Astrolabe

The Original “Snail Mail”

A glimpse at the postal history of the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Story & Photos By Peter Marshall

Many people the world over have never heard of the Turks & Caicos Islands. But among philatelists (a posh word for stamp collectors, myself included), the Islands are famous for the colourful, diverse postage stamps they issue.
Until the salt-raking stamps were introduced it was only the postcards that told anything about what could be found in these islands. My own interest gradually became more focused on the postcards and envelopes themselves, adding to the history of the Islands. I have not found any picture postcard before 1900. Many, if not most, were sent by visitors, and are more likely to be found abroad, as indeed are most stamps and envelopes.

A range of early stamps used on one postcard in 1927.

A range of early stamps used on one postcard in 1927.

I imagine that few readers of the Astrolabe can remember stamps much further back than 1967 when the Turks Islands celebrated the 100th Anniversary of their “separation” from the Bahamas. Interestingly, up to 1900, TCI stamps carried the Turks Islands name only and thereafter, Turks and Caicos Islands. Before 1867 there were no stamps but just a simple postmark to show that postage had been paid. Given the relatively small population of the Islands, it was almost inevitable that properly used stamps would be scarcer than those unfranked. As years advanced, stamps became more and more important as revenue generators for the Islands through stamp collectors rather than just postal use.
There were half a dozen other issues up until the time of the present monarch but less than 15 in total in nearly 90 years before then, and some of those included stamps for events such as coronations, victory, etc.
When did they think of introducing the local postage rate of ¼d? Perhaps during 1909 when the next design, showing a portrait of King Edward VII, was issued but without that value. The ¼d “cactus” design came out the following year. Was it a trial overprint or just a bogus stamp? Does any reader have an old family album with perhaps a letter or card tucked away, which was delivered with that stamp applied? This is an example of where the philatelist often has to rely on local knowledge, and the longer one does not ask the question, the less likely that we will know. Can YOU help?
The customs house produces another query for YOU! OHMS correspondence was often stamped with an oval marked “Postmaster Turks Islands,” usually dated in the centre, but the one above has “Customs House Turks Islands.” When was that in use (other than the date shown)? Does the rubber stamp still exist, perhaps with the postmaster?
Ham radio card from Grand Turk.

Ham radio card from Grand Turk.

Much more recently (only 50 or so years ago!), there was another counterpart to the postcard—ham radio cards identifying individually owned, non-commercial radio transmitters, by which communication was instantaneous, long before the days of the Internet. The interest I have in these is that they are from residents and thus include people’s names. All ham radios in the TCI had call signs beginning with VP5.
Envelopes to or from the following salt merchants are also in my album: Harriott Salt, George Frith, Alfred Stubbs, and Neale Coverley. I wonder if relations of those who worked there are still resident. And what about Oscar Greg, Edward Cameron (Comissioner at Government House) or Postmaster T. Lindsay Smith, in the 1920s?
If YOU should find something similar to any of the items mentioned in the article, perhaps lurking at the bottom of an old drawer, I would be delighted to hear from you. I can either be contacted at my e-mail (ar.01177@yahoo.co.uk) or through the Museum (info@tcmuseum.org). Help us reconstruct the postal history of the TCI!



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Hobbyist photographer and Assistant Director for Research & Development at the TCI Department of Environment & Coastal Resources Dr. Eric F. Salamanca took this rare photo of a Bahama Woodstar hummingbird enjoying the nectar of Moringa flowers.

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