The Argentine Republic (República Argentina in Spanish), is a federal republic located in southeastern South America. Sharing the bulk of the “southern cone” of the continent with its neighbor Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 1,073,500 square miles (2,780,400 square kilometers), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the second largest in Latin America, and the largest Spanish-speaking one. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Buenos Aires is the federal capital over twenty-three provinces. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. The name “Argentina” is derived from Latin argentum (“silver”, plata in Spanish), The first written use of the name can be traced to La Argentina, a 1602 poem by Martín del Barco Centenera describing the region and the foundation of Buenos Aires.
The earliest recorded human presence in the area of modern-day Argentina dates back to the Paleolithic period. Europeans first arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. In 1536 Pedro de Mendoza founded the small settlement of Buenos Aires, which was abandoned in 1541 and re-founded in 1580. The Spanish Empire subordinated the economic potential of the Argentine territory to the immediate wealth of the silver and gold mines in Bolivia and Peru, and as such it became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776 with Buenos Aires as its capital.
In 1810, the May Revolution in Buenos Aires began the Argentine War of Independence, and the country was renamed the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. Modern Bolivia and Paraguay were lost during the conflict and became new states. Uruguay was invaded and annexed by Brazil in 1816, until the Thirty-Three Orientals led an insurrection to rejoin the United Provinces. This began the War of Brazil, ended with the Treaty of Montevideo that made Uruguay a new state.
After independence, the postal service remained much as it had been under Spanish rule. Following the Treaty of Pilar in 1821 the new government placed the postal service under a commission, appointed Manuel Joaquín de Albarracín as commissioner, hired Marcos Prudant as Postmaster General and provided him with an assistant. The first new edict established the postal uniform of a jacket with yellow buttons and a stiff collar. Boots were to be black, and the employee was to wear a metal escutcheon on his hat displaying the new county’s coat of arms. The edict further decreed that each post rider was to have a horn which should blown a half-mile or so (ten cuadra) before arriving at the town center, and again just before departure.
In 1826 Juan Manuel de Luca was appointed Postmaster General by the Rivadavia government, under the oversight of an enlarged commission. Despite the demise of that government, and the civil war, the postal service was only slightly inconvenienced and Luca remained at his post until 1858 when he resigned because of his age and health. It was under Luca that detailed regulations were developed; concessions, vehicles, routes, and frequencies set.
From 1831 to 1852 the provinces were organized as a confederation without a head of state called the Argentine Confederation. Buenos Aires resisted the new president of the confederation, Justo José de Urquiza, and seceded from the Confederation in 1852, becoming the State of Buenos Aires; the province would return to Argentina in 1861.
The earliest Argentine stamps were issued by the separate provinces of Corrientes (1856-78) and Córdoba (1859-62), and the State of Buenos Aires (1858-59). The mere existence of these provincial stamps reflects the reality that Argentina was hardly a single organized country in that period, but rather a loose federation of some very independent provinces. The stamps of Corrientes, a province in north-east Argentina, were crude copies of the first issue of stamps from France which depicted the profile head of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. They were individually engraved by hand, so that each die is noticeably different, and were printed in small sheets. All stamps were printed on brightly colored paper. The first stamp, issued in 1856, bore the denomination of one real in the lower panel. In 1860, the denomination was marked out by pen and the stamp was revalued at 3 centavos. Beginning in 1860, the value panel was erased and six more stamps were issued in two, three and (briefly) five centavos denominations, distinguished only by the color of the paper used. As locally produced “primitives”, the early Corrientes stamps have long been prized by collectors. After 1880, stamps of Argentina were used in the province.
Gervasio Posadas managed the post from 1858 to 1874; he introduced revised rates, post office mailboxes, established the stamp program, and in 1860 he inaugurated the first telegraph service. The first stamp of Argentina as a nation was a rather crude lithographed seal of the Confederation (Scott #1 to 4) in 1858, followed in 1862 by the seal of the Argentine Republic (Scott #5 to 7). From 1864 to the first commemorative in 1892 a total of 24 different designs were issued. The majority of these stamp designs were small portraits of famous men, principally of the Independence period. The stamps do not identify these heroes of independence, so they would have meant little to anyone who was not familiar with Argentine history. The dominant figure was one of the major figures of Argentine liberalism, Bernardino Rivadavia (Scott #61).
On October 12, 1892, Argentina issued a two-stamp set (Scott #90 and 91) which were the first stamps in the world to depict the caravels of Christopher Columbus – the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. The design was contributed by Eduardo Martino. Each value – two centavos in light blue and five centavos in dark blue (today’s stamp) – saw a printing of just under 200,000 stamps. They were printed by the Buenos Aires firm of Compañia Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco (South American Bank Notes Company). Engraved, they are perforated 11½ and are watermarked with a small sun, measuring 4½mm.
On a personal note, stamps picturing Columbus were one of the earliest topicals I concentrated on as a teenager living in Hermitage, Tennessee (others included the Moon Landing and Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight). I’d been given the stamp albums started by my mother and her older brother on my 10th and 11th birthdays, respectively. Each had a copy of the 2-cent United States Columbian issue (Scott #231), issued on January 1, 1893. My uncle’s copy was a nice vertical pair with concentric ring cancellations. Inspired by those classics, I sought out further denominations; I still own my original Columbians (the ONLY survivors of my pre-expat collections). I have recently returned to the theme of collecting Columbus and his voyages on stamps, inspired in no small part by Mr. Columbus himself — stamp dealer David Nye — and his postings in various Facebook groups. The 1892 pair from Argentina were added to my collection just last month.