Everything you need to know about the rare 1847 Post Office stamps of Mauritius and their value…..
This humble looking copper plate, which is the original 1847 Mauritius ‘Post Office’ printing plate, sold for 1’300’000’ Euros at auction in 2016. If you want to know why it reached such financial heights, come and take a birds-eye view of the situation.
In the real world, Mauritius is an idyllic island, with sun kissed white sands set around crystal clear seas situated in the Indian Ocean, where a more than rare bird the Dodo once upon a time was known to have inhabited the shores. In the world of philately, Mauritius is a magical land, far far away, who’s energy source is two glittering red and blue stamps, which are the very rare mystical stamps of the 1847 Mauritius ‘Post Office’ issue, that once upon a time were native to this island.
And regardless of which world you inhabit, here is a copper plated essential guide to the legendary Mauritius ‘Post Office’ One Penny Red and Two Penny Blue adhesives, who are members of an elite club known as, ‘The World’s Most Expensive Stamps’ and who walk the philatelic red carpet as one of the world’s most famous.
The reasons for this glamorous lifestyle is quite simply their two fold rarity. The story goes like this. Firstly, Mauritius is, by anyone’s standards, a small remote island, largely a stopping off place for the odd ship on its way to India, and yet it was the first British colony to produce its own postage stamps in 1847. This makes Mauritius the fifth region in the entire world to use their own postage adhesives. If you think that the USA started to produce their own stamps in the same year, you get a perspective on the upstart nature of this otherwise sleepy island. Secondly, the Mauritius ‘Post Office’ issue of 1d red and 2d blue had only 500 copies printed of each value. The subsequent iterations of this stamp replaced the words ‘POST OFFICE’ with ‘POST PAID‘ and hence they are distinguished as such. The latter is still bewitchingly rare, but just not as Dodo rare as the former.
And that’s it. In a nutshell, tiny place gets out of the blocks way ahead of most of the world, and prints just a select number of stamps of this particular design, which then transpires only 26 examples that are confirmed to have survived. That’s why philatelists and postal historians the world over make such a fuss about these tiny red and blue effigies from this insignificant place just off the southeast coast of Africa. But, that doesn’t sufficiently explain why someone paid over a million Euros to put the above illustrated printing plate, which by anyone’s measure is a small piece of copper, into their collection.
As is always the case, there is more to the story which we won’t cover in its full technical glory, because two far better qualified commentators have already done so, such as David R. Beech, MBE, FRPSL, and Helen Morgan, author of “The Blue Mauritius, the Hunt for the World’s most Valuable Stamps”, and who both contributed with informative pieces within the comprehensive auction catalogue and a book* produced by David Feldman SA when this unique printing plate was offered for sale in 2016.
The Bordeaux Cover: Mauritius 1847 “Post Office” issue . The Famous and unique cover bearing both One Penny orange-red and Two Pence deep blue (sold CHF 6.1m in 1993)
To understand why this copper plate is so highly coveted, we must impart the following essential information. The printing plate was engraved by an English chap Joseph Barnard (1816-65), who it’s worth mentioning arrived in Mauritius as a young stowaway and later made himself known to those in Office that he had engraving and printing skills. He was engaged to engrave the plate during August 1847, and printed the said number of 500 copies of each value and delivered them in September of the same year, and if you were wondering why there is only one impression of each value on the copper plate, the answer is the lack of appropriate tools which prevented Barnard from duplicating his Queen Victoria profiles. This begs the question: how did he print a sheet of these stamps in multiples as is normally the case? And here’s the punchline. Barnard engraved just the two impressions and printed each of the 500 stamps individually from that plate. This rather curious fact is what really captivates the unfathomable mind of the stamp collector, and a detail the observant Frenchman Dr Jacques Legrand spotted in 1869, before anyone else, following a scientific study he conducted on this issue, at a time when the considered opinion was that the words ‘POST OFFICE’ were an error of printing, which they weren’t. And Legrand arrived at this conclusion without the benefit of the plate that only came to light in 1912 and thus confirmed his hypothesis.
The final chapter in this romantic tale is that another legendary French philatelist, Maurice Burrus (1882 to 1959), acquired the copper printing plate sometime in the 1930’s from a British collector Captain Sydney Loder (1867-1944) who had acquired the plate in 1912 when it had been passed through the hands of three gentlemen in quick succession in that year, the first of whom was Dominic Henry Colnaghi who it is claimed was gifted, controversially some say, the plate between 1874-1882.
Whilst it is still a puzzle how this copper plate ever got into private hands, it did, and after Burrus died his world renowned Mauritius collection was sold in 1963, but there was no sign of the printing plate – a conundrum which worried the philatelic world who feared it was lost forever. The mystery rumbled on through a seemingly long philatelic winter of half a century, until in 2015 the Burrus family contacted David Feldman auctioneers and solved the enigma by explaining it had remained in the family and it was their intention to sell. In short, what was lost, then found, only to be lost again, was re-discovered.
The rest is history as they say, because from our birdseye view here, the copper printing plate is not dissimilar to the more than rare flightless feathered friend of the same island. It’s been hunted to the point of extinction, but unlike the Dodo it has survived against all the odds. And that’s why it sold for 1’300’000’ Euros at auction in 2016.
*The re-discovery of the Mauritius “Post Office” Issue Printing Plate Published by David Feldman SA and there is an excellent film of the same that can be viewed on YouTube.