Located in Port Louis, Mauritius, the Blue Penny Museum showcases the island’s art and history through a variety of exhibits, including notable collections of stamps, coins, and statues connected to the island’s cultural history and prominent artists.
The Republic of Mauritius is a 2,040-square-kilometer island country in the Indian Ocean, located approximately 2,000 kilometers off the southeastern coast of Africa. Though the island was uninhabited at the time of its discovery at the turn of the 16th century as part of the charting of the Spice Route, there is archaeological evidence to suggest that it was visited by ancient sailors much earlier. Its first recorded modern visit was in 1502, when it was named Dina Arobi by Arabian sailors. Five years later, Portuguese sailors established a base at the island named Ihla Do Cirne, though it was soon abandoned. Permanent human establishment began in 1598 when Dutch Rear Admiral Wybrant van Warwijck landed on the island with his troops and named it in honor of Prince Maurice van Nassau. A Dutch settlement operated between 1638 and 1710, and after its abandonment due to a major cyclone, the island fell under French control starting in 1715.
Throughout the mid-18th century, the island became a major hub for the French East India Company and a major center of slave trade activity. In 1810, the island was ceded to British forces, and in 1814, the Treaty of Paris was ratified to ensure human rights such as property ownership and religious and cultural freedoms for the island’s citizens. Following the abolition of slavery in 1835, the arrival of indentured laborers from India further transformed the island’s sociopolitical landscape, and following the decline of the sugar cane industry in the mid-2oth century, the island was granted independence in 1968. Today, the Republic of Mauritius encompasses the main island of Mauritius and the nearby island of Rodrigues, along with several smaller outer islands, including the disputed Chagos Archipelago and Seychelles territories. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and is known as a major center of multiculturality and democracy within the African Union. Its largest city, Port Louis, is one of the most prominent ports and financial centers in Africa and offers a variety of cultural attractions such as the Jardin de la Compagnie public gardens, the Caudan Waterfront district, and the Champs de Mars racecourse. In November of 2001, the Blue Penny Museum was inaugurated as a facility commemorating the art and history of the nation.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Blue Penny Museum is operated as a public museum facility overseen by the Mauritius Commercial Bank, showcasing a variety of exhibits related to the cultural history of the Republic of Mauritius. The museum is open to the public Mondays through Saturdays during the morning and afternoon hours, with the exception of major national holidays. Visitor rates are offered for adults, children, and seniors, with special group rates and guided tour docents available upon request for adult and student groups of 10 or more participants. Curriculum-incorporated field trips may also be scheduled for school groups, with guided exploration and activities organized around a variety of historical themes.
Major museum collections include its namesake 1847 Blue Penny and Red Penny stamps, which are considered among the rarest historic postal stamps in the world. 500 of the one-and-two-penny stamps were produced in 1847 by engraver Joseph Osmond Barnard, with most used on ball invitations sent out by the wife of the island’s governor. Due to the rarity and unique character of the stamps, their value increased exponentially throughout the 20th century, and by the turn of the 21st century, the Blue Penny stamp was valued at more than $2 million USD. The copies of the stamps owned by the museum were purchased by the Mauritius Commercial Bank in 1993 and returned to the island. Today, they are displayed at the museum on a limited basis, with illumination kept to a minimum to prevent wear and damage. A number of notable historic coins printed by the Mauritius Commercial Bank are also displayed throughout the museum.
A variety of exhibits are showcased at the museum, including an Age of Discovery exhibit, which highlights the island’s role in trade route exploration and navigation charting. The island’s colonial history is explored in The Island Builders, while the development of Port Louis as a modern commercial and cultural hub is outlined in Port Louis: A Leading City. A Postal History exhibit focuses on the origins of the island’s postal system and its early means of international communication. The museum also showcases an 1881 Prosper d’Epinay bronze sculpture modeled after the characters in Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s 1788 novel Paul and Virginia, which is noted as a major example of Enlightenment ideals and a critique of social class issues within pre-Revolutionary France.
Caudan Waterfront, Block A, Port Louis, Mauritius, Phone: +23-02-10-81-76