The local stamps of Caldey Island

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 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 stamps. Available from the island’s post office, these stamps were intended to be used on postcards sent from the island by its regular day visitors, to cover the cost of transport by boat to the mainland post office at Tenby.

As with most British local post services, a Royal Mail stamp also needed to be affixed to cover the onward postage from Tenby. Caldey’s stamps were denominated in “dabs”, named after a local fish.

Caldey stamp issues

It is quite hard 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). This is evidently an official Caldey issue, as examples can be found used on cover, with a proper Caldey Island postmark, alongside some of the stamps produced previously.

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

Current developments (updated 17 January 2019)

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

Indeed, it’s partly the lack of any information on the official Caldey website about the island’s stamps that makes it hard to figure out their current status.

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

Notably, in 2018, a set of three new “Island Wildlife” self-adhesive stamps apparently from Caldey appeared on eBay, recalling the style of the earlier designs and depicting a black swan, red squirrel and gypsy cobs respectively.

Subsequently, we have seen examples used on cover with what appears to be a proper Caldey Island cancellation (as shown above), and been able to ascertain that this apparently is an official new issue, released in 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 on eBay, depicting island scenes (shown above), is almost certainly unofficial – if nothing else, it eschews the traditional “dabs” in favour of standard pounds and pence.

Perhaps our readers and customers can provide further details on these modern labels that bear Caldey’s name? Feel free to add your comments and thoughts below!

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