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Image and Identity
100 Years of Stamps in the Maldives
An exhibition at the Maldives National Art Gallery 2006
Photos from official pamphlet for the exhibition.
Original pamphlet text edited and modified by Maldives Culture 2012.

The Post

centenary of maldives postal service logo and exhibition cover

The existence of postal systems can be traced back over 4,000 years to the time of the ancient Egyptians. Later empires in Assyria, Persia, Rome, China, India and Turkey used postal systems to disseminate official decisions, and to collect secret intelligence and administrative information.

The First Stamps
It was not until the 17th century in Europe that stamps were used to mark letters to show a delivery fee had been paid. Such letters could be placed directly into a box for transportation to the addressees. This system was operating in France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715). Senders in Paris could buy small rectangles of paper with the words: 'paste the paper onto a letter and place the letter in a collection box'.

Across the channel in England two entrepreneurs, William Dockwra and Robert Murray, established the London Penny Post mail service in 1680. The London Penny Post is known to have used a dated postmark for prepaid letters from 1681.

Beginning in 1835, Englishman Rowland Hill took part in a major project to reform the corrupt British postal service. As part of these reforms and improvements the first official government postage stamps went on sale in 1840.

first stamp issued in maldives in 1906The first Maldivian postage stamp (1906) containing a side portrait of reigning British king Edward VII (1901-1911) of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the son of Queen Victoria and her first cousin Prince Albert.
The currency of Ceylon at this time was based on the Indian rupee, which had been decimalised into cents in Ceylon from 1872.

Maldivian Stamps
A Maldivian post office was opened in Male in 1906, though a form of postal service had been operating earlier. After the establishment of the official service in the capital, postal facilities were later set up in the main administrative islands of each atoll.

This stamp was designed by an unidentified Maldivian and printed in UK in 1908. It uses Arabic, Urdu, English and Maldivian Tana scripts.

The first Maldivian designed stamp appeared in 1908. It depicted the minaret adjacent to Male's Friday mosque. An unidentified Maldivian artist produced the minaret graphic and the stamp was printed in the UK.

After being linked since its inception with Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Maldives postal service in 1967 became associated with the Universal Postal Union and the global postal community.

three mid-20th century Maldive islands stamps

Maldivian Stamps as Cultural Documents
The modern Maldive islands would not be recognisable to Maldivians of a century ago. The landmarks we find today, public spaces and streets, and the technology and tools we use, were unknown to Maldivians even 50 years ago. Hence the stamps spanning the last 100 years provide a window to the changes and progress experienced by Maldives. Similarly, the stamps also mark unforeseen events such as the deaths and destruction wrought by the December 2004 tsunami.

collection of modern maldives stamps

Stamps give us a sense of being part of a larger community – the wider world, an international community. For stamps are published not only to commemorate local events and customs but also to celebrate international days of significance and achievements that have global implications (the first airborne flight, the first landing on the moon, etc.).

In this sense, stamps are a fabric woven of local and international strands depicting the interconnectedness of the world's civilisations.

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