Postage stamps and postal history of Austria

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The Austrian Empire was covering all central Europe

This article deals with the stamps and postal history of the Empire of Austria, Cisleithania and the Republic of Austria.

The historical context[edit]

Stamp of 1850 of the KKPost, on handmade paper

The Austrian Empire stamps were first issued on June 1, 1850: a coat of arms under the text KK Post-Stempel.[1] The word Austria does not appear, which is logical, as the issue served in whole central Europe, more precisely in all or in part of the current following countries:

The languages used were German, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Serbo-Croat, Polish and French (postmark Chargé).

For a better understanding of the historical context, see the article Austria-Hungary.

Empire (1850-1867) and Dual-Monarchy (1867-1918)[edit]

The first postage stamp issue of the Empire of Austria was a series of imperforate typographed stamps featuring the coat of arms. At first they were printed on a rough handmade paper, but after 1854 a smooth machine-made paper was used instead. Issues between 1858 and 1861 used a profile of Emperor Franz Josef, then switched back to the coat of arms, in an oval frame. Four clichés of the 1850 issue had St. Andrew's crosses printed per pane so that an even multiple of gulden were paid per pane sold.[2]

The scarlet Red Mercury, or "rote Murkur," issued on March 21, 1856 is the rarest of the lithographed newspaper stamps authorized on September 12, 1850 which bore Mercury heads but no denominations. The low value blue variety used to frank individual newspapers is the commonest but the higher values in yellow, rose, and scarlet were used on wrappers of bundles of 10 or 50 newspapers and were often discarded.[3]

Franz Josef profiles reappeared in 1867, as a side effect of the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at this point Hungary began issuing its own stamps), and continued until 1907, with various changes, including a change of monetary system in 1899 - from 60 kreuzer to the gulden to 100 heller to the krone.

1899 also saw the appearance of varnish bars, as diagonal shiny yellowish strips applied to the stamp paper before printing, intended to prevent cleaning and reuse of stamps. The experiment was abandoned with the 1908 issue.

The varnish bars appear faintly on this 1904 issue

In 1908, Austria issued a series of large pictorial stamps, designed by Koloman Moser, to commemorate the 60th year of Franz Josef's reign, depicting previous emperors, Franz Josef at various ages, Schönbrunn Palace, and the Hofburg (both in Vienna). The designs were reused in 1910 for a Birthday Jubilee issue celebrating Franz Josef's 80th birthday, the dates "1830" and "1910" being added at top and bottom.

A series in 1916 depicted Franz Josef, the Austrian crown, and the coat of arms, and between 1917 and 1919 Emperor Charles I briefly made an appearance on stamps before the republic was established.

Austro-German Postal Union[edit]

On 6 April 1850 the Austro-German Postal Union agreement was concluded between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia to take effect from 1 July 1850. The primary purpose of the agreement was to provide a uniform system of postal rates. By 1 June 1852 all the remaining German states joined the Union. It subsequently became the model for the creation of the Universal Postal Union in 1874.[4]

First Republic, 1918 - 1938[edit]

Austrian stamp of Charles I overprinted Deutschösterreich

The first issues of German Austria were overprints reading "Deutschösterreich" on stamps of the empire, issued beginning in December 1918.

In 1919 the republic issued new designs; a post horn, the coat of arms, a kneeling man representing the new republic, and the Parliament building, all done in a vaguely Art Nouveau style, and inscribed "DEUTSCHÖSTERREICH" ("ÖSTERREICH" appeared in 1922).

2000 kroner of 1922 "Art and Science" design

However, Austria was caught in the hyperinflation of the early 1920s, and was forced to print new stamps in ever-increasing denominations, topping out at a 10,000 kroner value in 1924. (Even so, Austria was still better off than neighbor Germany, who was issuing stamps of 50 billion (marks at the time.)

In 1925, a new monetary system was introduced, 100 groschen to the schilling, which continued in use until replaced by the euro in 2002. New stamps were printed also, featuring numerals (for the low values), a field crossed by telegraph wires, a white-shouldered eagle, and a church of the Minorite Friars. Subsequent issues depicted scenic views (1929), and costumes of various districts (1934). The assassinated chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was commemorated in both 1934 and 1936.

Anschluss, 1938 - 1945[edit]

In early 1938 the Anschluss put a sudden end to Austria's stamps. Although the entry of German troops in March was sudden, the transition of the postal system took several months; and included a period where German stamps were required in addition to Austrian stamps (a mixed franking). The cover to the right, for instance, was mailed on 6 May 1938 from Vienna to Freiburg im Breisgau, then was forwarded to Hamburg. (Receiving marks on the back indicate that it arrived in Hamburg on the 8th of May.) After the transition period was over, Austrians used stamps of Germany until the end of the Third Reich in 1945.

Occupied Austria, 1945[edit]

1945 overprint on "Hitler Head" of Germany

The wreckage of World War II included the postage stamp production system, and the Allied occupation forces handled the situation in different ways; the Soviets overprinted German stamps before issuing locally printed stamps, while the American/British/French zone used stamps printed in the United States.

1945 overprint, improved

In the Soviet occupation zone, starting on 2 May 1945, the stamps of Germany were overprinted. Initially the overprint consisted of just "Österreich", or "Österreich" and a bar obliterating the "Deutsches Reich" inscription. Hitler's face remained visible, and this was objectionable, so after 4 June postal clerks were expected to blot out Hitler's face manually, until on 21 June a new series of overprints came out with a set of stripes over Hitler. In the meantime, some semi-postal stamps of Germany were also surcharged. In Graz, an additional set of overprints with "Österreich" vertical were issued on 22 May for use in Styria.

8pf stamp of the Soviet occupation, used in Vienna 2 August 1945

New stamps inscribed "REPUBLIK ÖSTERREICH" were issued on 3 July by the Soviet Union, for use in Vienna and surrounding areas, still denominated in German currency.

On the other side of occupied Austria, the Allied Military Government issued a series 28 June depicting a posthorn, for use in areas under Allied occupation (Upper Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Styria, and Carinthia). These stamps were produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., and valid for postage into 1947.

(Despite the relatively short period of use, almost all of the occupation-related issues are common and inexpensive to collect today.)

Second Republic, since 1945[edit]

General issues produced by the Second Republic became available on 24 November 1945.

50th anniversary issue, showing coats of arms

Since that time Austria has issued a steady stream of stamps with a variety of subjects, many of them attractively engraved.

Austria-related issues[edit]


Lombardy-Venetia was a kingdom in the north of Italy that was part of the Austrian empire. The inhabitants used the Italian lira for money, so in 1850 the government issued stamps identical to those for the rest of Austria, but denominated in values from 5 to 45 centesimi. The monetary system changed in 1858, 100 soldis to the florin, which required a new issue of stamps, designs otherwise identical to the contemporary Austrian issues. Lombardy was annexed to Sardinia in 1859, and Venetia to the new kingdom of Italy in 1866, at which point the Lombardy-Venetia stamps went out of use.

Because of the early date and limited area, all Lombardy-Venetia stamps are uncommon, especially unused, the cheapest costing US$3 or so. The rarest type of newspaper tax stamp last sold for US$100,000.[citation needed]

Italian Occupation[edit]

Near the end of World War I, Italy captured the Austrian territories of Trentino and Venezia Giulia. In 1918, Italy issued overprinted stamps for these areas. Stamps sold at Trieste were overprinted "Regno d'Italia / Venezia Giulia / 3. XI. 18." on Austrian stamps of 1916, and then just "Venezia / Giulia" on Italian stamps, while in the Trentino the overprint was "Regno d Italia / Trentino / 3 nov 1918" on Austrian stamps and then just "Venezia / Tridentina" on Italian stamps. In January 1919 the Italians issued overprinted stamps for all of the occupied territories, the overprint consisting of, for instance, "5 / centesimi / di corona". This lasted until September, when the Trentino was permanently assigned to Italy and used Italian stamps thereafter, while Trieste became a free city.

Foreign post offices[edit]

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Austria maintained foreign post offices in the Levant (Ottoman empire) and in Liechtenstein (Balzers and Vaduz, considered domestic post office[5]):

Postal stationery[edit]

The first items of postal stationery to be issued by Austria were envelopes Briefumschlägen in 1861 followed by postal cards in 1869 and wrappers in 1872. The concept of Korrespondenzkarten has been invented in 1869 by Emanuel Herrmann.[6] They have been printed in 8 languages.

Postal card sent from Galicia in 1881, Polish issue

Lettercards were issued in 1886 and aerogrammes were first issued in 1952.[7]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ KK is German letters for Imperial and Royal. The Habsburgs were indeed Emperor and Kings.
  2. ^ "Austria; Saturday, June 1, 1850". First Issues Collectors Club. 2003-11-08. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  3. ^ L.N. Williams (1993). Encyclopedia of Rare and Famous Stamps, Volume 1. The Stories. Geneva: David Feldman SA. pp. 1, 2. ISBN 0-89192-435-3. Archived from the original on 2014-03-16. 
  4. ^ The Austro-German Postal Union of 1850
  5. ^ Mueller 1961 Introduction p.XII
  6. ^ Österreich 1850-1918, Spezialkatalog und Handbuch, von Dr. Ulrich FERCHENBAUER, Wien 1981, p.503
  7. ^ Higgins & Gage World Postal Stationery Catalog

External links[edit]