The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

A Brief Introduction to the Island of Mauritius

I will not bore you with  many facts about the island - there will  be more than enough of these later on to satisfy the statisticians amongst the readers - but just a brief sketch. For those who want more data on history, geography, commerce etc, this is available in other philatelic books and there is plenty on the internet for anyone who wants to probe further.

Mauritius is an island located about 200 miles east of the island of Réunion, which itself rests in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Plate 1 and Plate 2 show its economic activity and land use, together with a map of the boundaries, roads and towns. It is surrounded by a small number of islands, the most important of which is Rodrigues, which lies about 500 or so miles to the north east, and has some limited additional philatelic interest with its own local postal cancels on Mauritian stamps , and comes under Mauritian administration.

Plate 2

Plate 2 (click to enlarge)

Mauritius is volcanic in origin, and is quite mountainous although no mountains reach a great height. The coast is largely surrounded by coral reefs. It is small, covering in total  about 720 square miles, roughly the size of Surrey in England.

The capital is Port Louis, with its superb harbour, and the total population of the island is about 1.2million. Because of the terrain, it is deemed to be over-populated. The inhabitants are largely of Indian extraction followed by Africans, Chinese, English and French. The official language is English, although French follows closely behind; many of the publications cover both languages. Examining the names of the towns and villages, one could be forgiven for thinking that it is a French colony. Indeed it was up to 1810, when the British invaded and took over. Prior to the French, it was occupied by the Portuguese and then the Dutch.

As far as commerce is concerned, Mauritius was well known as a sugar producing island. Growing sugar cane was the principal agricultural crop, and processing factories existed in many places, coupled with an extensive rail system throughout the lowland areas, largely used to carry the product to the harbours at Port Louis and Mahebourg for export round the world. Gradually, sugar growing became less commercially attractive, although many areas still exist, due to a combination of reduction in demand and the increase in world agricultural competition.  Many of the factories have fallen into disuse, although some have been converted to museums and other tourist attractions. Despite this, sugar remains by far the predominant agricultural crop, although it now only accounts for about two percent of the gross domestic product.

Commercially, however, Mauritius has not stood still or declined. The tourist trade has boosted local income substantially with the advent of many high-class hotels all confined to two-storey construction, and cheaper air travel. The latter has been achieved without resort to charter flights: I believe that these still do not exist to the island. A very high standard of  tourism has therefore been established. Alongside this, there is a rapidly developing textile industry, which exports competitively priced clothes to many parts of the world. Financially, the island has a thriving banking, insurance and allied services complex, and offers tax haven facilities.

The country is now a republic with one legislative house. The Chief of State is the President and the Head of Government is the Prime Minister. Mauritius is still a member of the Commonwealth and was originally part of the British Empire until it gained self-government in 1967.

Philatelic Prominence

Mauritius was the first Crown Colony to issue postage stamps. As many readers will be aware, the most famous stamps to come from the island were the locally-engraved 1d and 2d ‘Post Office’ imperforates of 1847. Only 500 of each denomination were issued of which, according to the British Library, only 27 now exist. Prices of around £1 million per stamp are now common on the very rare occasions they come to the market. Most are now held in permanent museums in various parts of the world

Much has been written about the ‘Post Office’ issues, from the history of their production, their use and their provenance from owner to owner via auction to auction. This has resulted in the stamps acquiring a romantic historical quality unsurpassed by any other issue in the world. Their reputation has rubbed off on the subsequent attractiveness of the country as a collecting medium of stamps of the island produced after these first gems.

Being a small country, Mauritius has a limited variety of postage stamps, restricted in many ways by the absence of much civilised history and also by the excellent issuing policy of the authorities limited to only a few commemoratives each year coupled with only the occasional change of definitives. Therefore, a keen collector of this island’s philately is often directed towards alternative themes, such as postal history, postal stationery, postmarks, instructional handstamps and suchlike. Also, Mauritius offers a wealth of opportunities on the aspect of fiscal or revenue stamps, which are rapidly becoming not only popular but quite elusive.