The Amazonia stamps
In the last decade of the 19th century, the discovery of gold in the northern territories of Brazil encouraged French and British capitalists to invest their money in the exploitation of the precious ore. Since access to the alluvial gold deposits was very difficult, the construction of a railway was discussed to transport the gold to the Atlantic coast. According to Dr. Jacques Grasset, writing in the Cinderella Philatelist of July 1988, two companies were formed in the 1890s: the Carsavène Railway Company in Paris, and the Carsavène Mining Company in London. Both companies merged and created as their local base on the spot a village called Firmine at the banks of the Calçoene (= Carsevène) river. Firmine became the commercial center of the area. Even a bank, the “Banque Exotique” opened an office in the village.
A gold prospectors´camp in Guyana in a photograph of the 1890s.
To meet the demand for money, i.e. of bank-notes, – most prospectors had nothing but the gold they had found at their disposal –, the Brazilian government authorized the “Banque Exotique” to issue local banknotes with a face value of 25, 50, 100, and 500 Francs. They were inscribed “Banque Exotique Agence de Firmine – Territoire Contesté Franco-Brésilienne”.
Strangely enough, no data about the two companies are available. The author did not find any documentary evidence that they ever existed. Just a company called “The Carsevenne and Development Anglo-French Gold Mining Company, Ltd.” was discovered. However, this company was founded in 1904. Perhaps it was a follow-up company of the companies in question.
A share from
“The Carsevenne and Development Anglo-French Gold Mining Company, Ltd”
But, the existence of a railway is confirmed. Hélio Pennafort, in his article “Histórias do Amapá – Nunca vi rio tao danisco de bom”, published in the Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Dia on May 11, 1997, wrote after describing the discoveries of gold in the contested territory: “France was so interested that it supported the construction of a railway that connected the gold fields of Lourenço and Sidomena and the town of Calçoene... the wagons were overloaded with gold that was reloaded there on ships…”
It was Karlheinz Wittig, German expert on Brazilian stamps and president of the ArGe Brasilien e.V., who provided a cover that reveals the correct name of the company that had emerged from the two original companies: “Compagnie des Chemins de Fer Économiques du Carsevène”. This company printed a set of local postage stamps to be used on letters from the gold fields to Carsevène.
René J. Beaudoin, a French stamp dealer, provided a brief report about the difficulties of building and maintaining the railway. It was printed in the Écho de la Timbrologie on March 31, 1934. The report is interesting because it mentions the postage stamps that were issued by the aforementioned railway company. It is headlined “About the origin of the private stamps of Carsévène” and translates:
“The Carsévène Railway Company, of Paris, and the Carsévène Gold Mining Company, of London, amalgamated to exploit the auriferous sand of the upper Rio Carsévène in the contested territory. The companies installed themselves at Firmine, a small village they had founded, and worked there for three years, during 1900, 1901, and 1902. In the first year, a track of 80 kilometers length for a monorail was built along the river. The exploitation lasted five months and was abandoned in the rainy season due to the great number of cases of illness and death among the -workers who had been recruited in Jamaica. Gold in the value of 300,000 Francs was -gained. During the second year, the exploitation lasted six months and yielded 750,000 Francs in gold and auriferous sand. Finally, in the third year, the companies installed a modern rock mill but could recruit fewer workers from Jamaica because the Jamaican governor opposed the engagement of workers due to the large number of deaths. The exploitation lasted only a very short time and was soon -abandoned. During these three years of the exploitation (1900, 1901, 1902) a series of private postage stamps was issued to be used on the letters of the companies and on those of the numerous prospectors who lived along the banks of the river. The stamps paid the fees for the transportation of the correspondence to the harbour of Pará from where letters destined to France were forwarded to Cayenne where they got stamps from Guyana.”
The last sentence of this report is unclear because the stamps reportedly paid only the postage to Carsevène. Since an additional postage for letters with destinations abroad was affixed in Cayenne or Pará, the postage between Carsevène and Cayenne or Pará would have been unpaid unless the Amazonia stamps were vaild for these routes, too.
The set consists of six mono-colored values that were printed on tinted paper and have a common design. The perforation gauges 11½. The denominations and colors are: 5 (centimes) green, 10 (centimes) brown, 25 (centimes) red, 50 (centimes) orange, 1fr. blue, and 5fr. violet. The stamps have an ornamental frame that includes a scene from the region with a tropical tree on each side, a palm tree at left and a rubber tree at right, and a harbour with two sailing vessels in the -background. Under the palm tree is a seated European adventurer with pith helmet and walking stick, and in front of the rubber tree a native Indian with shield and spear. On top is a five-pointed star (the star of Counani?) between the branches of the trees. At the bottom it reads “Poste”. In the center is the figure of value in an ornamental shield with the word “Amazonie” above and a scroll below.
According to L.N. & M. Williams, the stamps were printed in Paris during the summer of 1899 and issued in the autumn of that year. At first an imperforate essay was produced. It is a 50 centimes value printed in red and inscribed “Amazonie française”, an alternative term for French Guyana. The word “française” was replaced by a scroll in the original stamps for political reasons, to avoid conflicts with the postal authorities of French Guyana and, particularly, of Brazil, because the affiliation of the contested territory to one of these two countries was still unclear, and negotiations pending at the time the stamps were produced.
The Amazonia stamps were recorded first in 1901. The Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal printed a short note on June 29, 1901. Only four values were reported, the 5 and 10 centimes values were still unknown. Ever since, the stamps have only been described a few times in the literature.
The “Amazonie Firmine” cancel is known in purple and red
Used copies are known with cancellation dates of 1900 and 1901. A circular double ring cancel inscribed “Amazonie Firmine” was used. The date is written in three lines in the center with the day above, the month written in letters in the middle, and the two last figures of the year below. According to Dr. Grasset (1988), “the authentic cancellation is violet or black with two small zeros for the year which are actually the heads of "99" of which the lower portions had been scraped away”. This allegedly reveals “that the railway company produced the handstamp in 1899 thinking the postal service would function that year”. However, the same Dr. Grasset stated in 1975 that the “only undoubtedly genuine cancellations he had seen in black were all dated between November 2 and 21, 1899”. This statement is obsolete because Dr. Grasset described a genuine cover postmarked October 9, 1900, in one of his articles.
The author was unable to locate any Amazonia stamps, or illustrations thereof, with 1899 or “small zero” cancellation dates. Cancellations with dates in 1900 (with two normal zeros) and 1901 are also known in red or carmine. These also exist with inverted dates. The latest date known to the author is April 27, 1901. The red cancels are usually considered to be favor cancellations but exist also on one of the four genuine covers that are known today. Favor-cancelled single stamps and full sets are known on ordinary paper or on English or French envelopes of the two aforesaid companies. It was reported that
“... as the stamps’ use grew progressively… (supplies were) kept largely for record purposes by staff members of the mines’ administration. During the summer vacation in 1900 a few philatelists asked whether they could be allowed to buy some of the stamps, and after those people returned to Firmine they took with them the remainders and began selling them. Some of those remainders were cancelled so as to make them appear to have been used, but the cancellations, although done with the original handstamps, were in red instead of the original black ink.” Dr. Grasset even mentioned an obliteration “Cayenne à Fort de France” dated March 1902, that was “obtained on the boat without doubt by the management returning to France after closure of the mine”.
Only four postally-used covers bearing Amazonia stamps have been reported so far. Dr. Grasset mentioned a letter addressed to Pará that has a 25 centimes postage and is franked with two stamps of 10 centimes, and one of 5 centimes. This cover, of which no details and no illustration are available, is said to be in a Brazilian collection.
Another cover was described by Helmut Ponge, Campinas, who collected much of the data on Brazilian stamps, in an unpublished note provided by Karlheinz Wittig. The cover, part of the the famous Cerruti collection, bears one each of the 10, 25 and 50 centimes “Amazonia” stamps, tied to the cover by an “Amazonie Firmine” cancel dated November 23, 1900. The cover has an additional 300 reis stamp and a transit postmark “C. do Pará (Expediçao)“ of December 15, 1900, and was addressed to Paris.
The only known cover bearing a 25 centimes value of the Amazonia stamps.
It was reported first in the Cinderella Pilatelist 1988
The third envelope bears a 25 centimes stamp that is tied to the cover by a “Amazonie Firmine” cancel of October 9, 1900. The letter was destined for France. Therefore, a 15 Centimes French Guyana stamp was affixed and cancelled twice at Cayenne on October 16. This reveals that mail from the goldfields needed about a week to reach Cayenne. The addressee of the letter was “Monsieur Charles Brothier / propriétaire aux Plants / pris Ruffee (?) / France”. The letter was discovered in 1988, and was the first cover bearing Amazonia stamps to be reported in the philatelic press. The British dealer Brian Moorhouse offered this cover for £2.500 in May 2003.
The fourth cover is addressed to “Monsieur Georges Dagre / Maison Gouault & Rostand / 92, Rue des Jeuneurs / Paris / France”. It is franked with a 10 Centimes and a 50 centimes Amazonia stamp, both tied to the cover by a red (!) “Amazonia Firmine” cancel with undecipherable date. A 15 Centimes French Guyana stamp was added in Cayenne and cancelled on February 28, 1901. A French octagonal datestamp of March 14, 1901, indicates that the delivery time for mail from Cayenne to Europe was about two weeks. This cover which has no return address on the reverse was offered at the 48th Sinais auction in Paris in June 2001 for 6.500 French Francs. It was sold for 9.767 Francs. The cancellation date of February indicates that this letter – provided it is genuine – was sent during the annual rainy season that lasts from November to June. In this time the work in the gold fields was usually abandoned. The status of this cover is therefore uncertain.
After the closure of the operating companies in early 1902, the railway along the Calçoene river and the Amazonia stamps were reportedly no longer used. However, the date of October 1902 on the cover from the railway company is proof that the mines might have been closed, as Dr. Grasset stated, but the railway company existed at least until the end of 1902.
(This article is a chapter of the author’s booklet “The postage stamps of the Independent Republic of Guyana”. The booklet is available from the author Wolfgang Baldus, Heilwigstr. 85, 81827 Munich, Germany, firstname.lastname@example.org)