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Leeward Islands – The Queens Diamond Jubilee (1897)

115 years ago, Britain’s only other long reigning Queen was celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, and back in those days there were no Crown Agents Omnibus issues to commemorate the event, with just a handful of Colonies issuing their own stamps, the most well known being those of Canada and Barbados.

The current Leeward Islands “Key plate” issue of 1890 comprising eight values ½d to 5s, were handstamped by the clerk Mr. E. D’A. Tibbits at the Colonial Secretary’s Office at St Johns in Antigua, and postal notices were put up around the islands reading:

”It is hereby notified for general information that it is proposed to issue a certain number of Leeward Island postage stamps in commemoration of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. The stamps will be overprinted with a circle bearing the word "Sexagenary" and the figures "1897", and in the centre of the circle the letters "V.R.I.". The stamps will be for sale at the several Post Offices throughout the Leeward Islands from Thursday 22, instant, and the sales will continue for one week from that date.”

The ½d to 2½d values had 15,600 of each issued, the 4d 6,000, 6d and 7d 3,480, the 1s 1,800, and 5s just 900 stamps, extremely low issuing numbers indeed, with some islands such as Nevis receiving only a tiny proportion of the already paltry quantities available for sale. Blocks and multiples are scarce, the 5s in a block of four is very rare with only three in existence, one of which is in the Royal collection. It is also a good issue on cover, and a few are known on first day covers and other philatelic productions, commercially used mail is extremely scarce.

Because the stamps were handstamped individually, various errors have been recorded incl. double and triple impressions, though these have to be of sufficient distance apart to count as the catalogue listed errors, as “kiss” prints showing partial doubling occur quite frequently. Forgeries also exist, and at least thirteen different types are recorded.

The steel handstamp was defaced and destroyed, an announcement appearing in the Leeward Islands Gazette.

A quantity of the stamps were left unsold at the various Post Offices throughout the islands, and these remainders were offered for sale in the Leeward Islands Gazette in October 1897 and again in July 1899 and March 1902, by which time there were still 248 examples of the rare 5s for sale, obviously a very unpopular issue at the time. Now a scarce and popular set amongst collectors, if only we could go back in time and buy those remainders !

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