Pitcairn Islands 2023, Part 1 (Mar 2023)

This has been a very Pitkern week!

On Monday, my favorite YouTuber — Graham Beck of Exploring Stamps and #philately — uploaded a video taking a look at the fascinating history and philately of Pitcairn Island. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet (and if you have, it bears additional viewings as do all of Graham’s videos).

I have been fascinated with all things Pitcairn for nearly 50 years now (and recent scandals have not tarnished the image of the island for me). At this late date, I cannot recall which happened first — my initial viewing of the 1935 film version of Mutiny on the Bounty or reading the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novels that comprise The Bounty Trilogy (a Christmas present from my grandparents the same year that I was given my mom’s childhood album, launching that hobby as well!). Whichever it was, it started a lifetime collecting books, movies, and postal items related to the remote island in the Southern Pacific Ocean.

Not only do I have a complete collection of Pitcairn Islands stamps (barring those which I will be detailing later in this article), but have fairly substantial holdings of postcards and covers from there. At various times, I have corresponded with various descendants of the original mutineers — not only living on Pitcairn itself but also on Norfolk Island, in New Zealand, and California — and have subscribed to the Pitcairn Miscellany since I was a teenager. I have bought honey made on (and sent from) the island as well as a few handicrafts (including a beautiful wood-carved Bounty); sadly, I had to leave most of this behind when I moved to Asia bringing only the stamps and some of the postcards. Like many collectors, I dream of being able to visit the island someday; I almost applied for the school teacher position a few years ago until I found out candidates had to be New Zealand citizens.

I had been waiting patiently for this issue to be announced ever since receiving a tip around the end of January. Many years ago, I obtained a real-photo postcard of Pitcairn Island bearing the initials “HGK”. To find out that this very card would be featured on a stamp thrilled me to no end. When I noticed Graham’s video, I thought for sure that he would mention the new stamp issue (my information had been it would be released in late March and with the month ending soon, I knew an announcement would be forthcoming). As it turned out, the notice from Tower Mint came a day later, on 22 March (Thailand time).

Titled “Early Postcards of Pitcairn Island Stamps”, the set of six stamps will be released on 27 March. Printed in sheets with pairs of the same denominated stamps (£1.00, £2.80 and £3.80) adjoined side by side with each other; this is called se-tenant in philatelic terminology. The design is credited to “Pixel8” but really some credit should be given to “HGK” himself. The identity of this photographer who created a number of postcards picturing Pitcairn from as early as 1916 was “lost” for many years but through extensive research and correspondence by author David Ransom it was finally revealed that these were the work of a barber on the S.S. Remuera by the name of Henry George Keys. In fact, it was Ransom who suggested this topic to Tower Mint and began publicizing its impending release once King Charles III had given his Royal Approval for the stamps on 27 January. These will be the first Pitcairn stamps to bear the new Royal cypher.

According to Tower Mint — agents for Pitcairn Islands’ stamps since 2020,

The images in this set of stamps are taken from old postcards of Pitcairn Island. The six stamps show various images, offering a glimpse into island life as it was back in the 1920s.

Sending postcards may now have fallen out of fashion, but in the early 20th century it was still very popular. At that time, when travel was only really available to the upper classes, these images could be seen around the world, and in a time before the internet, emails and text messages, postcards were not only a way of keeping in touch, but also offered the recipient a chance to see scenes or places they could only ever imagine visiting. The images featured on these stamps seem like a time capsule and a reminder of how life once was.

The photographs first appeared on postcards in the 1920s. On the photo side, they featured a brief description of the subject together with the initials HGK.

Tower Mint

$1.00 – Photograph of Pitcairn Island taken from the sea

The original postcard (seen above) is listed in Ransom’s Pitcairn Postcard Catalogue as #K1-1. The backs of these real photo postcards vary greatly as do the sizes. Average dimensions were approximately 90mm x 140mm.

$1.00 – Photograph of the old church on Pitcairn Island

This pictures the old Seventh Day Adventist Church on Pitcairn which finished construction in 1907. It was demolished in September 1944 and is listed in Ransom’s catalogue as K1-4. Here is an image of the card from a book called HGK’s Pitcairn Time Capsule where it is numbered H4:

$2.80 – Photograph of two houses from the road on Pitcairn Island

RPPC #K1-8 was titled “View on Pitcairn Island” on the original postcard. It shows the homes of Christopher Stanhope Warren on the left and Robert Pitcairn Buffett on the right. The latter was built in 1862.

$2.80 – Photograph featuring a group of islanders on Main Road

This card, listed as K1-10, has three people standing in the Main Road on Pitcairn Island. According to Ransom, the individuals cannot be identify due to the blurriness upon enlargement of the postcard.

$3.80 – Photograph of a view out to sea and the SS Remuera just off the coast

RPPC #1-11 seen on this stamp pictures a view from Look Out Ridge with HGK’s ship, the steamer Remuera, lying offshore.

$3.80 – Photograph of Pitcairners in one of the island boats, coming to trade with passengers on the SS Remuera

The original card is listed in Ransom’s Pitcairn Postcard Catalogue as #K1-16.

Technical Information

Date of Issue:27 March 2023
Number of Stamps:Six (6) gummed stamps
Denomination:2 x $1.00, 2 x $2.80, 2 x $3,80
Printer and Process:Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zeland by offset lithography
Stamp Size:38.50mm x 30mm
Perforations:29 x 22

©2023 by Mark Joseph Jochim, All Rights Reserved

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