A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Virgin Islands

1899 Scott 24 4p chocolate
"St. Ursula with Sheaf of Lilies"
Quick History
The British Virgin Islands in the West Indies, southeast of Puerto Rico, was one of the presidencies of the Leeward Islands Colony during the classical era.

British Virgin Islands
The Leeward Islands issued stamps from 1890-1956 that could be used on any of the islands group. But each presidency (Here, the Virgin Islands) also issued their own stamps valid within their territory.

Jost Van Dyke Island
The Virgin Islands issued stamps from 1866-1952 during the classical period covered by this blog.

The capital is Road Town, and the population was 7,200 circa 1940.

Island of Tortola
Road Town is located on the "largest" island, Tortola, which is only 12 miles long (20 km), by 3 miles wide (5 km).

The other part of the overall Virgin Islands grouping is the U.S. Virgin Islands, formally the Danish West Indies, that was purchased from Denmark by the U.S. in 1917.

How did the islands get their name?

They were discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage (1493), and named "Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes", in honor of St. Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins!

The English wrested control of the islands from the Dutch by 1680. Sugar cane was introduced, and African slaves were brought in to work the plantations.

Today, 83% of the population has African roots. English Creole is the everyday language.

The British Virgin Islands finally gained separate colony status in 1960, and became autonomous in 1967.

The inhabitants are considered British Overseas Territories citizens.

1921 Scott 47 1/2p green "George V"
Die II; Wmk 4
Into the Deep Blue
The 2014 Scott Classic Specialized 1840-1940 Catalogue has, for Virgin Islands 1866-1952, 113 major descriptive numbers. Of those, 43 are CV <$1-$1+, or 38%. Many (27) of the less expensive stamps were issued after 1938, and the 1866-1889 issues (20 stamps) are expensive. The WW collector may have to  invest more for a representative collection of this popular country.

For myself, I wouldn't mind some copies of the 1866-78 (nine stamps) lithographic "Virgin and Lamps" and "St. Ursula" stamps. Alas, that will have to wait for now.

A closer look at the stamps and issues
12 Pence = 1 Shilling
20 Shillings = 1 Pound
100 cents = 1 Dollar (1951)
1883 Scott 13 1/2p green "Victoria"
Wmk 2
The 1883-84 "keyplate" Victoria issue consisted of four stamps. CV ranges from $3 to $90+.

They were on  Wmk. 2 "Crown and C A" paper. If you need to review the British Colonial watermarks, see Gibraltar or another British colony.

1899 Scott 21 1/2p yellow green
"St. Ursula with Sheaf of Lilies"
For me, this is the more iconic imagery stamp for the Virgin Islands - much more interesting than "keyplates". ;-)

The 1899 set consisted of eight stamps. CV is <$1-$80.

The Martyrdom of St. Ursula
Hans Memling 1489
The legend of St. Ursula (Latin: "little female bear"), thought to be originally from Wales, is lost in the mist of time.  There is doubt that she even existed. On an uncertain date (383?), she was killed (martyred) with a bow and arrow by the marauding Huns, and her accompanying Virgins (2?, 11?, 11,000?) were beheaded in Cologne, (Germany). Certainly, there was a belief tradition of virgin martyrs in Cologne by the fifth century, and the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne contains the alleged relics of St. Ursula and her 11,000 maidens.

The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535, has had a mission focus on educating young girls. I have met some Ursuline sisters over the years, and now I know a bit more about their founder, thanks to the Virgin islands!

1904 Scott 29 1/2p violet & blue green
"Edward VII"; Wmk 3
Back to "keyplates". ;-)

In 1904, a nine stamp "Edward VII" set was produced for the Virgin islands.

Of interest, there was at the same time (1902-1911), "Edward VII" issues available for the Leeward Islands, which, of course, included the Virgin islands!

1913 Scott 41 2 1/2p ultramarine "George V"
Die I; Wmk 3
In 1913, a  nine stamp set of "George V" was released, all with Die I and Wmk 3 characteristics.

1921 Scott 48 1p carmine "George V"
Die II; Wmk 4
There were two stamps issued in 1921 with Die II and Wmk 4 markers.

The Fiji post elaborates on the Die I/Die II characteristics.

1922 Scott 50 1sh black/emerald
"Colony Seal"; Wmk 3
In 1922, a four stamp issue with this design was issued with Wmk 3.

Note the Colony Seal with St. Ursula holding a lamp? There are eleven additional lamps representing the 11,000 maidens.

1922 Scott 58 2p gray "Colony Seal"
Wmk 4
Between 1922-28, another issue (14 stamps), but with Wmk 4, was produced with the "Colony seal" design. CV ranges from <$1 to $3+ for eleven stamps.

1938 Scott 81 3p orange 
"King George VI and Seal of the Colony"
The 1938-47 twelve stamp set, using this design, was produced using photogravure.

As most collectors are aware, almost all British colonies have some type of issue, often pictorial, for "George VI", beginning in 1938. Curiously, only the Virgin islands had a one design photogravure issue among the Leewards islands grouping.

1952 Scott 102 1c gray black
"Sombrero Lighthouse"
The April 15 1952 "George VI" issue (actually posthumously, as George VI died on February 6, 1952) consisted of twelve pictorials.

The "Sombereo Lighthouse" was on tiny Sombereo island, but the rocky island was better known as "Spanish Hat" by generations of sailors. In 1956, the small island (and 157 foot high lighthouse) passed into ownership of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla upon dissolution of the Federation of the Leeward Islands.

1952 Scott 104 3c chocolate & gray black
"Sheep Industry"
CV for the engraved twelve stamp issue is <$1 -$4 for nine stamps.

War Tax
1916-17 Scott MR2 3p violet/yellow
Regular Issue of 1913 Overprinted
Two war stamps were produced in 1916-17 by overprinting the 1p scarlet and 3p violet/yellow issue of 1913. CV is <$1-$4+.

Deep Blue
"King George VI and sSal of the Colony"
1938-47 Issue in Deep Blue
Deep Blue (Steiner) has eight pages for the 1866-1952 issues of the Virgin Islands. All major Scott numbers have a space.

1922 Scott 63 6p dull violet & red violet
"Colony Seal"; Wmk 4
Big Blue
Big Blue '69, on two pages, has 46 spaces for the 1889-1938 issues of the Virgin Islands. Coverage (subtracting for post 1940 issues in the 1840-1940 Scott catalogue) is 54%.

Coverage is acceptable, as all the major issues (including war tax) are represented, except for the expensive early issues.

There is only one expensive stamp ($10+) required for a space.

As usual, there are some choices (Wmk 3 vs Wmk 4) for spaces in BB.






1913 (-1921)*
38 or 47,39 or 48,40,41,42,(43),(44),

60,62,49 or 61,63,50 or 64,(56),

War Tax

Next Page





A) Expensive stamps ($10 threshold):
1935 Scott 72 1sh brown violet & Indigo ($10+)
B) (  ) around a number indicates a blank space choice.
C) * 1913 (-1921) - choices are Die I (Wmk 3) vs Die II (Wmk 4).
D) *1922-28- choices are Wmk 3 vs Wmk 4.

1952 Scott 106 5c gray black & rose lake
"Cattle Industry"
Out of the Blue
Half of the classical era British colonies philatelic output is predictable ("keyplates"), but the other half - unique to a colony- is interesting indeed.

Note: Map and Hans Memling painting image appear to be in the public domain.

Have a comment?

Comments appreciated!


  1. Hi, Jim! I have 2 remarks here: 1. I liked very much the St Ursula's engraved revenue stamp, I think is one of the most beautiful of its kind in the world; 2. Did you noticed how much stamps in the entirely world were overprinted with the word 'war' through years?; it's so sad to see together the beauty of a hobby and the humanity ugly face... Kind regards, Catalin

  2. Hi Catalin

    Yes, the engraved St. Ursula is lovely, especially, since as a British Colony, most of the stamps are of monarchs. ;-)

    The "war" overprinted stamps are found throughout the many British colonies to raise funds for the costs of WW I, and so are found frequently. Of interest, the U.S. also raised funds for WW I through stamps, but did it by increasing the letter rate from 2c to 3c. After WW I, the rate was reduced again to 2c.

    I think stamp collecting gives us a front row seat to humanity - as you said, both the beauty and the ugliness.

    1. I just saw on Twitter that the 'war stamps' is one of the main subjects in the February 2017 issue of Stamp & Coin Mart magazine. Best wishes, Catalin