Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pitcairn Islands 2014 - Byrd Antarctica Expedition 1939-41

ISSUE DATE: 11 December 2014
DENOMINATIONS: $1.00, $1.80, $2.00, $2.80 (NZD)
STAMP DESIGN: Denise Durkin
PRINTER: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand
PAPER: 104gsm oblong watermarked stamp paper
STAMP SIZE: 36 mm x 38.59 mm 4 stamps with strip in central tab
PERFORATIONS: 14.44 x 14.51

The expeditions of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd to Antarctica are well known, but many may not know there was a direct connection to Pitcairn Island as well. WWII was 3 months old. Ships with goods to sustain Pitcairn were not calling because of the perceived danger or the need to be elsewhere. So when the USMS North Star, headed to Antarctica, stopped at Pitcairn for much-needed water on 13-14 December 1939, it was a welcome sight as the ship also had much needed supplies it was willing to share. Part of the sustenance bound for the Bay of Whales was beached at Bounty Bay -- 4,000 pounds each of flour and sugar, 10 crates of both potatoes and lard cases, 10 gross of matches, a barrel of gasoline and five gallons of lubricating oil. The North Star later replenished its stores in New Zealand.

While some expedition members toiled conveying the larder, and others tended to the islanders' medical and communications equipment needs, 3 senior expedition members prepared to document the visitation in postal history. Richard B. Black, MD Alfred B. Geyer and expedition recorder Roger Hawthorne (see below) are credited with designing an intricate pictorial cachet (see cover) which was reproduced by mimeograph. Several proofs were made on the left side of un-imprinted government letter-size envelopes, one of which was "approved" for production by Admiral Byrd.

The North Star was also carrying an important piece of equipment to be tested in Antarctica. The "Snow Cruiser" (built at the Pullman Company at a cost of $150,000) was doomed to be an eventual failure, but at this point, it was being heavily promoted.

Byrd Visit Date StampIn fact, the Armour Institute, which developed the "Snow Cruiser," partnered with the Fidelity Stamp Company to produce philatelic covers commemorating its use in the Antarctic.

So in fact, there were two different philatelic covers commemorating the North Star visit to Pitcairn. The "Snow Cruiser" cover is known to have been cancelled on the island as well as the North Star cachet. 

Personnel associated with the Armour Institute used that envelope for posting at Pitcairn rather than the North Star cachet. There were 794 North Star covers created on the mimeograph. Each North Star member received 10 cacheted envelopes. There were 77 USASE personnel present, and that would account for almost all of the covers. Several were also retained for "official" use, being addressed to senior officers. Not many postage stamps were available at the Pitcairn post office for franking the more than 550 envelopes cancelled there on December 14. The postage shortfall resulted in Postmaster Richard Edgar Christian initialling the cancellation to certify their prepayment. Some North Star covers were carried on for posting at Rapa Island on December 17. Thus the expedition, which left on December 14, was responsible for two of the most desirable Pitcairn covers. Today, both covers sell for hundreds of US dollars, and while they are scarce (especially the "Snow Cruiser" covers), there are many varieties, signatures, postings, etc. being studied by specialists.

Stamp images and description thanks to Pitcairn Islands Philatelic Bureau

Pitcairn Islands Post Stamps