Classic stamps: Bahamas, Chalon Head

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imports_CCGB_classicstampsthebaham_04291.jpg Classic Stamps: The Bahamas Chalon Head design
We celebrate the classic 'Chalon Head' stamp design, as used on the first stamps issued by the Bahamas ...

Drawn to mark Victoria’s first public appearance as Queen, in July 1837, when she addressed the members of the House of Lords, the so-called ‘Coronation portrait’ was completed by Swiss-born artist Alfred Edward Chalon. The colourful picture of the young Queen in her State Robes was intended to be a gift from the new Queen to her mother, while the public were able to buy engravings of the image produced by Samuel Cousins.

Fourteen years later, with the Queen’s reign no longer in its infancy and her image well known to users of postage stamps in Britain, the Chalon head image was adopted by a series of colonies, including Nova Scotia in 1853, New Zealand (1855) and the Bahamas (1859). For many of these colonies the iconic design was seen on the region’s very first stamps, and as such the stamps and the many related varieties an inaugural issue entails, makes the stamp design a well-trodden area of study.

The Bahamas introduced postage stamps in April 1858, with a consignment of British stamps being used and an ‘A05’ cancellation being applied at Nassau. But within a year, the Governor of the islands expressed his desire to see the colony’s own postage stamps in use, leading the way to the Chalon head issue. Unlike the more basic designs seen in other colonies, the artwork for the first Bahamas stamps included a pictorial element with a pineapple and conch shell shown in ovals either side of the Queen’s portrait, representing the islands’ varied marine life and its abundance of tropical fruits.

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The Bahamas’ version of the Chalon head had another unique feature. The first ‘ONE PENNY’ values were initially only intended for local use with London still in charge of external mail, and so the inscription ‘INTERINSULAR POSTAGE’ also appears on the stamps. It was a year later, in May 1860, that full control of the postage system was handed over to the Bahamian Post Office, and additional values of 4d and 6d followed, this time without the pineapple or conch, while a 1s value arrived in 1863, with the two national symbols back in place but the Chalon portrait replaced by the left-facing image of Queen Victoria.

Yet this wasn’t the end of the Chalon head’s connection with the stamps of the Bahamas. To mark the 150th anniversary of the famous stamp issue, the Bahamas Post Office featured the entire stamp design on four similarly designed 15c values, which made up a souvenir sheet also featuring a colourful portrait of the Queen completed by German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1859, the year the stamps were first used. The stamp sheet, with another memorable portrait of the monarch, harks back to the time when postage stamps were a brand new concept, and to the days when the now familiar images of Queen Victoria would be seen by letter writers around the world, from Britain to the Bahamas, for the very first time.