General issues: British protectorate 1892-1901, New Zealand territory 1901-1919, New Zealand territory 1932-1965, New Zealand associated state 1965-Present
Country name on general issues: Cook Islands
- Rarotonga/New Zealand territory 1919-1932
- Aitutaki/Postal area 1903-1932, Aitutaki/Postal area 1972-Present
- Penrhyn/Postal area 1902-1932, Penrhyn/Postal area 1973-Present
- Rarotonga/Postal area 2011-Present
Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1892-1967, 1 Dollar = 100 Cents 1967-Present
Population: 7 500 in 1900, 15 000 in 2015
Political history Cook Islands
The Cook Islands is a group of fifteen islands and atolls in the central-south Pacific Ocean – for the exact location please refer to the map of Modern Oceania. The indigenous population is Polynesian. The first Europeans to sight the islands were Spanish and Portuguese sailors around 1600. The first to explore most of the individual islands was the British explorer James Cook was on his voyages in the 1770’s – the islands would eventually be named after him.
For fear of forced annexation by the French from neighboring French Polynesia, the chiefs of the major islands requested protection from the British, which was granted in 1888. The hitherto independently governed islands were joined in a federation in 1891. In 1900, the chiefs of the major islands signed documents of cession making the Cook Islands a British possession. The chief of Aitutaki did not sign a document of cession – Aitutaki was annexed, though, in the same year. The Cook Islands were transferred to New Zealand as a New Zealand territory in 1901. Having been administered by New Zealand since then, the Cook Islands gained self government as a New Zealand associated state in 1965. New Zealand nominally has responsibility for defense and foreign affairs – although the Cook Islands, in recent years, have increasingly established diplomatic relations independent of New Zealand. Avarua on the main island of Rarotonga is the seat of the Cook Islands government. The United States renounced claims – going back to the 1856 Guano Act – to the islands of Manahiki, Penryn, Pukapuka and Rakahanga in 1980.
Economically, the Cook Islands have depended on small scale farming and fishing and handicrafts – pearl farming for a time being the main economic activity. In recent years, services have become the mainstay of the economy – mainly tourism and off shore financial services. The population is largely Polynesian – many Cook Islanders live in New Zealand as Cook Islanders have New Zealand nationality.
Postal history Cook Islands
Postal services were set up on the major islands by New Zealand in 1891 – even though, at the time, the Cook Islands were a British protectorate. The first stamps were issued in 1892 – stamps of a basic design, inscribed ‘Cook Islands Federation’. Further issues followed in 1893 showing the portrait of Queen Makea Takau – the most prominent of the chiefs in the Cook Islands federation. In 1898, a set was issued featuring the wrybill – a bird endemic to the area. Stamps of these designs continued to be issued until 1919. The issues from this period were printed in New Zealand and – interesting to note – since 1893 have New Zealand watermarks.
Between 1919 and 1932 the stamps for the Cook Islands were designated Rarotonga. New Zealand stamps, overprinted ‘Rarotonga’, were issued in 1919, followed by definitives, inscribed ‘Rarotonga’, in 1920. Sets issued in 1920 and 1927 are of the same design as concurrent issues from Aitutaki, Penrhyn and Niue.
Since 1932, New Zealand stamps were again inscribed or overprinted ‘Cook Islands’. Having become an associated state in 1965, the Cook Islands have employed a number of successive agencies issuing significant numbers of stamps almost exclusively aimed at the thematic collectors market. Since the late 1990’s, stamp production has been limited.
Although part of the Cook Islands, the islands of Aitutaki and Penrhyn were granted separate stamp issuing policies, from 1903 and 1902 respectively, until 1932. Having used the stamps of the Cook Islands between 1932 and 1972, Aitutaki and Penrhyn again have their own stamp issuing policy since 1972. Aitutaki issued stamps since 1972 and Penrhyn since 1973. Rarotonga followed suit in 2011. The stamps issued by these individual islands are aimed at the thematic collectors market. The stamps of the Cook Islands are valid on all islands, while the issues of the individual islands are only valid on those islands.
For an overview of the political and postal changes in the Cook Islands, please refer to the country diagram of New Zealand.