The Columbian Series was issued in conjunction with the spectacular Columbian Exposition of 1893, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Today, the Columbians are among the most treasured of all U.S. stamps.
This stamp shows Columbus coming ashore at Guanahani (San Salvador) in the West Indies. He claimed the land in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. And so certain was Columbus that he was in India, he called the natives “Indians.”
The Santa Maria was the flagship of Columbus. It was the largest vessel in his small fleet (measuring 117 feet in length as opposed to the 50-foot length of the Nina and the Pinta), and it was the one on which Columbus sailed.
Columbus set forth on his journey with three ships, and each one played a significant part in the story of Columbus’ discovery. It was from the Pinta that land was first sighted. While exploring the islands, the flagship Santa Maria was run aground in strong winds and was totally disabled. Forced to sail on the Nina, Columbus feared he would never make it back to Spain because of severe weather. He wrote down the story of his discovery and threw it over the side. He was determined that the world would know his story even if he died before reaching Spain!
This stamp shows Columbus before the queen – seeking support for his grand plans to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. The king and queen did eventually support him. However, they first had Columbus investigated by a special committee, and this investigation delayed his maiden voyage for four years!
Upon his return to Spain, Columbus was instructed to go to Barcelona where the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella was sitting. When he entered, the king and queen arose and bestowed many honors and privileges upon him. This shocked the court, because such honors were meant only for royalty. And many believed Columbus to be an ordinary seeker of fortune.
When Columbus returned to the New World the second time, he began to set up new colonies. He ruled with a firm hand, and he punished those who did not obey his requests. Many of his own men objected to his harsh ways. Columbus was ordered to return to Spain. He was quickly forgiven, however, because the king and queen were anxious to send him on another voyage.
Columbus wanted to prove to those in Spain that he had reached a new land. In order to do that, he forcibly removed some natives from the Bahaman Islands and took them back to Spain with him. Although he had established a fragile friendship, that relationship was quickly ended. The natives compared Columbus and his men to the cannibals who raided their islands and kidnapped their people!
When Columbus was summoned to Barcelona to tell the King and Queen what he had found during his voyage, they were impressed. They did not want Portugal to launch their own ships and discover lands that could belong to Spain. They immediately made plans to send Columbus on another voyage.
In his search for a patron to finance his first voyage, Columbus went to La Rabida, where he met a ship owner named Martin Alonso Pinson. Pinson was very supportive of Columbus and his wish to sail west across the ocean. The two men became partners, and ultimately, Pinzon was the commander of the Pinta during Columbus’ maiden voyage.
In the New World, Columbus was ruling with a harsh hand. Messengers returned to Spain to tell the king and queen of Columbus’ wicked ways. They immediately dispatched an employee of the throne to go to the New World and administer justice. Columbus refused to obey the court’s order, and he was recalled to Spain.
When Isabella first heard of Columbus’ plans, she was not very receptive. She turned the entire matter over to her Court’s Royal Treasurer. Finally, at his insistence, she provided a subsidy that was combined with support from private sources. However, contrary to popular belief, she never donated her jewels.
Columbus’ inability to govern men, led to rebellious colonists in the New World. When the King and Queen sent a representative to govern there, Columbus absolutely refused to subject himself to the governings of the new arrival. He was arrested, shackled, and returned to Spain in disgrace.
This stamp honors the third of four voyages Columbus ultimately made to the New World. During this particular voyage, Columbus led seventeen ships and 1,200 men. It resulted in the exploration of Puerto Rico.
This issue commemorates both Columbus and Queen Isabella. He is remembered for his daring discoveries, and she, for her generous support. Without it, Columbus’ voyage may never have been possible.
This $5 stamp’s central design was taken from a medal struck in Madrid. The Treasury Department made a cast, from which both the stamp and the 50¢ Columbian Commemorative Half Dollar were made. As a result, this image of Columbus is the one most associated with the 1893 World’s Fair. Unlike the medal, the $5 stamp features the figures of Liberty on Columbus’ left and America on his right.