Among the rarest stamps in the world, the Mauritius “Post Office” stamps have some of the most rumor surrounding them.
Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, has made a name for itself in the world of philately. And this name started with the “Post Office” stamp of 1847.
It all starts with a stowaway on a ship. At age 22, a man named Joseph Osmond Barnard left his home in England and stowed away on the ship Acasta to Mauritius.
Barnard had luck on his side – he was allowed to disembark and live in the capital. As it so happened, Barnard specialized as an engraver and painter.
Barnard designed the stamps for Mauritius based on the Great Britain stamps at the time that showed the profile of Queen Victoria. They printed the stamps in two colors of one penny red brown and two pence blue. They are characterized by their primitive design.
Postage stamps were still very new at the time.
The printer made five hundred stamps of each value, printed in 1847. The wife of the Governor of Mauritius used many of them on invitations for a ball.
These stamps had the words “Post Office” printed on the left side. On the next printing, however, “Post Paid” replaced the phrase, making the stamps with “Post Office” rarities.
One particular legend says that using “Post Office” on the stamps had originally been a mistake. The book Les Timbres-Poste de L’Ile Maurice claims the mistake, and rumors surrounding the tale expanded to say that Barnard was a half-blind watchmaker and a forgetful old man who forgot what he was supposed to print on the stamps.
Anyone who pays attention knows that this can’t be true, since Barnard designed the stamps at 31 years old.
In 1864 the wife of a Bordeaux merchant found some of the stamps in her husband’s collection. She traded them with another collector, starting the ball rolling on the fame of these increasingly sought-after stamps.
In 1904 King George V paid roughly today’s equivalent of $190,000 for an unused two pence Mauritius stamp. And in 1993 a cover with two of the stamps sold for about $4 million, the highest price ever paid for a philatelic item.