The Day the Gibraltar Post Office Ran Out of Stamps

January 22, 2018 by Stanley Gibbons
By Richard J M Garcia MBE, FRPSLFig

For eight and a half days in February 1891, Gibraltar ran out of its 5c. and 10c. stamps. This unprecedented occurrence not only had a drastic effect of Gibraltar but also the British Postal Agencies in Morocco that then used unoverprinted Gibraltar stamps. Richard Garcia explains why Gibraltar ended up in this embarrassing position and the temporary emergency measures put in place by the Post Office until new stocks of low values arrived.

Friday 13 February 1891 was a date that the Postmistress of Gibraltar, Miss Margaret Susan Creswell, never forgot. It was a seriously unlucky day for her. It was when her biggest nightmare materialised: the Gibraltar Post Office ran out of low-value stamps and, to make matters worse, it was at a peak period.

Early signs of trouble

The first indication that there was going to be a problem came on 2 January 1891. Miss Creswell (Fig 1) asked for a supply of 10c. stamps from the Colonial Treasurer, and a couple of days later, she was only given a much smaller number of stamps than she requested. Had she known this was going to happen, she would not have met in full the request for low-value stamps from the British Postal Agencies in Morocco that then used unoverprinted Gibraltar stamps.

Fig 1 Miss Margaret Susan Creswell was the Postmistress of Gibraltar in 1891Fig

The requisition, made on 27 December 1890, which, incidentally, was made on the old sterling currency form, instead of the new form with the values in Spanish currency (Fig 2), asked for 19 pesetas 70 centimos in 5c. stamps and 60 ptas worth of 10c. stamps, all of which were supplied on 3 January 1891, before Miss Creswell realised there was a problem.

Fig 2 The requisition request for stamps from Rabat. Reproduced with the permission of the Gibraltar National Archives (Reduced)

Following Miss Cresswell’s request for the 10c. stamps, the Colonial Treasurer sent a requisition for 5c. and 10c. stamps to the Crown Agents. On receipt, they informed the Treasurer on 16 January that the stamps would be supplied by 20 March 1891. When asked to expedite the printing of the stamps, the Crown Agents stated that the earliest that the first supply from the new requisition would be ready was 23 February.

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