Overview of the Blue Penny Museum in Mauritius
Located at the Caudan waterfront, the Blue Penny Museum takes you on a captivating journey of the historical and cultural wealth of Mauritius. The museum was inaugurated in 2001 and houses some prestigious collections of colonial Mauritius.
Visiting the museum might take you approximately an hour, where you will have the chance to get a general overview of the history and culture of Mauritius in a modern and attractive setting. It is known for its prestigious collections, which are considered as the authentic historical wealth of Mauritius.
The Blue Penny Museum prides itself on the two issues of the famous ‘Post Office’ stamp dating back to 1847. The stamps are considered as the two most precious items of worldwide philately – the unused one penny orange-red stamps, and one of the four unused two pence indigo-blue stamps in existence. These stamps are considered a national treasure and are probably the most valuable objects on the entire island.
The collection includes a series of treasures: old marine maps, paintings, sculptures, stamps, engravings and old documents that bring forward the richness of Mauritian history and culture. You will also get the chance to marvel at the unique presentation of Port Louis, its heritage through an abundance of historical testimonies, discover the first edition of the novel, “Paul et Virginie” and the statue sculpted by Prosper d’Epinay.
The Blue Penny Museum is one of those rare places providing visitors with a captivating glimpse of the art and history of Mauritius. It is therefore a must-stop for anyone who is curious about discovering the country in depth.
Historical Background of the Mauritius Post Office Stamps
The world’s prestigious stamps notably the Mauritius ‘Post Office’ stamps: the orange-red one penny and the deep blue two pence stamps are exhibited at the Blue Penny Museum. Their name comes from the wording on the stamps reading “Post Office”, which was soon changed in the next issue to “Post Paid”. Today they are considered among the rarest postage stamps in the world.
These stamps were engraved by Joseph Osmond Barnard who was born in England. He was brought to Mauritius in 1838 to design the stamps. The first release of the stamps were in 1838, bearing the profile head of Queen Victoria. The stamps have a distinct primitive character which made Joseph Barnard‘s name immortal in the postal history of Mauritius.
Around five hundred of each value were printed from a single plate bearing both values and were issued on September 21, 1847, many of which were used on invitations sent out by the wife of the Governor of Mauritius for a ball organized that weekend. The stamps were printed using the intaglio method and bear the engraver’s initials (‘JB’) on the lower margin of the bust.
Surviving stamps are mainly in the hands of private collectors, but some are on public display in the British Library of London, including the envelope of the original invitation to the Governor’s ball complete with a stamp. Other places where it can be seen is at the Postal Museum in Mauritius precisely at the Blue Penny Museum, the Museum for Communication (Museum für Kommunikation) in Berlin and in the Postal Museum of Sweden in Stockholm.
The Mauritius “Post Office” stamps were unknown to the philatelic world until 1864 when Mme. Borchard, the wife of a Bordeaux merchant, found copies of the one and two pence stamps in her husband’s correspondence. She traded them to another collector. Through a series of sales, the stamps ultimately were acquired by the famous collector Phillip von Ferrary, and were sold at auction in 1921.
Over the years, the stamps sold for increasing and ultimately astronomical prices. Mauritius “Post Office” stamps and covers have been prize items in collections of famous stamp collectors, including Sir Ernest de Silva, Henry J.Duveen, Arthur Hind, William Beilby Avery, Alfred F. and Lichtenstein, among other philatelic luminaries.
King George V paid £1,450 for an unused blue Two Pence “Post Office” at an auction in 1904, which was a world record price at the time. By 2002, the “Mauritius blue” was estimated to be worth £2 million.
Visiting the Blue Penny Museum
Visitors will have the opportunity to step back into the era of great maritime explorations in the Indian Ocean before moving on to an overview of the three colonial periods in the history of Mauritius. Your journey into the past continues with a foray into the Port Louis of the 18th and 19th centuries. What unfolds next is the tale of the history of postal services, namely with the very first postage stamps to be issued in Mauritius, the world-renowned Post Office stamps. The tour of the museum ends with the beautiful yet tragic story of a mythical couple, Paul and Virginie.
Blue Penny Museum Exhibits:
- The Age of Discovery – This room provides an insight into the world of navigation of the Indian Ocean.
- The Island Builders – This second room of the museum offers a broad outline of the colonial history of the island.
- Port Louis; a leading city – This third room houses a series of old images and maps that will take you on a voyage through time, back to the Port Louis of the 18th and 19th centuries.
- The Postal Adventure – The visit of the museum continues into a room that offers a broad outline of the history of postal services in Mauritius.
- Engraved memory – This room will provide you with more information about how the engraving of stamps began in Mauritius.
- Paul & Virginie – This famous novel by the French author, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, is forever associated with Mauritius and the mythical story of these two lovers is a masterpiece of world literature.
Themed Visits of the Blue Penny Museum
The museum also offers themed visits for students. The visit can therefore focus on one specific exhibition room. For example, one can opt to spend more time in the section devoted to Dutch, French or British colonisation in the “The Island Builders” exhibition room.
On the other hand, the exhibition room devoted to the story of “Paul et Virginie” can be visited by those who have passion for romance and the Paul et Virginie novel. Likewise, the different exhibition rooms of the museum enable the exploration of various other themes and can be customised accordingly.
Some of the Blue Penny Museum theme visit includes:
- Knowledge of boats
- Reading navigation maps and symbols
- Determining longitude and latitude
- Discovering ancient navigational instruments
- Imagining a sailing expedition in the 18th century, life on board, boarding another ship
Mauritius under Dutch rule
- The commercial context
- The first visits
- The fauna and flora
- The settlement
- The population
- Agriculture and livestock farming
- Difficulties encountered
- The abandonment of the territory
Mauritius under French rule
- The geopolitical and strategic issues
- The French East and West India Companies
- The taking over of the island
- The early days of settlement
- The population
- Slave trade and slavery
- The agricultural and commercial development
- Privateers and commerce raiding at sea
The battle of Grand Port
- The historical context
- The opposing forces
- The strategy
- The unfolding of the battle day after day
- The outcome
Mauritius under British rule
- The expansion of the Empire in the Indian Ocean
- The taking over of the Mascarene Islands
- The Battle of Isle de France
- The terms and implications of the capitulation of the French
- The abolition of slavery
- Indentured labour
- Commercial, manufacturing and sugar sector development
Port Louis, port and capital
- The topography of the place (Port Louis-Caudan)
- The development of the port and town since 1736
- The capital between 1801 and 1853 as it appears in 25 ancient lithographs
- Comparative photographs showing the changes that have occurred to date
- The history of the town and of the port through a detailed analysis of the images
- The beginnings of postal services during the Dutch period
- The organisation of means of communication in Isle de France
- The importance of postal services and mail delivery routes in the Indian Ocean
- Ship mail in the days of sail and steam navigation
- Inland mail in the days of stagecoaches and trains
- Air mail before, during and after World War II
The first postage stamps issued in Mauritius
- The journey of the engraver, Joseph Osmond Barnard, from Portsmouth to Port Louis in 1838
- The mystery of the world-famous Post Office Mauritius stamps
- All of the first series of postage stamps issued in Mauritius and their story
- The stamp-making process
- How to collect postage stamps
- Philately and the values it carries
“Paul et Virginie”, a tale of exotic adventure
- The origins of the novel
- The motivations of the author, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
- The influences of Romanticism
- The story of “Paul et Virginie” in the context of the time it was written
- The dimension of a publishing success for over 200 years
- The exotic in the prints, paintings and sculptures inspired by the novel
The Blue Penny Museum Boutique Shop
The shelves of the Blue Penny Museum boutique are lined with great souvenirs to collect or offer as gifts. The personnel of the boutique of this museum in Port Louis will be pleased to assist the numerous foreign visitors who pass through the Blue Penny Museum everyday in choosing among the various items available.
The boutique offers visitors an entire line of products inspired by the Post Office stamps, the finest jewels of the Mauritian heritage. Philately enthusiasts will find a range of items inspired by the Blue Penny and Red Vermilion – T-shirts, bookmarks, caps, soap, pens as well as key rings.
The boutique also sells various items relating to the exhibitions of the museum and detailing the history and heritage of Mauritius. Ship models, postcards, table mats, posters, reproductions of engravings and prints as well as handicrafts and a number of books on Mauritius are on display on elegant beech wood shelves, all of them amazing treasures to be acquired and shared.
Blue Penny Museum Opening Hours
- The museum is open every day between 10h00 and 17h00 except Sundays and public holidays.
- The museum closes exceptionally at 14h00 on 24th and 31st December.
- The exhibition rooms close at 16h30.
- The museum admissions desk and boutique close at 16h30.
- Duration of the visit: Between 30 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes.
- Guided visits: multimedia stations, audio guides in French, English, Italian, German and Creole.