- Collecting Easter Island – Stamps and Postal History by Steve Pendleton and David Maddock
When I was in graduate school, and seemingly had lots of free time, collecting postage stamps became my hobby. This interest coincided with traveling to Rapa Nui for my dissertation fieldwork, and from that time on, I have casually collected the postal history of Rapa Nui. In the mid-1980s, the post office was a very small, closet-sized white frame structure near the airport, and several times a week we would line up and peer through the window to ask for our mail. There was a letter there, resting on a ledge addressed to the Easter Bunny of Easter Island, along with several other envelopes addressed to persons unknown. Since that time, I have collected many items, but without a context for the postal history of the island and the changes that it has experienced. This new volume by Pendleton and Maddock fills a long enduring void about the modern postal system and the philatelic history that came before 1953.
From 1864 to 1953, the island was owned by the Williamson and Balfour Company and no civilian postal service existed. Letters written to mainland Chile left on the annual supply ship and communications to Polynesia would use ships that made short stops at Rapa Nui. The absence of a postal service meant that letters were posted at the next port-of-call and bore that postal cancellation. The Rapa Nui origin was sometimes indicated by personally created post marks or by notes on the outside of the envelope. In 1932, the first Chilean naval marking, represented by a five pointed star, appears for correspondence. Early flights to the island, beginning with the flight of the Manutara, also used philatelic covers to mark the events and constitute another set of collectible material.
How the authors amassed such an impressive amount of philatelic material is not exactly known, but it is a seemly representative sample of material. While there are numerous cancellations documented [End Page 59] for government cachets, along with a sampling of postcards, aerograms, and ham radio operator QSL cards, the most interesting aspect of this book is the postal covers showing the changing postal markings, especially those featuring the moai. Since 1972, the illustrated cancellations have changed fairly frequently. Many of the postal covers from Rapa Nui are illustrated with added graphics of ahu, or the island, and add to the collectible nature of this material. It was also a pleasant surprise to see letters sent by notable persons from the island, including Padre Sebastián Englert, Pedro Atan, William Mulloy, and Carlyle Smith.
The book begins with a very generic overview of Rapa Nui prehistory and history illustrated with tourist-styled snapshots. The text does become more engaging after the first chapter, especially the section about aviation and the quest to make Rapa Nui the destination on a trans-Pacific aviation route. My only difficulty was linking the discussion to the illustrations, as the figure numbers are not included in the text. Despite these small shortcomings, authors Pendleton and Maddock have done a very fine job in giving us a developed context for this aspect of Rapa Nui history.