The Faroe Islands (Føroyar in Faroese, or Færøerne in Danish), are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic approximately halfway between Norway and Iceland, 200 miles (320 kilometers) north-northwest of mainland Scotland. The area is approximately 541 square miles (1,400 square kilometers) with a 2016 population of 49,188. The land is rugged and has a subpolar oceanic climate: windy, wet, cloudy and cool. Despite its northerly latitude, temperatures average above freezing throughout the year due to the Gulf Stream.
Between 1035 and 1814, the Faroe Islands were part of the Hereditary Kingdom of Norway. The 1814 Treaty of Kiel granted Denmark control over the islands, along with two other Norwegian regions: Greenland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands have been a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark since 1948. The Faroese have control of most domestic matters; areas that remain the responsibility of Denmark include military defense, police, justice, currency and foreign affairs. However, as they are not part of the same customs area as Denmark, the Faroe Islands have an independent trade policy and can establish trade agreements with other states. The islands also have representation in the Nordic Council as members of the Danish delegation. The Faroe Islands also compete with an individual team in certain sports.
In Danish, the name Færøerne may reflect an Old Norse word fær (sheep). The morpheme øerne represents a plural (with definite article) of ø (island) in Danish. The Danish name thus translates as “the islands of sheep”. In Faroese, the name appears as Føroyar. Oyar represents the plural of oy, older Faroese for “island”. The modern Faroese word for island is oyggj. In English, the name is sometimes spelled Faeroe.
Archaeological evidence shows settlers living on the Faroe Islands in two successive periods prior to the arrival of the Norse, the first between 400 and 600 and the second between 600 and 800. Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have also found early cereal pollen from domesticated plants, which further suggests people may have lived on the islands before the Vikings arrived.
A Latin account of a voyage made by Brendan, an Irish monastic saint who lived around 484–578, includes a description of insulae (islands) resembling the Faroe Islands. This association, however, is far from conclusive in its description. Dicuil, an Irish monk of the early ninth century, wrote a more definite account. In his geographical work De menura orbis terrae he claimed he had reliable information of heremitae ex nostra Scotia (“hermits from our land of Scotland “) who had lived on the northerly islands of Britain for almost a hundred years until the arrival of Norse pirates.
Norsemen settled the islands circa 800, bringing Old West Norse, which evolved into the modern Faroese language. According to Icelandic sagas such as Færeyjar Saga, one of the best known men in the island was Tróndur í Gøtu, a descendant of Scandinavian chiefs who had settled in Dublin, Ireland. Tróndur led the battle against Sigmund Brestursson, the Norwegian monarchy and the Norwegian church.
The Norse and Norse–Gael settlers probably did not come directly from Scandinavia, but rather from Norse communities surrounding the Irish Sea, Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides of Scotland, including the Shetland and Orkney islands. A traditional name for the islands in Irish, Na Scigirí, possibly refers to the (Eyja-)Skeggjar “(Island-)Beards”, a nickname given to island dwellers.
According to the Færeyinga saga, more emigrants left Norway who did not approve of the monarchy of Harald Fairhair (ruled circa 872 to 930). These people settled the Faroes around the end of the ninth century. Early in the eleventh century, Sigmundur Brestisson — whose clan had flourished in the southern islands before invaders from the northern islands almost exterminated it — escaped to Norway. He was sent back to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway from 995 to 1000. Sigmundur introduced Christianity, forcing Tróndur í Gøtu to convert or face beheading and, though Sigmundur was subsequently murdered, Norwegian taxation was upheld.
Norwegian control of the Faroes continued until 1814, although, when the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark, it gradually resulted in Danish control of the islands. The Reformation reached the Faroes in 1538. When the union between Denmark and Norway dissolved as a result of the Treaty of Kiel in 1814, Denmark retained possession of the Faroe Islands.
In 1816, the Løgting (the Faroese parliament) was officially abolished and replaced by a Danish judiciary. Danish was introduced as the main language, whilst Faroese was discouraged. In 1849 a new constitution came into use in Denmark and was promulgated in the Faroes in 1850, giving the Faroese two seats in the Rigsdag (Danish parliament). The Faroese, however, managed in 1852 to re-establish the Løgting as a county council with an advisory role, with many people hoping for eventual independence. The trade monopoly in the Faroe Islands was abolished in 1856, after which the area developed as a modern fishing nation with its own fishing fleet.
The postal history of the Faroe Islands began in the 1860s with a message exchange system called Skjúts, which was before a regular boat service was established between the islands. Skjúts relied on a Skjútsskaffari (i.e., agent) being appointed in every village with the duty of organizing a crew to transport people, letters or parcels from one village to another. The first Skjúts Act came into force in 1865. Skjúts charges were laid down by the Løgting for five years at a time. There were three types of Skjúts: official, clerical and private. The charges varied, with official being the cheapest and private the most expensive. There was no charge prior to 1865. All healthy males of between 15 and 50 years of age were liable for Skjúts duty: i.e., they could not refuse without incurring a fine. It was never an easy task to transport mail from one island to another across perilous waters where there were often powerful currents. This system existed until around World War I, but was not used as much by then, as the Post Office’s rates were relatively low and so represented a reasonable alternative.
The first Faroese post office was opened in Tórshavn on March 1, 1870. Others opened at Tvøroyri and Klaksvík on March 1, 1884, and May 1, 1888, respectively. The management of the post at all three was conducted by the local sýslumaður. These were the only Faroes post offices opened in the nineteenth century, but seven were opened in 1903 and, during the next twenty-five years, post offices were opened in essentially all of the settlements on the Faroes. Fifteen new offices were opened in 1918 alone. Danish stamps were in use from 1870, usually without any overprint or surcharge, until the first Faroese stamps were issued in 1975.
The late nineteenth century saw increasing support for the home rule/independence movement, though not all were in favor. Meanwhile, the Faroese economy was growing with the introduction of large-scale fishing. The Faroese were allowed access to the large Danish waters in the North Atlantic. Living standards subsequently improved and there was a population increase. Faroese became a standardized written language in 1890, but it was not allowed to use in the Faroese public schools until 1938, and in the church (Fólkakirkjan) until 1939.
A national awakening from 1888 initially arose from a struggle to maintain the Faroese language and was thus culturally oriented, but after 1906 it became more political with the foundation of political parties of the Faroe Islands.
After the First World War, the Faroese Post Office was forced to use so-called provisional stamps. On December 8, 1918, the Post Office in Tórshavn received a message from Copenhagen about the following increase of postal rates:
- inland letters on the Faroes up to 250 grain (15 g) from 5 øre to 7 øre
- postcards to Denmark up to 250 grain (15 g) from 4 øre to 7 øre
The increase in postal rates came into force on January 1, 1919. Due to unreliable shipping connections, the supply of new 7-øre postage stamps failed to reach the Post Office in Tórshavn before January 1, 1919. When it became apparent that the increase in the postal rates would bring about a heavy demand for stamps amounting to 7 øre, and that the Faroese Post Offices´ stock of supplementary stamps, 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-øre, would not be sufficient to meet demand, special provisions had to be made. Thus the Post Office in Tórshavn received authorization to bisect the ordinary 4-øre stamps and use the individual halves as 2-øre stamps.
When the stock of 4-øre stamps began to run low, the Post Office was given authorization to overprint the required number of 5-øre stamps and use them as 2-øre stamps. For this purpose a hand stamp was made out of a wooden block bearing the letters 2 ØRE. Part of a chair leg was used as handle, and therefore the stamp was called the “chair leg stamp”.
On April 12, 1940, British troops invaded the Faroes. The move was meant to counterbalance the Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark by Nazi Germany on April 9. Given their strategic location in the North Atlantic, the Faroes could have proved useful to Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, possibly as a submarine base. From 1942 to 1943, the British Royal Engineers under the leadership of Lt. Col. William Law MC built the only airport in the Faroe Islands, Vágar Airport. Faroese fishing boats also provided a large amount of fish to the UK, which was essential given food rationing.
The Løgting gained legislative powers, with the Danish prefect Carl Aage Hilbert retaining executive power. The Faroese flag was recognized by British authorities. There were some attempts to declare complete independence in this period, but the United Kingdom had given an undertaking not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Faroe Islands nor to act without the permission of a liberated Denmark. The experience of wartime self-government was crucial in paving the way for formal autonomy in 1948.
The British presence was broadly popular, particularly given the alternative of a German occupation. Approximately 150 marriages took place between British soldiers and Faroese women, although the scale of the British presence on Vágar did lead to some local tensions. The British presence also left a lasting popularity for British chocolate, which is readily available in Faroese shops but uncommon in Denmark.
A shortage of Danish stamps during the Second World War was resolved by the Post Office in Tórshavn overprinting the required number of stamps with a 20-øre surcharge.
Following the liberation of Denmark and the end of the war, the last British troops left in September 1945. Until 1948, the Faroes had the official status of a Danish amt (county). A referendum on full independence was held in 1946, which produced a majority in favor. This was, however, not recognized by the Danish Government or king due to only 2/3 of the population participating in the referendum, so the Danish king abolished the government of the Faroes. The subsequent elections Løgting were won by an anti-independence majority and instead a high degree of self-governance was attained in 1948 with the passing of the Act of Faroese Home Rule. Faroese was now an official language, though Danish is still taught as a second language in schools. The Faroese flag was also officially recognized by Danish authorities.
In 1973, Denmark joined the European Community (now European Union). The Faroes refused to join, mainly over the issue of fishing limits.
In 1974–1975, the Danish postal system began issuing Faroese postage stamps with the inscription FØROYAR. The postal system used these stamps in the Faroes for franking mail and sold them to philatelists. The first Faroese postage stamps came on the market on January 30, 1975. From the first day they were available, the interest in Faroese postage stamps has been very extensive abroad. A number of times, postage stamps have been the second-largest source of export revenues for the Faroes.
Until April 1, 1976, the Faroese postal system was under the direction of Post Danmark (Post and Telegraph System). At that time the Faroese postal system was organized so that it had a post office (Tórshavn Post Office) managed by a postmaster. Then came the postal clerks with the so-called postal agents as managers. The postal clerks were located in the following settlements: Klaksvík, Tvøroyri, Vágur, Vestmanna and Saltangará. All the other post offices were divided into two groups. The larger ones were called “letter collection sites”, and the smaller were called “postal exchange sites”. Together with Tórshavn, these five post offices are still the main post offices.
The 1980s saw an increase in support for Faroese independence. Unemployment was very low, and the Faroese were enjoying one of the world’s highest standards of living, but the Faroese economy was almost entirely reliant on fishing. The early 1990s saw a dramatic slump in fish stocks, which were being overfished with new high-tech equipment. During the same period the government was also engaged in massive overspending. Much of the fishing industry was put into receivership, with talk of cutting down the number of fish-farms and ships.
It was during this period that many Faroese (6%) decided to emigrate, mainly to Denmark. Unemployment rose, up to as much as 20% in Tórshavn, with it being higher in the outlying islands. In 1993 the Sjóvinnurbankin merged with the Faroes Islands’ second largest bank, Føroya Banki. A third was declared bankrupt. Meanwhile, there was a growing international boycott of Faroese produce because of the grindadráp (whaling) issue. The independence movement dissolved on the one hand while Denmark found itself left with the Faroe Islands’ unpaid bills on the other.
Recuperative measures were put in place and largely worked. Unemployment peaked in January 1994 at 26%, since which it fell (10% in mid-1996, 5% in April 2000). The fishing industry survived largely intact. Fish stocks also rose, with the annual catch being 100,000 in 1994, rising to 150,000 in 1995. In 1998 it was 375,000. Emigration also fell to 1% in 1995, and there was a small population increase in 1996. In addition, oil was discovered nearby.
The Faroe Islands postal service was restructured as a limited liability company on January 1, 2005. The name was changed to the P/F Postverk Føroya (Faroe Islands Postal Service Limited). The Faroe Islands Government is the sole shareholder of the company. The name was changed again in September 2009, this time to Posta Faroe Islands or just Posta. At the same time a new logo was introduced. The new Posta logo is composed by two staggered arrows that are pointing in opposite directions, a symbol of “Receive” and “Send”. The first arrow is sea blue color while the second arrow is green, a symbol of the ocean and the islands.
By the early twenty-first century, weaknesses in the Faroese economy had been eliminated and, accordingly, many minds turned once again to the possibility of independence from Denmark. However, a planned referendum in 2001 on first steps towards independence was called off following Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen saying that Danish money grants would be phased out within four years if there were a ‘yes’ vote.
Scott #130 was released on September 23, 1985, part of a set of four lithographed — perforated 13½x14 — stamps depicting lighthouses. This 270-øre stamp portrays Borðan, one of two lighthouses on the island of Nólsoy which lies four kilometers east of the capital of Tórshavn in Streymoy. Borðan Lighthouse was built in 1893 on Nólsoy — the lowest of the Faroes. The island’s highest point is Eggjarklettur (372 meters) on the mountain Høgoyggj. The southern coast contains two capes, each with a lighthouse (Øknastangi on the south-east, Borðan on the south). The lighthouses were built in the late nineteenth century to aid smugglers working against the unpopular trading monopoly imposed by Denmark. In 2005, the National Bank of Denmark issued a 20 DKK commemorative coin for the lighthouse.
There is only one settlement on the island, also called Nólsoy, on the north-west coast on the Stongin peninsula which is attached to the rest of the island by a meters-wide isthmus. The island is accessible by a 20-minute ferry journey from Tórshavn. As many as 40 people that live in Nólsoy go to work in Tórshavn each morning. In recent years, many young families have moved from Tórshavn to Nólsoy where the houses are cheaper than in the capital. This way, it is possible to live ‘in the country’ and still be only 20 minutes from the city. From the little harbor, one enters the village by passing through a portal that is made of the cheekbones of a huge whale. Soon one is in the middle of the village surrounded by small and colorful wooden houses. The small houses are placed extremely close to each other providing shelter from the cold and salty winter storms.