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The Kingdom of Lundy

Block of Four 16-Puffin Stamps from Lundy Island

A small island of the north coast of Devonshire was once owned by a man who called himself a king, issued his own postage stamps, and even—until he was fined for doing so—his own coinage. Martin Coles Harman, who owned the island until his death in 1954, denominated the stamps (and coins) in monetary units of his own devising, which he called Puffins, after the bird which used to congregate on the island. One puffin equaled one British penny.

The stamps were in use to provide postage to Biddeford, Devon, as the Royal Mail had cancelled services to Lundy in 1927. The reason given? There were just two few people resident on the island to justify postal services. So Harman undertook to deliver the mail to Biddeford upon payment of a prescribed number of Puffins. The Lundy stamp appeared on the back of the envelope, so that it would not confuse the Royal Mail employees. On the front of the envelope appeared the appropriate British stamp.

Today, Lundy Island is controlled by the Landmark Trust and still issues its own stamps. And they are still denominated in Puffins. Only now they are good not only for the cross-channel hop to Biddeford, but to whatever destination the sender wishes, with the Royal Mail getting its cut. This is made possible because some 25,000 tourists a year visit the island and send letters and postcards therefrom using the new stamps.

When I used to collect stamps, I had a few Lundy stamps in my possession. At the time, the stamps from the island were considered to be “cinderellas,” that is to say, “anything resembling a postage stamp, but not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration.” There is a wide variety of cinderella stamps, such as those printed for promotional use by businesses, churches, political or non-profit groups.