21 October 2020
Mike Jackson describes a reconstructed sheet of the rare Fiji Times Express stamps, which formed part of the King George V’s ‘most complete and perfect collection of Fiji stamps’.
At the tenth meeting of the 1912–13 season, on 6 March 1913 at 4 Southampton Row, Members and Fellows of the Royal Philatelic Society London were entertained by John A Tilleard, who had been appointed in 1893 the first philatelic advisor to King George V as Duke of York and Prince of Wales.
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Tilleard gave a display of the stamps of Fiji, lent for the occasion by His Majesty, the Patron.
According to Nicholas Courtney in The Queen’s Stamps, the King had just bought the collection of Fiji stamps formed by Thomas Hall, and the display was taken from this collection.
Mr TW Hall was the seconder of the concluding resolution at the meeting which suggested that ‘respectful congratulations be offered to His Majesty on being the possessor of the most complete and perfect collection of Fiji stamps known to the Society.’
Mr Hall must have been very pleased with these comments because he had built the collection himself! Incidentally, it was at this meeting that Edward Denny Bacon reported the gift of the late Lord Crawford’s Philatelic Library to the British Museum; Crawford had died of heart failure at 2 Cavendish Square, London, in January of that year.
The Fiji collection shown at the meeting was housed in two volumes, and, according to the London Philatelist, ‘a large number of the Fiji Times Express stamps were shown, including a reconstructed sheet of the variety on quadrillé paper, in which only one stamp is missing, and a complete reconstructed sheet of the stamps issued on laid bâtonné paper, nearly all the stamps in both sheets being unused, and each sheet containing some large unsevered blocks.’
The reconstructed sheet from the Royal Philatelic Collection illustrated here is on quadrillé paper and must be the one described in the London Philatelist, although at some point in the intervening years the missing stamp has been added to complete the reconstruction.
The story behind the rare Fiji Times Express stamps
Before 1870, the postal service in Fiji was poorly run by the British Consul. This state of affairs prompted the owner of the local newspaper, the Fiji Times, to organise an alternative postal system.
The Fiji Times first appeared on 4 September 1869. It was printed and published every Saturday by George Littleton Griffiths at his office in Levuka on the island of Ovalau, and copies were sold at sixpence each.
The paper was obviously quite successful and at the end of December 1870, it became a twice-weekly journal.
In an October 1870 issue the following advertisement appeared:
‘THE PROPRIETORS of this Journal are about establishing a COMPLETE POSTAL SYSTEM throughout the FIJI GROUP, combined with an INSULAR PARCELS DELIVERY COMPANY. No pains will be spared to render the undertaking a BENEFIT AND CONVENIENCE to every resident in these Islands. To ensure the speedy delivery of all Letters and Parcels, a boat will be always in readiness to board in-coming vessels on anchoring in Levuka, and take mails on board any boat, however small, proceeding to any part of the Fijis or the Colonies… We are about erecting a temporary Post Office, and intend, as far as possible, to conduct the mode of delivery and transmission of letters on a plan similar to that adopted by Government Post Offices… We shall commence operations on NOVEMBER 1.’
Subsequent issues of the newspaper carried a scale of charges and the announcement that they intended to issue stamps for the prepayment of letters.
Printing the Fiji Times Express stamps
In the event, the stamps were printed on the newspaper’s own presses in sheets of 24 made up of four rows of six.
The top row comprised 6d stamps; followed by rows of 1s, 1d and 3d stamps. The first printing of about 500 sheets was made on quadrillé paper – paper with a pattern of small squares, rather like a traditional stamp album page.
A second printing of about 3,500 sheets was made on bâtonné paper – paper with a pattern of ruled lines – but the last three 3d stamps in the sheet were changed to 9d values. In use, the stamps were cancelled by hand with a small single or double cross.
Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen to whom copyright belongs.