More than two million visitors attended the International Exhibition of Arts & Industries, held in Christchurch, New Zealand between November 1, 1906 and April 15, 1907. The event was equally notable from a philatelic viewpoint, because it led to New Zealand issuing its very first set of commemorative stamps.
Four different stamps were issued, illustrating the history of the country, including its Maori heritage. The lowest denomination, a 1/2-penny green colored stamp, depicted a canoe of the type used by the Maori people to migrate to the islands originally. The 1-penny red stamp, entitled Maori Art, showed the natives carving the bow of one of their canoes using traditional tools.
The higher values were bi-color designs. The 3-penny blue and brown stamp depicted the landing of Captain Cook in 1769, while the 6-penny pink and olive-green stamp showed the ceremony which brought New Zealand under British sovereignty in 1840. A common frame bore a banner at the bottom with the slogan ‘Commemorative Series of 1906’.
A noted Auckland artist, Louis J. Steele, executed the designs (he had submitted the central drawings for these designs to the Post Office on a previous occasion, but they had not been used). The engravings were done by W. R. Bock, at the Government Printing Office in Wellington. A proof of the 1-penny was rejected by Steele, who favored photo-lithographic rather than engraved printing plates. This alternative process was duly attempted, but the results were considered inferior. In the end, Bock’s engraved dies were used to create electrolyte plates, laid down as two panes of thirty stamps.
The stamps were placed on sale only at the exhibition’s post office, where sales were limited to five shillings worth of stamps per purchase in order to prevent speculation. The post office was opened from October 22 to April 20, so covers exist with date stamps just before and after the period of the exhibition.