The northern German city of Bergedorf — south-east of Hamburg — received town privileges in 1275. It was then a part of the younger Duchy of Saxony (1180–1296), which was partitioned by its four co-ruling dukes in 1296 into the branch duchies of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg. Bergedorf then became part of the former. This was only to last until 1303, when Lauenburg’s three co-ruling dukes, Albert III, Eric I, and John II partitioned their branch duchy into three smaller duchies.
Eric then held Bergedorf (Vierlande) and Lauenburg and inherited the share of his childless brother Albert III, Saxe-Ratzeburg, after he died in 1308 and a retained section from Albert’s widow Margaret of Brandenburg-Salzwedel on her death. However, his other brother, John II, then claimed a part, so in 1321 Eric conceded Bergedorf (with Vierlande) to him, whose share thus became known thereafter as Saxe-Bergedorf-Mölln while Eric’s was known as Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg. In 1370, John’s fourth successor Eric III pawned the Herrschaft of Bergedorf, the Vierlande, half the Saxon Wood and Geesthacht to Lübeck in return for a credit of 16,262.5 Lübeck marks. This acquisition included much of the trade route between Hamburg and Lübeck, thus providing a safe passage for freight between the cities. Eric III only retained a life tenancy.
The city of Lübeck and Eric III further stipulated, that upon his death, Lübeck would be entitled to take possession of the pawned areas until his successors repaid the credit and simultaneously exercised the repurchase of Mölln (contracted in 1359), altogether amounting to the then enormous sum of 26,000 Lübeck Marks. In 1401, Eric III died without issue and was succeeded by his second cousin Eric IV of Saxe-Ratzeburg-Lauenburg. In the same year, Eric IV, supported by his sons Eric (later ruling as Eric V) and John, forcefully captured the pawned areas without making any repayment, before Lübeck could take possession of them. Lübeck acquiesced for the time being.
In 1420, Eric V attacked Prince-Elector Frederick I of Brandenburg and Lübeck allied with Hamburg in support of Brandenburg. Armies of both cities opened a second front and conquered Bergedorf, Riepenburg castle and the Esslingen river toll station (today’s Zollenspieker Ferry) within weeks. This forced Eric V to agree with Hamburg’s mayor (bürgermeister) Hein Hoyer and Bürgermeister Jordan Pleskow of Lübeck to the Peace of Perleberg on August 23, 1420, which stipulated that all the pawned areas, which Eric IV, Eric V and John IV had violently taken in 1401, were to be irrevocably ceded to the cities of Hamburg and Lübeck.
The cities transformed the acquired areas into the Beiderstädtischer Besitz (bi-urban condominium; cooperatively governed possession), ruled by bailiffs in four year terms, alternately staffed by one of the cities. In 1446 the bailiffs’ terms were increased to six years, and in 1620 to life terms. In 1542 bailiff Ditmar Koel introduced the Protestant Reformation in the co-governed municipalities. The area was formally annexed to the First French Empire as part of Bouches de l’Elbe département between 1811 and 1813. Thereafter, the area was restored to Hamburg and Lübeck, both sovereign states. The first railway in Northern Germany was opened between Hamburg and Bergedorf by the Hamburg-Bergedorf Railway Company in 1842.
Due to its good geographic location, early on Bergedorf had received postal services from the Hanseatic League — the commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns which dominated Baltic maritime trade along the coast of Northern Europe. Bergedorf’s postal connections to Hamburg were especially well developed at an early stage. Since 1420, Bergedorf had belonged to both of the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg and Lübeck. Because the city belonged to both cities, the curious condition arose where its post could not be administered by either Hamburg or Lübeck. Therefore, Bergedorf formed its own tiny autonomous postal jurisdiction.
Several other principalities also established postal departments in Bergedorf. In 1746, Hannover set up its own postal department in Bergedorf, which lasted until 1846. In 1785, the dynasty of Thurn und Taxis succeeded Hannover and established its own postal department, which was not closed until 1851. In 1839, Prussia finally opened a postal department in Bergedorf as well. From 1806 to 1813, Bergedorf was occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. During this time, the postal system was taken over by the Imperial French Post.
Finally in 1847, the Lübeck-Hamburgerische Postamt (Postal Department of Lübeck and Hamburg) emerged from the Prussian postal department. In the following years, this arrangement was extended and its region of influence enlarged. In 1856, further departments in Geesthacht and Kirchwerder were established. From 1855 to 1856, Bergedorf signed several postal agreements modeled on the German-Austrian Postal Treaty, including agreements with Prussia and Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
After Hamburg and Lübeck had already issued their first stamps in 1859, Bergedorf released five definitive stamps with denominations of ½, 1, 1½, 3, and 4 schillings on November 1, 1861. At that time it had 2,989 residents, making it by far the smallest of the German towns to do so. Hamburg’s stamps were officially sold beside those from Bergedorf at the post office counters. The five Bergedorf values satisfied the postal tariffs for all distance and weight needs of the time. The imperforated definitive stamps were printed when required and were valid until December 31, 1867. The stamps are square in shape. Besides the value, the country’s name and the term “Postmarke”, the centre of each stamp depicted one half of the coat of arms of each of Hamburg and Lübeck.
The Bergedorf stamp series is often referred to as a “growing series” because each value is a little bit larger than its predecessor. Thus, the 4 schilling value looks twice as large as the ½ schilling value. Together with the different paper colors of the values, the sizing helped to distinguish between the various stamps. The ½ schilling (Scott #1) was initially released in black on pale blue paper. A later printing of this denomination on dark blue paper was made in 1867 (Scott #1a). The 1 shilling (Scott #2) was printed in black on white paper, the 1½ schilling (Scott #3) was in black on yellow paper, the 3 shilling (Scott #4) in blue on rose (pink) paper, and the 4 schilling value (Scott #5) was printed in black on brownish orange paper, Since Bergedorf was such a small town, relatively few of these stamps were made; most of the stamps sold and used in Bergedorf were those of Hamburg, so used Bergedorf stamps are very rare. The catalogue of unused stamps ranges from USD $17.50 (Scott #3) to $37.50 (Scott #1 and 2) in my 2009 edition of Scott, while genuinely used stamps go for $300 (Scott #2) to $4,400 (Scott #1a). Reprints, forgeries, and especially faked cancellations are quite common.
Lübeck sold its share in the bi-urban condominium to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg for 200,000 Prussian thaler effective January 1, 1868. Hamburg integrated the area into its state territory, forming the Landherrenschaft Bergedorf (Bergedorf rural seigniory) comprising the cities of Bergedorf and Geesthacht and a number of rural municipalities not integrated into the city of Hamburg proper. On this date, joint entry into the North German Confederation (the predecessor of the German Reich) took place. The stamps of Bergedorf were then replaced by those of the North German Confederation which were used universally in German territory north of the River Main until were merged into the Imperial German service on May 4, 1871, and withdrawn from January 1, 1872.
Scott #3 was printed by lithography in black on yellow unwatermarked paper, issued imperforate. This stamp also exists in a tête-bêche gutter pair with an unused value of USD $325. Genuine used singles of 1½ schilling stamp are valued at $1,100. The Scott catalogue states that stamps inscribed with the plural 1½ SCHILLINGE rather than SCHILLING “also exists only as a proof”. It then goes on to detail some of the markers in the “reprints” (forgeries) which are worth about $1 each, For Scott #3, the indicator is “a small triangle under the right side of the tower, exactly over the ‘R’ of ‘POSTMARKE’.”.
In trying to discover exactly what I had (my copy of Scott #3 looked too crudely-printed to have been a proof), I came across the excellent Bergedorf page on Stamp Forgeries.com and found I have a copy of the first forgery produced with the final “E” on schilling, referred to as the “1872 Moens reprint.” The Moens reprints are named after Jean-Baptiste Moens (1833-1908), a Belgian philatelist recognized as the first dealer in stamps for collectors and one of the original philatelic journalists.
Moens began collecting stamps from his family’s mail as a boy in Tournai. By 1853, at age nineteen, he had started with a business in coins and was buying and selling new and second-hand books, as well as stamps, from the Galerie Borthier, a covered walkway in central Brussels. In March 1862, with Louis Hanciau, Moens published a catalog of stamps, the Manuel des collectionneurs de timbres-poste (Handbook for Stamp Collectors). This work is the first of its kind in Belgium and the second in the French language, following that of the Parisian, Alfred Potiquet. Also in 1862, he published De la falsification des timbres-poste (On the falsification of postage stamps) to alert stamp enthusiasts to the abundance of forgeries. He began the first French language philatelic monthly, Le Timbre-Poste, which ran from 1863 until 1900, as well as a series on fiscal stamps from 1874 until 1896.
Moens became the owner of eight of the “Post Office” Mauritius stamps and in 1878 published the first of his works on the early stamps of Mauritius, Les Timbres de Maurice depuis leur origine jusqu’à nos jours (The Stamps of Mauritius from their Origin until Today). Author Helen Morgan noted, “All that is known of the discovery of the first specimens of the Post Office issue, indeed of much of the history of the handful of those stamps eventually found, came from his pen in the late 1890s. He handled most of the Post Office stamps discovered by Madame Borchard in the late 1860s.” Upon his death in 1908, the philatelic press referred to him as The Father of Philately.
All of the reprints of the Bergedorf stamps are due to the fact that the bulk (300,000) of the total printing — as well as the original printing stones — were purchased by one unscrupulous dealer who continued to print the stamps.
Album Weeds by R. B. Eareé (third edition, 1906) details the original printing:
The matrices of all the five values were engraved on one stone, and were reproduced by lithography. In the i schilling, the numerals in the corners vary, as the lithographer obliterated them in his transfer, and put in smaller ones by hand. The matrix of the 1 1/2 Sch. had the value in the plural (“Schillinge”). As strict grammarians objected to this, the lithographer altered it to “schilling” in his transfers. Hence the reprints, taken by transfer from the matrix, have “Schillinge.” Mr. Westoby’s Stamps of Europe, to which I am indebted for all the above information, states that a few unused originals are known, made at Bergedorf, with “Schillinge,” and so, from this, it is evident that the lithographer did not make the alteration until after some impressions had been taken by way of trial. And indeed this might have been expected, for the stamps would evidently have to be made before they could be objected to. We may therefore consider the “Schillinge” (original) to be simply a proof, or, as some people call it, an essay.
The Album Weeds description of the genuine Scott #3 is quite detailed (if you are interested in identifying the other values, please click here, and then on the individual stamp images to be taken to a dedicated, well-illustrated page for each denomination; additionally, the full Bergedorf article from Album Weeds is reprinted on Stamp Forgeries.com):
1 1/2 Schilling, black on yellow.
Lithographed, on pale yellow wove paper. There are 55 linked, rings, as before, with a black dot in the topmost ring, just under the second E of BERGEDORF, as in the I schilling, and another in the ring to the left of the first L of SCHILLING. The right-hand turret has a very distinct ball on the top of it. The eagle’s tail is the same as in the genuine 1/2 schilling. The eye is large and round, and is placed most absurdly far down. All the balls touch both rings and frame. There are eight yellow horizontal bands across the body of the castle, between the base and the battlements, the top one being very thin. They are not so plain as in the genuine 1/2 and 1 schilling, as there are several thin black lines between the regular courses of brickwork, thus confusing them. The left turret shows eight yellow bars, and the right turret nine. None of the figures of the fractions in the corners touch any part of their respective containing-squares; though the fraction-line of the 1 1/2 in the right top corner, and the similar line in the left bottom corner, both touch the right side of the square. The lower half of the shield shows five thick, vertical lines. The eagle’s beak does not touch the wing; and there is no line of shading touching the very point of the beak. The serif to the head of the little 1 of the left bottom 1/2 is double, i.e., there are two projections to the left of the head of the figure, instead of one. The wide end of the post-horn does not touch the base of the castle above it. The ring of the post-horn is lightly shaded, with short lines, just crossing the tube; and, if they were prolonged, they would all meet in the center of the ring of the horn.
There are five forgeries detailed for this 1½ schilling stamp, but only two reprints of the version bearing the final “E”:
This is Fohl’s production. Lithographed, in dull black, on orange-yellow wove paper. There are 55 rings, as in the genuine, but no dots in the rings. The eagle’s tail is solid, or nearly so. The stamp is always heavily printed, so that most of the balls are solid, instead of showing shading-lines. The courses of brickwork across the castle cannot be made out with any certainty; and it is the same with the turrets; indeed, the left-hand turret is practically solid. The serif of the large 1 of the 1 Jr in the left top corner touches the outline to left of it, though it does not do so in the genuine. The fraction-line in the left lower corner does not touch the right outline of the square. The lower half of the shield is solid black. The serif to the head of the little 1 of the fraction in the left lower corner is single, instead of double. The wide end of the post-horn touches the base of the castle. The ring of the post-horn is shaded almost solid. There is a tiny black dot, outside the stamp, above the G of BERGEDORF. The lettering of all the inscriptions is very thin and ragged; and there is no cross-bar to the H or the A of HALBER, and only a mutilated one to the A of POSTMARKE.
Lithographed, in jet-black, on stout, bright orange-yellow wove paper. There are only 43 rings.
Genuine.—Being only a trial stamp, or essay, genuinely used specimens are unknown.
As with so many other areas, knowledge really increases one’s enjoyment of this hobby of philately. A German town releasing just five stamps before being absorbed by another postal entity seemed like a relatively “simple” entry for A Stamp A Day. The existence of these multiple counterfeits brought an entirely new level to my research, leading me to discover the excellent Stamp Forgeries.com, a resource that I am sure to utilize in the future. Another detailed site, if one can read German, is StampsWiki; click here to take a look on their page for the Bergedorf stamps.