It was quite difficult to choose a stamp for today’s edition of A Stamp A Day. I have a long association with Austria and have many early examples of the nation’s stamps in my collection. My favorites are probably Scott #5, issued in 1850 which bears a really nice postmark from Trieste, and Scott #45 from 1883 significant for a beautifully-struck Joachimsthal cancellation. My interests in the town as well as the region of Bohemia (currently located in the Czech Republic) are many, due to the name although I have recently discovered that there is no real relation to my family. Instead, I’ve chosen a stamp bearing a former King of Bohemia whose full name, it turns out, also includes the word “Joachim”: Peter Leopold Josef Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard. We will learn a bit about King Leopold II later. First, I will make an attempt at a brief political and philatelic history of a very complicated area.
The current Republic of Austria (Republik Österreich) is a landlocked country of over 8.66 million people in Central Europe bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The highly mountainous Alpine territory of Austria covers 32,386 miles (83,879 square kilometers) (32,386 sq mi). The majority of the population speak local Bavarian dialects of German as their native language with other local official languages including Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene. The German name for Austria, Österreich, meant “eastern realm” in Old High German, The capital and largest city, with a population exceeding 1.7 million, is Vienna. Today, Austria is one of the richest countries in the world, with a nominal per capita GDP of US $43,546.
The origins of modern-day Austria date back to the time of the Habsburg dynasty when the vast majority of the country was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. From the time of the Reformation, many Northern German princes, resenting the authority of the Emperor, used Protestantism as a flag of rebellion. The Thirty Years War, the influence of the Kingdom of Sweden and Kingdom of France, the rise of the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Napoleonic invasions all weakened the power of the Emperor in the North of Germany In the South, and in non-German areas of the Empire, the Emperor and Catholicism maintained control. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Austria was able to retain its position as one of the great powers of Europe and, in response to the coronation of Napoleon as the Emperor of the French, the Austrian Empire was officially proclaimed in 1804.
Following Napoleon’s defeat, Prussia emerged as Austria’s chief competitor for rule of a larger Germany while Austria’s defeat by Prussia at the Battle of Königgrätz, during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, cleared the way for Prussia to assert control over the rest of Germany. In 1867, the empire was reformed into Austria-Hungary. After the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Austria was left out of the formation of a new German Empire, although in the following decades its politics, and its foreign policy, increasingly converged with those of the Prussian-led Empire. During the 1914 July Crisis that followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Germany guided Austria in issuing the ultimatum to Serbia that led to the declaration of World War I.
After the collapse of the Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian) Empire in 1918 at the end of World War I, Austria adopted and used the name the Republic of German-Austria (Deutschösterreich, later Österreich) in an attempt for union with Germany, but was forbidden due to the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919). The First Austrian Republic was established in 1919. In the 1938 Anschluß, Austria was occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany. This lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, after which Germany was occupied by the Allies and Austria’s former democratic constitution was restored. In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty re-established Austria as a sovereign state, ending the occupation. In the same year, the Austrian Parliament created the Declaration of Neutrality which declared that the Second Austrian Republic would become permanently neutral.
The first postage stamps of the Empire of Austria was a series of imperforate typographed stamps issued on 1 June 1850, featuring the coat of arms under the inscription KK Post-Stempel. The word “Austria” doesn’t appear because the issue served the whole of central Europe: Austria itself as well as Croatia, Czech Republic, East Ukraine, Hungary, the north of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and South Serbia. 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. The scarlet Red Mercury, or “rote Murkur,” issued on 21 March 1856 is the rarest of the lithographed newspaper stamps 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. 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. That year 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.
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.
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). 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.
The annexation of Austria into the Third Reich in March 1938 (called the Anschluß by the Nazi propaganda) put a sudden end to Austria’s stamps. Although the entry of German troops on 12 March 1938 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). After the transition period was over, Austrians used stamps of Germany until the end of Nazi Germany in 1945. 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.
In the Soviet occupation zone, starting on 2 May 1945, the stamps of Germany were overprinted. Initially the overprint consisted of just Österreich or the name plus a bar obliterating the Deutsches Reich inscription. Adolf Hitler’s portrait 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. 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 on 28 June 1945 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 these occupation-related issues are common and inexpensive to collect today. General issues produced by the Second Republic became available on 24 November 1945. Since that time Austria has issued a steady stream of stamps with a variety of subjects, many of them attractively engraved.
Scott #114a was a part of the definitive series issued beginning in 1908 to mark the 60th year of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph. The 6 heller typographed stamp, printed in buff and perforated 12½, depicts Leopold II who was Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia from 1790 to 1792, Archduke of Austria and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790. He was a son of Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa, thus the brother of Marie Antoinette. Leopold lived for barely two years after his accession as Holy Roman Emperor during which time he was hard pressed by peril from west and east alike. He died suddenly in Vienna, in March 1792, although some claimed he was poisoned or secretly murdered.
His full title was: Leopold II, By the Grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor; King of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria, Rama, Serbia, Cumania and Bulgaria; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Grand Duke of Etruria; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia, Prince of Brabant, Limburg, Luxembourg, Geldern, Württemberg, Upper and Lower Silesia, Milan, Mantua, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, Auschwitz and Zatoria, Calabria, Bar, Ferrete and Teschen; Lord of Svevia and Charleville; Count of Habsburg, Flanders, Hannonia, Kyburg, Gorizia, Gradisca; Margrave of Burgau, Upper and Lower Lusatia, Pont-a-Mousson and Nomenum, Count of Provinces of Namur, Valdemons, Albimons, Count of Zütphen, Sarverda, Salma and Falkenstein, Lord of the Wend Margravate and Mechelen, etc.
Nothing brief about that! (Or today’s article, as it turns out!)