As a collector, I have always preferred the classic stamps of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to more modern issues. There’s something about the lines of the intaglio engraving that gets my heart pumping. The majority of these stamps were printed in just one color but there also were many bi-colors, usually with a black center surrounded by a frame of a differing color. Tricolors were relatively rare.
I recently obtained a small mixed selection of Barbadian stamps from a dealer in Russia — 45 used stamps dating between 1892 and 1949 for less than $3.00 US, including shipping. There were many “pretty” stamps in the packet — I particularly like the ‘seal of the colony’ issues and the Lord Nelson and Victory sets are especially attractive. But when I came across Scott #109, commemorating the first British landing on Barbados aboard the trading ship Olive Blossom, I had found a true favorite!
There had been indigenous peoples living on Barbados as early as 400 BC, but Spanish slave-raiding missions in the early 16th century wiped out the Amerindian population. The Portuguese also spent some time on the island later that century but didn’t establish a permanent settlement, leaving behind wild hogs in order to provide fresh meat for future visitors. The name Barbados means “the bearded ones” and it first appears on a map printed in 1519. By the time the British arrived a hundred years later, the island was uninhabited.
While it’s said that English Captain Simon Gordon may have made a brief landing in 1620, it wasn’t until 14 May 1625 that the Olive Blossom landed at St. James Town (present-day Holetown). This ship was captained by John Powell who had been blown off-course while en route to England from South America. A cross inscribed “for James K. of E. and this island” was erected, a few possessions were left on Barbados, and Powell continued his journey.
James Powell’s younger brother Henry arrived on 17 February 1627 as captain aboard the William and John, along with eighty English settlers and ten African slaves captured at sea. He established the settlement at Jamestown and Sir William Courten, a powerful Dutch merchant operating from London, was given proprietary ownership. A year later the capitol was moved to Bridgetown. The House of Assembly was established in 1639 and Barbados remained a self-governing colony until a constitutional monarchy was declared in 1966. Elizabeth II of Great Britain is also the Queen of Barbados.
The stamp honoring the Olive Blossom landing was unusual for it’s time in that it was designed by a woman, Lady Gertrude Carter. She was the wife of Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter who had been appointed governor and commander in chief of Barbados in 1904 following a similar position in Bermuda. Lady Carter actually designed and built Ilario House which served as the governor’s mansion and is still used as the prime minister‘s residence today. Interestingly enough, their grandson — Nicholas Carter — became the president of the American Philatelic Society in 2007 but sadly passed away a year later. An award has been named in his honor “recognizing the hard-working individuals who have contributed their time, talents, and energies to benefit both the hobby of stamp collecting and the APS.”
Printed in the three colors of black, green and blue — again, unusual for the time — the one-penny stamp was released on 15 August 1906. You’ll notice that the years “1605-1905” are erroneous. Many books on Barbadian history gave the wrong year for the landing of the Olive Blossom. Even the monument erected at Holetown in November 1905 gives the wrong year!
The most recent copy that I have of the Scott Catalogue (2009) values the stamp at US $12.50 in mint, never hinged (MNH), condition and 30¢ used. But it’s value to me is priceless in its beauty and the history I’ve learnt as a result.
Apparently I’m not alone in finding this a particularly interesting stamp. One of the most noted American stamp dealers of the twentieth century, Herman Herst Jr. — author of numerous books promoting the hobby and who issued his own local post stamps — had become intrigued with Scott #109 as a boy. He liked it so much that he made the stamp his trademark and a huge painting of it sat beside the driveway at his home in Shrub Oak, NY. He did make a slight adaptation, however, painting out “Barbados” and adding “Herst” in it’s place.