Cayman Islands - Running Out of Stamps

refer to caption
The "One Halfpenny." overprint on the 1-penny Edward VII stamp.
1p overprint on 5sh King Edward VII stamp
The 1d overprint on the 5-shilling Edward VII stamp.

In the six-month period between August 30, 1907 and February 12, 1908, the Cayman Islands, a dependency of Jamaica, had to issue provisional surcharges no fewer than four times.

And who was to blame for the mess? Stamp collectors, apparently. The shortage of stamps was blamed on dealers buying such large quantities of the Caymans’ definitives that there were insufficient quantities left for normal use.

The first of the so-called Georgetown Provisionals was authorised when postal authorities realised that the stock of ½-penny definitives would only last another two months. In response, forty sheets of the 1-penny denomination were sent to Jamaica to be overprinted with the words ‘One Halfpenny’ by the Government Printing Office.

Even with this new supply of surcharged stamps, however, the authorities soon realised that the stock of the ½-penny valued stamps would run out by the end of the year. In fact, because so many had been overprinted, supplies of the 1-penny were exhausted first, by November 22.

As an emergency measure, the local postmistress, Gwendolyne Parsons, was instructed to surcharge fifteen sheets of the 5-shillings denomination stamp. This denomination was chosen because it was most often used for revenue purposes, and there were adequate stocks. A local carpenter was tasked with making a crude handstamp by attaching the figure ‘1’ and a capital letter ‘D’ to a wooden handle. With this handstamp, 1,800 stamps were surcharged overnight, and placed on sale on November 23. Unsurprisingly, a number of significant errors exist, including inverted, double and misaligned surcharges.

1/2p overprint on 5sh King Edward VII stamp
The 1/2d overprint on the 5-shilling Edward VII stamp.
2-1/2p overprint on 4p King Edward VII stamp
The 2 1/2d overprint on the 4-penny Edward VII stamp.
Image courtesy of Spink Shreves Galleries.

Three days later, with stocks of the ½-penny down to a single sheet, the carpenter was asked to alter his handstamp. By raising the figure ‘1’ and adding a ‘2’, he fashioned a surcharge which read ‘D’, albeit omitting the central bar in the fraction.

This new arrangement was handstamped onto fifteen sheets of the 5-shilling stamp, again with several varieties unintentionally created in the process. Post Offices received instructions that the surcharged 5-shilling stamps were only to be sold over post office counters, and not sent to dealers. Despite this, at least one complete pane of the overprinted 5-shilling stamps is known to have found its way into the collection of a leading Cayman Islands collector in the United Kingdom.

A fourth provisional overprint became necessary the following February, when stocks of the 2 1/2-penny stamps ran out. These stamps paid the rate for letters sent to the United States.

Four sheets of the 4-penny stamp had a 2 ½-penny surcharge applied by J. H. O’Sullivan, the chief of police, using a metal handstamp. The figures he used were in a slightly smaller font than the ones used before and still without the fraction bar. Once again, despite a ruling that a maximum of six stamps could be purchased at one visit to the post office, it is known that a local speculator got hold of two complete sheets.