Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Rarotonga Listed As A New Philatelic Entity By Gibbons.

I was rather surprised when recently reading the catalogue column of the February 2012 edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly to find that a new philatelic entity had been added - that of the capital island of The Cook Islands, Rarotonga. The philatelic agency which has produced stamps with The Cook Islands name on them for the past couple of years or so, released 15 stamps and a large sheetlet inscribed "Rarotonga Cook Islands" on 22 July 2011, with the sensible subject of tourism as a basis for their designs. There really does not seem to have been any justifiable reason for a separate issue for Rarotonga since no political change had occurred nor a separate postal service had been established - it was rather like Royal Mail producing separate issues for London (let's hope it does not give them the idea to do so). It does seem very surprising that the editor of the Gibbons Catalogue would accord this artificial entity a separate listing especially as separate island issues have been ignored by the catalogue since the mid-1980's - entities such as the individual items of Tuvalu or St. Vincent or The Cayes Of Belize. In recent times the issues of The Cook Islands have had quite a high profile in Gibbons Stamp Monthly with quite a large article being published last year about the new issues of the territory and the royal engagement sheetlet being given free with the magazine (although rather unhelpfully the sheetlet was divided into two and its distribution occurred over 2 consecutive months meaning the recipients of the free gift ended up with 2 pieces of the sheetlet rather than an intact philatelic item). Perhaps this exposure to these recent Cook Islands issues convinced the editor that Rarotonga deserved to be treated differently from the individual islands of other countries. The stamps are therefore numbered 1 - 15 plus MS16 which in itself is strange since from 1919 until 1931 all Cook Islands stamps were inscribed "Rarotonga" even though they were for use throughout all the islands.

Two inhabitants of Rarotonga.

Rarotongan sunsets (or sunrises or both).

The high values.

The multivalue sheetlet.

Anyway, there we have it - a new entity (or new old entity) for Commonwealth stamp collectors to add to their albums. Perhaps, for consistency, the catalogue editor should reconsider the status of the stamps of some of the entities created in the past although, like the present Rarotonga, there was no justifiable reason for their names to be inscribed on postage stamps. I think the most worthy of all for reconsideration in this new "catalogue anything" culture are the emphemeral Cayes Of Belize stamps with which I will deal in the next blog.

Cayes Of Belize stamp issued 1984.


  1. A question for you onn the "Rarotonga" stamps of 1919-31. Why were they so designated, rather than "Cook Islands" as the stamps of 1892-1919? Was this group of islands still called the Cook Islands during 1919-31? Should I collect these stamps in the "R" section, with "Rarotonga" as the issuing entity?

    I have been unable to find answers in catalogs or the web. Thanks for any thoughts on this.

  2. Thank you. I have looked at the valuable little book, now out of print, "The Orbis Philatelic Atlas" which notes that Rarotonga is the largest of the southern Cook Islands and that stamps inscribed Cook Islands were valid there from 1892 but replaced by New Zealand stamps overprinted "Rarotonga" from 1919 to 1931 (as you say in your comment). These stamps were valid for use on the all the islands of The Cook Islands. The Gibbons Part 1 Catalogue lists the stamps as part of the The Cook Islands main list, nos 50 - 98 and no stamps inscribed "Cook Islands were issued in the period that stamps inscribed "Rarotonga" were issued which suggests that the name "Rarotonga" was used as a substitute for "The Cook Islands" during that period. However, The International Encyclopaedia Of Stamps says "Rarotonga - Most important of the Cook Islands...which issued its own stamps from 1919 until 1932....Stamps of the Cook Islands were superseded in 1919 by separate issues inscribed RAROTONGA. Separate issues for Aitutaki, Niue and Penrhyn had already been introduced between 1902 and 1903 and as a result the general series of the Cook Islands had been virtually confined to Rarotonga....A general series of Cook Islands stamps were reintroduced in 1932 and since then Rarotonga has used Cook Islands issues". This suggests that we should view the 1919 - 1932 issue as an issue particularly made for Rarotonga itself rather than for The Cook Islands in general since the other main islands had their own stamps at the time, so I deduce that you would indeed most accurately collect these stamps under the "R" section with Rarotonga as the issuing entity and furthermore, that the Gibbons listing is a nonsense and that The Cook Islands nos. 50 - 98 should probably be Rarotonga nos. 1 to 49 and if the editor insists on listing the recent issue then it should be nos 50 - 64 rather than starting off at no 1 (though I myself have just incorporated them in the main body of my Cook Islands collection since there is no actual separate Rarotonga postal administration). Best wishes.