The local stamps of Caldey Island [updated]

1973 first day cover featuring Caldey's inaugural stamp issue
1973 first day cover featuring Caldey’s inaugural stamp issue

Of all the local stamps produced by British offshore islands, those of Caldey are among the most interesting, yet also the most elusive. Few in mint condition appear on eBay, and those that do are often – as we once found to our cost – in the form of a presentation set where the stamps are stuck to the backing rather than being genuinely mint.

Happily, we’ve managed to acquire some Caldey stock to add to the shop for the first time in ages, so it seemed an appropriate moment to look back at Caldey’s stamp issues to date.

Caldey’s postal beginnings

Located a few miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales, Caldey Island has been owned by the Cistercian Order of monks since 1925. The first Cistercians took up residence on the island four years later, and continue their work there to this day, though Caldey’s history of monasticism goes back much further, to the 12th century.

Starting in 1973, Caldey began issuing its own attractive souvenir stamps, denominated in “dabs” after a local fish. Available from the island’s gift shop, these stamps were intended to be used on postcards sent from the island by its regular day visitors, alongside a British stamp, and cancelled with a special Caldey Island handstamp. The island has its own British Post Office branch, so the Caldey stamps have always been for novelty value, rather than serving a local post requirement.

Caldey stamp issues

A little effort is needed to piece together the exact chronology of Caldey stamp issues, but the first, issued on 1 May 1973, was a blue and black stamp depicting the Monastery Church, designed by local Tenby artist Claude A Page and printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson and Co.

Original 1973 Caldey issue, blown up to show the detail of the artwork
Original 1973 Caldey issue, blown up to show the detail of the artwork

Subsequent issues featured St David’s Church (15 August 1974, red and black), St Illtud’s Church (21 June 1976, yellow and green), Caldey Abbey (January 1980, gold and black, marking the 1979 golden jubilee of the monks’ arrival on Caldey), and the Abbey Church (1982, blue and black). All were denominated “2 dabs”.

Subsequent stamp issues by Caldey between 1974 and 1982
Subsequent stamp issues by Caldey between 1974 and 1982

In 2001, a new red and black stamp depicting Caldey Lighthouse was produced (again with a 2 dabs denomination). Though this stamp is perhaps harder to track down (mint or used) than the earlier ones, examples can be found used on cover, with a proper Caldey Island postmark, sometimes alongside the stamps produced previously.

2001 Caldey issue depicting the island's lighthouse
2001 Caldey issue depicting the island’s lighthouse

Current developments (updated 5 June 2019)

As of 2019, Caldey souvenir stamps are still sold in the island post office, but are not yet available for purchase from the island’s online store.

Caldey wildlife issue from 2018, used on cover
Caldey wildlife issue from 2018, used on cover

The 2001 lighthouse stamp remains in active use on the island, and was joined, in 2018, by a set of three new “Island Wildlife” self-adhesive stamps, printed in sheets of 78, and now in stock in our shop.

Collectors were first alerted to the new Caldey issue at the end of 2018 by its appearance on eBay, and were delighted to see attractive designs recalling the style of the earlier issues, and depicting a black swan, red squirrel and gypsy cobs respectively.

Subsequently, we have seen examples used on a souvenir cover with a proper Caldey Island cancellation (as shown above), while the Cinderella Stamp Club’s journal, The Cinderella Philatelist, has reported that the first day of issue was, in fact, 27 September 2018.

2018 Island Wildlife issue on the left, and an apparently unofficial 2018 issue on the right
2018 Island Wildlife issue on the left, and an apparently unofficial 2018 issue on the right

In contrast, one set of more amateurish designs that appeared on eBay in recent months, depicting Caldey scenes (shown above right), is believed to be unofficial, and not produced by the island – if nothing else, it eschews the traditional “dabs” in favour of standard pounds and pence, which is surely a giveaway.

Such labels remain of interest to Cinderella collectors as purely fantasy issues, though we do think it’s important that those behind such stamps – whoever they may be – are transparent about the origins when they sell them!

What do you think about these most recent labels that bear Caldey’s name? Feel free to add your comments and thoughts below!

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