Amidst the Devastation, A Look at Haiti's Rich Heritage through Stamps


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Two days ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the tiny Caribbean nation of Haiti. Aside from the destruction of homes, businesses, municipal buildings and related infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are believed to be seriously injured or dead from the earthquake and its aftermath.

  1. To learn more about how you can help the relief efforts for the victims of the January 12, 2010 earthquake click on the CNN List of Relief Funds.
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A 1959 Haitian Semi-Postal stamp raising money for the Red Cross. A postal customer would have purchased this stamp for 35 centimes, with 25 centimes going to the Red Cross.

Haiti's Rich Heritage Through Stamps

The depth and multiple facets of Haiti's postal and philatelic history would rival that of any country in the world. Mail service in the small island nation dates back to the period of French control in the eighteenth century. Haiti's first postage stamps were issued in 1881, featuring a generic Liberty Head followed by more pictorially oriented stamps in the early twentieth century. Aside from regular postage stamps, Haiti has issued numerous Semi-Postal, Air Post, Air Post Semi-Postal, Special Delivery, Postage Due, Parcel Post and Postal Tax stamps. All of Haiti's stamps have continually showcased the nation's diverse origins, radiant culture, dynamic history and rich heritage.

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1981 stamp depicting artist Gregoire Etienne's “Going To Church” (at left) & 1970 stamp depicting the Francois Duvalier Central Hydroelectric Plant (at right)

Many of Haiti's most enduring historical buildings have also been destroyed by the January 12th earthquake including the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince. Fifty years ago, Haiti celebrated the 100th anniversary of Occide Jeanty's birthday. Jeanty is one of Haiti's most famous musical composers. One of several stamps issued on October 19, 1960 to honor Jeanty depicted the Presidential Palace in the background. Today, the Presidential Palace lies in ruins, a tragic reminder of the widespread and indiscriminate destruction caused by this natural disaster.

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Occide Jeanty Haitian stamp
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Haiti's Presidential Palace before and after the earthquake

A Brief History of Haiti

Following Christopher Columbus' 1492 discovery of Hispaniola, the island on which present day Haiti is located, Spain dominated the island for over one hundred years. In the 1600s, the French began settling part of the island and in 1697, Spain ceded France the western area of the island (the area of present day Haiti). In 1804, the same year France sold the United States the Louisiana Territory, the population of slaves in Haiti rebelled against the French. The slaves' successful revolt led to the establishment of the first black republic to declare independence from a European power. Haiti is the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, behind the United States. In the twentieth century, Haiti experienced prolonged periods of conflict, foreign occupation and political turmoil. Currently the United States is by far Haiti's largest trading partner.

To learn more about how you can help the relief efforts for the victims of the January 12, 2010 earthquake click here: CNN List of Relief Funds.

Related content: Haiti

Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.