World Stamps

By Janet Klug

Why definitive stamps of Fiji from 1938-55 are so interesting: Stamps Down Under

June 24, 2016 07:00 PM

  • This 2-penny Fiji stamp of 1938 was the first to use the design of a map of the islands. One longitude marking is shown but the second, for 180 degrees east, was forgotten.
  • In 1940, the 1938 design was redrawn, adding the 180 degrees east longitude measurement.
  • Needing 2½-penny stamps in 1942, Fiji redrew the frame of the 1940 Map stamps to change the denomination from 2d to 2½d.
  • In urgent need of 2½-penny stamps in 1942, Fiji’s 2d stamps of 1940 were surcharged and the 2d denomination obliterated.
  • The error design of 1938, lacking the 180 degrees longitude marking, was used anyway that year for the 6-penny denomination.
  • The 6d stamp of 1938 was redrawn in 1940 to correct the missing longitude measurement.
  • The map design appeared again in 1954, with an image of Queen Elizabeth II.
  • A stamp in the pictorial definitives set of 1938-55 oddly depicts an unmanned outrigger canoe.
  • The outrigger canoe design acquired a sailor in the redrawn version issued in 1940.

By Janet Klug

There is something compelling about the definitive stamps issued by Fiji between 1938 and 1955, during the reign of King George VI and the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. 

What makes these stamps so interesting are the images that convey the beauty and lifestyle of this island country in the South Pacific, as well as the complexity of several of the denominations. 

Spend even a short time working with and mounting some of these Fiji stamps and you will come away with knowledge and understanding of this nation of beautiful islands. But that’s not all: If you spend a little more time looking closely at them, you might find some curious varieties and discover how to seek other varieties that might be lurking in your collection. 

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A good place to begin is with the 2-penny stamp first issued in 1938 (Scottt 120). The frame is green and the vignette (center image) features a map of the Fiji islands in orange brown, according to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue.

The perforations are gauge 13½, and the watermark on this issue (and on all of the other stamps that will be discussed here) is watermark 4 of the British colonial and Crown Agents watermarks listed in the Scott Standard catalog: Multiple Crown and Script CA.

Look closely at this stamp and you will see two vertical lines. One starts below the first letter “U” in “VANUALEVU” and runs to the bottom of the map. Above that first “U” is indicated longitude 178 degrees east. 

The second vertical line begins at the top of the stamp between the last “I” of “FIJI” and the ending period. Now follow that line to the bottom of the stamp where it hits the frame. There is no longitude measurement there. It should read 180 degrees, but this was not added to the printing plate. 

There are some additional varieties that are worth finding. Be on the watch for an extra vertical line running from the bottom of the “a” in “Levuka” and ending in line with the bottom of the “F” in “FIJI” in the lower-right corner.

Another variety has a straight green line running through the “2” in the denomination block at the bottom left. Both of these varieties are hard to find but definitely worth the effort.

A similar stamp issued in 1946 had a map that was of a slightly different color, identified as magenta in the Scott Standard catalog (Scott 121). The magenta is actually a brighter red color than the orange brown of the Scott 120 Map stamp issued in 1938. This stamp comes in a perforation gauge 12 variety (121a) in addition to the regular gauge 13½ of Scott 121.

In 1940, the 2d stamp was redrawn and issued with the marking of 180 degrees longitude printed just below the words “Fiji/Islands” in the bottom-right corner (Scott 133), with perforation gauge 13½.

By 1942, Fiji was in need of 2½d stamps. Instead of starting from scratch with a new design, the green frame with the orange-brown map vignette was used again, but this time the frame was redrawn to change the denomination in the lower-left corner from 2d to 2½d. This stamp is Scott 134, with perforation gauge 14. 

There are two additional varieties for this stamp listed in the Scott Standard catalog: Scott 134a, perf gauge 12, issued in 1948; and Scott 134b, perf gauge 13½, issued in 1942.

Each of these varieties also might have a scarce printing variety: a tiny dot in the top-right outer ring around the island of Levuka. Known as “Extra Island,” this variety is worth seeking.

By now you must be wondering if there was anything more that could be done to these green-frame Fiji Map stamps. Well, there was. 

In 1941, 2½d stamps were needed quickly. The 2d stamp issued in 1940 with the 180 degrees longitude marking (Scott 133) was surcharged “2½d.” in heavy black ink in the center of the stamp, and the original 2d denomination in the bottom-left corner was obliterated with heavy black ink. The Government Printer in Suva, Fiji, did the surcharging. The resulting stamp is Scott 136, perforated gauge 13½.

The Fiji map also was used for the 6d black stamp (Scott 125) issued in 1938, without longitude 180 degrees, and perforated 13 by 12. The 6d black was redrawn in 1940 to add the 180 degrees longitude (Scott 135, perf 13½). You might not be surprised that it returned yet again: in 1947, as Scott 135a, perf 12. There also is a violet-black color variety (not listed in the Scott Standard catalog) that was issued in 1947, perf 13½.

And we are still not finished. The frame-and-map vignette made a return visit in 1954 as a 6d black stamp (Scott 154, perf 12½), the big difference being the monarch’s image changed from King George VI to Queen Elizabeth II, who had acceded to the throne in 1952. 

The Fiji map design is only one of 13 vignettes in a set of 18 stamps (Scott 117-128, 128A, 129-131, 131A, 131B) issued from 1938 to 1955, several more of which have diverse perforations and quirky varieties that are equally easy to spot but maybe not as easy to acquire. 

For example, the ½d stamp issued in 1938 (Scott 119) shows a Fijian outrigger canoe, also known as a camakua, adrift offshore with no one aboard to sail it. The stamp was redrawn and reissued in 1940 (132), and — voila! — a Fijian man now is sailing the outrigger. 

When you have a stamp that is this complex, with many varieties, it helps to make a table that will provide all the information you need, at a glance.

Keep looking, keep learning, and keep collecting! 

Interested in learning more about Down Under stamps? You are in luck:

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Stamps document going for the gold in Australia in the 1850s