Postage stamps and postal history of Malta
Postage stamps and postal history of Malta surveys postal history of Malta and the postage stamps issued by the country from 1860 to the present day. Currently postage stamps are issued by the postal operator, MaltaPost.
- 1 Early history (prior to 1857)
- 2 British Post Offices in Malta (1857-1884)
- 3 Department of Posts (1885-1995)
- 4 Posta Limited (1995-1998)
- 5 MaltaPost p.l.c. (1998- )
- 6 Postal stationery
- 7 Chronology of Maltese stamps
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Early history (prior to 1857)
Little is known about the origins of mail in Malta, but when the island was part of the Kingdom of Sicily mail was carried privately on ships such as speronaras between Malta and Sicily. From 1530 onwards, the Maltese islands (along with Tripoli) were administered by the Order of Saint John. The earliest known letter is dated 14 June 1532, and it was sent from Grandmaster l'Isle Adam to the Bishop of Auxerre in France. The first proper postal service was set up by the Order in 1708, and the service was carried out at La Casa del Comun Tesoro (now the Casino Maltese) in Valletta. The first postal markings on Maltese mail appeared later on in the 18th century, sometime between 1755 and 1791.
On 18 June 1798, during the French occupation of Malta, the postal service was reorganized and an ink stamp marked "Malte" was introduced. About a year later, on 7 October 1799, the British Civil Commissioner Alexander Ball set up Malta's first regular mail delivery service and a few rooms in San Anton Palace began to be used as a post office. A Packet service was established in July 1806 and was operational by 20 August of that year, and from February 1807 onwards, hand stamps were introduced by the British Packet Agent in Malta.
In the 1840s, the Packet Office and Island Post Office were moved from La Casa del Comun Tesoro to the Banca Giuratale. An experimental free daily postal service was introduced on 10 June 1853, but this was restricted to Valletta, the Three Cities, Gozo and some of the larger towns.
British Post Offices in Malta (1857-1884)
The British set up an overseas post office in Malta in the mid-nineteenth century. British stamps were made available in Malta in August 1857, and prepayment of postage became compulsory on 1 February 1858. These British stamps were cancelled with "M" or later "A25" postmarks. The "A25" postmark was also used to cancel other countries' stamps on maritime mail, and it is known on French, Tunisian, Italian, Egyptian and Indian stamps.
On 1 December 1860, Malta issued its first stamp, which is known as the halfpenny yellow. It was re-printed 29 times in different watermarks, perforations and shades. This stamp was used for inland postage only, while British stamps continued to be used for overseas mail. Malta joined the Universal Postal Union in 1875, and it was the first British colony to do so.
Department of Posts (1885-1995)
1880s to 1920s
On 1 January 1885 the Malta Post Office was separated from the British Post Office after this had been consented back in 1883. The first definitives were issued with the values up to 1/-, with the colours reflecting Malta joining the UPU. The halfpenny was the same as the 1860 stamp except it was green. The stamps were designs of Queen Victoria like most British colonies, but also used the Maltese cross as a heraldic device. British stamps were no longer valid from this date except for mail from British military zones, where British stamps were used until 1979. A large format 5-shilling value complemented the set in 1886 and this was used until 1911. Also in 1886, the GPO moved to Palazzo Parisio in Merchants Street, Valletta. Police stations in several villages began to sell stamps around 1891. Bollo personale, or postmen's personal handstamps, were used to indicate which postman delivered a particular letter. The earliest recorded use is 16 August 1888 while the latest is 29 September 1949.
In 1899 four more pictorial values were issued: 4½d Gozo boat, 5d Maltese Galley, 2/6 Melita and 10/- Saint Paul's Shipwreck. Village postmarks were introduced in 1900. A new stamp with the value of one farthing was added to the pictorials in 1901 when newspaper post was introduced. This stamp showed a view of the Grand Harbour. The overseas empire rate dropped to 1 penny in 1902 and the 2½d stamps of 1885 were overprinted with the words "One Penny". Each sheet had one error stamp with the words "One Pnney" on them and as it was a sheet of 120 stamps, these values attract a premium. It is thought that this was a deliberate error.
In 1903, new low-value definitives to 1/- featuring Edward VII were issued. The design was still based on the 1860 halfpenny yellow, but with the portrait of the new monarch and a royal crown on top. Like the previous Queen Victoria issues, these still featured Maltese crosses. Meanwhile, the 1886 5/- and the 1899-1901 pictorials remained in use. A new watermark was introduced in October 1904, and all subsequent reprints of the 1899-1901 pictorials and 1903-1904 definitives were with this new watermark. From 1907 to 1911 there were some colour changes, and some bicoloured stamps were reissued in one colour. A 5/- value was issued in March 1911 replacing the 1886 Queen Victoria issue.
The first George V stamps were issued in 1914, and they consisted of eight values: ¼d, ½d, 1d, 2d, 2½d, 6d, 1/- and a large format 2/- in the colonial keyplate design. A pictorial 4d black was added a year later, while a 3d and a large format 5/- were added in 1917. In 1919 pictorial 2/6 and 10/- values were issued. This 10/- value is Malta's most expensive postage stamp since only 1530 copies were printed and they sold out soon after issue.
From 1914 to 1920 various German prisoners of war were in camps in Malta, and various markings were introduced for mail sent from these POWs. In 1917-1918, War tax stamps were issued for World War I. The ½d was from the 1914 George V issue but the 3d was from the 1903 Edward VII issue. In late 1921 and early 1922, some of the 1914-1919 issues were reprinted with a new watermark. In April 1922, the 2d issue from earlier that year was surcharged one farthing. By the early 1920s, village postmarks were withdrawn.
1920s to 1960s
In 1919 there were the Sette Giugno riots in Valletta, which led to Malta being given a new constitution in 1921 and being granted self-government. To commemorate this, various definitive stamps issued between 1899 and 1922 were overprinted "SELF-GOVERNMENT". On 1 August 1922 a new set of stamps designed by Maltese artists Edward Caruana Dingli and Gianni Vella was issued. This featured an allegorical depiction of Melita on the Pound and pence values and a depiction of Melita leaning on Britannia on the shilling values. In 1926 it was decided that separate revenue stamps should be issued and the set was defaced with the word "POSTAGE" on all values up to 10/-.
Locally printed postage due stamps were issued on 16 April 1925 replacing handstruck markings that had been in use for over a century. A new design of professionally printed stamps was issued on 21 July of that year showing a Maltese cross and British and Maltese coats of arms.
To make it more complicated a new set of definitives appeared later in 1926, this time a very beautiful set showing George V and a shield on the values to 6d and a series of engraved scenes on the higher values to 10/-. But again the set was reissued with an overprint "Postage and Revenue" in 1928, when it was decided that revenue stamps were no longer needed. A 6d stamp was also overprinted "AIR MAIL" in 1928 and was Malta's first airmail stamp value, being in addition to the sea postage rate. This beautiful set was once again reissued with "Postage and Revenue" in the legend. Therefore Malta had a total of 7 sets of definitives between 1920 and 1930.
Direct flights from Malta became possible in 1931 which made the airmail service more popular. Zeppelin flights carried some mail from Malta from May 1933 to July 1935. In 1935, Malta issued the Silver Jubilee Crown Agents omnibus set, and this was followed by the 1937 Coronation omnibus set of 3. In 1938 a new set of pictorial definitives came out with a portrait of George VI inside a cartouche with local scenery around him. The farthing value was reissued like the 1901 version except with a modernised view of the harbour and the monogram GRI appearing on the stamp instead of a portrait. The set went up to 10/- and some of the top values reused scenes from the 1926 set, except larger and brighter. During World War II Malta was heavily bombed and the island was awarded the George Cross by the King, because it had resisted the Nazi and Italian bombardment. In 1942, Palazzo Parisio was hit by this aerial bombardment so the GPO moved to Ħamrun Primary School. In 1943 postage rates increased and 6 low values from the 1938 were reissued in new colours to show rate changes. Malta also took part in the 1946 omnibus issue commemorating the Allied victory in the war.
Late 1948 saw the 1938-1943 pictorials reissued with a "SELF-GOVERNMENT 1947" overprint, after Malta was granted self-government for a second time (the 1921 constitution had been revoked back in 1933). A further reissue of these stamps occurred in 1953 when standard postage rose to 1½d and 6 values were again reissued in new colours, still overprinted. Various omnibus issues were issued from 1949 to 1953 for the anniversaries of the Silver Wedding and the UPU, and the Coronation of Elizabeth II. From 1950 to 1954 various commemorative stamps were issued, commemorating various Catholic anniversaries and royal visits. Most notably was Princess Elizabeth's stay in Malta of 1948, when she moved to the island to live with the Duke of Edinburgh at the naval base, and a set was issued in 1950 commemorating her visit.
Between January 1956 and 1957, a new definitive set was issued featuring the new Queen Elizabeth II. This set featured beautifully engraved designs up to £1. The set showed various local buildings, monuments and views, or important documents relating to Malta's role in the Second World War. From 1957 onwards various stamps designed by Emvin Cremona were issued, most notably those to commemorate the anniversaries of the award of the George Cross to Malta. He used an abstract post cubist style that would later dominate most stamps of the 1960s and 1970s including two definitive sets. Malta issued various other commemorative sets in the early 1960s, and the last set prior to independence was a set of three commemorating the European Congress of Catholic Doctors. This was issued on 5 September 1964, just two weeks before independence.
The first postage meter was installed in Malta in 1961.
1960s to 1990s
On 21 September 1964, the island was granted independence as the State of Malta, a member in the Commonwealth of Nations and a Commonwealth realm. A set of 6 values was issued for this event, also designed by Emvin Cremona, who designed virtually every set up to 1971. These sets are all very cheap but highly collectible. Christmas stamps started in 1964 and have focused mostly on Nativity scenes. The 1965 definitives showed various episodes from the History of Malta and are considered some of the finest ever issued. Many varieties exist on this issue, from misplaced or omitted colours to imperforate stamps. Malta joined CEPT in 1971 and has issued Europa stamps annually since then.
Initially, the main language used on stamps was English even after independence. However, from 1968 onward the Maltese language became predominant on stamps. This remained the case for many years. The use of English on stamps stopped after the Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff won the 1971 elections. Malta's first miniature sheet was issued on 8 November 1971, featuring that year's Christmas set.
In 1972 Malta abandoned the sterling system and adopted the Maltese pound, where 10 mils = 1 cent and 100 cents = 1 pound. An issue showing the new coins was issued, and this was followed by three overprints on the 1965 definitive. A new definitive issue showing various local scenes was issued on 31 March 1973, and an airmail set commemorating the setting up of Air Malta was issued a year later. All these were designed by Emvin Cremona, who had by now become a Knight of Malta, but by now his designs were looking dated and tired. In October 1974 the Posts & Telephones Department moved the GPO to Auberge d'Italie, while the Central Mail Room, registered letter branch and Poste Restante were relocated to the former Garrison Chapel.
On 31 December 1974, Malta became an independent republic installing a President and ending the role of the Queen and Westminster. In 1979 the British naval presence in Malta was ended and they were evicted under the Neilsen accord. Malta declared itself as an island of peace, with Libya as the main ally. Stamp issues at this time were flat but about 5 came out a year. A miniature sheet was issued to commemorate the 1978 FIFA World Cup, and similar issues were also issued for each Cup from then onwards (with the exception of 2002). The first series of stamps was issued in installments between 1977 and 1980, and they showed Flemish Tapestries. The final installment of this issue appeared on 30 January 1980, and it contained the first stamp that was issued in a miniature sheet only and not in sheet format. A new definitive set was issued in 1981, and this focused on Maltese industry.
Later on in the early 1980s various series of stamps became popular after the success of the Flemish Tapestries issues of the late 1970s. The new issues showed Maltese ships (1982-1987) or Maltese military uniforms (1987-1991). The second installment of the latter issue is also important since it uses the English language, and although Maltese still continued to be used, this change might have been a result of the new Nationalist government that had just won the 1987 elections. A new definitive appeared in 1991 showing natural and artistic heritage of the Maltese Islands.
Posta Limited (1995-1998)
The British Postal Consultancy Service made a Report in 1994 recommending that the Post Office should run commercially instead of by the government. Therefore, on 1 October 1995, Posta Limited came into being and took over the GPO, the Parcel Post and all Branch Offices and Sub Post Offices. In 1997, the GPO, Central Mail Room, Parcel Post and Philatelic Bureau moved to a new complex in Qormi Road, Marsa, where it remains to this day.
The first stamps under the new company were issued on 5 October 1995, when a set showing antique clocks was issued. Over the next three years, Posta Ltd issued a total of 76 stamps including two miniature sheets.
MaltaPost p.l.c. (1998- )
MaltaPost p.l.c. was registered with the Malta Registry of Companies as a public limited company on 16 April 1998. It took over from Posta Limited on 1 May of that year. On 31 January 2002, MaltaPost was partially privatized when the government sold 35% to Transcend Worldwide Ltd, a subsidiary company of New Zealand Post Ltd. In September 2007 the government sold 25% of its shareholding in MaltaPost to Lombard Bank plc, which effectively became the majority shareholder in the company with 60% shareholding. The other 40% were sold to the public in January 2008.
From 1999 to 2003, a definitive set depicting Maltese flowers was issued in four sets of 6. Later in 2003 the local and foreign rates (7c, 16c) were re-issued as smaller, self-adhesive booklet stamps. These are the only self-adhesive stamps ever issued by Malta. Reprints of the 7c and 16c values were made in 2005, as personalised stamps, and in 2006 the 1c was reissued with a different inscription at the foot and with a watermark (The original 1999-2003 stamps had no watermark). In all 27 gummed stamps and 2 self-adhesive stamps were issued.
On 27 February 2002, a set of five stamps commemorating films shot in Malta was scheduled to be issued. The 6c was to commemorate the film The Malta Story (1953), the 12c Shout at the Devil (1975), the 22c Popeye (1980), the 27c The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), and the 50c Gladiator (2000). The set, designed by Richard J. Caruana and printed by Bundesdruckerei, was withdrawn the day before it was to be issued. The stamps were already printed, the leaflets were distributed to the post offices, and even the first day covers were prepared. The stamps, leaflets, and first day covers were destroyed, and no copies are known to have survived. The actual reason why these stamps were not issued is not known.
In 2004 Malta joined the European Union and in 2008 the Euro was adopted. Both of these events were marked with stamp issues. Issues from December 2006 to June 2008 were denominated in dual currency.
The highest value of a miniature sheet with a single stamp was Lm2/€4.66. It was issued in 2007 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Caravaggio in Malta. On 30 July 2010 this miniature sheet was overprinted "4TH CENTENARY OF THE DEATH OF CARAVAGGIO 1610-2010" in gold lettering on the margin and with a serial number. This is considered as Malta's rarest miniature sheet, as most were issued in a commemorative folder (of which only 2000 were issued). The remainder of the sheets were sold on first day covers and limited numbers were available at a premium from Castille Square BPO (Valletta), Victoria BPO (Gozo) and the Philatelic Bureau (Marsa). In fact, very few examples are known postally used. Both the folders and the sheets were withdrawn one day later, on 1 August.
On 29 December 2009 a new definitive issue featuring periods in Maltese history was issued. All the values were issued in Malta's largest miniature sheet, with a combined face value of €11.42. This was therefore the highest combined face value of a Maltese miniature sheet. On 23 May 2011 the miniature sheet was reissued with MaltaPost's new logo in the bottom right-hand corner. Two new values were added to the set in 2012, while between 2011 and 2014 some of the original values were reprinted with minor differences.
Recently the number of sets per year has increased and there is more use of photography on stamps. Nearly all of the stamps are based on local topics and therefore Malta has upheld a reputation of conservative issuing of stamps. Postage rates on the island have also remained cheap, and English has taken over from Maltese as the predominant language on stamps. The only complaint is that since 2003 there have been a lot of sets with high values when standard local postage is €0.26. The highest face values were:
- €5.00 in the 2009 Definitive set,
- €4.66 in the 2007 Caravaggio miniature sheet,
- €4.57 in the 2013 Red cross miniature sheet,
- €4.51 in the 2013 Malta-Curaçao joint issue,
- €4.16 in the 2011 Senate and Legislative Assembly and 2012 George Cross miniature sheets
Although such issues are mainly intended for collectors, higher values are still used on parcels or registered letters since postage labels are rarely used in Malta compared to other countries.
Overall, Malta issued about 1880 stamps and miniature sheets (as of 2014) and also takes part in various programmes including Europa (since 1971), WWF (since 1991) and SEPAC (since 2007). Since 2006, the Europa stamps were also issued in booklets. Malta also issued various joint issues with other countries starting from 2004.
Prior to issuing separate postal stationery, Malta used British stationery. The first items of postal stationery to be issued by Malta were in 1885 when postcards, newspaper wrappers and registration envelopes were issued. Post paid envelopes were first issued in 1900 and the only new type of postal stationery to be issued by Malta were aerogrammes which were first issued in 1971. Malta never issued lettercards.
Only three different newspaper wrappers, all with a value of ½d, were produced. One in 1885 with the portrait of Queen Victoria, one in 1902 with King Edward VII and one in 1913 with King George V. All of them exist overprinted SPECIMEN.
Up to 2002 a total of 48 different registration envelopes were produced. Eight of these also exist overprinted SPECIMEN.
16 postcards have been produced up to 1944, including the reply postcards. 17 of them also exist overprinted SPECIMEN. Apart from these 35 postal cards and 36 occasion cards were also produced up to 2014.
The post paid envelopes were first issued on 4 May 1900, 3 different envelopes, were the only ones to be produced for the island until 16 September 2002. Since then MaltaPost has issued postage paid envelopes with both local and foreign rates. At least 26 different postpaid envelopes have been issued since 2002.
Six different aerogrammes were issued from 1969 to 1991, but only two were pre-paid, and these were both issued in 1971.
Chronology of Maltese stamps
- 1860: First stamp - halfpenny yellow (SG 1)
- 1885: First definitive set (SG 20-28)
- 1902: First surcharged stamp (SG 36-37)
- 1903: First two colour stamp (SG 40)
- 1917: First overprinted (not surcharged) stamp (SG 92)
- 1922: First commemorative set - Self-Government (SG 105-121)
- 1922: First stamps designed locally (SG 123-140)
- 1925: First postage due stamps, first stamps printed locally (SG D1-D10)
- 1928: First airmail stamp (SG 173)
- 1935: First omnibus issue (SG 210-213)
- 1953: Last overprinted (not surcharged) stamp (SG 236a-241a)
- 1964: First Christmas stamps (SG 327-329)
- 1971: First miniature sheet (SG MS463)
- 1977: Last surcharged stamp (SG 575)
- 1993: Last postage due stamps (SG D50-D53)
- 2004: Last stamps printed abroad (SG 1380-1383)
- 2005: First joint issue (SG 1407-1410)
- 2012: Largest set ever issued
- Designers of Maltese stamps
- Halfpenny Yellow
- Malta Saint Paul 10s black
- JB Catalogue
- List of fish on stamps of Malta
- List of people on stamps of Malta
- Revenue stamps of Malta
- Postage stamps and postal history of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
- Maltapost privatisation latest red-letter day in postal history. Times of Malta, 21 January 2008. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
- Trory, John A. The John A. Trory Specialised Catalogue of Malta. 6th Edition, 1990.
- Buttigieg, Joseph. The JB Catalogue of Malta Stamps and Postal History. 22nd Edition, 2014.
- The Company. MaltaPost p.l.c. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
- Jannock Stamps. Malta Stamp Catalogue. 2nd Edition, 1979.
- Stamp Magazine. Fifty Fabulous Stamps of the British Empire. 2011, pp. 84-85. ISBN 9781907063299
- Il-misteru tal-bolli li qatt ma ħarġu!. It-Torċa, 27 February 2005. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
- Mackay, James A. Malta - The story of Malta and her stamps, Philatelic Publishers, 1966. ISBN 0-900864-10-9
- Sefi, A.J. The Postage Stamps of Malta. London: D. Field, 1913.
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- MaltaPost p.l.c.
- MaltaPost Philatelic Bureau
- Encyclopaedia of Postal History
- Malta Philatelic Society
- Gozo Philatelic Society
- Malta Study Circle
- Catalogue of Malta stamps at Stampworld.com