St Vincent's first high value design in 1880 eschewed Queen Victoria's profile in favour of the arms of the colony. Its classic beauty would make it a recurring theme for the island's stamps
The Caribbean island of St Vincent thrived for many years as a simple plantation economy, but after the emancipation of slave labour in 1833 its development required an efficient postal system.
In 1852 a post office was opened at Kingstown, the capital, where British stamps were used initially, cancelled by the distinctive ‘A10’ oval postmark. But on June 4, 1860, a Post Office Act paved the way for the colony to issue its own stamps.
London printer Perkins, Bacon & Co was engaged to deliver a first batch of recess-printed stamps in 1861, and the 1d and 6d were followed two years later by a 4d and a 1s.
These four values served the island well for two decades, but in 1880 it was decided a high value was needed.
The Colonial Secretary wrote to Perkins Bacon: ‘I am instructed to request you have a plate engraved for stamps of the value of five shillings... The size of the stamp should be larger than our shilling stamp – say, the size of the English 5s... The design, the Arms of the Colony with the motto above, surmounted by a crown, and a band around having the words “St Vincent, Five Shillings”.’
For good measure, his letter was accompanied by the Seal of the Colony, a wax impression depicting the Roman figure of Peace offering an olive branch to Justice, who balances her scales on an altar under the motto ‘Pax et Justitia’ (Peace and Justice).
Perkins Bacon entrusted the task of engraving this to William Ridgeway, one of its most accomplished artists. He completed this within a month, and by late April 1880 the finished plate was ready for recess printing.
An order of only 100 sheets had been made, giving a total of only 2,000 stamps. This modest print run would have ensured the stamp’s scarcity in itself, but 800 of them were soon overprinted ‘Revenue’ and surcharged ‘One Pound’ or ‘Fifty Pounds’, so only around 1,200 of this issue were ever available for postage.
The 1880 5s rose-red was this particular colony’s first departure from using the profile of Queen Victoria, and Ridgeway’s design combined classical good taste with perfect balance to create a philatelic beauty, so it’s no wonder this is St Vincent’s most iconic stamp. But it was influential and enduring too, inspiring future generations of issues.
In 1888 a new printing of the same design was made in lake-red, accompanying the 1885-93 series. After a period in abeyance during the keyplate era, a modified image of Pax et Justitia resurfaced on the low values of 1907-09, and some 1938 definitives.
In 1955-63, the original layout was revived for three high values, and in 1980 these were reprised in a miniature sheet celebrating the centenary of the original design.
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