As I stood inside the Blue Penny Museum situated in the heart of Port Louis, fond childhood memories of my passion (read obsession) with philately came flooding in. Fights and compromises with friends with similar passion for exchange of stamps and first-day-covers of different countries, brought a nostalgic smile on my face. Though my vast collection of stamps from various countries never gave me the honour of being featured alongside Sir William Beilby Avery (one of the fathers of philately) in the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists, seeing the gorgeous stamp collection of the Blue Penny Museum, certainly, made me feel proud of my own collection. Many of the Mauritian stamps in the museum were in my collection, too.
In the world of philately Mauritius, on the island in Indian Ocean, is of towering importance. The Blue Penny Museum is far wider than its name suggests. Here, one can see stamps on the history of the island's exploration, settlement and colonial period. After visiting all the museums in Port Louis, I could say that the Blue Penny is the best. It is well-lit and is designed with a fantastic selection of maps, photographs and engravings from different periods in history, as well as a gallery for temporary exhibitions and a good shop with lots of interesting books and Mauritian souvenirs.
The world's two rarest stamps—the red one penny and blue two pence stamps—make the Blue Penny Museum a must-visit spot in the Mauritius capital. The so-called ‘Post Office' stamps are of legendary rarity and value. They were the first stamps issued in any part of the British Empire outside of Great Britain. The unique cover bearing both “Post Office” stamps has been called "la pièce de résistance de toute la philatélie" (the greatest item in all philately). These stamps were incorrectly printed with the words 'Post Office' rather than 'Post Paid'. They were recalled upon discovery of the error, but not before the wife of the British governor had mailed out a few dozen on invitations to one of her famous balls.
These stamps now rank among the most valuable in the world. The 'Bordeaux cover', a letter bearing both stamps which was mailed to France, was last sold for a staggering USD3.8 million. In 1993 a consortium of Mauritian companies headed by The Mauritius Commercial bank paid a whopping $20,00,000 for the pair of unused one penny and two pence stamps now on display at the museum. These stamps were brought back after almost 150 years. This is the only place in the world where the two stamps can be seen together. To preserve the colours of the original stamps, they are lit up only for 10 minutes at a time—every hour, on the half-hour.
As I descended the museum's first floor with a great feeling of seeing something so rare and unique, on the ground floor one more piece de resistance awaited to be admired by the visitors. A life-size statue of Paul & Virgin based on the Bernard de St-Pierre's novel Paul et Virginie is part of the museum. The statue is sculpted by the Mauritian sculptor Prosper d'Épinay, carved in 1884. On the ground floor, a shop stocks a varied and a beautiful collection of Mauritian souvenirs, including some wonderful stamps of the country.
The Blue Penny Museum is placed very strategically in Port Louis—at the city's liveliest, the most cultural and touristy place called Le Caudan (pronounced kaw-daw) Waterfront. Overlooking the harbour, besides being a great hub for shopping, Le Caudan Waterfront is also a business centre, a melting pot for local artists and the favourite meeting place for gastronomes, tourists and locals looking for leisure and entertainment. At Le Caudan Waterfront, one can meet friends for a drink, take a walk along the harbour, watch the latest movie, listen to music, enjoy a meal, try one's luck at the casino and admire art works while enjoying shopping. The complex capacity to have such a dynamic and heterogeneous offer confers a strong sociological dimension to Le Caudan.
Yatchmen and sailors can take their boat to direct mooring at Le Caudan's Marina. A highly efficient security system managed by Caudan Security Services ensures safety throughout the commercial centre. I stayed for four days in the swanky Le Bourdonnais Hotel (also at Le Caudan) that gave me a chance to see and enjoy at close quarters the true Mauritian culture in the form of food, art and music. Mauritius is, indeed, a true charmer to every tourist that visits this ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean'.