An Introduction to Collecting the Postage Stamps of the Caribbean

To anyone who has been to the Caribbean, or indeed to anyone who dreams of someday going there, there is a particular charm associated with the idea of collecting postage stamps from Caribbean countries. The stamps instantly call to mind warm, sultry nights with palm trees gently swaying in a tropical breeze, lovely beaches, and a profusion of beautiful flora and fauna. But even if this were not the case, Caribbean stamp collecting would still hold a great deal of appeal. The postal history of the area is rich and complex, with Caribbean countries initially colonized by various European countries and then later achieving independence.

One could write a book – probably several – on the pleasant and rewarding intricacies of collecting stamps of the Caribbean. The scope of this brief article is far more restricted, and seeks only to answer one (seemingly simple) question, which is: What stamp-issuing countries would be considered to be “Caribbean” from a philatelic perspective? In answering this one query, we may also offer a hint as to what might properly guide a collector when choosing which Caribbean country or countries to collect.

Philately, of course, has its own rules on how countries are categorized. Thus, for example, Jamaica can still be considered for inclusion under the heading of “British Empire,” even though the country achieved political independence on August 6, 1962. That being said, we can begin with the British West Indies, typically acknowledged to include the following countries:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Barbuda
  • Bermuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Jamaica
  • Leeward Islands
  • Montserrat
  • Tobago
  • Trinidad
  • Turks & Caicos Islands
  • Turks Islands

Obviously, such a long list can be further dissected. Stanley Gibbons publishes a Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue for the Northern Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda, which of course includes Bermuda and the Bahamas but also includes the stamps of Jamaica (as well as stamps of Great Britain used in Jamaica), the Cayman Islands (including Jamaican stamps used in the Cayman Islands), and Turks and Caicos.

The same company’s Leeward Islands Catalogue lists issues of Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis. Also covered by this catalogue are the stamps of Barbuda, Leeward Islands, St. Christopher, Nevis, St. Kitts-Nevis, and St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla.

As can easily be seen, we are already up to two reasonably good-sized catalogues and we have not yet covered all the stamps in the British West Indies, never mind any French colony (Guadeloupe, for example, best covered by Yvert & Tellier’s Catalogue de cotation des Timbres des Colonies Françaises) or the countries comprising the Latin West Indies, which would include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (currently a territory of the United States) and the French-speaking Haiti. There’s also a category of countries sometimes referred to as the Caribbean Netherlands, which would include St. Maarten, Aruba, and Curaçao. If you’re still wondering what happened to Trinidad, Stanley Gibbons covers both Trinidad and Tobago in its Belize, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago Stamp Catalogue.

Not intimidated by German? Then consider Michel’s two catalogues covering all of the Caribbean islands, currently priced at 84,00 € each, entitled Karibische-Inseln 2015/2016 (ÜK 2/1) - Band 1 (A-J) (Anguilla, Antigua und Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Britische Jungferninseln (früher Jungferninseln), Cayman Islands (früher Kaiman-Inseln), Curaçao, Dänisch-Westindien, Dominica, Dominikanische Republik, Grenada mit Grenadinen, Guadeloupe, Haiti und Jamaika) and Karibische-Inseln 2015/2016 (ÜK 2/2) - Band 2 (K-Z) (Karibische Niederlande, Kuba, Leeward-Inseln, Martinique, Montserrat, Nevis, Niederländische Antillen, Puerto Rico, St. Christopher/St. Kitts, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, die Grenadinen, Sint Maarten, Spanisch-Westindien, Tobago, Trinidad und Tobago, Turks- und Caicos-Inseln.)

Why should you care about catalogues? For two reasons, actually: 1) because, in order to seriously collect a country or group of countries, you need the corresponding stamp catalogue or catalogues in order to properly identify stamps and have a reasonable idea of their monetary value, and; 2) because stamp catalogues are not cheap.

We’ve not mentioned Scott catalogues thus far in our discussion. These are also not cheap, are arranged alphabetically (so collecting Bermuda, Jamaica, and Turks & Caicos would require three albums), and would be unlikely to contain the same level of detail offered by the above-mentioned Stanley Gibbons, Michel, or Yvert & Tellier specialty albums.

We promised a hint about what a collector should consider before seriously undertaking the building of a Caribbean stamp collection, and by now you’ve no doubt guessed what it might be. Clearly, if you have a personal affinity for a particular country or group of countries, then let that affinity guide your decision. But if not – if the mere mention of the word “Caribbean” is sufficient to set your philatelic pulse racing – then consider a collection that would require only one or at most two stamp catalogues. That way, you’ll have all the information you need and still have some money left over to actually purchase stamps.

© Daniel McAdam, Managing Member
Akarius