As a kid growing up in Denmark, we briefly touched on the "Danish West Indies" in history classes, but I don't remember much of what we learned.
However, my interest was somewhat increased as a result of collecting stamps because there were pages for this strange tropical place in my first Danish stamp album. Those pages remained largely empty for many years since I-- as a child-- really had no significant access to stamps from places that no longer had postal service.
That said, I developed my fascination in an unexpected place. From time time, I would go with my parents to visit my Aunt Ulla in the city of Copenhagen (we lived in a suburb outside of town)-- she lived in a house that had been my grandparents' and had been in the family since 1903.
As a young stamp collector, what fascinated me was all the boxes and bags of old letters and family correspondence stuffed into cabinets and drawers in less used rooms of the house. My aunt was always quite happy for me to help her "sort things" and always willing to let me keep a few stamps as a reward for my efforts.
|1912 Danish West Indies Christmas Seal|
Along the way, I came across a great aunt and uncle's letters home from a trip around the world. Among other things, they had seen the (then) under construction Panama Canal, and they had spent Christmas in 1912 in the Danish West Indies. The stamp on the letter was actually less interesting to me than the colorful Christmas seal with the map... which sent me off to look up the islands in my Aunt's big atlas.
Looking out at our frozen Danish winters, the idea of spending Christmas on the beach with palm trees was something far outside the realm of reality!
However, that particular visit to my Aunt's house did secure me my first stamp from the Danish West Indies.
The Danish West Indies had its own (Danish) postal service and stamps from 1856 till the islands were formally conveyed to the United States on March 31st, 1917.
Going purely "by the main numbers" a total of about 60 stamps were issued during that time. However, because of the era and relatively "primitive" printing methods of the time, a wealth of varieties exist, and DWI (as many stamp collectors call the nation) has become a very popular area with specialist stamp collectors.
The islands even had their own version of the popular Danish "Bicolours" stamp issue, which offers a sub-specialty of its own. Many of the early stamps issued were basically variations of commonly used stamps in Denmark, except denominated in "cents" rather than "øre."
|A DWI "Bicolour" stamp used at St. Thomas|
Aside from being a collecting area in its own right, stamps of the Danish West Indies are often included if a collector is trying to build a comprehensive collection of Danish stamps. If you are working with the Danish AFA stamp catalogues, DWI is considered a subsection of Denmark. As such, there are spaces for DWI stamps in many Danish stamp albums.
At the same time, since the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands-- a dependency of the US-- DWI stamps are also included for those building a comprehensive collection of USA stamps. If you pick up a copy of the US-published Scott Specialized catalogue, you'll find pages listing and valuing DWI stamps. And there are a LOT of stamp collectors in the US, which means a lot of people are looking their albums.
Last-- but certainly not least-- we must also consider the specialists, previously mentioned. Specifically, those who collect the Bicoloured stamps of Denmark often add the DWI versions to their collections because... technically speaking... it's all part of the same stamp series. In fact, the frames of the Danish West Indies Bicolour stamps were printed with the same plates used for the Danish stamps-- only the central ovals are different.
|One of the first stamps issued by the Islands|
This article was inspired by the recent discovery of a group of old Christmas Seals-- "Julemærker"-- from the Danish West Indies, tucked in a glassine envelope in a box of random stamps. Included was the colorful 1912 issue with the map that sent me off to research this strange part of "Denmark with Palm Trees," when I was just a boy. Seeing it again brought back some old memories of a time when life seemed a lot simpler, and more innocent.
I still don't have much of a collection of Danish West Indies stamps, but at least not all the album pages are empty, anymore. However, I do find myself wishing that I still had some of those old family members I would sit in the living room and look through, while "the adults" were having their drinks and conversations in other parts of the house. Unfortunately most of those have been lost to time and numerous moves by other family members.
Thanks for reading and sharing in my little trip down "memory lane!"