The British Empire’s Most Unusual Stamps?

September 17, 2023

We are currently offering an example of one of the British Empire’s strangest stamps, a typewritten Long Island 1916 ½d mauve on white laid paper.

During the Great War the famously stamp- collecting King George V was chasing provisional stamps issued throughout the war theatre, his letters seeking these unusual issues went to officials far & wide. Amongst his targets were the “Levant” overprints on British stamps which he’d read about in the stamp press during April 1916. It turned out that they had been originally intended for use at a civilian PO at Mount Athos in Northern Greece, but the project was abandoned and the stamps put on sale at the Army PO in Salonica. It took a while for the King to secure a full set (on a full cover, a present from Queen Mary).

The designer of these “Levant” issues was the Royal Navy’s Lt Commander Henry Pirie- Gordon. Since his first attempt at stamp production he had become the senior Naval Officer at the captured Turkish island of Chustan in the Gulf of Smirna, which the British named “Long Island” and once again he turned his attention to producing new stamps.

There are theories as to why these interesting stamps with overprints typewritten either on captured Turkish stamps or on plain papers were made. They certainly do exist in used condition from the island but the incredibly low numbers printed have led many to believe that they were produced for philatelists, although I’ve not seen any evidence to support this. Another explanation maybe that Pirie–Gordon was hoping to make friends in the very highest places, as the first time a philatelist is known to have become aware of these intriguing stamps was when King George V’s Private Secretary received a letter from Pirie-Gordon enclosing some of these rarities for His Majesty’s collection!

Typically each of the stamps listed by Stanley Gibbons had less than 100 issued of each – for example the ½d black, ½d blue & ½d mauve (as currently offered by us) stamps typed on plain laid paper had a total print run of 237 between them! Many have not survived.

Vincent Green

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