1961 Tristan Relief Fund: The story behind the overprints

26th April 2018

The worlds remotest inhabited island – Tristan da Cunha – which sits 2,400 kilometres from its nearest continental land mass experienced nature at its full force in October 1961. The volcanic eruption of Queen Mary’s peak forced the evacuation of Tristan da Cunha’s entire population of 264. The evacuees sailed to nearby Nightingale Island where they were then collected and ferried to England via Cape Town. The islanders found themselves put up at an old Royal Air Force camp near Calshot, Hampshire and most families were to return safely in 1963.


However, out of this potential disaster sprung some very rare philatelic material. A set of four values were surcharged in St Helena (1,400 miles to the north-east) with “ST.HELENA Tristan Relief”, these sets were placed on sale as a fundraiser toward aid for the Tristan refugees. The ‘Tristan relief’ sets have come to serve as an example of some of the rarest modern stamps in existence, with only 434 sold in total. The values were only available between the 12th and 19th October and raised £108 for the evacuees. Interestingly, at the time of the overprint Tristan had adopted the South African Rand as its currency, yet the surcharge was in Sterling (St Helena’s currency).

The unique situation in Tristan’s remoteness means that postage stamps still play a role in the islands economy with sets sold to collectors across the globe. If you would like to add the 1961 scarce Tristan Relief fund set to your collection it is being offered as Lot 336 in our upcoming 2nd May auction. 

Look out for the full catalogue. Also keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages which will include updates of our latest auction news.

Patrick Collyer


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