World Stamps

Stamps document the complex political evolution of New Guinea: Stamps Down Under

Mar 25, 2016, 1 PM

By Janet Klug

It is fascinating for most people to learn how nations evolve, and even more so for stamp collectors, who can document a nation’s changes through its postal issues. New Guinea is a good example.

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, after Greenland.

However, the island of New Guinea is not the nation of New Guinea, and the nation of New Guinea is neither the territory of New Guinea nor the province of New Guinea. This situation gets very complex, so let’s see if the stamps will tell the story.

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In 1825, the Dutch empire claimed the western half of the island of New Guinea, and the Dutch (Netherlands) government declared in 1828 that northwest New Guinea was part of the Dutch empire, naming it the Dutch (or Netherlands) East Indies. This was the pre-stamp era, so we have to fast forward to 1864, when stamps were issued for the Netherland Indies.

The Netherland Indies included more than just the western half of the island of New Guinea.

Illustrated nearby is the first stamp issued by Netherlands Indies. It was used in New Guinea as well as Sumatra, Java, part of Borneo, the Moluccas, Celebes, and other small islands within the parameter of the Dutch East Indies.

In the 1870s, several European countries became interested in New Guinea, especially when news circulated telling of riches to be found on the island.

European nations began sending explorers, traders, and missionaries to establish holdings in New Guinea. Their reports extolled the virtues of natural resources: specifically cedar, ebony, sandalwood, rubber, pearls, copra (dried coconut), and, eventually, gold.

In 1883, eastern New Guinea was annexed by Queensland, a British colony in northeast Australia. For a relatively short time (1885-1901), Queensland’s stamps were used in eastern New Guinea. Not to be outdone, Germany raised its flag on the northeast coast of New Guinea.

In order for the Netherlands to protect its claim on the Netherlands Indies, a line was set at the 141st meridian east, to mark the division between West (Dutch) New Guinea and areas annexed by Germany and Great Britain. Germany stamps overprinted “Deutsch-Neu-Guinea” were used in New Guinea from 1897 to 1899.

New stamps were issued in 1901 specifically for Deutsch Neu Guinea, picturing Kaiser Wilhelm II’s yacht, Hohenzollern. Stamps of this design were in continuous use until 1919.

Responding to Germany’s annexation of northeast New Guinea, Great Britain hoisted the flag in 1884 in the newly proclaimed British New Guinea protectorate in southeast New Guinea.

In 1901, British New Guinea received its own postage stamps featuring a beautiful image of an indigenous sailing vessel (a sort of double dugout canoe) called a lakatoi.

Control of British New Guinea was transferred in 1906 to the newly independent Commonwealth of Australia. British New Guinea was renamed the Territory of Papua, and so in 1906 the British New Guinea stamps were overprinted “Papua.” with a period at the end of the name. The “Papua.” overprint was changed to a smaller marking without a final period in 1907.

Finally, in 1908, the banner above the lakatoi was redesigned to read “Papua,” and until 1952 all the stamps for the Territory of Papua were inscribed “Papua.”

On Sept. 11, 1914, in Australia’s first military engagement of World War I, Australian troops ousted a German garrison defending the most powerful wireless station in the Pacific, at Bitapaka on the Gazelle Peninsula of northeastern New Guinea.

The Germans capitulated and Australia was assigned a mandate by the League of Nations to govern the area that had been German territory.

Deutsch Neu Guinea stamps were overprinted for use in “New Britain.” The overprint was “G.R.I” (for the Latin Georgius Rex Imperator, referring to King George V) and surcharges were in pence and shillings.

During World War II, Japan conquered nearly all of New Guinea with the exception of the extreme southeast coastline. During the occupation, civilian post offices were closed, and this explains why the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue has no stamps for West or East New Guinea during the World War II period. Japanese soldiers used army post offices, and Allied soldiers fighting in New Guinea also used military post offices.

In 1945, Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union and received the joint title of The Territory of Papua and New Guinea.

Post-World War II Australian stamps were used within the Territory of Papua and New Guinea until 1953. A cover from that period is illustrated here, franked with three Australia stamps and postmarked at Madang, Papua New Guinea, on Feb. 27, 1950.

The Netherlands Indies resumed issuing stamps for Netherlands New Guinea in 1950. However, after an aggressive disagreement with Indonesia, in August 1962 the Netherlands relinquished the disputed territory to the United Nations, as a trust territory.

The first stamps used there were Netherlands New Guinea issues overprinted “UNTEA,” for United Nations Temporary Executive Authority. In 1963, the United Nations gave control of West New Guinea to Indonesia and the name became Irian Barat (West New Guinea).

Republik Indonesia stamps inscribed “Irian Barat” were issued starting May 1, 1963, until 1970.

The stamps carried both country names: Republik Indonesia and Irian Barat. A 1968 stamp (Scott 48) highlighted the unification of West Irian and Indonesia.

(Note that West Irian stamps appear in the 2016 Scott Standard catalog in Vol. 1, following the United Nations listings, and in Vol. 3, following Indonesia.)

In 1972, the territory was permanently (one hopes) renamed Papua New Guinea, often referred to simply as PNG. A few years later, in 1975, Papua New Guinea changed from Australian dollars and cents to kina and toea. That year, a set of five stamps (PNG Scott 410-414) celebrated the new coinage.

While it isn’t always easy tracing all of the political and geographic changes that can happen in any nation, it sure is fun finding the relevant stamps to demonstrate the history. Give it a try!