Postage stamps and postal history of Malta
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (July 2013)|
The postage stamps of Malta are issued by the postal operator of Malta, MaltaPost. The country's postal history starts in the early eighteenth century but the first stamp was issued in 1860 while Malta was a British colony.
Early days to 1922
A postal system began in Malta in the early 18th century with letters from the Knights of Malta to Rome and other parts of Europe. Napoleon set up a rudimentary system using an ink stamp simply marked (Malte), but the actual post office did not begin until 1854. By then it was a British colony and the British set up an overseas post office in Malta. British, and rarely French, Tunisian, Italian, Egyptian and even Indian stamps were used and they were cancelled with the "A25" obliterator, of which there were seven types. So any British stamp with an A25 cancel was used in Malta or Gozo. 1847 was when the General Post Office in Valletta was set up and it was in the Auberge de Castile a 16th-century building; it would remain there until 1990, when new purpose-built quarters of MaltaPost were set up in Marsa, to the west of Valletta. On December 1, 1860, Malta issued its first stamp, when the country was still a colony of the United Kingdom. This stamp was a halfpenny yellow and was re-issued 29 times in different perforations and shades until 1885, when Malta's first individual set was released. This stamp was legal for Maltese inland postage only and the standard rate for island mail under one ounce until 1943, overseas mail had to use British stamps until 1885.
January 1, 1885 saw the release of Maltese definitives in the values up to 1/-. The colours reflected Malta joining the Universal Postal Union and the halfpenny was the same as the 1860 stamp except it was green. The stamps were generic designs of 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 British stamps were no longer valid from this date except for postage in British military zones and mail, where British stamps were until 1979. A 5-shilling value complemented the set in 1886 and this was used until 1911. There was an additional of four values in 1899 which included a 2/6 and 10/- value being issued, both survived into the 1920s and a 1919 reprint of the 10/- is now Malta's rarest stamp, being worth at least €3000 for a mint example, and €4000 for a used stamp.
1901 saw the addition of a farthing stamp for newspapers with a view of Grand Harbour. The overseas empire rate dropped to 1 penny in 1902 and the 2½d stamps 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. However, it is thought[by whom?] that this was a deliberate error. 1903 saw the introduction of new low-value definitives to 1/- featuring Edward VII; again apart from Maltese crosses these stamps had little relevance with Malta. 1904 and 1905 saw watermark changes, the 4½ and 5d values had colour changes in 1905 and 1911, and the penny and halfpenny were also changed from two colour to one-colour stamps. 1911 saw all the remaining values changed to one colour and 4d and 1/- had a colour change. The 5/- value was introduced that looked like the lower values but was two-coloured. 1914 saw the start of the George V stamps, but these were similar to earlier issues and they were not fully issued until 1920 because World War I intervened. The 3d value only arrived in 1920, so the 3d War stamp of 1918 was a 1903 Edward overprinted. The 1901 farthing stamp was replaced by an overprinted George V 2d stamp in 1921. There were independence riots in 1919 and 1920 that led to self-government in 1922.
1922 to 1964
1922 saw the George V definitives overprinted with Self Government, but this ruined the design and it didn't last long. In April of that year a new set of stamps designed by Maltese artists featuring an allegorical depiction of Melita on the Pound and pence values and a depiction of Melita leaning on Britannia on the shilling values, was a welcome enhancement. However 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/-. 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/- (No more pound stamps until 1957). But again the set was defaced with an overprint "Postage and Revenue" in 1928, when it was decided that revenue stamps were no longer needed. A 6d stamp was overprinted AIRMAIL in 1928 and was Malta's first airmail stamp value, being in addition to the sea postage rate. 1930 saw this beautiful set reissued with "Postage and Revenue" in the legend. Malta had used a total of 7 sets of definitives between 1920 and 1930.
1935 saw the Silver Jubilee omnibus set and 1937 the Coronation set of 3 by Crown Agents for the Colonies. In 1938 a new set of pictorial definitives came out with George VI inside a cartouche with a rich scene around him. The farthing value was reissued like the 1901 version except with a modernised view of the harbour. The set went up to 10/- and many 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 1943 postage rates increased and 6 low values from the 1938 were reissued in new colours to show rate changes. Malta issued the usual omnibus issues right up to Independence including Peace, Wedding (a one pound value) and UPU. Late 1948 saw the 1938 pictorials reissued with a "SELF-GOVERNMENT 1947" overprint, Malta had lost it originally in 1936 when infighting led to the British reasserting control. 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. In 1948 Elizabeth II moved to Malta to live with the Duke of Edinburgh at the naval base and a set was issued in 1950 commemorating her visit. There were also sets in the 50s commemorating Catholic anniversaries, the royal visit and coronation.
1957 saw the first George Cross set designed by Emvin Cremona, Malta's greatest ever stamp designer. He used an abstract post cubist style that would dominate most stamps of the 1960s and 1970s including two definitive sets.
The QEII definitives were issued in steps between January 1956 and 1959, and featured beautifully engraved designs up to one pound. This set was used up to 1965 and seen as the finest definitives issued for Malta, they are scarce in the higher values now.
1964 to 1974
Malta gained full independence in the Commonwealth on September 21, 1964. A set of 6 values was issued for this event, but two earlier sets (Hospitals and Brucellerosis) from 1964 also are counted in this period, as all issues from 1963 back are considered primarily Crown Agents designs, whilst later stamps are uniquely Maltese. Cremona designed virtually every set up to 1971, and these sets are all very cheap but highly collectable. Christmas stamps start in 1964 and have focussed mostly on Nativity scenes and Malta joined Europa in 1971, producing a set every year. The 1965 definitives showed the History of Malta to 1964 and are considered some of the finest ever issued.
In 1968 a Labour Government led by Dom Mintoff was elected in and dominated Malta until 1987, it also was anti British and looked to Libya and Socialism as guidance. British influence was slowly dismantled. In late 1968 all issues were now in Malti as opposed to English and this survived to the present day (Since 1988, some English has reappeared on issues and now its about half and half Malti/English). In 1972 Malta finally abandoned the sterling system and bought in a decimal system of 10 mils = 1 cent, 100 cents = 1 Maltese pound (Lira). A new issue of definitives was less successful than the 1965 set. By the mid 70s Cremona (Now a Knight of Malta) designs were looking dated and tired. In 1974 the stamp issues were quite leftish and on December 31, 1974, Malta became an independent republic installing a President and ending the role of the Queen and Westminster. Since 1974 Malta has been a republic with a Maltese president as head of state. In 1979 the British naval presence in Malta was ended and they were forciably 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.
1974 to date
In 1974 the stamp issues were quite leftish and on December 31, 1974, Malta became an independent republic installing a President and ending the role of the Queen and Westminster. Since 1974 Malta has been a republic with a Maltese president as head of state. In 1979 the British naval presence in Malta was ended and they were forciably 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. The later 80s saw a return to form, some more innovative sets came out and by 1987, the Mintoff Labour government had gone, to be replaced by a more pro Westminster government and the rejection of socialism and Libya followed, especially in the midst of the Lockerbie bombing. Great sets included Maltese shipping and Maltese uniforms (The first to reuse English language as they realised that English speaking collectors would buy this set). The 1990s and millennium saw the number of sets per year increase and more use of photography and high quality art, made these stamp issues very collectable. Nearly all of the stamps were local topics and therefore Malta has upheld a reputation of conservative issuing of stamps. Postage rates on the island have also remained very cheap, and English has taken over from Maltese as the predominant language on stamps.
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.
In 2004 they joined the European Union and in 2008 the Euro was adopted. The only complaint, being since 2003 there have been a lot of sets with rogue high values of 2 or more Euros in sets, when standard 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 state the need for values with little practical use other than thematic collecting, higher values are still used on parcels or registered letters since postage labels are rarely used in Malta compared to other countries. Until recently, MaltaPost was managed by Transworld Enterprises, a subsidiary of NZPost based in New Zealand.
Ever since, Malta issued about 1880 stamps and miniature sheets (as of 2013) and also takes part in various programmes including Europa (since 1971), WWF (since 1991), SEPAC (since 2007), etc. Since 2006, the Europa stamps were also issued in booklets. Malta also issues joint issues such as with Denmark (2005), Vatican City (2007), Gibraltar (2010), Iceland (2011) and Curaçao (2013).
On 27 February 2002, a set of five stamps commemorating Maltese films was scheduled to be issued. 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.
The stamps had the denominations of 6c, 12c, 22c, 27c and 50c. 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).
Malta's first miniature sheet was issued on 8 November 1971, featuring the Christmas set. The first stamp that was issued in miniature sheet format only, and not in sheet format, was issued on 30 January 1980. It was part of the fourth and final issue of the Flemish Tapestries series (1977–1980). Miniature sheets for the FIFA World Cup were issued for each Cup from 1978, with the exception of 2002.
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 Commemorative Folder No. 3 (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, only 3 examples are known postally used. Both the folders and the sheets were withdrawn one day later, on 1 August. This miniature sheet is now catalgued at €50.
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.
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 1969. Malta never issued lettercards.
Only three different newspaper wrappers, all with a value of ½d, were produced. One in 1885 with the head of Queen Victoria, one in 1902 with the head of King Edward VII and one in 1913 with the head of King George V. All of them exist overprinted SPECIMEN.
Up to 2002 a total of 48 different registration envelopes have been identified as having been produced. Eight of these also exist overprinted SPECIMEN.
16 postcards have been produced up to 1944, and this figure includes reply postcards. 17 of them exist overprinted SPECIMEN. Apart from these 34 postal cards and 32 occasion cards were also produced up to 2013.
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 21 different postpaid envelopes have been issued since 2002.
Six different aerogrammes have been issued up to 1991, but only two were pre-paid, and these were 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
- The J.B. Catalogue of Malta Stamps and Postal History
- Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue 2003
- Nzpost website 2009
- MaltaPost p.l.c.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Post of Malta.|
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Category:World Stamp Catalogue/Malta|
- MaltaPost p.l.c.
- Encyclopaedia of Postal History
- Malta Philatelic Society
- Gozo Philatelic Society
- Maltese History on Stamp
- Malta Study Circle