Stamps document the course of civil wars

Apr 29, 2021, 5 PM

By Rick Miller

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines civil war as, "A war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country." Civil wars are known for being especially bitter and bloody, as fellow citizens often subject their opponents to atrocities that a foreign conqueror would eschew.

Civil wars have left their mark in stamp collectors' catalogs, albums and postal history collections. Sometimes, the stamps of a breakaway faction in a civil war gain legitimacy by being listed in standard postage stamp catalogs. Other times, they are cast into the outer limbo of the unlisted, but they may still be prized by specialists and cinderella collectors.

It can be amusing to try to figure out the rhyme or reason used by catalog editors to decide which stamps are listed and which stamps are not.

The civil war that Americans are most familiar with is our own. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession Dec. 20, 1860. Eventually 10 other Southern states followed suit.

On Feb. 4, 1861, the seceding states established a provisional government, and the Confederate States of America was born.

The Conferacy lasted until April 1865 and released 14 general-issue stamps and a host of postmasters' provisionals, all of which are avidly collected.

The stamps of the Conferacy are listed by Scott after the stamps of the United States and before the stamps of U.S. possessions in Vol. 1 of the Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue and in both specialized catalogs. A 10¢ blue Thomas Jefferson stamp, Scott 2, is shown in Figure 1.

Spain has the unhappy distinction of having stamps from two different civil wars listed in the Scott catalogs.

Civil wars can be the result of a power struggle between ruling elites. When the Bourbon King Ferdinand VII of Spain died in 1833, he left the throne to his daughter Isabella II, despite the Salic law that excluded females from ascension to the throne.

This left the door open to a revolt by Ferdinand's brother, Don Carlos, who claimed the throne for himself. The Carlist pretensions to the throne led to the three Carlist wars.

The Carlist wars were eventually won by the supporters of Alfonso XII, the son of Isabella II. Stamps were issued for areas under Carlist control from 1873 through 1875. The Carlist stamps are listed by Scott after the Spanish back-of-the-book stamps. The Carlist stamps are prefixed with the letter "X."

A 1-real blue King Carlos VII stamp, Spain Scott X2, is shown in Figure 2.

A civil war may be the result of a clash of ideologies.

In 1931, King Alfonso XIII was forced to flee Spain, and a Spanish republic was declared. In February 1936, the Popular Front, comprising the Socialist and Communist parties, won the election and formed a leftist government.

In July 1936, several right-wing generals, including Francisco Franco, launched a revolt against the Spanish republic and formed a Nationalist government. The ensuing war lasted until April 1, 1939, and was marked by mass executions and atrocities on both sides.

It also served as a dress rehersal for World War II with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany backing the Spanish Nationalists and the Soviet Union supporting the Spanish Republican Loyalists.

The Scott listing for stamps issued by both sides during the Spanish Civil War is atypical in that both sets of stamps are listed in the front-of-the-book section.

The Republican stamps are listed first under the heading of "General Issues of the Republic," and they run from Scott 478 to Scott 614.

Stamps issued by the Spanish Nationalist government are listed under the heading "Spanish State" and begin at Scott 615. In addition to the general Nationalist stamps, Scott also lists some local Nationalist overprints at the back-of-the-book, following the Carlist stamps.

In August 1938, the Republican government issued a souvenir sheet and set of six submarine mail stamps. The submarine C-4 carried 300 covers franked with the stamps from Barcelona, Spain, to Mahon, Minorca, in the Balearic Islands. The stamps are noted and valued by Scott, but are not listed. A 10-peseta reddish brown Submarine B2 Spanish Republican government submarine mail stamp is shown in Figure 3.

Many civil wars have been fought between people of different nationalities living in the same country.

Epirus, on the Adriatic Coast of the Balkan peninsula, was settled in antiquity by Greeks. The area was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century. In 1881, the Treaty of Berlin assigned southern Epirus to Greece with the Ottoman Empire retaining northern Epirus.

The Greek army liberated northern Epirus in the First Balkan War. After the war, the Great Powers created an independent Albanian state and assigned northern Epirus to the new nation.

When the Greek army evacuated northern Epirus in January 1914, the Epirotes rose in revolt and established the Autonomous State of Northern Epirus, with Argyrokastron as the capital. In 1916, Italy intervened and returned northern Epirus to Albania.

The stamps of Epirus are listed in Vol. 2 of the Scott catalog. A 10-lepton carmine Infantryman With Rifle stamp, Epirus Scott 7, is shown in Figure 4.

When European countries drew up the boundaries of their colonies in Africa and Asia, they often were just lines drawn on a map without great regard for the different people who lived there. With decolonization in the 20th century, the newly independent former colonies usually retained their colonial boundaries, often resulting in nations with no common sense of nationality.

Such was the case in Nigeria, where the main tribes are the Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani and Ibos.

Postcolonial Nigeria has been marked by violence, corruption, political instability and military rule. On May 30, 1967, the Ibos proclaimed their territory as the independent nation of Biafra.

A bloody and bitter civil war ensued, marked by heavy casualties and famine for the noncombattants. By the time Biafra surrendered on Jan. 15, 1970, an estimated 1 million people had died.

Biafra operated a postal system and issued more than 40 stamps. These stamps are not listed by Scott, but they are listed in the Stanley Gibbons catalogs.

A 10/- Orphaned Child stamp, Stanley Gibbons Biafra No. 21, is shown in Figure 5.

A similar situation prevailed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, granted independence from Belgium June 30, 1960.

In July 1960, the Katanga province, roughly the southern quarter of the country, declared its independence. After years of fighting between various factions, the widespread use of mercenaries, Soviet meddling and United Nations intervention, Katanga was defeated and reincorporated into Congo in January 1963.

Katanga also operated a postal system and issued more than 80 stamps. Oddly enough, these stamps are listed by Scott. A 3.50-franc Air Katanga stamp, Scott 72, is shown in Figure 6.

The struggle between new ideas and old forms of government has led to civil war. The Ottoman Empire was an absolutist theocracy ruled by the sultan and administered by a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy.

After the empire's defeat in World War I, its most successful military leader, Mustafa Kemal, seized power in Asia Minor and began implementing progressive secular reforms. With the empire dismembered and Kemal in charge in Asia Minor, the sultan remained in control of only the immediate environs of Constantinople.

Stamps issued for use in the areas under Kemal's control are listed by Scott as Turkey in Asia, after the listings for Turkey. A 10-piaster dark brown Legendary Gray Wolf stamp, Turkey in Asia Scott 82, is shown in Figure 7.

By 1923, Kemal was able to extend his control to Constantinople and force the abdication and expulsion of the sultan. Founding the modern Republic of Turkey, Kemal took the surname, Ataturk, meaning "Father of the Turks."

Sometimes civil wars are sparked by differences in religion and culture.

Bosnia and Hercegovina is inhabited by Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs. Ethnically and linguistically, all three groups are closely related.

However, the Croats are Roman Catholic, the Serbs are Serbian Orthodox Christians and the Bosnian Muslims ascribe to Islam.

As part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnia proclaimed its independence in 1992, the immediate result of which was a three-way civil war between the Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

After much bloodshed and many atrocities, the war was ended by the Dayton Peace Agreement of Nov. 21, 1995.

The unusual peace accord created a federal government based in Sarajevo, but left a Croat Administration in Mostar and a Serbian Administration in Banja Luka.

Stamps of all three governmental authorities are listed in succession in Vol. 1 of the Scott catalog.

An 80-dinar Austro-Hungarian Rifleman stamp, Bosnia and Herzegovina Scott 256b, is shown in Figure 8.

A 1,500d Grand Duke Hrvoje Vukcic-Hravtinic stamp, Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croat Administration Scott 9, is shown in Figure 9.

An 80-para King Peter I Karageorge stamp, Bosnia and Herzegovina-Serb Administration Scott 29, is shown in Figure 10.

Today, stamps are being issued for breakaway movements in Somaliland, Transdniestria, Nagorno Karabakh and Western Sahara. Will any of these stamps eventually be listed by catalog editors?