U.S. collection going nowhere? Try possessions

Apr 25, 2005, 10 AM

By Rick Miller

There comes a time in the life of most United States collectors when just about all the U.S. stamps that are affordable are already in the album.

At this point in a collecting life, the average collector might have to save stamp acquisition funds for a year to be able to purchase a single stamp, aside from new issues, if he is even interested in new issues.

When this price threshold is reached, a collector might begin to cast about for another area to collect to regain the thrill of those heady days when dozens or even hundreds of stamps were added to a collection in a year.

The choice for another area is often a colony or a possession. Collectors of U.S. stamps often turn to the U.S. possessions, particularly if foreign stamps have never held much appeal.

U.S. possessions are a motley group drawn together through some connection or other to the United States.

U.S. possessions are listed in Vol. 1 of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, following the listings for stamps of the Confederate States of America and preceding the listings for the United Nations. They are also listed in the ScottSpecialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers in the same position. So a U.S. stamp collector probably already has the required catalog to begin a collection of one or more U.S. possessions.

Approached alphabetically, the first U.S. possession is the Canal Zone. Canal Zone was a strip of territory containing about 522 square miles on both sides of the Panama Canal. The zone bisected the nation of Panama. The Canal Zone was under U.S. jurisdiction from 1904 to 1979 and in joint U.S. and Panamanian jurisdiction from 1979 to 1999, at which point it reverted entirely to Panama.

Panama was a state or department of Colombia until 1903. When Colombia refused to allow the United States to construct a canal connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico across the isthmus of Panama, the United States backed a revolt in the department, creating the independent Republic of Panama

Colombian states and departments had the authority to issue their own postage stamps until 1904. The first stamps of the Republic of Panama were overprinted Panamanian departmental stamps. The first stamps of the Canal Zone were the same overprinted Panama departmental stamps with an additional overprint. U.S. stamps were also overprinted to provide stamps denominated in U.S. currency.

Overprinted Panamanian and U.S. stamps continued to serve the Canal Zone until 1928, when the first purpose-printed Canal Zone stamps were issued. A 50¢ violet-brown Gatun Spillway After Opening of the Panama Canal stamp (Scott 135) is shown in Figure 1.

The Canal Zone postal service was superceded as of Oct. 1, 1979, by the Panamanian postal service. In addition to postage, airmail, airmail Official, postage due and Official stamps, the Canal Zone also issued post office seals and postal stationery.

As a result of Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War, Cuba passed to U.S. administration effective Jan. 1, 1899. Cuba was administered by the U.S. military until a Cuban government could be organized. Cuba was never a U.S. possession in the same sense that the Panama Canal Zone was.

Cuban stamps issued under U.S. military control could be considered as occupation stamps, although their Scott catalog numbers are not prefixed with the letter "N" used for most occupation stamps.

Cuban stamps listed in the U.S. Possessions section of the Scott U.S. specialized catalog run from the Puerto Principe provisional stamps issued in 1898 through stamps of the republic issued under U.S. military rule from 1899 to 1902.

A Cuban 10-centavo brown Cane Field stamp (Scott 231) is shown in Figure 2.

In addition to postage, special delivery and postage due stamps, postal stationery and specimens are also listed.

The stamps of the Danish West Indies are listed with the U.S. possessions, although with the exception of three playing card revenue stamps, none were issued under U.S. administration.

A 5-franc yellow and brown Sailing Ship in St. Thomas Harbor stamp (Scott 39) is shown in Figure 3. In addition to postage, postage due and the previously mentioned playing card revenue stamps, Danish West Indies postal stationery is also listed in the U.S. Possessions section.

The United States purchased the Danish West Indies on March 31, 1917, from Denmark. At that point, the Danish West Indies ceased to exist as such.

It became the U.S. Virgin Islands, an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Danish West Indies stamps were replaced by U.S. stamps in 1917.

Guam, a Pacific island captured June 20, 1898, by U.S. forces, was an acquisition of the Spanish-American War. Guam's post office was placed under the administration of the Department of the Navy beginning July 7, 1899, and U.S. stamps were overprinted "GUAM" for use on mail originating from the island.

The island's post passed to an agent of the U.S. Post Office Department as of March 29, 1901, and regular U.S. stamps replaced those overprinted for Guam.

Although the USPOD provided for mail service to and from the island from its capital of Agana, there was generally no mail delivery between Agana and the smaller towns.

In 1930, the island's military governor Cmdr. Willis W. Bradley Jr., U.S. Navy, established a local postal system to deliver mail on the island. This system was called "Guam Guard Mail," and stamps of the Philippines were overprinted with that phrase to indicate prepayment of mail for local delivery service.

Although these are local stamps, the Scott standard catalog and the Scott U.S. specialized catalog list the stamps prefixed with the letter "M" that is normally assigned to military stamps, instead of the letter "L" normally assigned to local stamps.

Perhaps the most interesting stamps of Guam are the 1¢ and 2¢ Seal of Guam local post stamps that Bradley had printed for the service. A 2¢ black and red Seal of Guam local post stamp (Scott M4) is shown in Figure 4.

The Guam Guard Mail local post system was replaced April 8, 1931, by the U.S. postal system. Guam today is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Hawaii is unique in that it was both an independent kingdom and an independent republic before becoming a U.S. territory and eventually a state. The Kingdom of Hawaii issued stamps from 1851 to 1893. The Republic of Hawaii issued stamps from 1893 to 1898, when the islands were annexed by the United States and Hawaiian stamps were replaced by those of the United States.

A $1 rose-red Queen Emma Kaleleonalani stamp (Scott 49) is shown in Figure 5.

In addition to postage stamps, Hawaii also issued Official stamps, postal stationery and revenue stamps.

The only Scott-listed Hawaiian stamps issued under U.S. authority are the revenue stamps of 1901.

The United States began occupying the Philippines on May 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Many Filipinos, particularly those living in and around Manila, wanted to establish an independent republic. After defeating the Spanish, the Americans also had to fight and defeat the Filipino nationalists in the Philippine Insurrection.

U.S. stamps overprinted "Philippines" went on sale in 1899. In 1906, the first purpose-printed Philippine stamps were issued. Figure 6 shows a 2-peso bister-brown and black Battle of Manila Bay stamp of 1935 (Scott 394).

In addition to postage, airmail, special delivery, postage due and Official stamps, post office seals and postal stationery were also issued.

The Filipino revolutionary government stamps of 1898 and the World War II Japanese occupation of the Philippines stamps are also listed in the U.S. Possessions section.

The Philippines became a commonwealth of the United States in 1935 and an independent republic in 1946.

American troops landed on Puerto Rico in July 1898, and mail service was established under the direction of the U.S. military shortly afterward.

U.S. stamps overprinted "Porto Rico" were issued in 1899. The overprint was changed to "Puerto Rico" in 1900. U.S. stamps without overprints went into use in 1900, when the postal system was integrated into the Post Office Department.

Today Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States.

In addition to postage and postage due stamps, postal stationery and revenue stamps were also issued. A 72¢ blue George Sewall Boutwell rectified spirits revenue stamp (Scott RE48) is shown in Figure 7.

The Ryukyu Islands are an island chain of 63 islands between Japan and Taiwan, the largest of which is Okinawa. The United States occupied the northern islands from 1945 to 1953 and Okinawa and the southern islands until 1972. The stamps issued under U.S. administration are really occupation stamps, although they are not listed as such. The islands reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972.

In addition to postage, airmail and special delivery stamps, provisional stamps, postal stationery and revenue stamps are also listed.

Figure 8 shows an 8¢ brown Cycad unemployment insurance stamp (Scott RQ5).

The stamps of Cuba, Danish West Indies and Philippines listed in the U.S. Possessions section of the Scott U.S. specialized catalog are also listed under their own country names in the appropriate volumes of the Scott standard catalog.

Three other entities that could have been listed in the U.S. Possessions section are the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. All were taken from Japan in WWII and became part of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific in 1947. In 1986, all three became sovereign states in compacts of free association with the United States. All three began issuing their own stamps, Palau in 1983, and Marshall Islands and Micronesia in 1984.

By agreement, the U.S. Postal Service continues to provide mail service to and from islands.

A 29¢ Operation Desert Storm Battleship Missouri stamp (Micronesia Scott 138) is shown in Figure 9.