Postage Stamps

Write me a letter …write it today

Let me hear from thee by letters.
‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ by William Shakespeare


St Helena has been issuing its own postage stamps since 1856, and they are very collectable

Postage Stamps
Commemorative of the Flax Industry

Postage Stamps: one of St Helena’s Industries.

Below: Post Office first; stamps secondFirst St Helena stampsKing Edward VIIKing George VKing George VIQueen Elizabeth IIModern CommemorativesFirst Air-MailHow stamps are issuedStamps with errorsStamp CollectorsDon’t break the law!Read More

Post Office first; stamps second

‘Dolphin Stone’
‘Dolphin Stone’

Although St Helena was frequently, from the earliest days, visited by ships on their way to and from India and the East via the Cape of Good Hope, letters prior to 1815 bear no external indication of having come from or passed through the island. Such letters would not carry any St Helena marking, as there was no post office on the island at that time.

Originally letters were left at the Chapel (while it existed) or under large stones, one of which can still be seen at the entrance of The Castle - the ‘Dolphin Stone’ was inscribed by the crew of The East India Company ship Dolphin{1}, which arrived on 21st March 1645 and departed in May{2}{3}. Others were handed directly to ship’s captains to be carried. Later it was arranged that they could be left at the Government Secretary’s office in The Castle to await the next ship.

The first Post Office on the island was established by proclamation of Governor Mark Wilks on 20th February 1815. The Proclamation provided for a regular Post Office to be set up on the Wharf in Jamestown under Mr. William Brabazon as the first Post Master. Letters would no longer be received for transmission at the Secretary’s office but only at the new Post Office. Thereafter, all letters carried by mail packet had to have an official Post Office mark or stamp, and anyone sending a letter from the island otherwise than through the Post Office was liable to a fine of 5s{4}. The Post Office was opened on 23rd February 1815, located in the office entered by the raised door between the main Castle entrance and the other main entrance (see photograph, below).

The first St Helena stamps

The UK Post Office began issuing pre-paid postage stamps in the UK in 1840 but it was not until 1st January 1856 that the first stamp of St Helena was issued - a 6d blue imperforate stamp portraying Queen Victoria, ordered from Perkins Bacon on 3rd August 1854. 6d - £0.025 - was the rate for a ½oz letter to the UK.

From 1859 to 1880 this stamp was issued in various colours, perforated and overprinted for each value from ½d to 5s. The 1d and 4d were issued in 1859; the 3d and 1s were added in 1864; and the 2s and 5s in 1868.

This design continued to be used until 1887 when it was replaced with the design shown below.

King Edward VII

The Victorian key types were replaced by a short-lived set of two King Edward VII key types in 1902 and in 1903 a new pictorial definitive set of six values was issued: three stamps showed King Edward and the Government House, and three others showed the King and the Wharf. (The entire remaining Victorian stock was sold off to collectors in 1904, realising £817.)

In 1908, a set of four key types was issued. The values were additional values which were not included in the 1903 pictorial definitive: 2½d, 4d, 6d and 10s.

King George V

The 1912-1916 King George V definitives were similar to the 1903 definitive, the only difference being the King’s profile. However this time there were ten values in the set, ranging from ½d to 3s. Between 1912 and 1913 4d and 6d stamps (not included in the pictorial set) were also issued in the form of a key type. The ‘War Tax One Penny’ overprints were issued in 1916 and again in 1919.

The 1922-1937 George V stamps were designed by Thomas R. Bruce - the first islander to design a postage stamp. The design was similar to the 1912-16 pictorials, but instead of the Government House or the Wharf, these stamps showed the badge of St Helena - a three masted sailing ship near two large rocks. These values ranged from ½d to £1, and there were many varieties, such as the broken mainmast, the torn flag, and the cleft rock. 5d and 2s values were added in 1927.

St Helena’s first commemorative set was issued in 1934; a set of 10 values up to 10s commemorating the centenary of British colonisation (1834-1934).

In 1935, the Crown Agents omnibus issue commemorating the Silver Jubilee of King George V was issued. An Air-Mail service from St Helena was introduced in 1936, letters being carried by ship to Cape Town and thereby by air.

King George V himself was an avid philatelist. His collection has been retained and totals around 20,000 pages of stamps.

Early Air-Mail, 1936?
Early Air-Mail, 4th December 1936? No, only by air from Cape Town…

King George VI

The first King George VI set was that of the 1937 Coronation (first, below).

Between 1938 and 1949, a new definitive was issued portraying King George VI and the badge of the Colony. However, the design was totally different from the 1922 badge set.

All the commemorative sets issued in this reign were Crown Agents omnibus issues, being for the Coronation of King George VI (19th May 1937), the Victory issue (21st October 1946), the Royal Silver Wedding issue (20th October 1948) and the for 75th Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (10th October 1949).

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation

The first Queen Elizabeth II issue was for the 1953 Coronation (right), followed by a pictorial definitive issued 1 month later which remained on sale until 11th December 1961. Issues were mainly commemorative or omnibus. Pictorials were issued for the centenary of the first St Helena postage stamp (1956) and the tercentenary of the landing of Governor Dutton (1959).

First local post, 1965

An overprinted definitive (left) was issued to commemorate the island’s first local postage delivery, which commenced on 4th January 1965.

On 12th October 1961, after the volcano eruption on Tristan da Cunha, four Tristan stamps were overprinted ‘St Helena/Tristan Relief’ with a surcharge (below). Note the dual currency - Tristan used South African Rand at the time but the relief surcharge was collected on St Helena in £sd. Only 454 sets were sold, mainly to tourists from a visiting cruise liner. This set was withdrawn on 19th October, and was at one time the most expensive set of St Helena stamps.
Tristan Relief stamps

Other pre-1971 commemoratives:

Modern Commemoratives

St Helena now issues commemorative stamps regularly and still takes part in Crown Agents omnibus issues. St Helena stamps and First Day Covers can be purchased over the counter at the Post Office in Jamestown, or online from the St Helena Post Office Philately Sales website. Our first Christmas stamps were issued in October 1983 for Christmas that year.

The 2020 Christmas Issue was designed by local artist Anna Henry (the First Day Cover is shown below):

St Helena’s birds were shown on the following 2017 stamp issue:

Sets & First Day Covers

Not everybody is always satisfied with the issues:

Dear Editor,
We would like to register a serious complaint. The Christmas issue of stamps featuring Tammy Wynette, ‘The number one woman of Country’ is a disgrace! Given the reduction in stamp sales generally, is this issue going to do anything to improve this situation? What possible relevance has the stamp for St Helena? Surely the stamp committee could have come up with a more relevant image for this important annual issue.
Yours Sincerely
Two enthusiastic stamp collectors{f}

The Post Office announced on 25th January that a stamp issue would commemorate the last voyage of the RMS St Helena, featuring 25p, 40p, 50p & 60p stamps, a Souvenir Sheet and a First Day Cover. The images would be of the RMS departing on 10th February, the issue being available in March. Actually issued on 10th February 2018, but not going on sale in St Helena until 1st August 2018, they are{e}:

Our first Air-Mail

Although our Airport didn’t start commercial flights until October 2017, our first Air-Mail was taken 50 years earlier! In the middle 1960s a Westland Whirlwind helicopter from HMS Protector landed on the Plantation House lawn at around 7:30am, delivering Governor John Field and taking away the island’s first ever Air-Mail (photos, below{g}). Only one-way, but it was a start. Presumably the replies didn’t have to wait for the next Navy vessel with a helicopter to visit; we assume they came by sea in the usual way!

And when did this happen? Well according to the book ‘St Helena 500’, by Robin Gill & Percy Teale, published in 1997 it was on 26th September 1964, but when we published with that date we were contacted by David Lawton who actually served on HMS Protector at the time and recalled the date being somewhat later. Research by David into HMS Protector’s logs confirmed that the ship was nowhere near St Helena on 26th September 1964; he said the actual date would have been 11th April 1966, on the ship’s return from an Antarctic patrol{5}. You can’t argue with military records so, useful as St Helena 500 is, it seems that in this case they got the date wrong.

But it is, at least, the right helicopter! A helicopter expert told us: The aircraft in the photo appears to be Westland Whirlwind, register number XA868, which had the call sign 940 from September 1963, which is visible on the nose of the aircraft in the second photo, although it is blurred. The very same aircraft is pictured very clearly on the Wikipedia page for HMS Protector, but with a later call sign, 449. The two white rectangles below the 940 are not windows or lights, but are white penguin symbols, which I understand get (or got) painted on after serving in the Antarctic. HMS Protector was an Antarctic patrol ship at the time. So given that while the 940 nose number is blurred, the penguin symbols serve as additional confirmation.

All seemed settled until October 2019 when we were sent the contemporary press clipping (below) which gives the date as 26th April. It doesn’t specfy the year but it does say that 26th April was a Sunday. 26th April 1964 was a Sunday. The two dates either side when 26th April was a Sunday were 1959 and 1970. So unless this press clipping is a forgery{6} it seems the actual date was definitely 26th April 1964. It appears that St Helena 500 got the day and year right but not the month (maybe in a handwritten note a 4 was mistaken for a 9). And, incidentally, we don’t dispute that HMS Protector called on 11th April 1966, as David Lawton recalls; just that the first airmail delivery was around two years earlier, on a previous visit.

Let’s see if anyone else comes up with something different!

How stamps are issued

The Government of St Helena published the following information on its website in December 2017:

St Helenian stamps have become popular with tourists and philatelists around the world. The St Helena Post Office aims to release six stamp issues per year, entirely at the discretion of the ‘Stamp Advisory Group’.

Conceiving of a stamp issue starts with the Stamp Advisory Group, chaired by a member of SHG Corporate Finance and consisting of members, Customer Services Manager (Postmistress), Assistant Customer Services Manager (Postmistress’ Assistant), a member of the SHG Press Office, and the SHG Postal Officer. Members decide on a theme, which could include local or international issues relating to St Helena - endemics of St Helena, British Royal engagements, or an anniversary of an internationally renowned historical figure that has an affiliation with St Helena, e.g. Charles Darwin.

When a theme has been decided, it is the job of the postal staff to research and collate information relating to the stamp issue. Images are sourced locally and overseas, ensuring that permission is granted by owners of images before use.

Once all information is collated, it is sent to the UK to be processed. All stamps have to be granted approval by Her Majesty before going to print. Her Majesty has strict reservations regarding British Overseas Territories stamp issues, including ensuring the protection of Her Majesty’s interests overseas, and above all the protection of the dignity of the Crown.

Royal approval granted, the issue goes to print. The stock is sent to St Helena, and is received in due course by the St Helena Post Office in mint condition.

All new St Helena Stamp Issues will be posted here.

Local customers can purchase merchandise from the Customer Services Centre in Jamestown.

Overseas customers can visit the following website to place an order: harryallen2017.wordpress.com

Stamps with errors

1976 Commemorative without Gold
1976 Commemorative without Gold

As anywhere else, St Helena stamps are sometimes issued with errors. We present an example (right) - a 1976 Commemorative printed without Gold, resulting in the loss of the Queen’s head and country name{7}.

We also originally thought the issue below was an error but were informed by a stamp trader{8} that actually the stamps were intentionally issued in both forms, with and without the overprint.

1987 40th Wedding Anniversary, with & without overprint
1987 40th Wedding Anniversary, with & without overprint

Stamp Collectors

As far as we know there are no stamp collectors or groups on St Helena (if you know otherwise please contact us), but you could join the St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society. The Government of St Helena does sell stamps for collectors; please contact them for details.

We regret that Saint Helena Island Info does not have the resources to help with stamp exchanges.



If you’re interested in St Helena stamps you might want to join the St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS).

Founded in 1976, the objectives of the Society include: to promote the study and research of philatelic materials relating to St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha; to promote and develop the collecting of such philatelic material; to disseminate news and knowledge concerning these islands; to foster friendship among such collectors; to foster philatelic aid and friendship with the residents of these islands; and to aid members of the Society to acquire and/or dispose of philatelic or philatelically related items.

Membership in the Society is open to all interested individuals worldwide. To join and receive regular publications about stamps of the region go to www.shatps.org or their Facebook™ page.

Don’t break the law!

In UK law it is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down. (Exactly what punishment would be demanded for this heinous crime is not known.)

Read More

Below: Other sourcesMuseum Philatelic Project 2019Article: St Helena Postal History 1677-1903

Other sources

Museum Philatelic Project 2019

Report given to the St Helena Heritage Society AGM, 30th May 2019.{10}

As part of the 2012-13 Philatelic project which saw the recovery and archiving of the Post Office cellar contents, the St Helena Government stamp collection was surveyed in the Castle vault and it was decided to transfer it to the Museum of St Helena archives for better storage conditions.

The albums were in poor condition, suffering from damp and mould. All the pages were unsuitable for archiving, and many of the stamps are incorrectly mounted. All need to be remounted using standard album pages and new Hawid mounts. These would then be placed in exhibition sleeves and archival boxes. Barry Burns and Bernard Mabbett expressed desire to perform this task on a voluntary basis provided their accommodation and transport were paid for.

Initially the Heritage Society struggled to get the required funding for this project as the materials costs, equipment required and accommodation and travel costs are quite high. However, in early 2018 a proposal was accepted by ESH, they gave us a grant that would cover the cost of travel and accommodation for Barry and Bernard. An application was also made and funding was granted from the Community Development Organisation for a new A3 scanner, printer and printing materials which was essential for the project. The Heritage Society paid for the various stamp mounting materials required for the project like Hawid mounts, album pages and archival boxes.

Barry and Bernard arrived in January 2019 and began work immediately at the Museum of St Helena. Working at times up to seven days a week from 8am until 4pm as the scale of the work was quite large. The work to remount the Government stamp collection took just about one month. Days consisted of removing the stamps from their original mounts, identifying them and then remounting them. The work was done in chronological order.

Moving forwards the plan is to digitise and database the album covers and thus create a world reference collection of St Helena philately. There will also be a showcase in the Museum of St Helena used to exhibit some examples of St Helena philately that can be updated over time to reflect certain occasions.

The finished album pages, then placed into archival boxes and stored in our climate controlled secure storage room

The St Helena Heritage Society would like to thank Barry Burns and Bernard Mabbett for their time, expertise and devotion to the project. We would also like to thank Enterprise St Helena and the Community Development Organisation for the grant funding that made this project possible.

Article: St Helena Postal History 1677-1903

This exhibit is a very comprehensive study of the postal history of St Helena, starting with the earliest known mail from the island. It is also packed with many interesting illustrations.

It’s too long to reproduce here but you can download the exhibit.

{a} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){b} allatsea.co.za{c} Government of St Helena{d} Manfred Rippich (Germany){e} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){f} Letter to the St Helena Herald, 19th October 2001{10}{g} Paul McCartney, Hobart, Australia{11}

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{1} Not, we believe, related to HMS Dolphin which brought Horatio Nelson to St Helena.{2} When Governor Pyke’s wife died in 1716 the Dolphin Stone was built into her tomb, which was in the Lower Graveyard (now the Duke of Edinburgh Playground in Market Street). It was recovered in 1936 by Geoffrey Kitching, then Government Secretary, and placed where it now stands outside The Castle.{3} Geoffrey Kitching also offers an alternative explanation for the Dolphin Stone, which is amusing and cannot be discounted as a possibility. In an article for ‘The American Archivist#’ in April 1947 he writes: There is, perhaps, a less romantic explanation. Ever since the days of the Romans, all those who have borne arms in the service of the State or the Conqueror, often in dull and lonely places, have whiled away the unrelieved tedium of their duty by scratching their names and military devices on walls and rocks. Such records can be seen in any part of the world where soldiers or sailors have ever served. The practice is as old as mankind. The Dolphin Stone weighed a ton and a half; it is hard to believe that seamen would choose such a rock for putting on top of a letter. It seems much more likely that when they cut this rock that they did so because they wanted something to do to pass away the hours of their enforced idleness on shore.{4} To understand pre-Decimal Currency see Decimal Day.{5} The log reports: October 1965, sailed Portsmouth. 25th, refuelled at Gibraltar, then again 29th at St. Vincent Cape Verde. November 8th, arrived Santos in Brazil, sailed on the 13th. 15th, arrived at Rio Grande Do Sol sailed to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. Sailed on first patrol on the 27th. December 19th, returned to Port Stanley. 1st January 1966, sailed on second patrol. Returned to Stanley 20th. Left Stanley again on the 28th. February 1st, arrived at Montevideo, Uruguay. Sailed from Montevideo on the 8th, arriving Port Stanley on the 12th. Sailed from Stanley on the 14th for our third patrol down the ice. March 5th, arrived at Punta Arenas in Chile. 7th, departed Punta Arenas back to Stanley on the 9th. Sailed on the 14th to Tristan Da Cunha. Arrived Simons Town South Africa on the 27th March. 5th April, sailed from Simons Town for St Helena. Arrived on the 11th. Then on to Ascension Island for the 14th. 15th, left Ascension for Freetown, Sierra Leone for the 19th to refuel. 25th arrived at Agadir, Morocco and on the 28th we left there for home. May 3rd, arrived in Portsmouth.{6} Unlikely, but you never know!{7} If you have other examples please contact us.{8} www.stamparound.com.{9} Published in the UK Railway Philatelic Group Journal, March 2016.{10} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{11} Paul’s father was the island’s doctor in the 1960s and Paul accompanied him here. Paul visited St Helena in June 2018 and kindly gave us permission to use these family photographs.

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