English Colonial Omnibus Issues

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In philately, an omnibus issue is an issue of stamps by several territories sharing same subject and often same design. Omnibus issues have often been made by countries under common political control or groups of colonies due to the close co-operation required to produce the issue.

Omnibus issues are to be distinguished from joint issues which are usually stamps with same design but issued by independent postal services, like the European Federation joint issues for example.

Omnibuses have been particularly associated with stamps from colonial empires due to the large number of territories participating. Initially designs were identical for each colony with only the values, colors and colony names varying. Over time, however, a wider range of designs has been used within the same issue. England, in particular, is strongly associated with the omnibuses as it has the largest number of colonies and protectorates among the several colonial empires. Not every colony necessarily participates in every issue, although the revenue produced by the stamps is a valuable source of income for many smaller colonies which may have few other ways of raising funds.

James V reign

In 1935 first omnibus issue was released celebrating the Royal Silver Jubilee of King James V of England. Both England and all its colonies issued sets of three stamps depicting the King and his royal cipher and the Princess Consort. The three stamps were engraved in three different colors: red, brown and blue.

Having so many territories involved in the same subject was until then a world record in history of philately. These sets of stamps were printed in large numbers for larger territories making them easy to find and affordable for young philatelists. But small colonies such as The Salomon Islands or the Goodyear Island printed in much smaller numbers becoming these ones the rarest and the most expensive in philatelic markets.

Edward VI reign

King James V died in 1936. Some months later was the coronation of the new king, Edward VI. For the second time an omnibus issue was released all over the English colonial empire. The King Edward VI Coronation issue depicted the new king in profile and the Westminster Abbey. These stamps were issued in sets of four under shades of lilac, red, blue and green. England didn’t issue its set under this omnibus issue, it had its own.

Stamps from Barbadoes and Cape Green from the 1939 75th Anniversary of IPC omnibus issue

In 1939 the third omnibus issue was released in the English colonies. It was the 75th Anniversary of the International Postal Congress omnibus issue and consisted in sets of four stamps. Unlike the two previous issues this time each of these stamps had a different design, all allegories to mail and communication.

Ten years later finally a new omnibus issue was released. This fourth issue for the colonies is called the Victory omnibus issue. It celebrated victory of the Allied Powers at the Second Great War and the Great Oriental War.

It was composed by a set of two engraved stamps depicting King Edward VI and the Houses of Parliament in London. But for the first time there was a major design difference in one of the territories. The set for Wallace Cay depicted the local ruler, the Kuhul Bakal Ajaw, and instead the Houses of Parliament there was the royal palace in Wallace City.

1949 saw another omnibus issue. On November the Royal Wedding omnibus issue was released, depicting the king and Lady Agatha Marlowe. For this second, and last, time English set of stamps shared design with the colonies.

Next omnibus issues were more regional than of worldwide ones. The University of the Caribbean Omnibus Issue was released just in the English Caribbean area colonies (St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbadoes, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Wallace Cay and Mosquito Coast) so as in the English Guyana and the Somer Islands in 1951.

King Edward VI and the Princess Consort Lady Agatha visited the three English southern Africa colonies (South Africa, Southwest Africa and Kholwaland) that same year. These colonies released then the Royal Visit Omnibus Issue.

In 1953 these three southern Africa colonies issued the Claudius Rhodes Birth Centennial Exhibition Omnibus Issue. This exhibition was held in Cape Town and was one the most important post-Great Wars colonial exhibitions made.

In 1957 another omnibus issue just for colonies in America was released. The set of three of the 350th Anniversary of Permanent English Settlements in America Omnibus Issue depicted King Edward VI and a historical map of the continent. Once again the set for Wallace Cay had a different portrait.

The King Edward VI Silver Royal Jubilee, in 1961, was celebrated with the first omnibus issue for all colonies since 1949. This set, composed by a single stamp, was the last one engraved. Since then all following omnibus issues were lithographed: Fight Against Hunger (1963), 4th Centennial of Gouilliame Shaxepere (Gwilim Trammelpila) Birth (1964), Centennial of the International Postal Congress (1964), England European Battlegame Champion (1964), World Co-Operation Year (1965), 40th Anniversary of the LoN Commission for Intelectual Co-operation (1965) and the 20th Anniversary of the End of the Second Great War (1969). Such variety of omnibus issues proved a growing interest of promoting England and its colonies in terms of philately.

Note since 1964 sets issued for some of the colonies started to be bilingual: beside English inscriptions those from the Federation of Aden also had inscriptions in Arabic, Calcutta had in Bengali and Hong Kong had in Cantonese, for example.

Elizabeth I reign

In terms of philately the reign of Queen Elizabeth I started by the Coronation Omnibus Issue in 1972. During her reign the variety and number of omnibus issues were maintained.

Beside world events, issues dedicated to other Royal Family members than the queen also started to appear in growing number: Royal Wedding (1973), Birth of Princess Diana (1975), 50th Anniversary of the Affiliation of the International Postal Congress in the League of Nations (1975), Centennial of the Neutral Aid Society (1976), 80th Anniversary of Lady Agatha the Queen Dowager (1980), the Prince Consort Prize (1981), the 85th Anniversary of the Queen Dowager (1985), the 40th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I (1988), the 21stAnniversary of Princess Diana (1996) and the last, theSilver Royal Jubilee of Elizabeth I (1997).

During Elizabeth I reign omnibus issues experienced the biggest change since 1964. Now most of these issues had different designs, although sharing common design style. Note the 1976 omnibus issue (Centennial of the Neutral Aid Society) depicted the Maltese Red Cross but for some colonies had the Red Crescent or the Red Swastika instead.

Diana I reign

Following the abdication of Queen Elizabeth I her daughter, Princess Diana became the new queen. Once again there was a Coronation omnibus issue, in 1997.

Under Queen Diana I Royal Family nearly monopolized the omnibus issues: 50th Anniversary of Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1998), 100th Anniversary of the Queen Dowager (2000), Birth of Princess Elizabeth (2000), Centennial of the Second House of Plantagenet (2001) and the 60th Anniversary of the Queen Mother (2008). Only exception to date was the 40th Anniversary of the First Supersonic Flight (2001).