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...

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Puerto Rico - Bud's Big Blue

Map of Puerto Rico, credit Gerben van Gelder
Bud's Big Blue
Bud's Observations

Every country from Canada to Argentina has issued stamps honoring Christopher Columbus, if not during Big Blue’s classical era (1840-1940), then for the 500th anniversary of his voyages (1992-3). 

Scott #133, dark green Perf 11 1/2 (likely a forgery)

Even Puerto Rico has one. All other Spanish colonial stamps issued for Puerto Rico blazon images of Spanish kings. Issued in 1893, #133 depicts Columbus and crew in a rowboat ready to step the first European feet on the island that he named San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. The exact location of the landing is debated, although it occurred, as the stamp suggests, on 19 November 1493. The stamp was valid for postage on that date only, 400 years later. Scott’s catalog warns that counterfeits exist. The genuine is perf 12; the fakes, mostly perf 11½. (1)

When Columbus arrived, the island was populated by the Taíno, an Amerindian people native to the Caribbean region. Shortly after the Spanish settled in Puerto Rico (1508), the Taíno were subjected to corvée (forced labor) in gold mines by the Conquistadors. This enslavement, coupled with the introduction of European diseases (e.g., smallpox, syphilis, flu, measles, and typhus), resulted in a high death rate among the Taíno. Today, few Puerto Ricans can claim a Taíno ancestry.

About 30 years ago I had an excellent Puerto Rican research assistant. One day when I returned from the post office with a set of the new USA Columbus commemorative sheetlets (1992), she was outraged. “Do you not know.” she demanded, “about the genocide the Spanish inflicted on my people?” Sadly, I did not. Nor did I know that she identified as a Taíno.

#2629, US souvenir sheetlet

I suspect she would not have approved of my owning an example of Scott #133, either; or of the large number of Columbus-related stamps in my Big Blue. As public opinion about Spanish colonialism and Columbus declines, I’m less vocal about my collection of these stamps.

Curiously, a year before #133 was issued, Argentina produced two Columbus-related stamps that have similar designs. These were likely engraved by the noted Austrian artist, Ferdinand Schirnböck, who, at the time, was working for the Compañía Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco (South American Bank Note Company, Buenos Aires). Schirnböck may have inspired Don Pedro Blanco Viala, the designer of Puerto Rico’s #133, although his work lacks the magnificent engraving one might expect from Schirnböck hand.

Argentina #91, dark blue

One further observation. When Spain ceded Puerto Rico the United States after losing the Spanish American War (1898), the US military administration issued US stamps overprinted “Porto Rico,” an English spelling of the island’s name. The civil administration, beginning in 1900, changed the overprints to the Spanish spelling. Subsequently, US stamps without overprints were used.

#s 212 thru 216

Census: 121 in BB spaces, 3 tip-ins, 40 on supplement pages.

My replacement #133, less likely a forgery, 19 Nov 1893 cancel

Jim's Observations

Big Blue '69, on three pages, has 121 stamp spaces. Coverage is a robust 62%.

The inexpensive 1890-97 baby "Alfonso" stamps have 45 spaces, but 5 stamps @ CV <$1-$1+ are missing.

There are only two "expensive stamps", but the J3 U.S. overprinted postage due of 1899 is $55. !

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Comments appreciated!


  1. Informative post as always! Looks like an interloper from Cuba in the 1890 2mil spot. Thought you’d like to know…

  2. Thanks. I appreciate the sharp eye report.

  3. Thanks, I appreciate your eagle eye.

  4. The Cuban interloper has been replace by a proper Puerto Rican 1890 2mil. Cost $.40.