British Guiana - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


British Guiana is the area of present-day Guyana located on the northern coast of South America covering 83,000 square miles. The area was originally settled by the Dutch at the start of the 17th century but eventually became a British colony by 1814. It remained a colony until May 26, 1966 when it became the independent country of Guyana.

Philatelic Profile:

The British Guiana postal service came into being as early as 1796 when privately run packet service was the modus operandi. The services used postage stamps of Great Britain at the time in the areas of Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice. An inland mail service was established in 1850 with a minimum rate of 4c based on distance. The first stamps were printed locally in 4c, 8c, and 12c denominations in 1850 and were followed by a 2c denomination in 1851. The imperforate stamps (Scott #1 to #5)  printed by the Royal Gazette newspaper in black on different colors were known as the “Cottonreels” - a reference to their circular shape and resemblance to the labels found on spools of cotton - as part of an effort to prevent forgery, all stamps in this simple set had to be initialed by an official at the Post Office of Georgetown. The first issues are very rare and fetch between $10,000 and $100,000. The rarest among them is the 1851 2c stamp printed on rose paper (nickname “pale rose” came from this) of which only around 10 are known to exist. Cut-to-shape varieties are cheaper. The rarest stamp of British Guiana is the 1c black on magenta (Scott #13) - it is considered unique and can fetch well into the millions if it is ever put up for sale. It was part of a set of four stamps (Scott #13 to #16) that were printed locally in 1856. These stamps were also initialed before being issued. The other issues in the set are also quite rare and fetch between $8,000 and $80,000.

Issues printed in London first appeared in 1852 with the release of a set of two stamps in the “Ship and Motto of Colony” design. The set (Scott #6 and #7) is very rare and fetch upwards of $10K for Mint and around half that for Used. A “Seal of the Colony” design was the mainstay of British Guiana stamps during the period from 1853 to 1859. Those stamps (Scott #8 to #12) are also rare fetch into the 1000s. The colony continued to have intermittent problems with stamp availability due to delays of shipments from London. As such, locally printed issues were used in 1862 and again in 1882. Those issues (Scott #35 to #43 and #103 to #106) are rare and very valuable. Meanwhile, the Seal of the Colony issues along with several overprinted varieties continued to be issued from London till around 1898.

British Guiana issued a set of five stamps (Scott #152 to#156) in 1898 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. The set is valued at around $150 Mint and around $50 Used. The designs show Mount Roraima and Kaieteur Falls. KGV and Seal of the Colony themes dominated the scene till 1931 when a set of five stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the colony’s formation was released. The set (Scott#205 to #209) catalogs for around $40 Mint and around $60 Used. The designs show Plowing a Rice Field, Indian Shooting Fish, Kaieteur Falls, Georgetown Public Buildings. This was followed with a longer local scenes set (Scott #210to #222) on October 1, 1934. That set catalogs for around $130 Mint and around $150 Used. Similar sets were released in 1938 and 1954. The sets (Scott #230 to#241 and #253 to #267) are popular among thematic collectors.

A set of three stamps were released on October 23, 1961 in the “Clasped Hands” design promoting self-government. They had the “One People - One Nation - One Destiny” inscription with a QE head on the top-right and was issued to mark the fourth annual history and culture week. The set (Scott #268to #270) is surprisingly inexpensive and can be had for under a dollar MNH or Used. A set of three stamps to mark the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo was released on October 1, 1964. The set (Scott #290 to #292) is very beautiful and inexpensive at under a dollar.

Numismatic Profile:

Guilders were the currency of British Guiana from 1796 when it was known as Essequibo and Demerary. The first coins in circulation in British Guiana were overstamps on Brazilian pecas issued between 1798 and 1799. Holed Spanish 8 Reales was also in use since around 1808. The first coins (KM#1 3 bits) with “E & D 3 Bt” countermark on serrated center plug design catalog around $3500 in XF. The holder 3 Guilder versions on 8 Reales host coins (KM#2) catalogs for roughly double that and was issued in 1791, 1796, and 1803. Essequibo and Demerary started issuing regular coins in 1809 denominated in guilders. In 1836, British Guiana introduced a new series of guilders simultaneously with the issue of 4p coins by the British Royal Mint for use in British Guiana - they did not have any indication that said it should circulate in British Guiana with the result that they were in circulation in UK as well (Maundy sets). Groats and the seated Britannia types originally issued for use in UK was circulated in the colony as well later on. Private token copper stivers were also in use in British Guiana in the late 1830s. The most collectible issues of British Guiana are the 1836 0.8160 Silver with an ASW of 0.2039oz reeded edge Guilder proofs that are valued upwards of $1250. Plain edged versions can be had for around $600 and regular guilders with a mintage of 57,000 go for around $400 in UNC. The issue had a mintage of 336,000. The 1830s also saw the issue of papermoney denominated in joes and guilders. Colonial era proofs from the later period also have low mintages and fetch a premium upwards of $100.

Collectible Memorabilia:


Slavery related original memorabilia from British Guiana from the early 19th century is very collectible and fetch a huge premium. Postcardsand government documents from the period also fetch a premium. Artworkfeaturing the mining industry, sugarcane industry, and native Indian portraits are also very collectible and fetch upwards of $20. Original 19th century maps of the area fetch upwards of $60. 

Last Updated: 12/2015.

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