The Sailor’s Post on Ascension Island

The Letterbox on Ascension Island

The travel of post started in a different way to what we know today. Convenient and easily recognisable places were used to leave letters and other letters could be collected. As early as the 17th century, Ascension Island was used by sailors to deposit letters at the “Letterbox”. Passing ships would pick up the letters heading in the same direction for delivery. Today there are no remnants of the spot where the letters were deposited.

Ascension Island

The British began settling on Ascension Island in 1815, a precautionary move to ensure the banished Napoleon Bonaparte could not escape the island of St Helena.  Many years later, on March 3, 1867 the British Postmaster General sent a supply of stamps for H A Haswell, the island’s postmaster, to sell. Thus, beginning the postal history of Ascension Island.

In 1922, Ascension Island became an Independency of St Helena and was managed by the Eastern Telegraph Company until 1964. The Eastern Telegraph Company installed the first underwater cable in 1899, connecting the British Empire with its colonies in South Africa from Ascension Island.

In the early days of the Second World War the United States, allies of the British, decided to supply and improve amphibious aircraft antisubmarine patrol operations on Ascension.  “Wideawake”, the airbase they built, is named after the indigenous sooty tern bird colony on the island. The sooty tern are loud and have a distinctive cawing chatter day and night.

On 15 June 1942, in the height of World War II, Ascension fired upon two aircraft which were identified later as ally British Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes. The aircraft were forced to land on the unfinished airstrip on the United States airbase, Wideawake, becoming the first aircraft to land on the base. This day was commemorated with a postage stamp.

Today, Ascension Island is a British Overseas Territory and has its own constitution.  There is no permanent population as the inhabitants are the employees and families of the organisations on the island. There is a guide for guests to the island called the “Letterbox Walks” taking them along the very beaches sailors once walked to post their letters.

Shop Ascension Island

Ascension Island Badge Issue 1d Die Proof



Filat AG has recently added several new items to their Ascension Island section dating from 1913 to 1936. Highlights include a stunning Die Proof of the 1924 1d Badge Issue as well as several of its varieties and the scarce 1935 Silver Jubilee 5d Kite & Horizontal Log variety. You can view all the items here.

We’re Off to Stampex!

Filat AG will be represented at Autumn STAMPEX 2016 by Richard Johnson, our English Colonies expert.

Due to his responsibilities as IFSDA President he is unable to be a stand holder, however, please make contact with him through Gary DuBro, Willard Allman and David Morrison who will be at stands 40-42. A map of the venue can be found here.

Stampex takes place at The Business Design Centre, Islington, London and will be open from 14 – 17 September 2016. Further details can be found here.

Stunning Saint Helena

Saint Helena is allegedly Britain’s second oldest colony and was strategically important to the British Empire ships sailing between Europe, South Africa and Asia. The island was often used for exile purposes during the Boer War and quite famously was the location of Napoleon Bonaparte’s second exile and eventual death.

Over six thousand Boer War prisoners were held at prisoner-of-war camps at Broadbottom and Deadwood. This influx of prisoners resulted in a population record of 9,850 on Saint Helena. Several Boers decided to remain on the island after hostilities ended in 1902. This time of turmoil provided an excellent context for Saint Helena postal history. Filat AG has an excellent example of a Boer War censor cover sent to the Netherlands bearing an excellent strike of triangular “HEAD OFFICE” censor mark.

Saint Helena issued its first stamp on 1 January 1856 depicting Queen Victoria with a face value of 6d. This design was later issued again in various colours and overprinted with new values and remained in use until 1884. From 1912 to 1937, King George V issues were in use, followed by King George VI, the first of which was his Coronation set. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II first stamp was issued. The most expensive set of Saint Helena is the 1961 “ST. HELENA/Tristan Relief” set of four. This set consists of Tristan da Cunha stamps which were overprinted and surcharged and were only sold between 12 and 19 October 1961, making this set quite rare.

Filat AG recently acquired some stunning new Saint Helena items which can be found here. A variety of stamps and covers are available ranging from 1902-1937, including Boer War letters and varieties on cover. Further highlights include 1922 Badge Issue 15/- torn flag variety in superb, mint condition, 1937 1/- Cleft Rock variety on seapost cover to the US and a 1919 War Tax Receiving Authority Specimen. These are but a few notable mentions, for the full range please visit Filat AG’s Saint Helena section.

Saint Helene 1d War Tax Specimen Stamp



Mafeking Siege Ended – Today in 1900

The Mafeking Siege started on 14 October 1899 during the Second Boer War. Robert Baden-Powell, who later founded the Scouts movement, led the British forces and General Piet Cronje led the Boers. President Kruger had instructed the British to withdraw from the Transvaal border. After being ignored, he declared war on 12 October 1899, cutting off the Mafeking railway and telegraph lines. Two days later, Cronje besieged Mafeking following a refusal to surrender from Baden-Powel.

Baden-Powell employed several strategies to trick the Boers into believing he was better equipped with more men than initial reports stated. He further made use of an armoured train to send sharpshooters into the Boer camp and managed to get the back to safety again.

The Mafeking Siege was lifted on 17 May 1900, when British reinforcements fought their way to Baden-Powel who had managed to hold Mafeking for 217 days. During the Siege, stamp supplies had run out and a photographic method was used to create new stamps. One stamp showed an image of a scout riding a bicycle and the other design featured a portrait of Colonel Baden-Powell.

Mafeking Siege 3d Baden-Powell Large Format

Mafeking Siege 3d Baden-Powell Large Format

Above the 3d version of the Baden-Powell stamp. This one a superb used example with a neat Mafeking cds MY 2 1900. A particularly pleasing mid-shade example of this important stamp. Available from Filat AG.

Another interesting example from this Siege, or rather after, is a post-siege advertising envelope featured below:

This 1900 Advertising Envelope from Mafeking (1 DE) to England is franked with a pair of Hope Standing 1d’s tied by Mafeking squared circle cds’s. Manuscript annotations “On Active Service” and on the backflap “from Corpl S Manley, 13740, I.Y. (Imperial Yeomanry) Mafeking, 1st Div.”  The advertising component at base reads “D Taylor, Photographer, Mafeking. Large Variety of Siege Views, and Books of Siege Views, finished in Best Style”. Interestingly, Taylor was the photographer responsible for the printing process of the Mafeking Blues postage stamps during the Siege. This cover is also available from Filat AG as well as numerous other Mafeking Siege items.


Mandela Inaugurated as President – Today in 1994

Nelson Mandela was inaugurated on 10 May 1994 as the first black President of South Africa. Since then, several stamps have been issued to celebrate his unique vision and contributions he made to South Africa.

In July, 2008, a series was issued to celebrate Madiba’s 90th Birthday. The domestic mail stamp featured a photograph by Halden Krog depicting a smiling Madiba against a backdrop of lush gardens. The international mail stamp shows a painting by Cyril Coetzee of a seated Madiba.



The above Nelson Mandela miniature sheet is available from Filat AG. This particular example is a superb UM sheet WITH OFFSET OF GOLD PRINTING (“South Africa / Happy 90th Birthday, Madiba!”) on reverse. This variety is unlisted and appears quite unusual & scarce.



After Madiba’s death in December 2013, the South African Post Office once again issued stamps in Madiba’s honour, with the backing of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. This commemorative issue features a folder which contains a miniature sheet. Inside the folder is a summary of Madiba’s life. The entire folder is printed in silver – symbolic of Mandela’s stature and the richness of his legacy. This folder and stamp was issued on 11 February 2014 with photographs being supplied by the Foundation. The miniature sheet measures 65x85mm and the stamp size is 30x30mm with perforations 14×13¼. 5,000,000 Souvenir folders were printed and distributed and are still available from virtual South African Post Office.