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Herrick Stamp: America's Leading Stamp Dealer since 1946



Tin Can (Niuafo'ou) Mint Stamps - Tin Can (Niuafo'ou) Newest Stamps

Nestled among the paradise islands of the Pacific is a tiny dog of land called Niuafo’ou that lies equidistant between Samoa and Fiji. Niuafo’ou is the northernmost island of the Tonga group. The island is actually just the peak of an enormous volcano which rises steeply from the Tonga trench, one of the deepest places in the ocean. There is no safe harbor, nor is there a good offshore anchorage.
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View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 23-26 Volcanoes. Better Set. MINT NH TCAN23-26H8-XSPrice 1-2: $6.50
Price 3+: $2.39
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 42-45 Marine Wildlife MINT NH TCAN42-45H8-XS-CLUBPrice 1-2: $7.50
Price 3+: $2.39
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 60-63 ROCKET MAIL MINT NH TCAN60-63H8Price: $8.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 64-65 Halley's Comet MINT NH TCAN64-65H8Price: $49.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 74-75 Ameripex/Peace Corps MINT NH TCAN74-75H8-XSPrice 1-2: $7.00
Price 3+: $1.59
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 98 Australia Bicentennial M/S. MINT NH TCAN98H8Price: $35.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 202-05 WWF Blue-crowned Lorikeet MINT NH TCAN202-05H8-XST-CLUBPrice 1-2: $8.90
Price 3+: $3.95
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 205A W.W.F. Blue 1998Crown Lorked S/S MINT VF NH TCAN205AH8Price: $12.00
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 217-20 Fragrant Flowers MINT F/VF NH TCAN217-20H8Price: $5.65
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 268 Christmas 2011 Setn. Pr. MINT NH TCAN268H8Price: $9.35
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 269-70 Whales S/S MINT NH TCAN269-70H8Price: $11.85
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 271-74 WWF Zebra Shark MINT NH TCAN271-74H8Price: $9.18
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 275-86 Butterflies MINT NH TCAN275-86H8Price: $49.00
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 290 Personalized Set of 2 MINT NH TCAN290H8Price: $6.50
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 293 New Year 2013 S/S MINT NH TCAN293H8Price: $10.00
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 294-95 Tin Can Mail MINT NH TCAN294-95H8Price: $7.50
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 296-99 Royal Birth MINT NH TCAN296-99H8Price: $13.25
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 300 Royal Birth S/S MINT NH TCAN300H8Price: $15.50
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 301-12 Butterflies MINT NH TCAN301-12H8Price: $49.00
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 314 China S/S MINT NH TCAN314H8Price: $5.00
 NIUAFO'OU - Scott 315-17 Christmas 2013 MINT NH TCAN315-17H8Price: $6.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 319 Easter 2014 Sheetlet of 4 Different (1) MINT NH TCAN319H8Price: $13.56
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 329 Birth of Princess Charlotte Souvenir Sheet (1) MINT NH TCAN329H8Price: $12.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 333 Queen Elizabeth II, Longest Reigning Monarch Sheetlet of 4 Different (1) MINT NH TCAN333H8Price: $9.60
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott 344 400th Anniv. Dutch Landing Sheetlet of 4 Different (1) MINT NH TCAN344H8Price: $9.46
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott CE1-4 Barn Owls MINT NH TCANCE1-4H8Price: $95.00
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott NEW ISSUE Royal Wedding Prince Harry Souvenir Sheets (2) MINT NH TCANR575Price: $14.40
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott NEW ISSUE Parrot Souvenir Sheet (1) MINT NH TCANR576Price: $7.50
View ImageNIUAFO'OU - Scott NEW ISSUE Seashells 2018 Souvenir Sheets (2) MINT NH TCANR576Price: $15.00

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Niuafo’ou’s volcanic soil produces some of the best coconuts in the world. This cash crop, dried on the island and bagged as copra, helped to immortalize Niuafo’ou’s postal history.
The Australian firm Osterman Dervy & Co. stationed W. Travers, a copra trader, on Niuafo’ou in the early 1880’s. Travers became despondent when he found out there were no arrangements for dispatching and receiving letters. He devised a plan whereby passing vessels on the Samoa-Fiji run would drop his mail (which had been soldered in a tin can) overboard into the pounding sea for a strong Tonga swimmer to collect. Outgoing mail, tied securely in oilcloth, was carried to the ship. A line was dropped from the ship and the mail packet was affixed by the swimmer and drawn up. In a short time the vessel was again under way.
Gradually, ship’s captains began referring to Niuafo’ou as “Tin Can Island” because of the method of mail delivery. At the turn of the century, a few attempts at “modernization” were made involving the use of signaling rockets. Mail was tied to a rocket and then the rocket was launched from the deck of the ship in the general direction of the island. This proved to be an unsatisfactory arrangement when some of the mail burned in flight. Other rocket launchings missed the island entirely, either landing soggily in the sea or being lost in the verdant forest of Niuafo’ou.
In the late 1920’s, a German copra trader named Walter George Quensell began applying simple markings to his letters that read “Tin Can Mail.” It wasn’t long before a few of these covers fell into the hands of stamp collectors, who created a demand for Quensell’s Tin Can Mail covers.
In 1932, the method of Tin Can Mail delivery changed from the early swimmer mails to a delivery and collection by outrigger canoe. This change evolved after a swimmer was eaten by a shark.
Cruise ships plying the South Seas began adding Tin Can Island to their itinerary, generating even more opportunities for collectors and passengers to use the Tin Can Mail service. Luxury liners realized this was a perfect medium to advertise their cruises and so began issuing their own cacheted envelopes for the passengers to send “wish you were here” messages from Niuafo’ou.
Quensell, who by now was calling himself the “Tin Can Mail Man of the South Seas” must’ve believed he was on to something. By the mid-1930’s, he was decorating both the front and back of his covers with a myriad of elaborate cachets. The collectors loved them and the revenue earned from selling his covers helped support Quensell’s large family.
During World War II, the passenger vessels ceased their pleasure cruise operations. Post communications were maintained at Niuafo’ou on an infrequent schedule by Tongan vessels. At the close of the war, Quensell expected to resume the Tin Can Mail when the cruise ships returned to service. Fate, however, intervened.
On September 9, 1946, the island of Niuafo’ou violently erupted in a spectacular volcanic display. The main village of Angaha, including Quensell’s office, store and residence, was destroyed by lava flow, and islanders were evacuated to other islands within the Tonga group, often against their will.
By the late 1950’s, the island was once again habitable and former Niuafo’ou residents successfully petitioned for a return to their home island. In 1962, Matson Line vessels once again added Niuafo’ou to their South Seas cruise itinerary. Outrigger canoes would paddle out to meet the gleaming white ships in the old way, while passengers peered from the decks as the mail transfer was completed.
The post history of Niuafo’ou came full cycle in 1983 when a small airstrip was completed close to the spot where the village of Angaha once stood.

Written by
Janet Klug

This has been reprinted from Global Stamp News – November 1990 – Issue #1

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