Often seen on stamps, the ITU celebrates 150 years

Apr 30, 2021, 4 PM

Stamps exist to facilitate communication, so an organization dedicated to the advancement of international communication is a natural subject to commemorate on stamps.

The ITU is a specialized United Nations agency that organizes and implements international communication standards.The International Telecommunications Union is celebrating its 150th anniversary in May, and some nations will be issuing stamps or postal stationery to observe the occasion.

The ITU was formed May 17, 1865, as the International Telegraph Union, adopting its present name in 1932. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, its work today includes allocating the global radio spectrum and satellite orbits in an effort to connect technologies and communication efforts worldwide. In response to the 7.8 magnitude April 25 earthquake in Nepal, the ITU deployed emergency telecommunication equipment, including 35 satellite mobile phones, 10 satellite broadband global area network terminals, solar panels and laptop computers, to support relief coordination efforts.

Juliana Nel, the director of markets development for the Universal Postal Union, last year described the ITU's continuing mission as an effort "to achieve the best practical solutions for integrating technologies as they develop, and to spread their benefits to all."

The current roster of ITU members includes "193 countries and some 700 private-sector entities," according to the organization's website.


The essential behind-the-scenes work of the ITU is recognized on postage stamps issued by countries all over the world.

One early stamp that acknowledges the ITU was issued by Vietnam in 1952. The 1-piaster blue stamp commemorates the first anniversary of Vietnam's admission to the ITU.

The stamp design shows a lightning bolt in front of a globe to symbolize the worldwide scope of the ITU's efforts to coordinate technologies that rely upon electrical power.

The lightning bolt and globe elements have been incorporated (in a different form) in the ITU logo that is still in use today.

The ITU became a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1947, but the United Nations didn't issue its first postage stamps until 1951. Five years later, the United Nations issued two stamps in honor of the ITU, featuring a rotary telephone dial and a paper tape with Morse code symbols.

The 3¢ blue stamp (Scott 41) shows the initials ITU in the lower left corner. The 8¢ carmine stamp (Scott 42) has a very similar design, with the initials UIT at lower right, representing the French name for the organization, "Union Internationale des Telecommunications."

The United Nations also issued stamps for the ITU in 1965, as did a large number of countries around the world. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the ITU.

More than 30 nations from the British Commonwealth issued stamps sharing a common design in what is known as an omnibus issue.

Many other nations also issued stamps with a wide range of designs that convey the communication theme.

New Zealand, Haiti, Afghanistan and other countries issued stamps with a design that shows the ITU symbol in the center, flanked by items representing old and new communication equipment.

New Zealand Scott 370, a 9-penny stamp, is pictured nearby.

The United States 11¢ stamp marking the centenary has a very different design, with a world map, a radio sine wave and Morse code symbols spelling out "ITU" four times (Scott 1274). It is the only U.S. stamp specifically honoring the ITU.

Monaco, on the other hand, issued a set of 12 stamps for the 1965 ITU anniversary, and issued another stamp in 1990 for the 125th anniversary.

Some of Monaco's stamps include images of satellites, such as Telstar on the 25-centime stamp (Scott 609), while others show communication pioneers such as Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Morse.

Other ITU stamps have been issued to commemorate other events. In 1989, France issued a 3.70-franc stamp for the ITU Plenipotentiaries Conference held that year in Nice (Scott 2154).

A few countries have announced issues for this year's 150th anniversary, including Switzerland, the host country for the ITU in Geneva. A Switzerland 1.90-franc picture postal card will be issued May 7, with a design showing a satellite orbiting Earth, and binary code. The stamp depicts a large satellite dish, and a woman holding an older model telephone.

The attractive May 16 first-day pictorial cancel acknowledges the early days of the ITU, featuring the dial of a rotary phone.

Information about Switzerland's stamps and postal stationery can be found at Swiss Post's website.

The American Topical Association maintains a database of topical checklists that currently numbers around 1,200 different subjects.

These checklists are available to ATA members at a very reasonable cost.

The checklist for the International Telecommunications Union currently lists 365 stamps, according to the ATA website.

You can learn more about the ATA and its checklist service by visiting online a; or write to American Topical Association, Box 8, Carterville, IL 62918-0008.