John Holman returns with more collecting ideas for new and seasoned collectors. This month he looks at what the stamps of Belize, formerly the colony of British Honduras, has to offer.
As a schoolboy collector I was always rather fascinated by the stamps of British Guiana, principally, I suppose, as the world’s rarest stamp was from that country and British Guiana was the only British colony on the South American mainland. Similarly, I was intrigued by British Honduras, the one British colony in Central America. British Guiana and British Honduras are now the independent Commonwealth countries of Guyana and Belize. Guyana has become a prolific issuer of stamps (nearly 7000 stamps and miniature sheets catalogue listed), whereas Belize has maintained a fairly modest and respectable number of new issues (1390 listed).
A brief background Belize is bordered to the north and south by Mexico and Guatemala, with the Caribbean as its eastern seaboard. The country comprises some 8866 square miles, about twice the size of Jamaica, and has a population of just 347,000 (compared to Jamaica’s 2.7 million), made up of Creoles, Spanish Mayan Mestizos, Caribs, East Indians, Spanish, and European and Canadian Mennonites. About 60 per cent of the population are Roman Catholic, English is the official language with Spanish and local Mayan dialects also spoken. The extensive coastal plain is swampy in the north but more fertile in the south.
The Maya Mountains extend almost to the east coast, rising to 1120 metres at Victoria Peak. The country is noted for tropical forests, savannahs and farms growing fruit, rice and sugar products, which feature on some Belize stamps. The inner coastal waters are protected by the world’s second longest barrier reef, a line of palm and mangrove islets known as the Cayes, which have been shown on stamps and have even had their own short-lived ‘Cayes of Belize’ issues (discussed later). The generally subtropical climate is tempered by the trade winds. Hurricanes Hattie and Greta in 1961 and 1978 caused severe damage, Hurricane Hattie Relief stamps were issued in 1962.
The economy, traditionally based on timber and forestry, now also relies on growing sugar, citrus fruits, cocoa, rice, tobacco and bananas, raising beef, fishing for shrimps, lobster and conch, and small industries such as boat building, food processing, textiles, and furniture. Most consumer goods are imported. Belize City, located where the Belize River meets the Caribbean, was replaced as the capital by Belmopan, in the inland Cayo district, in 1970.
The land was colonised in the 17th century by shipwrecked British sailors and disbanded soldiers from Jamaica who engaged in the logwood industry. Spanish attacks on British settlers continued until 1798 when, with naval support, the ‘baymen’ won the Battle of St George’s Cay, marked by stamps in 1949 and 1998. British Honduras became a British colony in 1862, until 1884 when it came under Jamaican administration. A ministerial system of government, introduced in 1961, was followed three years later by self government. Then, in 1973 the country changed its name to Belize. It gained full independence in 1981, although The Queen remains head of state, represented by a Governor-General. A British military presence was maintained until 1994 as Guatemala did not renounce its claim over Belize territory until 1991. Indeed, in 1936 and 1948 Guatemala issued 5c. stamps bearing a map showing Belize as part of its territory and in 1959 it issued a stamp overprinted ‘Belice es nuestro’ (Belize is ours).
Postal history and early stamps
A branch office of the British GPO was established in 1857 and British stamps were supplied for use on overseas mail from 1858. The catalogue lists 1d., 4d., 6d. and 1s. British stamps cancelled with the ‘A 06’ handstamp used at Belize in 1858–60.
Following it becoming a crown colony, stamps inscribed British Honduras and bearing a crowned head of Queen Victoria set within an oval frame were issued in 1865. The head of the Queen is sometimes referred to as ‘Wyon’s “Gothic” Coinage Head’, reminiscent of that used on stamps of New South Wales. Printed typo (letterpress) by De La Rue, the design was used for 1d., 3d., 4d., 6d., and 1s. values, in various colours, shades, watermarks, and perforation gauges, issued until 1887. From 1 January 1888 the British currency was replaced by the British Honduras dollar of 100 cents and the £.s.d. stamps were reissued with appropriate surcharges, applied locally or in London. Some of the surcharged stamps, and surcharge errors and varieties, are of considerable catalogue value. Surcharged stamps remained in use until a new series of Queen Victoria key type designs, in decimal values from 1c. to $5, were issued between July 1891 and December 1899.
To mark the centenary of the first British Honduras stamp, a souvenir sheet bearing reproductions of a block of four of the Queen Victoria 1s. stamp was printed on the Perkins Bacon press owned by the British Museum (now the British Library). The printing took place during the Schoolboys and Girls Exhibition in London, held December 1965–January 1966. The Perkins Bacon press was used again in 2000 to print reproductions of the Penny Black sold at the Stamp Show exhibition where the press was demonstrated. The 1965 British Honduras sheet was a joint production by the Crown Agents and De La Rue and each sheet took three minutes to print. It is not surprising then that no more than 500 copies were produced and it is regarded as one of the most desirable of exhibition souvenirs.
The British Stamp Exhibitions catalogue, published by Glenn Morgan in 1995, gives it a valuation of £65, whereas most exhibition sheets are less than £10.
Key type designs with the portrait of King Edward VII were issued from October 1902 onwards and designs with George V, similar to those of other colonies, were introduced from 1913 onwards, with 1c. and 3c. stamps overprinted ‘WAR’ in 1916–18. A new George V design followed in 1922, five values being surcharged for the Belize Relief Fund in 1932.
To read more and discover the Pictorial definitives and Commemorative issues, pick up your latest issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly.