Collecting a different sort of stamp in Mauritius


Normally the stamps I’m collecting are of the passport varietal. I went out of my way to get one from Luxembourg, for example. And flying 22 hours to spend only 24 hours in Mauritius could probably be seen as going out of the way a bit for that one, too. One on the small island in the Indian Ocean, however, it was a different sort of stamp collection that I got to explore.

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The postal service of Mauritius has a rich and storied history, somewhat surprising for such a small plot of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Post service has been operating for hundreds of years and the local service was responsible for many developments on the island, including the establishment of rail service and air service. Plus, the island happens to have been the issuer of the most valuable stamp in the world. There are a number of stories to tell.

They are all told at the Mauritius Postal Museum in Port Louis.

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The postal service on the island began in 1772 with a newspaper publisher. Subscribers to the weekly would have it delivered to their home free of charge, along with any other pending mail. Non-subscribers could pay a small fee to have the post delivered as well. The service declined late into the century and was all but dead by the time the British took over rule in 1810.

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By 1834 the British had established a formal post service (they tried the newspaper gig, too) and in 1846 the initial rates for postage were established, both for "town" and inland delivery. In 1847 the island began its long history of issuing awesome collectible stamps. The two "Post Office" stamps of 1847 are considered to be the first stamps to bear that phrase and worth quite a lot these days; only 27 remain. They also kicked off a philatelic lineage that is unmatched.

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Since then the island country has turned out stamps celebrating kings and queens, historical milestone and just about anything else that seems like a good idea at the time. They issue about 20 sets of stamps each year. And just like in the early days, the stamps are all printed in Britain before being transferred to the island for sale.

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In addition to an impressive collection of stamps (including the famous "Post Office" stamps of which I was unable to get a good photo), the museum tells the history of the postal service and has much of the old equipment on display. Tracing the history and the development of technology and mail distribution in the nation is a great way to pass an hour or so in the Port Louis waterfront area.

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They also happen to sell post cards in the gift shop, but not stamps. For those you’ll have to walk next door and buy them at the regular post office window. Pretty reasonable rates for the post card stamps, considering the isolation of the island.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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