Sleuthing the Stave Story

What is the origin of a mysterious collection of vintage images of Grand Turk?

Story and Illustrations By Jeff Dodge

What was the connection between the Turks & Caicos Islands and a paper salesman from Los Angeles, California? This question came up after I noticed that a number of the vintage Turks Islands postcards in my collection had the name and address of a Los Angeles man stamped in light blue ink on their backs. My curiosity finally grew to the point that I had to know who this man was and what was his connection to the TCI. The name stamped on these postcards was “George A. Stave.” My first guess was that he had visited Grand Turk Island in the late 1920s or early 1930s. That guess would have been wrong.

What made the mystery more interesting was that the earliest postcard with Stave’s name and address stamped on it was produced in 1906  and the latest postcard bearing Stave’s name and address was produced about 1928. In addition to factory produced postcards, Stave’s name and address also appeared on photographs of scenes on Grand Turk.

George A. Stave (née Arne Georg Stave) was born in Norway in 1892. He arrived in New York in 1907 with two of his eight siblings—two years after his father, who immigrated in 1905. His mother and the rest of the family immigrated to the U.S. in 1911. By 1910, George, his father, and his two brothers were living in Seattle, Washington. His father worked as a baker.

Following his service in the U.S. Navy during World War I, George  returned to Seattle where he was employed as a paper salesman—probably for the American Writing Paper Company. He married Wilma A. Moore in 1922 and by 1923 they were living on Deane Avenue in Los Angeles, California. By 1930 the Stave family was living at 1152 Murifield Road in Los Angeles—the  address stamped on the postcards bearing

This postcard was published circa 1906. The cactus farthing stamp was issued between 1922 and 1926, but was in use until 1938. The King George V stamps were issued between 1928 and 1935/1938.

Stave’s name and address. The Stave family was still living on Murifield Road in 1936, but by 1940 they had moved to Salinas, California. In 1942, the Salinas city directory notes that Stave had his own paper company and by 1962 he was the manager of the Salinas Valley Wax Paper Company. George Stave died in 1981.

Based on when Stave lived at the Murifield Road address and the dates when the stamps that were affixed to the front of some of the postcards he collected were issued, one can deduce that Stave must have acquired these postcards and photos between about 1928 and 1930.

There is nothing to suggest that George Stave had the opportunity to travel to the Turks & Caicos Islands during the years he resided on Murifield Road. As a wholesale paper salesman and the head of a family of four—five counting his mother-in-law—it is not likely that he ever traveled to the West Indies. A search of passenger and passport records bear this out. Therefore, one must conclude that Stave was a collector of postcards and possibly stamps as well. But how did he acquire these postcards and photos? There are several possibilities.

Perhaps a friend of George Stave visited Grand Turk Island in the late 1920s. However, this is unlikely, because a short-term visitor to the Islands would not have been able to find or acquire the wide variety of postcards and photos dating from 1906 to 1928 that found their way into Stave’s collection. This suggests that Stave’s contact was probably a resident on Grand Turk.

If you assume Stave was put in touch with a resident of Grand Turk, then how might this have occurred? He may have known someone on Grand Turk through his work as a paper salesman, though it is unlikely since his sales territory was most likely the western United States. Another possibility is that he might have written someone such as the American Consul on Grand Turk for the name of a person on the island who could obtain a variety of postcards and/or stamps for him. This is possible, but, who might this contact have been?

One name that comes to mind is Robert O. Challis.He was stationed at Cable and Wireless on Grand Turk from early January 1926 to 1932. There is evidence that Challis, who was himself a photographer and who turned some of his photographs into postcards, took at least one or two of the photographs in Stave’s collection.

The photo and postcard below supports this thinking that Robert Challis might have been Stave’s contact on Grand Turk and the person who sent him the postcards and photos.

The photograph has a title written below the image. There are six like this in the collection of the Turks & Caicos National Museum and they all have Stave’s name and address stamped on their backs. The Museum’s founder, Grethe Seim, acquired these photographs from the Smithsonian Museum sometime between 1980 and 1998—where the Smithsonian got them is unknown. It is believed that most of the photographs were taken by Robert Challis about 1926. However, one of the photos with the hand-written title (Caicos Islands – Sponges) was probably taken by Edmund N. Coverley before 1910, though someone other than Coverley probably printed this picture from his negative. 

Someone noted that the photo was by Robert O. Challis—an employee of Cable & Wireless and a photographer. Challis officially reported to work on January 11, 1926, but probably moved to Grand Turk in late 1925.

Robert Challis was one of three known early photographers residing on Grand Turk in the 1920s and early 1930s—the other two were Edmond N. Coverley and John C. Crisson. Note however, that Coverley passed away in 1927—before some of the stamps on the postcards sent to Stave were issued. John Crisson, best known as a newspaperman, printed some of his photos on postcard stock. He sometimes marked them with his name using an embossing stamp. The Turks & Caicos National Museum has in their collection both embossed and unmarked postcards and photos by Crisson—none bear Stave’s name on their backs. Crisson owned The Chronicle and Dependency News from about 1924 to 1930. It’s possible that Crisson, being a newspaperman and photographer, was Stave’s contact on Grand Turk. 

Unfortunately, there is no way to pinpoint the source of the postcards and photos in George Stave’s collection with certainty. Stave descendants that could be located did not know about his postcard collection, however most of his descendants could not be found. Consequently, the mystery of how a wide variety of vintage photographs and picture postcards of scenes on Grand Turk ended up in the hands of a paper salesman living in California in the late 1920s and early 1930s remains an enigma. 

If you have pre-1938 picture postcards or photographs of the Turks Islands (Grand Turk) with George Stave’s name and address stamped on them, I would be interested in hearing from you. Postcards from Stave’s collection have been found in other collections—especially in California. You may email me (Jeff Dodge) at

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