The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

Impressed Duty Stamps

We now move away from the De La Rue printings, and come to a more difficult area of identification for which scant information exists. The only formal listing of Mauritius items under this heading is contained in a book which I have previously mentioned and produced by William A. Barber assisted by Norman Seidleman entitled "The Impressed Duty Stamps of the British Colonial Empire". The latest edition of this book, at the time of writing, is 2009.

How can one define an impressed duty stamp? It is usually in the form of a non-adhesive stamp which has been created on a document by means of an impressed metal die which shows an amount of money paid in duty to the government of the country in which the document is executed. Embossed adhesives were used in Great Britain and, suitably overprinted with the country's name, used in some of the British Colonies. As far as I have been able to ascertain, none were used in Mauritius. Many dies were (and still are to a lesser degree) executed in blind embossing style known as albino, which means that they are affixed directly onto the paper of the document without any colour being used. Sometimes, albino embossing can be difficult to read. Consequently, they were often combined with colour to overcome this problem, thus then losing the albino description.

Embossing is actually created by using male and female moulds under pressure, with paper being inserted between the two moulds: the paper would then adopt the shape of the moulds, and would display a multi-dimensional impression. Although this is usually called embossing, as the image normally stands up from the paper, a system of debossing also exists whereby the image is created below paper level.

Often, such dies are used to collect tax on court orders, and other legal documents, alcohol and tobacco, and financial transactions. They were first introduced in the United Kingdom as early as 1694 following the Stamp Act of that year.

If an item was legally subject to duty or tax in law, and remained unstamped, then it was unenforceable in a court of law. The rate of tax could either be fixed as one penny (or later twopence) on a cheque, or ad valorem in accordance to the value of the transaction itself, such as the sale of an asset where this required legal documentation.

Little detail exists as to when these items were introduced to Mauritius, and the nearest start one can establish is that it was probably shortly after the occupation by the British in 1810. I have seen no evidence of Dutch or French embossings. The illustrations in Barber's book all possess Sterling currency values, and the only way of knowing when the stamp was used is if it has been preserved on the original document - as in Plates 45 and 50.

Plate 89 shows two albino stamps, one with Sterling currency and one with the later decimal values. these are copied from originals, and the latter one does show a date. It is so faint that it is quite difficult to read on the original stamp. On the copy it is probably impossible to see. So many of these items were acquired on original documents, being cut down to acceptable "stamp" size s othat they would fit collectors' albums. Sadly this has effectively destroyed a considerable amount of the detail of the island's commercial and legal history.

The next two Plates 90 and 91 ,are rather interesting, in that they record varieties, respectively, of the Sterling and Rupee currencies. These are copied from the Barber book and, contrary to virtually everything else I have displayed so far, have not been seen by me in their original state. Here, they are shown as drawings of the original impressions, but etched in black so that they can be easily identified by a collector. They are not necessarily the only stamps which were issued: there are, I believe, many more.

Plate 90

Plate 90 (click to enlarge)

Later on, the dies became somewhat more sophisticated, if one reads the letter dated 10 October 1973 on Plate 92 from the Ministry of Finance, Government of Mauritius, which indicates that embossing dies were still in use. These dies included the facility for changing the date and the amount. The letter states that there were nineteen different values which could be shown and lists these from 5 cents to 10,000 Rupees.

I am attempting to obtain data from the Mauritius authorities about subsequent activities, but at the time of writing I have not received any further information.

The final illustrations relating to this section are on Plate 93, and show copies of extracts from a passport, originally dated 4 May 1963. This was before independence was declared on 12 March 1968 and, therefore, the cover shows that it is a British passport accompanied by the usual coat of arms. On the page containing the name of the bearer there is a handstamp at the foot of the page which states" BRITISH SUBJECT CITIZEN OFTHE UNITED KINGDOM AND COLONIES". Half way up is printed "COLONY OF MAURITIUS".

Plate 93

Plate 93 (click to enlarge)

The three circular handstamps are, of course, the most relevant part of the passport from the point of view of this book, which are impressed across the bearer's name page. It will be noted that the flat part of each impression is in red, and the embossed parts are in white, thus making the whole impression much easier to read than those on the earlier plates. Three separate values have been used i.e. one Rupee, one Rupee fifty cents and five Rupees, thus making seven Rupees fifty cents in total. It can be seen that variable dates have been used.