The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

Stamps Printed by Thomas de la Rue Ltd in Great Britain from 1869 Onwards

Insurance Stamps

One could be forgiven for thinking that insurance tax might be a fairly recent innovation, as it certainly is in Great Britain, where it was introduced as yet another "Stealth" tax around the beginning of the 21st Century. Mauritius made use of insurance stamps for tax purposes as far back as about 1860. As far as I am able to trace from a fairly rapid examination of the Barefoot catalogue, only the following Commonwealth/Empire nations were involved in stamp issues of a similar nature:-

As with Cape of Good Hope, all Mauritian insurance stamps were overprints on stamps used for other purposes. Insofar as Mauritius was concerned, they were overprints originally on postage stamps and, subsequently, internal revenue issues.

The tax charged was mandatory on all life policies and represented ad valorem duty of one shilling per £100 (and 50 cents per 1,000 rupees after the currency change).

Insurance on ships and cargo and land on fire risks on land-based assets were subjected to duty of three pence per £100 (latterly 13 cents per 1,000 rupees). Evidence exists that this was increased to 15 cents at some time during the twentieth century.

"Insurance" is a general term used to describe any contract concerned with any of the above indemnities. Strictly speaking it is incorrect to do so, as there is an essential difference between "insurance" and "assurance". The term "Insurance" refers to providing cover for an event that might happen, while "assurance" is the provision of cover for an event that is certain to happen.

Thus, fire insurance might happen, but life assurance has to happen, because death is inevitable at some point in time. So the former can be interpreted as a protection, whereas the latter can be seen as a form of savings to assist the bereaved. There are some exceptions to the assurance rules - such as endowment policies, but these complications need not bother us. Most, if not all, of the stamps subsequently illustrated and described in this book probably relate to insurance rather than assurance.

Pre-stamp insurance existed but, as far as one can trace, it was not charged to duty. However, the tragic consequences of the Great Fire of Port Louis on 25th September 1816 ( illustrations from a French newspaper on Plates 66 and 67) show how devastating great disasters can be, and would make commercial and private property owners more aware of the need for insurance.

Plate 67

Plate 67 (click to enlarge)

It is therefore somewhat of an anomaly that countries should choose to tax prudence particularly when, in the event of uninsured tragedy, the appropriate government is expected to pick up the tab!

Along with the Bills of Exchange and Internal Revenue stamps, the first Insurance items were issued in 1869. No specifically designed stamps for this category were ever printed. They were all overprints of various kinds.The first ones to appear were postage stamps which were overprinted with a locally-produced handstamp which merely stated "INCE". The stamps used were some of the Victorian issues of 1860 and 1863/72, according to Gibbons, but Barefoot describes all as 1860/65. Also, the colour variations differ between the two catalogues as follows:-

Barefoot Cat. No value and colour Gibbons Cat. No value and colour
#1 3d red #63 3d deep red
#1 3d red or #63a dull red
#2 6d green #65 6d dull green
#3 9d purple #51 9d dull purple
#4 1s yellow #68 1s yellow
#4a 1s yellow (o/print 
#68 1s yellow
#5 5s purple #71 5s rosy- mauve
or71 5s bright mauve

With the exception of #51, Gibbons lists all values also with inverted watermarks. In the case of #65, it also lists it with watermark reversed and watermark inverted and reversed. None of these appear in Barefoot, who state "We do not normally list accidental watermark inverted and reversed varieties; they are only listed in a few cases where there has been a planned and consistent change by the printers".

It is therefore possible that watermark varieties may exist on the above issues and, indeed, on all the other Revenue stamp issues Barefoot lists on Mauritius.

The remaining stamps in the Insurance section are all various overprints on original Internal Revenue issues.

Plate 68 shows one example of the handstamp overprint on a postage stamp. The rest of the Plate displays the lower values in Sterling on the 1869/72 Internal Revenue stamps: this is followed on Plate 69 with the higher values, together with additional denominations created in 1874. All are handstamped.

The change in currency in 1878, necessitated an overall review of all Mauritian stamps, and the Insurance issues were no exception. The authorities decided to replace handstamps with overprints, but still used the old Sterling Internal Revenue issues. These are shown on Plates 70 and 71. Still using the "INCE" abbreviation on the overprint, there are variations in the size of the "IN". On some stamps this is 9mm tall, and on others it measures 6mm. In some cases both lengths have been used - not on the same stamp I hasten to add. Where the lower length is used then two lines below the new value which obliterate the old Sterling value are thinner.

Further down this section, as with other Revenue stamps, I have again listed the complete Barefoot catalogue numbers of the Insurance stamps, which will indicate the varieties, including one where three obliteration lines have been used.

In 1879, there was a reversion to the old handstamp type, merely for one stamp. This was for a 50 cents (no overprint value necessary - just "INCE") yellow and black Internal Revenue stamp. I have not seen this in colour, and it is therefore not shown on a Plate.

We now proceed to overprints of a more sophisticated style, and I start with part of Requisition 4413, via the Crown Agents for the Colonies to De La Rue and from their archives, related entirely to the Insurance stamp needs. This is displayed on Plates 72, 73 and 74. It is interesting to see that the Requisition does not specify that the value overprints should be replaced by values in the value tablets, although this was carried out. However, it does say on Plate 74 "with the word INSURANCE engraved in full on each label".

Plate 72

Plate 72 (click to enlarge)

There are some variations in the colour of the finally-produced material and the Requisition, as can be seen from Plates 75 and 76 which display all values except the 50 cents blue and blue, and is comparatively rare according to Barefoot valuations. At the foot of the last Plate there are a couple of pieces cut from policy documents. Although there is no indication from the fragments of printing shown on the perimeters surrounding the stamps, at the rate of 13 cents per 1,000 rupees, they come from insurance policies giving cover of 25,000 and 9,000 rupees, probably against fire.

One of the finest Mauritian documents I have ever seen is a whole insurance policy from The Colonial Fire Insurance Company. In size, the document covers about four A4 pages. To condense it in size to one sheet would make it virtually unreadable and, therefore, I have reproduced it on four separate exhibits. Plates 77, 78, 79, and 80. The printing is in two colours and the manuscript is impeccable. On Plate 77, one can see the two 1879 Insurance stamps with denominations of five rupees 20 cents and fifty two cents: cover is for assets of 44,000 rupees. The only part of the document which is covered is the short typed description on the first Plate. If desired, it should be possible for the reader to copy all four plates and put them together to read or display most of the whole document.

The next sheet, Plate 81, is a set of colour trials from De La Rue. All the value tablets are printed with "thirteen cents", but in different colours. The intended values are written in manuscript on the left hand side of each stamp. None of these were eventually adopted.

Insurance overprints were produced as late as 1904. This time the authorities used the large type purple "arms" issues of 1900-5, which were the first Mauritian issues to be printed integrally with "postage and revenue". The value tablets were initially blank, and the stamps were then overprinted in black with the words "INSURANCE ONLY" together with the appropriate values. Overprints vary, and are described in detail on Plate 82.

Plate 82

Plate 82 (click to enlarge)

After the above issue, such policies were taxed by affixing postage and revenue stamps to the document and, therefore, "pure" insurance stamps ceased to be used.

Schedule of Insurance Stamps Issued
Barefoot Cat. No Stamp Values and Colour Date and Quantity
  of Sheets Issued
  1869 Postage Stamps of 1860/65 handstamped INCE No data available
 until the 1878 issues.
1 3d red  
2 6d green  
3 9d purple  
4 1s yellow  
4a overprint inverted  
5 5s  
  1869/72 Internal Revenue
Stamps handstamped INCE
6 3d blue and blue  
6a overprint diagonal  
7 6d blue and blue  
7a overprint inverted  
8 1s brown and purple  
9 2s brown and purple  
9a overprint inverted  
10 3s brown and purple  
11 4s brown and purple  
12 5s brown and purple  
13 10s brown and purple  
13a overprint inverted  
14 £1 mauve and brown  
14a overprint inverted  
14b overprint double  
  1874 As above except Watermark
Crown CA instead of Crown CC
15 6d blue and blue  
16 1s brown and purple  
17 2s brown and purple  
  1878 internal Revenue Stamps of
1869 overprinted with new
currency and INCE
18 13c on 3d blue and blue 06.11.78 : 255
19 1R56c on 3s brown and purple 06.11.78 : 102
20 2R8c on 4s brown and purple 06.11.78 : 76
21 2R60c on 5s brown and purple 06.11.78 : 81
22 10R40c on £1 mauve and brown 06.11.78 : 32
23 26c on 6d blue and blue 06.11.78 : 250
23a three bars in overprint N/A
24 39c on 1s brown and purple 06.11.78 : 201
25 52c on 2s brown and purple 06.11.78 : 259
26 5R20c on 1s brown and purple
Note: The value shown by Barefoot against #26
is 5R50c. I have not seen this value, but believe it
should be 5R20c, as shown by Ibbotson.
06.11.78 : 41
  1879. Internal Revenue Stamps
of 1879 handstamped INCE
27 50c yellow and black Not known  
  1879. Similar Stamps but
overprinted INCE
28 13c orange and black 03.10.84 : 104
10.10 89 : 62
21.03.93 : 86
25.06.94 : 104
14.07.97 : 100
18.09.01 : 100
29 26c blue and black 03.10.84 : 97
10.10.89 : 62
24.07.88 : 80
15.12.92 : 84
25.06.94 : 104
08.05.96 : 50
14.07.97 : 150
30.04.00 : 32
18.09.01 : 100
30 39c purple and black 03.10.84 : 100
24.07.88 : 80
10.10.89 : 61
21.03.93 : 85
25.06.94 : 104
14.07.97 : 102
31 50c blue and blue Not known
32  52c red and black 03.10.84 : 102
24.07.88 : 80
15.12.92 : 84
10.10.89 : 64
25.06.94 : 202
14.07.97 : 500
06.08.01 : 80
18.09.01 : 100
33 1R56c green and black 10.05.86 : 100
30.04 00 : 22
06.08.01 : 20
34 2R8c blue and black 10.05.86 : 51
10.10.89 : 65
35 2R60c yellow and black 10.05.86 : 50
10.10.89 : 61
28.06.99 : 20
30.04.00 : 22
36 5R20c orange and black 10.10.89 : 61
37 10R40c mauve and black 10.10.89 : 61
Note:- I have not seen copies of either #27or#31, although Ibbotson has seen #31.These stamps were probably overprinted by De La Rue as the overprint letters are 4mm high, but 5mm on the De La Rue issues. They were probably prepared locally, although the reason is not known, and no issue numbers are known.
  1904. Postage types surcharged in
black. Numbers 2.5mm high with serifs.
38 13c purple No data available
39 26c purple  
40  39c purple  
41 52c purple  
42 1R56c purple  
43 2R08c purple  
44 2R60c purple  
45 5R20c purple  
  1904. Similar with numbers 3mm high
bold without serifs.
46 13c purple No data available
47 26c purple
48 39c purple  
49 52c purple  
  1904. Similar  
50 13c No data available
51 26c  
52 39c  
53 52c  
54 1R56c  
55 2R08c  
56 2R60c  
57 5R20c  

Handstamped cancels are to be seen on all the above issues. These are more difficult to identify than those on other revenue stamps mainly because of the intrusion of the overprints on values etc., which apply to all of them. The latter issues, which are all in purple with black overprints, are even more difficult to decipher.

The following list is the best I can achieve:-

One could be forgiven for wondering how the stamps of Adam & Co and Blyth Bros could appear on insurance stamps as they were not insurance companies. In researching the history of the two firms it is evident that they were the major traders and shipping agents on the island. Blyth Bros realised that considerable profits be gained, with little effort, by becoming insurance agents, and they negotiated agencies in 1836 with the Equitable Insurance Company for insurance against goods, and with the Phoenix Insurance Company against fire. These brought in substantial commissions and enabled the company to issue policies cancelled with the Blyth Bros cancel on the stamps.

Adam and Co recognised the advantages of such business and negotiated similar deals. For the collectors of Mauritian postal history, it is interesting to note that Blyth Bros became agents for the Messageries Maritimes which started in 1864 through to 1980.