Who's in charge here? Postage stamps reflect changes in government

May 3, 2021, 6 AM

By Janet Klug

I am sure that you have heard the expression, "You can't tell the players with-out a scorecard."

Some stamps are like that too.

The tiny coprincipality of Andorra in Europe's Pyrenees Mountains is a good example.

Some of Andorra's stamps have French inscriptions and currency denominations, and others are inscribed in Spanish and denominated in Spanish currency.

Andorra has been jointly administered by both countries since 1278, and the arrangement remarkably is generally peaceable.

But who is in charge?

Andorra has two heads of state, uses two currencies and has two postal services. The stamps are a good reflection of the duplication of government services that joint administration produces. Andorra issued its first stamps in 1928.

Take your pick. You can have Spanish stamps overprinted "ANDORRA," such as the 1928 2centavo King Alfonso XIII stamp (Scott 1) shown in Figure 1, or French stamps overprinted "ANDORRE," such as the 1931 1centime Liberty, Equality, Fraternity stamp (1) shown in Figure 2.

Andorra's modern stamps picture many different subjects. The currency of the denominations varies depending whether they are issued by the Spanish administration or the French administration.

New Hebrides is an example of a condominium government, another form of joint administration. New Hebrides was visited by French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1768, but it was Britain's Captain Cook who named the islands in 1774. New Hebrides became a British protectorate in 1883, in the midst of an ongoing dispute over the islands by both France and Great Britain.

In 1887, Great Britain and France agreed to a joint administration. The condominium government was established in 1906.

There were two legal systems and two sets of laws that confused nearly everyone and caused the condominium to become known as the "pandemonium government." This French-British joint administration lasted until 1980, when New Hebrides gained independence and became known as Vanuatu.

Like Andorra, the first New Hebrides stamps are overprints. In 1908, the British post offices in New Hebrides initially received Fijian stamps overprinted "New Hebrides Condominium." Figure 3 shows a 1909 British New Hebrides ½penny King Edward VII stamp (Scott 1).

At the same time, French post offices were provided New Caledonian stamps overprinted "Nouvelles Hebrides." Figure 4 shows a 1908 French New Hebrides 50centime Landscape stamp (Scott 4).

Later, stamps with similar designs were inscribed in either French or English, with all the stamps denominated in both British and French currencies. Figure 5 shows a 1925 British New Hebrides ½d (5c) black Native Idols stamp (Scott 44). The stamps could be bought and used at either British or French post offices and paid for with whatever currency was recognized at the post office that sold them.

The 38square mile island of St. Martin in the Caribbean is divided in half, with one side administered by the Netherlands and the other side by France. The Netherlands half, known in Dutch as Sint Maarten, uses Netherlands Antilles stamps. A 1989 Netherlands Antilles 70¢ Cruise Ship at Great Harbour, St. Martin, stamp (Scott 610) is shown in Figure 6.

The French half of the island uses French stamps.

You can pay for these stamps with Netherlands Antilles guilders, French francs or U.S. dollars. All three currencies are used interchangeably.

Joint administration is not the only factor that makes some stampissuing entities more complicated than others. Colonial expansion can account for changes in governments and, consequently, changes in stamps. Samoa is a textbook example.

Samoa's first stamps were issued in 1877 when Samoa was an independent kingdom. The early Samoan stamps picture King Malieotoa.

In 1899, Germany, Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty that gave a part of Samoa, now known as American Samoa, to the United States. The rest of Samoa, later known as Western Samoa, was handed over to Germany. At first Germany applied "Provisional Government" overprints to Samoan stamps. These were followed by German stamps overprinted "Samoa."

Beginning in 1900, German colonial commondesign stamps showing the Kaiser's yacht Hohenzollern were issued. A 1900 Samoan 1mark carmine Kaiser's Yacht Hohenzollern stamp (Scott 66) is shown in Figure 7.

In 1914, shortly after World War I began, British forces occupied Samoa and overprinted German colonial stamps "G.R.I." with surcharges in British currency. The overprinted initials stand for "Georgius Rex Imperator" (Latin for "George king emperor").

After WWI, Western Samoa became a League of Nations mandate territory administered by New Zealand. Samoa became independent in 1962. Stamps document these name and political changes.

You really need a scorecard to keep track of the players in many of the nations in beleaguered Africa. One need look no further than the Congo in west central Africa.

Presently two countries bear the name "Congo." The first is the Republic of Congo (formerly People's Republic of Congo), a former French colony that before independence used stamps inscribed Middle Congo and later French Equatorial Africa. A 1996 Republic of Congo 90franc VoughtSikorsky Vindicator stamp (Scott 1127) is shown in Figure 8.

The second is the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony that has been known over time as Congo Free State, Belgian Congo and Zaire.

An 1898 Belgian Free State 10franc River Steamer on the Congo stamp (Belgian Congo Scott 30) is shown in Figure 9.

A 1910 Belgian Congo 10fr River Steamer on the Congo stamp (Scott 59) with a very similar design is shown in Figure 10.

In fact, although the country changed its name in 1999, the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue still lists new issues of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the name "Zaire." A 2002 Democratic Republic of Congo 50franc Lioness and Cub stamp (Zaire Scott 1621) is shown in Figure 11. A stamp collection can be formed to trace the changes in political status among nations. You do not need to acquire every stamp, just one stamp from each political permutation. Writing the date and the corresponding event beneath each stamp will create a visual history of changes in government and administration.

In such a collection, inexpensive stamps gain an importance far greater than their catalog values.

Wars, border disputes and military occupations change the lives of citizens and frequently change the stamps and postal communications within nations.

Stamps have an amazing power to teach. All you need is healthy inquisitiveness and some creativity to see what stamps have to tell. Before long, you will have created your own scorecard and will know the players by heart.