too small to have their stamps printed on the islands themselves, instead stamps were printed in Great Britain and shipped to them. I hope that this article can inspire people to not only see stamps as a valuable historical source and item of interest but also to look beyond the catalogues and delve into the history of the countries themselves.


Barbados begins its colonial stamp journey with early depictions of Britannia appearing in 1852, this design had also been in use in Trinidad and Tobago from a year earlier and appeared a few years later on the stamps of Mauritius in 1858.

4d brownish red, 1855, Britannia

This design was used up until 1882 when they began to feature the head of Victoria very much like many other colonies and British stamps themselves. Unlike the other colonies however, Barbados was able to decide on its own stamp designs while many other places used the standard key plates extensively. Arriving in 1892 the new design featured Queen Victoria clutching a trident in a carriage drawn by seahorses, this design is based upon the great seal of the colony created by Charles II originally featuring him riding in the carriage.

5d grey-olive, 1892, Seal of Colony

This badge was used to symbolise the colony up until its independence in 1966. This design featured on their stamps consistently until 1947. In the 1916 – 1919 series you will see an added addition, apart from King George V now featured riding the carriage a motto has appeared ‘et penitus toto regnantes orbe Britannos’, ‘and the British rule throughout the world’. This motto was taken from Virgil’s first Eclogue. The line has been altered to fit with the imperial narrative of the British at the time when the original uses the word ‘divisos’ instead of ‘regnantes’, making the original line ‘and Britain far removed from the rest of the world’. It was used by an Italian herdsman who was afraid of being banished to Britain for fear of being isolated from the rest of the world.

3s deep violet, 1916, King George V riding a carriage drawn by seahorses

For those of you with an interest in British stamps or perhaps the Morocco Agencies this seahorse design will look familiar, as it later featured in the definitive high value ‘seahorses’ issue of King George V of Great Britain, although this time with Britannia riding in the chariot.

5s Seahorses registration sheet

5s Seahorses registration sheet

Barbados was unusual in its celebration of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. Barbados along with British Guiana, Canada, the Leeward Islands, Mauritius and Newfoundland were the only places to celebrate with a stamp dedicated to the occasion, not even Britain had a special commemorative stamp although De La Rue did propose some designs. This is quite surprising when you consider the attention given to later monarchs especially with the silver jubilee omnibus issues produced for King George V and the various celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II.

10d blue-green and carmine, 1897, Diamond Jubilee

Another curious feature of the stamps of Barbados is the early commemorative that it features. Issued in 1906 it features the ship Olive Blossom landing in Barbados ready to claim it for King James I. It celebrates the tercentenary of the annexation of Barbados. It was however released a year late as the stamp features the dates 1605, 1905. The design comes from Gertrude Carter the wife of Gilbert Carter governor of Barbados who had won a design competition and so had her design put on the stamp.  This commemorative was issued 18 years before the first British commemorative which was designed for the 1924 – 1925 British Empire Exhibition. Prior to this a commemorative was proposed however King George V had rejected the idea based on his feeling that commemoratives were too American.

1d black, blue and green, 1906, Tercentenary of Annexation

Barbados was also the only colony to commemorate the Nelson centenary through its stamps. In 1906 a set of seven stamps were issued, depicting the statue of Nelson built in Barbados, the first of its kind. The island of Barbados has a connection with Nelson as the island was almost captured by the French, but the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar meant that the French threat to the island was put to an end and thus Barbados was safe once again thanks to Admiral Nelson.

1d black and red, 1906, Nelson Centenary

After independence from Britain in 1966, Barbados became part of the Commonwealth, with this came a new flag and the disposal of the original seal along with the changing of the motto from ‘and the British rule throughout the world’ to ‘Pride and Industry’. The trident that has been depicted on many Barbados stamps throughout its history came to be a symbol of British imperial rule, but instead of scrapping it, they claimed it as their own and on independence celebration stamps the head of a trident appears as well as featuring on their new flag as a symbol of Barbados’ new-found independence and national pride.

15c, 1971, Fifth Anniversary of Independence, Flag and Map


Jamaica’s first stamps were that of Great Britain beginning in May 1858 but were only used for overseas post until February 1859 unlike Barbados where they began using their own stamps immediately. This use of British stamps lasted until November 1860. The first Jamaican stamps issued were much like those which had been and continued to be issued in Britain.

6d dull lilac, 1860, Queen Victoria, interesting pineapple watermark

Significant changes appeared in each and the standard key plates that were widely in use for many countries did not affect Jamaica. Although very much unlike Britain King Edward VII only featured on a stamp once in 1911 after his death.

2d grey, 1911, King Edward VII

When discussing these first issues a certain mystery arises, that of the pineapple watermark. It was only in use for the first issues and was subsequently replaced by a crown CC. No one seems to know where this watermark came from. Both the crown agents and the printers De La Rue claim to not have come up with the idea and so a mysterious individual or group of individuals added it in themselves, but no one knows who! Jamaica was almost one of the first colonies to produce a commemorative stamp, featuring Llandovery Falls and intended to celebrate the adoption of the postal system. Unfortunately, it was delayed so long that it could no longer commemorate the event and was classed a definitive, but a lovely pictorial one instead.

1d slate-black and red, 1900 – 1901, Llandovery Falls

From 1903 – 1911 the new issues used the Jamaican coat of arms. Like the arms of Barbados they represented the British imperial rule. The crocodile is a native reptile who is placed above the shield containing St George’s cross showing the English influence, the pineapples represent the local economy and on either side stand the native inhabitants of the island, Arawak Indians or possibly Tainos, another indigenous group. The motto ‘Indus uterque serviet uni’, ‘Both Indians will serve as one’ is possibly based on the work performed by the native inhabitants in helping the establishment of the colony. Perhaps surprisingly the arms have changed very little since Jamaica’s independence in 1962. An added feature is the royal helm, the motto has also changed, ‘Out of many, one people’, this is the same motto as the United States.

½d grey and dull green, 1903 – 1904, Arms of Jamaica

$1 multicoloured, 1964, Arms of Jamaica

Between 1919 and 1921 Jamaica were lucky enough to get a pictorial series of scenes from Jamaica. Not surprisingly they included imperial landmarks and imagery. The 1891 Jamaica Exhibition features; this was a great success, five hotels were built to accommodate the guests and between 27 January and 2 May, 302,831 people visited, despite this success it did end up losing money.

½d green and olive-grey, 1919 – 1921, Jamaica Exhibition 1891

Jamaica had a similar issue with the French as Barbados and a statue was built to celebrate the end of the French threat thanks to the help of Admiral Rodney who won the Battle of Saintes in April 1782 and so his statue appears on the 2s stamp.

2s light blue and brown, 1919 – 1921, Admiral Rodney Memorial

The King’s House is present on the 2d, the official residence of the Governor of Jamaica. In this same imperial display, the landing of Columbus on the 6d and disturbingly on the 10s stamp appears the strange title of George V of Jamaica Supreme Lord.


3d myrtle-green and blue, 1919 – 1921, Jamaica discovered by Columbus in 1494

10s myrtle-green, 1919 – 1921, King George V of Jamaica Supreme Lord

2d indigo and green, 1919 – 1921, King’s House, Spanish Town, residence of the governor

Native inhabitants of the island although not brought up a lot feature more in early Jamaican stamps, first with the 1905 – 1911 issues featuring the coat of arms but also later in this 1921 set. The 1d stamp shows an Arawak woman preparing cassava, this is very unusual, as the natives usually are only implied as being in the stamp and not explicitly such as the ½c in 1970 from the British Virgin Islands featuring a Carib canoe where it can only be implied that the natives are sailing. Other stamps such as this appear from other Caribbean islands but much later than 1921 making this an interesting and unique example.

1d carmine and orange, 1919 – 1921, Arawak woman preparing cassava

The war contingent embarking, 1915 1½d and the 2½d return of the war contingent, 1919 is a nice tribute to the Caribbean troops help with the imperial war effort in WWI and perhaps a contradictory to the other stamps in celebrating the Caribbean people rather than showing dominance over them.

2½d deep blue and blue, 1919 – 1921, return of a contingent, 1919

1½d green, 1919 – 1921, contingent embarking

Another interesting tale comes from the infamous 1921 6d abolition of slavery issue. Prepared for issue in 1921, it depicted a scene in the main square of Spanish Town on 1 August 1838 when Governor Lionel Smith read out the declaration of the abolition of slavery. The Governor of Jamaica at the time Sir Leslie Probyn decided that it was not appropriate to issue due to the controversial subject matter and political unrest. There are only eight in existence and various specimen examples. This issue was replaced by a view of Port Royal in 1853 before it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1907.

6d red and dull blue-green, 1921, Abolition of Slavery, not issued due to political reasons

6d black and blue, 1921 – 1929, Port Royal in 1850, replaced the 6d abolition of slavery

In relation to this 1907 earthquake the Kingston Relief Fund was created to help those who suffered, you can find examples of the Barbados 1906 1d tercentenary of annexation overprinted with the Kingston Relief Fund 1d, 1d went to postal revenue and the other 1d to the relief fund.

2d slate-black and orange, 1907, Kingston Relief Fund, sold for 2d with 1d going to the sufferers of the 1907 Kingston earthquake in Jamaica.

Jamaica’s stamps were always quite centred on their own national identity, with the early pictorial of Llandovery Falls and scenes of Jamaica set of 1919 – 21, this continued throughout British rule with more scenes of Jamaica from 1929 – 1956 unlike other Caribbean islands. This theme continued after independence in 1962 with further emphasis on national identity such as celebrations of the 75th year of the Jamaican Agricultural Society or the Jamaican pavilion at the World Fair of 1967 in Montreal.

1s multicoloured, 1967, World Fair, Montreal, Jamaican Pavilion

10c multicoloured, 1970, 75th Anniversary of Jamaican Agricultural Society, featuring Bananas, Citrus, Sugar Cane and Tobacco

Turks and Caicos Islands

The Turks and Caicos Islands began issuing stamps beginning in 1867, using a slightly different portrait of Queen Victoria that was also used in Antigua. Interestingly the title it uses for the colony is Turks Islands with no reference to the Caicos even though they are the larger islands. This was not changed until 1900 when it started to be referred to as the Turks and Caicos Islands.

1d dull rose, 1867, Queen Victoria, variant portrait also used in Antigua

The new 1900 issues featured the badge of the colony. Also of note are the dates featured, 1848 and 1900, this is in reference to the political separation of the Turks and Caicos from the Bahamas. In 1848 the people of the Turks and Caicos petitioned to be a separate colony, this request was accepted, and the islands were put under the supervision of Jamaica.

2s purple, 1900, Badge of the Islands, with reference to political separation from the Bahamas

The badge of the colony has the image of a man raking salt into piles and a ship waiting to take the goods to be sold. Salt was of particular importance to the Turks and Caicos Islands as it provided the main source of profit for the Islands from 1678 to 1964. In 1848 on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas, salt pans were created and by the 1930s there was a lot of competition between Great Inagua and Salt Cay the island where much of the salt from the Turks and Caicos was produced. It wasn’t until the 1960s however, that Great Inagua introduced mechanisation and managed to outcompete Salt Cay putting an end to the long-running and successful salt trade of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The badge of the colony has an interesting mishap associated with it. Between the 1880s and 1966 the badge has often been drawn with a small door on the right salt pile, it is thought that when the flag design was commissioned someone mistook the salt piles for igloos and so drew a door on one. This mistake has appeared various times on the flags of the Turks and Caicos but not on any stamps.

2d grey, 1938 – 1945, Raking Salt

The original badge of the colony was changed in 1965 to represent the new industries and changes that the Turks and Caicos Islands have faced. It features a lobster, conch shell and Turks head cactus all native inhabitants of the islands, while the sisal plants represent the connection to the rope industry. In 1909 the new issues featured King Edward VII but two stamps replaced King Edward VII with a Turks head cactus, a symbol of the colony’s individuality among the many standard plate issues of the others.

¼d rosy mauve, 1909, Turks Head Cactus

These cacti also feature on key plates for other stamps in the colony with King George V beside two cacti, this lasted from 1909 to 1928. The wonderful illustration of the Turks Head Cactus came from the director of Kew Gardens.

4d red/yellow, 1913, King George V, featuring mini cacti

Before the emergence of the standard omnibus issues and more typical issues a centenary of the separation from the Bahamas set of seven stamps were issued in 1948. It featured the ½d and 2d with a design similar to that of the 1900 set; a 3d flag, ship and portrait of King George VI; a 6d map of the islands and on the 5s and 2s stamps a portrait of King George VI beside Queen Victoria, again featuring the Turks head cactus.

½d blur-green, 1948, Centenary of Separation from Bahamas, Badge of Islands

6d violet, 1948, Centenary of Separation from Bahamas, Map of the islands

2s black and bright blue, 1948, Centenary of Separation from Bahamas, Queen Victoria and King George VI

3d blue, 1948, Centenary of Separation from Bahamas, Flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands with ship in background

Unlike Barbados and Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos Islands never became independent and to this day remain a British overseas territory. It has however gone through a few changes in governance. After the separation from the Bahamas in 1848 it was placed under the governance of Jamaica with its own administrator. In 1962 Jamaica became independent so the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony and from 1965 the governor of the Bahamas became governor of the Turks and Caicos as well. It wasn’t until 1973 with the independence of the Bahamas that the Turks and Caicos Islands finally received their own governor.

British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands like Jamaica used British stamps from 1858 until May 1860 with the distinguishing cancellation A13. They began to issue their own stamps in 1866. These stamps featured the badge of the colony. Saint Ursula was used to represent the islands as this is what the islands were named in honour of, Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. Saint Ursula features in the centre of the badge and is surrounded by lamps which represent 1,000 virgins each.

½d yellow-green, 1899, St Ursula

1d green, 1866, St Ursula

A change occurred in 1871 when the Virgin Islands and five other Antilles islands created a new crown colony named the Leeward Islands, this began issuing stamps in 1890. The idea was that these new Leeward Island issues would replace local issues, as a result the Virgin Islands stopped printing their own. This plan unfortunately failed to work out as the Leeward Island issues were used in conjunction with the Virgin Island ones. The Virgin Islands ended up getting their own issues printed again in 1899. Leeward and Virgin Island stamps were used in conjunction from 1903 until 1956.

1s black and rose-carmine, 1867 – 1870, St Ursula

The only other major change for Virgin Island stamps has been in 1968 when a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memorandum led to the adoption of ‘British’ in order to differentiate between the US Virgin Islands and the British ones. The use of ‘British’ on a Virgin Islands stamp first featured in 1951 on the set of stamps celebrating the restoration of the legislative council before disappearing and making a permanent comeback from 1968. There has only been two occasions since then in which ‘British’ did not feature this was on the two stamps issued for the Martin Luther King commemoration in 1968 and the set of four issues to celebrate friendship day with the US Virgin Islands in 1976.


These four Caribbean islands are more individual than the rest and were lucky enough to be able to express their individual identities within the confines of the often restrictive imperial templates used for stamps in order to ensure dominance. Perhaps more unexpectedly, those with more expressions of individuality did not necessarily mean independence, the Turks and Caicos Islands were some of the more individual and yet they remain British to this day while Barbados with its loyal celebrations of Queen Victoria and love of depictions of Britannia became independent in 1966. I hope I have intrigued you with some of the interesting tales of these stamps and that next time you see a stamp you will be provoked into searching a little deeper to find out about its origins, what it’s trying to represent and the story that comes along with it.


Article written by Rose Turnbull

11 April 2019