General issues: Spanish postal area 1855-1868, Spanish postal area/Provisional government 1868-1870, Spanish postal area 1870-1873
Country name on general issues: None, Ultramar
Special issues: Local issues Havana 1855-1866
Currency: 1 Peso = 8 Reales 1855-1866, 1 Escudo = 100 Centesimos 1866-1870 in Cuba and 1868-1870 in Puerto Rico, 1 Peseta = 100 Centimos 1870-1873
Population: Cuba 1 321 000 in 1871, Puerto Rico 625 000 in 1870
Political history Spanish West Indies
The Spanish West Indies was the name used for the former Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. While, in the 16th century, the Spanish West Indies included most of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Spain, in the course of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, ceded many of its possessions in the Caribbean to the British, the Dutch and the French. Thus, in the 19th century, the Spanish West Indies consisted of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Cuba was first explored and claimed by the Spanish in 1492 and Puerto Rico in 1493. Cuba and Puerto Rico were Spanish colonies until 1898, when, during the Spanish-American War, both islands were occupied by the United States. Cuba became an independent republic in 1902. Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1917 and a United States commonwealth in 1952. For a more detailed discussion of Cuba and Puerto Rico, please refer to the respective profiles. The Spanish West Indies was a name for a group of Spanish possessions, but, as such, did not constitute a separate political entity within the Spanish Empire.
Postal history Spanish West Indies
Although the Spanish West Indies did not constitute a political entity, it did constitute a postal area.The Michel and Yvert & Tellier catalogs list the issues as discussed in this profile under the Spanish West Indies. In the Scott and Stanley Gibbons catalogs the issues are listed under Cuba. The first stamps for the Spanish West Indies were issued in 1855. These, and subsequent issues, show either no country name or were inscribed ‘Ultramar'‘Overseas’. The 1866 and 1867 issues were used only in Cuba because the new currency – escudo/centesimo – was not introduced in Puerto Rico until 1868. Between 1868 and 1870, stamps were issued on the authority of a provisional government – established, for a short period, as a consequence of the political dynamics of the time in Spain itself. Aside from the issues for general use in the Spanish West Indies, stamps were issued for local use in Havana at the special rate of 1/4 Real – provisionals between 1855 and 1857 and definitives between 1862 and 1866.
The issues for the Spanish West Indies were primarily issued for use in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The stamps were, however, used also in other Spanish possessions:
- The 1 and 2 real denominations from the 1855 issue were used in the Philippines in 1856, at a time when supplies of Philippine stamps were lacking.
- Furthermore, the stamps were used in Santo Domingo – the current Dominican Republic – between 1861 and 1865. Santo Domingo was a former Spanish colony that shortly reverted to Spain between 1861 and 1865.
- Finally, the stamps were used in Fernando Poo between 1869 and 1879 – Fernando Poo being another ‘ultramar’ possession of Spain located in Africa.
The issues of the Spanish West Indies were for use on domestic mail. Foreign mail was handled through offices operated by France and Great Britain in both Cuba and Puerto Rico.