Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Christmas Island Local Stamps 1916-1938

Where on Earth is Kiritimati?

There are two Christmas Islands, or at least there used to be. One, an Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean, still issues stamps. The other, in the Pacific Ocean, issued local stamps from 1916 to 1938, when the stamps of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands came into use.

The Pacific Christmas Island is a member of the Line Islands and, according to Wikipedia, is to be found 6,700 kms from Sydney, and 5,360 kms from San Francisco.

In 1913, the island was leased by Great Britain to the Central Pacific Cocoanut Plantations Ltd. In 1919, the island became part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, but no post office was opened. To defray the cost of transporting mail, the Central Pacific Cocoanut Plantations Ltd issued a 5c stamp in 1916, featuring one of their boats, Ysabel May.

There are four printings of the stamps, two for each value, all on unwatermarked paper according to Bill Hornadge's "Cinderella Stamps of Australasia":

First Printing  (probably 1916) - 5c value perf 12½
Second Printing (1924) - 5c value perf 11½
Third Printing (1926) - 10c value perf 11½, corner figures and value in red
Fourth Printing (1934) - 10c value perf 11½, corner figures and value in greenish blue

The stamp covered local delivery, but additional stamps were required for any delivery beyond the local area.

The Christmas Island locals are usually found on covers franked with the stamps of other Pacific territories, mainly French Oceanic Settlements. Most mail from Christmas Island seems to have been brought to Papeete, where both the local and the French Oceanic Settlement stamps were affixed and mailed for outward transmission. The picture above shows the first printing of the 5c stamp on a registered cover to Switzerland, postmarked Papeete 31 10 18, San Francisco Dec 23 18 and New York 12 28 18.

The locals were cancelled with the large Central Pacific Cocoanut Plantations Ltd rubber stamp

Local mailings are much scarcer. This cover, again showing a 5c from the first printing, was posted to Motatabu, an island in the lagoon, on Apr 3 1918

The postmark used for internal use was less spectacular, simply stating "Christmas Island Local Postage" and the date

In 1926, the postage was increased to 10c for local delivery, the same design being utilised

This cover was, quite appropriately, posted on Christmas Day 1934. It bears a 10c stamp which can be plated as stamp 3 of the right pane, due to the red dot above the "AN" of "Island". The stamps were printed in sheets of eight in two panes of four. All of the stamps can be plated.

In 1939, the Gilbert & Ellice Islands finally opened a post office on Christmas Island, and the use of these fascinating locals ceased.

I recently sold a collection of these stamps, but kept the covers shown above. They are, however, for sale should someone be prepared to dig deep!

Oh, and where in the world is Kiritimati? According to Wikipedia, "Christmas" translates to "Kiritimati" in the Gilbertese language, as "ti" is pronounced "s". Substitute the "s" for the "ti" and say it out loud!


  1. Nice summary on the Christmas Island locals. Of course Kiritimati is now part of the republic of Kiribati.

  2. It is indeed. I neglected to mention that, being stuck in the past as I am..... However, I learned something while doing the research. I didn't know why Kiribati was pronounced Kiribas. I do now!

  3. Well in Tuvalu (Ellice Islands) Kiribati is pronounced Killy-Bassy, and since my wife is Tuvaluan, that is how I say it, LOL.

  4. Always follow what the wife says. Happy wife, happy life! I'm always cautious about using Wikipedia as a reference for obvious reasons.

  5. What is the currency used? Whose "cents" or "centimes"? Australia and Gilbert & Ellice didn't use cents until much later.

  6. Good question! The island was leased to Emmanuel Rougier, a former Catholic priest from New Caledonia. The currency is French.

  7. l'abbé E0mmanuel rougier, prêtre missionnaire de la société de marie, est né en France à LA CHOMETTE, département de la haute-loire, en région auvergne. lire à ce sujet, sa vie racontée par le docteur paul boulagnon "emmanuel rougier, des isles d'auvergne à l'océanie" éditions du roure.
    on peut y retrouver l'histoire de ce timbre

  8. Thanks for the information! I wasn't aware that there was a book about Abbot Rougier.