LOCATION: One of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, northeast of New Zealand
GOVERNMENT: Dependency of New Zealand
POPULATION: 2,000 (est. 2014)
AREA: 7 square miles
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: New Zealand stamps overprinted January 1903.
FIRST STAMPS RE-ISSUED: Cook Islands stamps overprinted 7 August 1972.
12 pence = 1 shilling; 20 shillings = 1 pound (1892-1967)
100 cents = 1 dollar (1967-date)
Aitutaki is an “almost atoll” in the Cook Islands group, probably first settled around AD 900. The land area of the atoll is 6.97 square miles (18.05 square kilometers), of which the main island occupies 6.5 square miles (16.8 km²), with a hill called Maunga Pu providing the highest elevation of approximately 123 meters. The lagoon is about 19 square miles (50 square kilometers). Most of Aitutaki’s important features, including a boat passage through the barrier reef are found on the atoll’s western side. There is a small airport close to the northern point and flying boats and in the southeastern part of the lagoon. There are eight villages which are further divided into 19 tapere. The main village is Arutanga and today Aitutaki has a population of 2000.
The first known European contact was with Captain Bligh and the crew of HMS Bounty when they discovered Aitutaki on 11 April 1789, just prior to the infamous mutiny. Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity following the 1821 visit of John Williams, a missionary from the London Missionary Society (LMS); A British Protectorate was declared over the 15 islands of the Cook group on 20 September 1888. On 9 October 1900, Aitutaki became the only one of the Cook Islands to be annexed by Great Britain rather than ceded. All of the islands, including Aitutaki, were transferred by Great Britain to New Zealand control on 11 June 1901.
New Zealand and American forces were stationed on the island in 1942 and built the two-way airstrip that is in use today. This was used as an Allied bomber base during the Second World War. Aitutaki’s lagoon was used as a stopover for the flying boats of Tasman Empire Airways Ltd. (TEAL) during the 1950s on the famous Coral Route. Cyclone Pat struck the atoll in February 2010, damaging 60% percent of the houses and other buildings including a school and a hospital. While there were a few minor injuries, no deaths were reported.
Cook Islands stamps were used on Aitutaki from 1892 until 1903 when overprinted or surcharged New Zealand stamps were issued. Seven of the eight values were placed on sale in Auckland on 12 June 1903 and on Aitutaki on 29 June, with the 2½ pence arriving on 9 November. The denominations were written in the local dialect.
The last of the overprinted stamps appeared in 1920 and were replaced by a six-stamp pictorial set inscribed “Aitutaki” and sharing designs with the Cook Islands and Niue issues. Another set of three Aitutaki stamps were released from 1924-1927. All of the Aitutaki stamps issued from 1920-1927 are worth more used than mint. Inverted centers and double frames are known from printers’ waste. Cook Islands stamps superseded those of the island on 15 March 1932 and were used until Aitutaki became a separate postal entity on 1 April 1972 and resumed issuing its own stamps in August of that year. These were overprinted Cook Islands issues; the first new stamps inscribed “Aitutaki” appeared in April 1973.
My 2009 edition of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists some 611 general issue stamps for Aitutaki in Volume 1. Of these, 32 were issued between 1903 and 1927 with the bulk released between 1972 and the present. Some collectors avoid the later issues as they are designed primarily with the tourist and collector in mind rather than serving any real postal use amongst the 2000 residents. In addition, all of the back-of-the-book releases are post-1972 as well; I count 83 semi-postal stamps, six for airmail and 41 official stamps.
I currently have three Aitutaki stamps in my collection although I do aim to add more of the earlier issues. Scott #7 (pictured above) was released on 9 January 1911, a yellow-green half-penny New Zealand stamp overprinted in red with the denomination rendered as “Ava Pene” (half-penny).
On 23 August 1920, Aitutaki released its first stamps inscribed with its name rather than the over-printed New Zealand stamps that had been used since 1903. The set of six engraved stamps were designed and printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. of London and followed the designs of Cook Islands and Niue. The half-penny value (Scott #27), a striking bicolor design in green and black, depicts the landing of Captain Cook on another island in the group which eventually received his name (he didn’t actually visit Aitutaki). The “Avarua” waterfront depicted on the 1p carmine & black value is actually on the island of Rarotonga. It is this last stamp (Scott #29) that I chose to represent Aitutaki in my A Stamp From Everywhere collection.