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...

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Portuguese India - Bud's Big Blue

Bud's Big Blue
Bud's Observations

In its heyday, Portuguese India consisted of 22 ports strung around the India’s peninsula like a strand of pearls. Goa, the landing point for Vasco da Gama’s 1498 cape-rounding adventure, was first and primary among these.

Scott # 193, dark blue, the São Gabriel, flagship of Vasco da Gama

By the time Portuguese India’s first stamps were in use (1871), however, only five pearls remained – Goa, the administrative center, and four exclave communities north of Bombay. Bombay (Bom Bahia in Portuguese, good bay) had been part of Portuguese India from 1534 to 1661 but it, like the other pearls, was lost to the English. When Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II of England (1662), Bom Bahia was part of her dowery.

Yellow dots on Van Gelder’s map (below) mark what remained under Portuguese control, 1871-1940.

Map by Gerben van Gelder (2)

Portuguese colonial stamps are monotonously repetitive, as I’ve monotonously repeated in this blog. Although mostly following the same pattern, Portuguese India postage does provide three welcome exceptions to the normal -- a breath of fresh charm for our album pages.

First exception: Portuguese India philately begins with 55 local stamps (1871-1877) used solely within the colony. British postage was required for international mail. Variations in paper quality, perforations, size of letters and numbers, and color tone make these stamps challenging even for specialists. And they’re usually expensive. In 1882 and 1883, the locals were surcharged with new values. Sadly, Big Blue provides no spaces for these.

Scott # 79, vermilion

Second exception: In 1912-13, some older stamps (from 1898-1903) reappeared with new values overprinted and vertical or diagonal perforations. A shortage of lower priced stamps likely provided the occasion for the modifications. Surviving covers usually have both halves. BB accommodates nine of these.

Scott #s 260c, 300, 283b, orange, likely a philatelically inspired cover

Third exception: In 1931 Portugal provided its prize India colony with six unique stamps for the exposition of Saint Francis Xavier. 

Left to right: Scott #415, brown, signature of St. Francis

Scott #414, gray green, Monument honoring St. Francis
Scott #416, red violet, St. Francis with staff and crucifix
Scott #417, yellow brown, St. Francis, missionary journey
Scott #419, light red, Tomb of St. Francis
Scott #418, blue, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

In the Catholic tradition, an exposition involves a public display of sacred relics, in this case the mummified body of Xavier in priestly vestments. Xavier was a close companion of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). They became friends during their college years in Paris and, impressed with Ignatius’s piety, Xavier joined the Jesuits. He was ordained in 1537 and sent to India in 1541. After ten years of evangelistic work in Goa, India, he traveled to Malaya, Macao, Portuguese China, and Japan, where he continued his missionary work.

The 1931 exposition of Xavier’s remains was requested by General Joao Carlos Craveiro Lopes, newly appointed as the 122nd Governor-General of Portuguese India. He sought the saint’s blessing. Such expositions normally occur about every 10 years.

The exposition

The event began 3 December 1931, the day the six stamps were released. A large procession of clergy and the faithful at the basilica of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) was met by the new governor at the basilica door. The Patriarch of Goa handed the saint’s gold, emerald encrusted staff (previously removed from the coffin) to the Governor.

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

Final ceremonies were held 19 March 1932.

There is a parallel Portugal series, also issued in 1931, but it commemorates Saint Anthony of Lisbon, aka, Saint Anthony of Padua. The stamps in the two issues are the same size and have similar colors. Both saints are noted for their missionary ardor.

Portugal Scott #s 528-533, St. Anthony of Lisbon commemoratives

These three exceptions to the normal repetitive pattern of Portuguese colonial stamps hint at the importance of India’s “pearls” for the mother country, even though their luster had faded by the time stamps made their first appearance. India had been the point of departure for establishing other Portuguese Asian settlements. India had beautiful cloth and spices to trade; the Portuguese held a crown monopoly on pepper. Portuguese settlers were encouraged to marry Indian spouses. And Bom Jesus celebrates an important saint’s remains.

India, using military force, ended all Portuguese control in 1961. Portuguese creole is now spoken by only a few people. The heritage of the first European power to colonize a part of India -- and the last to relinquish control -- slowly fades.

Census: 155 on BB spaces, five tip-ins, 52 on supplement pages.

Scott #520, brown and dark brown, Saint Francis Xavier and his tomb,
commemoration of the 1952 exposition

(1) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

(2) From http://www.stampworldhistory.com/country-profiles-2/asia/portuguese-india/

(3) This post has drawn on information provided by Gokak Stamps. Gokak, India, Karnataka State.

Jim's Observations

1873 Scott 25 20r vermilion "Numeral of Value"
Re-issues; Thin Bluish Toned Paper
Stained "yellow" by the gum

The earlier Issues (1871-1877) were handstamped from a single die, and were intended for local use in the colony. They were rather crudely done, and the perforations are often rough. They can be found on various papers and perforations.The inscriptions are "Servico Postal", and "India Post". The CV is generally in the Tens- Hundreds range. The 1873 issue (six stamps) on thin bluish toned paper - and illustrated here- is actually a re-issue.

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Comments appreciated!


  1. Thanks for the update on Port. India. Must gently disagree about Port. colony stamps being "monotonous & repetitive." For those who know them well, the colonial issues are fascinating and intriguing. There are new books out this year by Dr.John K. Cross; one on cliches of the Crown issues and the other on cliches of the Mozam. Company elephant stamps. In addition, the 1913-32 Ceres issues have over 300 documented printing plate flaws; some rare; and many more printing errors since two runs through the press were required. Then there is a wealth of shades across all of the classic, pre-World War II issues. But, fewer people chasing the good stuff creates more chances for me to get it. SteveB/Colorado

    1. Thanks for your comment, Steve. I'm sure many collectors agree with you. Plate flaws, printing errors, color shades, and other anomalies have never hooked my interest, but I'm glad for those who do pay attention to them. Your suggestion that such variations might be more easily found among the stamps of Portuguese colonies is a good one. But I'm not likely to be your competitor. Best wishes.