In the mid-1970’s and late on to the mid-1980’s, Duvalierist Haiti was not only a realm of terror and imprisonment, but also of high-level corruption. Whereas corruption is not intrinsically connected to stamp trade, one of the ‘schemes’ pulled off by the close relations and circle of acolytes of Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier really involved stamps. Not just any stamps – but beautiful, colorful stamps depicting in 15 designs reproductions of Haitian-born ornithologist Jean-Jacques Audubon.
The stamps attracted worldwide philatelic attention in their year of issue, 1975. Not only were they so appealing, but since bird stamp collections were increasingly popular, they became a must-have for most collectors. How did it all start?
Nicole Duvalier, the former President’s sister, is considered to have been the mastermind behind the project. She secured the design and printing of the stamps through connections that went through the Postal Authorities, and down to airport security. The stamps were printed in USSR, and deposited in Miami, from where they traveled to the eager philatelist. The President himself was, as far as the story goes, unaware of the scheme, with his sister Nicole warning everyone off that they will face severe consequences, should the President get news of her enterprise.
The stamps themselves could not have circulated if it were not for a cleverly designed scheme of authorizing them. Authentication was needed, and the Haitian State Press director was bribed to print an issue of the official monitor which announced the issue of the Haitian Audubon stamps with the alibi being provided by a forged signature of a Commerce Ministry official.
Once the presence of the stamps was secured on the market and the demand was growing, an enormous, practically unlimited lot of Haitian Audubon stamps was available for sale. Not only was the series generous – each of the 15 designs in the series was issued in 4 values – which makes the series, at 60 individual stamps, one of the largest issues of birds on stamps, but also it came in an anniversary year – 190 years since the birth of Jean-Jacques Audubon. The later, 1985 anniversary, with the round 200 years anniversary, saw issues of Audubon stamps all over the world. It is not at all risky to say that the Haitian scam acted also as an unrelated marketing campaign for the issues of ten years later. Haiti, however, was one of the few countries that no longer issued stamps for the 200th anniversary.
The stamps are nowadays a philatelic curiosity, and were it not for the face values printed on each stamps, they would well fit in the category of philatelic Cinderella’s. However, they are neither official stamps, since they are not recognized by any catalogue, nor are they Cinderella’s. They simply are the source of one of the most interesting stamp scam stories ever. Their value is currently a matter of debate. From the point of view of philately, they could just as well be binned. Otherwise, for the collector who deems that conventions of mainstream philately are but a fad, they are of great value, especially if the series is complete. You can secure the complete set of 60 values in 15 designs at approximately 100€ online.
Stamps featured in post: 60; Period: modern (1975); Pricing: moderate; Availability: readily available.
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