British Antarctica postage stamps of British Antarctica

British Antarctica -

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In my previous article, (T.A.A.F. stamps in ASM, Jan 1990), I mentioned that I had been collecting Antarctic stamps for more than 25 years.

I nearly gave up!

I had been collecting for a few years and had what I thought was a good representative collection, when our stamp club had a visiting speaker who was to give an Antarctic display.

Naturally, I was first one through the doors that night, and very discouraging I found it too!

It was an incredible display! Whereas I had a first day cover to mark the International Geophysical Year, he had at least 30, one postmarked at at each of the bases carrying out research during the I.G.Y. He also produced maps, photographs of icebergs, and of aircraft landing on glaciers.

After the display, I discussed it with him and he said that there were two things I could do :- either use his ideas as a base and try to make a similar collection, or specialise and collect only one aspect - either one of the countries, or just stamps, or just covers and concentrate on that. "What you should not do is GIVE UP."

I have no idea why I am interested in Antarctica, as I hate cold, snow and ice, but because the whole continent has a magnetic appeal for me, I decided to collect whatever I could, concerning the Southern Continent. By scanning the ads in the stamp magazines and all the available auctions lists, I began to amass some very interesting material, including old books, maps and even some of the covers with the IGY Base cancellations.

Of course, all this background information was only complementing the stamps. I enjoyed finding pictures to match stamp designs.

In the case of what I think of as "British Antarctica', the stamps were really the least problem. They have been issued only since 1944, and many issues were freely available at that time - covers were more difficult.

The stamp issues have a complicated and interesting history, but in this general article, I can only give an outline. Originally, in 1944 the first stamps were issued for the Falkland Island Dependencies. The set of pictorial stamps were issued overprinted for each Depencency :- Grahamland, South Shetlands, South Orkneys and South Georgia.

These were replaced in 1946 with a set showing a map of the area and inscribed Falkland Islands Dependencies. This set was very interesting as it had constant flaws on the design as illustrated. (Fig 1)

I wrote to the printers about these flaws, and received a most helpful and explanatory reply, which I have included in my collection.

The next few issues were all part of omnibus issues for the British Commonwealth - the 1946 Peace issue, the Silver Jubilee of 1948, the UPU of 1949, and then the Coronation of 1953. These were followed by the new definitives for Queen Elizabeth, which showed ships connected with the Antarctic. They were recess printed by Waterlow originally, and then in 1962 by De La Rue - in my opinion they were almost as good as the French Antarctic engraved stamps. If you follow the story of these ship's voyages you can get a potted history of Antarctica, which can become a separate theme by itself.

The Transantarctic Expedition of 1955-58 was the subject of the last issue for the F.I.D. (as it was then constituted), as in 1962 it was 'all change", when the area was split. A separate Colony - The British Antarctic Territory - was formed consisting of Grahamland, South Orkneys and the South Shetland Islands. South Georgia remained a Dependency, and (with the South Sandwich Islands) continued to use the Dependency stamps until 17th July 1963 when separate stamps were issued.

From 1963, the stamp issues of British Antarctic Territory have been straightforward - definitives, at well-spaced intervals, commemorative issues either as part of Commonwealth omnibus issues or for events particularly concerning the Territory.

The first set of definitives in 1963 showed transport in Antarctica, including manhauling, dog sledges and aircraft. The portrait of the Queen was taken from the Annigoni portrait, which has always been my favourite portrait.

The one pound value was originally a map of Antarctica but this was withdrawn 30.11.1969 and replaced with the design of the HMS Endurance

In contrast, the South Georgia designs were of various aspects of the environment, mostly the fauna, and included an earlier portrait of the Queen. However they also changed the design of the one pound stamp in 1969. The original showed a blue whale, but that was withdrawn and replaced with a design showing a penguin.

I have never really understood why this occurred. Why should B.A.T. and South Georgia both change a perfectly good stamp design for another of the same value.

Then in 1971, it was 'all-change' again for decimal currency The first decimal definitive stamps for B.A.T. were the same design as the sterling definitive stamps overprinted with the decimal value, but the colours and paper were changed. However, when the new decimal definitive stamps were issued in 1973, they showed portraits of Antarctic explorers and discoverers, with their ships, and included a new one pound stamp.

The sterling currency stamps were invalidated on 31.5.1972.

South Georgia did not issue a new set of decimal stamps, they just overprinted the values on the sterling currency issue - they did not alter the one pound value.

Since 1963 the two British stamp issuing sections of Antarctica have put out different commemorative stamps - apart from Commonwealth omnibus issues. Of these these I liked the miniature sheets put out for the 25th Anniversary of the Coronation. Although some people thought this was a 'rip-off', and an unnecessary issue, I thought the design including the information in the middle gutter between the two strips of se-tenant stamps made it a worthwhile miniature sheet.

In contrast with B.A.T., the South Georgia story has been much more complicated. It seemed to me at one stage that if I went on holiday, when I came back South Georgia would have had another name change ! It was not really as bad as that, but I had to keep an eye on it all the time.

In 1980, the South Georgia stamps were again inscribed Falkland Islands Dependencies, and this involved new definitives. This time they gave the impression of being actual photographs, and were very effective at evoking the vast size and general atmosphere of isolation.

Suddenly, in 1982 the whole world knew about South Georgia because of the battle of the Falklands. For a while at that time, it was not possible to pick up a newspaper, or watch a television news without some mention of this lonely outpost of the Commonwealth.

After the war, to help with the reconstruction, a one pound stamp was issued in 1982, which had a one pound surcharge.

I do not know how much money was generated by the sale of this stamp, but if any visitor to this webpage does know, I would be most interested to hear.

NEWSFLASH ! Amazingly, in January 2010, I received an e-mail from David Smith, a visitor to the website, who knew the answer to this question.

"According to the "Specialised Stamp Catalogue of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies including Postal History and Cancellations" by Stefan Heijtz, 302,200 stamps were printed, and 211,483 were destroyed, so 90,717 were sold at 2 each. Depending on how you think of this the total revenue was 181,434, and the premium was 90,717.
Of course the Falkland Islands had a similar issue, for which the equivalent figures were 297,200 printed and 208,945 destroyed."
I was very pleased that David took the trouble to pass on this information to me. The internet is such a marvellous environment for the exchange of knowledge.

When the dust had settled after the war, a new Constitution was put into effect on 3.10.1985 and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ceased to be Dependencies of the Falkland Islands. The first set of stamps issued inscribed "South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands' were to commemorate the Queen's 60th birthday

The new definitive set produced for this stage in the islands history are a beautifully produced set of birds


The publicity given to the Falklands war emphasised another element of collecting stamps - general knowledge.

The hobby is constantly changing. Postal systems are updated all the time - witness the growth in machine-based stamps such as Framas etc. Countries change their names, boundaries and governments, and all of these events are fully reported in the newspapers. The stamp issues usually pinpoint such events that are considered part of the country's history, and if you are interested in collecting the stamps, you usually find yourself noticing any mention of that country in the press and can link it with your stamp collection.

Just looking at the stamps of British Antarctica in a catalogue is a pleasure, and gives a good idea of the range and design of these attractive stamps, but it does not do them justice. You have to see them in colour to appreciate them fully.

One great advantage of collecting these stamps is that they do not 'go overboard' with the issues, and what is issued is relevant. There are enough issues to keep you interested, but not so many that you are out of pocket.

So, next time you attend a Stamp Day or your local dealer, take a look at Antarctic stamps - you too may find you are drawn to the south magnetic pole.

First published in the Australian Stamp Monthly, January 1990 - under my pen name of Elaine Whitchurch. (Original illustrations were in black & white).
Copyright 1999 By EARS Leisurewrite
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