STAMPS: Shipping and Commerce | Life

In 1890 Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan of the United States Navy published The Importance of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783 in which, along with later publications, he articulated the need for a strong navy to protect the distant overseas territories, international trade interests and shipping routes.

The publication was timely and widely read for a number of reasons, especially as the maritime world shifted from wind to steam power and required strategically located crossing points to deliver food and water. fresh water, communication services and coal.

Ultimately, Mahan was advocating for the modernization of the antiquated US Navy. The United States was expanding trade in East Asia and encouraging the construction of a canal across the Central American isthmus to link the Atlantic and Pacific shipping routes.

In 1898 the United States annexed Hawaii and after a war with Spain the United States recognized Cuba’s “independence” and annexed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Mahan’s fundamental thesis was also known to other countries. By the end of the 19th century, Britain was the predominant colonial power and had well-established lines of communication with its possessions. Gibraltar, Malta, the Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong were of key strategic importance, but the British also recognized that smaller islands could also play a part in this “big game”.

For example, in the late 1890s, they saw tiny Necker Island as a landmark for an undersea cable linking Canada and Australia. Suddenly, these pinnacles of rock in a vast ocean grew in importance.

The idea was not new. As “last stops” en route to Africa and the Americas, Portugal had a long-standing claim to the islands of Madeira and the Azores and to Sao Tome. They also built a fort at Mombasa in modern Kenya and occupied Damon, Diu and Goa in India to serve their international ambitions.

Spain had claimed the Canary Islands and developed a strong presence from Acapulco to Manila as a route back to Europe, and the Dutch had fortified the port of Galle for similar reasons.

Later, in the 1890s, Italy sought ports in the Horn of Africa and for his own reasons Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was a keen admirer of Mahan’s writings. Needless to say, France has also been active in establishing a convenient and unbroken chain of safe ports and lines of communication.

This included a postal service and postage stamps.

All of these colonial powers issued their own colonial stamps and in 1892 France issued its first issue of territory-specific postage stamps commonly referred to as the “Navigation and Commerce” series.

The stamps were designed by Louis-Eugène Mouchon and paid subtle homage to Alfred Thayer Mahan in the use of allegorical depictions of shipping and trade. This standard design featured a rectangular cartouche at the bottom of the stamp with the name of the colony printed in black, blue or red, and individual sets contained nine to nineteen stamps printed in various colors and denominated from one centime to five francs . .

France issued more than 30 series of these stamps between 1892 and 1908. Some series were repeated under different names such as “Golfe de Bénin” and “Bénin” and “Diego-Suarez et Dépendances” and “Diego-Suarez” .

Many sets were overprinted. For example, the Indochina set was overprinted with the name of French offices in China and the “Etablissement de L’Océanie” stamps were overprinted “Tahiti” and overprinted for use in that region. In 1892, France issued a set for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. In 1901, the 10-cent black and 10-cent red stamps were overprinted as parcel postage stamps.

In some cases, such as Anjouan, Moheli, Ste. Marie of Madagascar, Grande Comore and Senegambia and Niger, Navigation and Commerce stamps were the only stamps issued and these colonies were eventually absorbed into larger administrative areas.

The names of many of these colonies have disappeared over time, but the influence of Alfred Thayer Mahan is illustrated by looking at a map and identifying the geographical and strategic distribution of these French colonial seaports and the connection between power maritime and navigation and trade over a hundred years ago.

It’s amazing what you can learn from stamps.

Terrence Lanning is a member of the Penticton Samp Club.

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