A marginal block of four of 'ONE HALF PENNY' surcharge on die 1 3d. stamps. Image courtesy of Stanley Gibbons
Commonwealth & World Stanley Gibbons Stamp Guides

Saint Lucia: The Provisional overprints of 1891 and 1892

Following the reduction of the postal rate to the UK and British Empire on 1 January 1891, demand for 1d. and ½d. stamps increased dramatically in the colonies. While waiting for new stocks to arrive from the Crown Agents, Saint Lucia found itself dangerously short of these values and so existing stamps were ordered to be overprinted locally to meet the shortfall. Alister Kinnon, a member of the British West Indies Study Circle, talks us through this provisional issue.

For such a small island there is a lot of interest to be had in Saint Lucia for a philatelist. The first stamps had no values shown, were printed by two different companies and in different colours, and later overprinted with face values before being replaced with the standard De La Rue key type, some of which were modified by overprinting, as outlined here.

An emergency issue

Following the reduction of postal rates on 1 January 1891 from 4d. per half ounce to 2½d. per half ounce for letters to the UK and British Empire, the demand for 1d. and ½d. stamps increased dramatically and the post office in Saint Lucia became short of these values. Orders to the Crown Agents for the Colonies for new supplies were made but in the days before aircraft, electronic mail or even Trans-Atlantic telephone cables, the only method of ordering was by letter carried by a steamer. Thus, the Colonial Postmaster … The printer was supplied with sheets of stamps from Post Office stocks and, as a new supply of 3d. stamps had just been delivered to St Lucia (printed by De La Rue using the recently introduced die 2), both die 1 and die 2 3d. stamps were supplied for overprinting; the 4d. and 6d. stamps were all die 1 printings.

The forme

The overprinting was done by typeset by a local printer who had a somewhat limited supply of type. This led to some of the varieties seen by philatelists today. The overprints were made up by the printer arranging individual pieces of small lead type (all, of course, in mirror image) into a holder and then making up the overprint ‘plate’ or ‘forme’. The individual type had to be lightly hammered into place so that the face of each piece of type is flush with its neighbour. As these overprints were done locally, no specimen stamps were made.

For all of the overprints, the application of the ink was done by hand. This inevitably led to variations in the printing, which can look like breaks in individual letters or numbers. The ½d. on 3d. and the 1d. on 4d. stamps are known with misplaced overprints. These arise when the sheet of stamps is put on the press without due care and attention.

‘ONE HALF PENNY’ on 3d. (SG 53 and SG 56)

A total of approximately 4300 stamps were overprinted on die 1 and die 2 stamps of the 3d. value (Fig 1). It is not recorded how many of sheets of each were overprinted and, in any case, the postmaster would not be concerned. From the quantities available now to collectors, it is apparent that die 2 stamps were in the majority.

The overprint was constructed in a block of 30 and applied twice to each sheet of 60 stamps.

A marginal block of four of 'ONE HALF PENNY' surcharge on die 1 3d. stamps. Image courtesy of Stanley Gibbons

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