The field of German philately is quite a complex one. I am, by no means, an expert and currently have only a very meager starter accumulation in somewhat less-than-stellar condition. However, I am inspired by my research and the German heritage of both of my adoptive parents to begin improving my holdings in this area very soon. For this blog, I have decided to break the nation down into different eras: the German Empire of 1870-1918 (the first stamp issues appearing in 1872), the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the Third Reich (1933-1945), the Federal Republic and Democratic Republic (1949-1990), and post-Reunification (1990-date). I have been dealing with the pre-unification German States individually and alphabetically; I don’t currently have any examples from the Allied Military Government issues of 1945-1949.
Today’s article will give a bit of background on German pre-stamp postal history before discussing the Empire itself.
Various Germanic tribes have inhabited the northern parts of modern Germany since classical antiquity. A region named Germania was documented before 100 AD. During the Migration Period, the Germanic tribes expanded southward. Beginning in the tenth century, German territories formed a central part of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the twelfth century, the guild of butchers (Metzger) organized courier mail services with horses. When the mail arrived, they used a horn to announce it and thus created a commonly recognized emblem for postal services. The Metzger Post is credited as the first international post of the Middle Ages and survived until 1637 when Thurn und Taxis’s monopoly took over.
In 1497, on behalf of Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire, Franz von Taxis established a postal service that replaced the ad-hoc courier for official mail. A horse relay system was created that shortened the transit time for mail and made its arrival predictable. Thereafter, the house of Thurn und Taxis using the imperial yellow and black livery maintained the postal privilege for many centuries. The Thurn-und-Taxis-Post employed the first horse-drawn mail coaches in Europe since Roman times in 1650, originating in the town of Kocs giving rise to the term “coach”.
The Imperial Reichspost (Kaiserliche Reichspost) was the name of the country-wide postal service of the Holy Roman Empire, founded by Jannetto de Tassis in 1495. The Bergamascan Tasso family had built up postal routes throughout Italy since approximately 1290 and Jannetto’s uncle Ruggiero had worked for Frederick III since the mid-fifteenth century. Ruggiero had already connected Vienna and Innsbruck with Italy, Styria, and Brussels, before Maximilian expanded from those routes throughout his realm.
Maximilian’s Philip of Burgundy appointed Jannetto’s brother Francisco as capitaine et maistre de nos postes in 1502 and it was a payment dispute between the two which caused Francisco to open the family’s network to public correspondence in 1506. Charles V confirmed Jannetto’s son Giovanni Battista as Postmaster General (chief et maistre general de noz postes par tous noz royaumes, pays, et seigneuries) in 1520. Confirmed by Emperor Rudolph II in 1595, the Imperial postal service remained a monopoly of the Thurn und Taxis family (officially hereditary from 1615 onwards) until it was terminated with the end of the Empire in 1806.
The Imperial Reichspost was based in Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands, from where the original (“Dutch”) route led via Namur, Bastogne, Lieser, Wöllstein, Rheinhausen, and Augsburg to Innsbruck and Trento. It was also used to bypass the Kingdom of France in order to keep in touch with Habsburg Spain during times of hostility. Competing services were prohibited, although the Imperial cities were permitted to maintain their own communication system.
After the accession of Rudolph’s brother Emperor Matthias in 1612, a second route was established from Cologne via Frankfurt, Aschaffenburg, and Nuremberg to Bohemia and later also to Leipzig and Hamburg. After the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia, Postmaster General Count Lamoral II Claudius Franz von Thurn und Taxis and his successors had to deal with the establishment of separate postal agencies, mainly by the Protestant Imperial States of Northern German but also in several lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, leading to long-lasting disputes over their range of authority. In the course of the War of the Spanish Succession, the Thurn und Taxis seat was relocated from Brussels to the Free City of Frankfurt in 1702.
Though the dynasty had sided with the Wittelsbach rival Charles VII in the War of the Austrian Succession, their services were indispensable, and Maria Theresa’s husband Emperor Francis I officially re-implemented the Thurn und Taxis monopoly in 1746. Two years later, the postal authority moved to Regensburg, seat of the Imperial Diet. The family had accumulated extreme wealth; nonetheless, it was devastated by the Napoleonic Wars. The last Postmaster General, Prince Karl Alexander von Thurn und Taxis, lost his office with the Empire’s dissolution on 6 August 1806, but his postal authority continued as the Frankfurt-based Thurn-und-Taxis Post until the unification of Germany.
Thurn und Taxis lost its monopoly when Napoleon granted the Rhine Confederation (Rheinbund) the right to conduct postal services. This was formed by Napoleon after he defeated Austria and Russia in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1803, initially from 16 German states. The Treaty of Pressburg, in effect, led to the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine. The members of the confederation were German princes (Fürsten) from the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, all together ruling a total of over 15 million subjects providing a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern front. Prussia and Austria were not members.
Napoleon sought to consolidate the modernizing achievements of the revolution, but he wanted the soldiers and supplies these subject states could provide for his wars. Napoleon required it to supply 63,000 troops to his army. The success of the Confederation depended on Napoleon’s success in battle; it collapsed when he lost the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.
The German Confederation was created by an act of the Congress of Vienna on June 8, 1815, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, after being alluded to in Article 6 of the 1814 Treaty of Paris.
German nationalism rapidly shifted from its liberal and democratic character in 1848, called Pan-Germanism, to Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck’s pragmatic Realpolitik. Bismarck sought to extend Hohenzollern hegemony throughout the German states; to do so meant unification of the German states and the elimination of Prussia’s rival, Austria, from the subsequent empire. He envisioned a conservative, Prussian-dominated Germany. Three wars led to military successes and helped to persuade German people to do this: the Second war of Schleswig against Denmark in 1864, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War against France in 1870–71.
Prior to the German unification of 1871, individual German states and entities started to release their own stamps. Bavaria was the first on November 1, 1849, with the one kreuzer black. States or entities that issued stamps subsequently were Baden (1851), Bergedorf (1861), Brunswick (1852), Bremen (1855), Hamburg (1859), Hanover (1850), Heligoland (1867), Lübeck (1859), Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1856), Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1864), Oldenburg (1852), Prussia (1850), Saxony (1850), Schleswig-Holstein (1850), and Württemberg (1851).
Thurn und Taxis continued to operate, having the authority to transport mail and issue stamps starting in 1852. When Prussia created the North German Confederation, Thurn und Taxis had to sell its privileges in 1867.
The German Confederation ended as a result of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 between the constituent Confederation entities of the Austrian Empire and its allies on one side and the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies on the other. The war resulted in the Confederation being partially replaced by a North German Confederation in 1867, comprising the 22 states north of the Main. Originally a military alliance, it evolved to a federation with the issuing of a constitution with effect from 1 July 1867. In the course of the war, Prussian troops had occupied the Free City of Frankfurt and the King of Prussia (later to become Emperor of Germany) had purchased the remnants of the Thurn-und-Taxis Post organization. According to article 48, the federal area of the Northern German states, de facto an enlarged Prussia, came under the united postal authority called the North German Postal District (Norddeutscher Postbezirk), led by director Heinrich von Stephan, in 1868. To accommodate the monetary systems of the member states, the Confederation stamps were separated into three groups, those for the Northern Postal District (Groschen), those for the Southern Postal District (Kreuzer), and those for Hamburg (Schillings). After the unification, Bavaria and Württemberg retained their postal authority to continue producing stamps until March 31, 1920.
The patriotic fervor generated by the Franco-Prussian War overwhelmed the remaining opposition in the four states south of the Main to a unified Germany, and during November 1870 they joined the North German Confederation by treaty.
On December 10, 1870, the North German Confederation Reichstag renamed the Confederation as the German Empire and gave the title of German Emperor to William I, the King of Prussia, as Bundespräsidium of the Confederation. The new constitution and the title Emperor came into effect on January 1, 1871. During the Siege of Paris on January 18, 1871, William accepted to be proclaimed Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
The second German Constitution was adopted by the Reichstag on April 14, 1871, and proclaimed by the Emperor on April 16, which was substantially based upon Bismarck’s North German Constitution. The political system remained the same. The empire had a parliament called the Reichstag, which was elected by universal male suffrage. However, the original constituencies drawn in 1871 were never redrawn to reflect the growth of urban areas. As a result, by the time of the great expansion of German cities in the 1890s and first decade of the twentieth century, rural areas were grossly overrepresented.
The Deutsche Reichspost was established as a state monopoly on May 4, 1871, and became the official national postal authority of the German Empire including the annexed province of Alsace-Lorraine. Its official name was Kaiserliche Post und Telegraphenverwaltung. The German Empire initially used stamps of the North German Confederation until it issued its first stamps on January 1, 1872. Heinrich von Stephan, inventor of the postcard and founder of the Universal Postal Union, was the first Postmaster-General. The Southern German federated states of Baden (until 1872), Württemberg (until 1902) and Bavaria maintained separate state post authorities, that nevertheless were integrated into the nationwide administration.
The Empire’s first postage stamps were typographed in various colors, with an embossed Imperial eagle and shield in the center. In June 1872, a modified design was introduced, featuring a larger eagle and shield. Some of the issues exist in distinctly different shades. Many catalogs prefer to call these two types “small shield” and “large shield”. Unfortunately, the embossing on these first German Empire stamps can range from very strong to very faint, and on used examples, the circular date stamp usually covers or obliterates the shield portion of the embossed design. In truth, the eagles and the shields in the two types are completely different in all aspects. Many different elements, such as the crown, banner, wings, talons, tail, etc., can be used to determine the type as well.
As with the North German Confederation issues, two series of these stamps were issued. One was denominated in Groschen, for use in the North German states, and the other one was denominated in Kreuzer, for use in the South German states. Two high-value postage stamps were also issued in 1872, typographed with large numerals of value in the middle in denominations of 10 groschen and 30 groschen.
Legislation in the German Empire required the consent of the Reichstag and the Bundesrat, a federal council of deputies from the 27 states. Executive power was vested in the emperor, or Kaiser, who was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. The emperor was given extensive powers by the constitution. He alone appointed and dismissed the chancellor (which in practice was used by the emperor to rule the empire through him), was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces, final arbiter of all foreign affairs, and could also disband the Reichstag to call for new elections.
Officially, the chancellor was a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers. The Reichstag had the power to pass, amend or reject bills and to initiate legislation. However, as mentioned above, in practice the real power was vested in the emperor, who exercised it through his chancellor.
Although nominally a federal empire and league of equals, in practice the empire was dominated by the largest and most powerful state, Prussia. It stretched across the northern two thirds of the new Reich, and contained three-fifths of its population. The imperial crown was hereditary in the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling house of Prussia. With the exception of the years 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of Prussia. With 17 out of 58 votes in the Bundesrat, Berlin needed only a few votes from the small states to exercise effective control.
The other states retained their own governments, but had only limited aspects of sovereignty. For example, both postage stamps and currency were issued for the empire as a whole. Coins through one mark were also minted in the name of the empire, while higher valued pieces were issued by the states. However, these larger gold and silver issues were virtually commemorative coins and had limited circulation.
While the states issued their own decorations, and some had their own armies, the military forces of the smaller ones were put under Prussian control. Those of the larger states, such as the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Saxony, were coordinated along Prussian principles and would in wartime be controlled by the federal government.
The evolution of the German Empire is somewhat in line with parallel developments in Italy which became a united nation-state a decade earlier. Some key elements of the German Empire’s authoritarian political structure were also the basis for conservative modernization in Imperial Japan under Meiji and the preservation of an authoritarian political structure under the Tsars in the Russian Empire.
One factor in the social anatomy of these governments had been the retention of a very substantial share in political power by the landed elite, the Junkers, resulting from the absence of a revolutionary breakthrough by the peasants in combination with urban areas.
Although authoritarian in many respects, the empire had some democratic features. Besides universal suffrage, it permitted the development of political parties. Bismarck’s intention was to create a constitutional façade which would mask the continuation of authoritarian policies. In the process, he created a system with a serious flaw. There was a significant disparity between the Prussian and German electoral systems. Prussia used a highly restrictive three-class voting system in which the richest third of the population could choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring a conservative majority. As mentioned above, the king and (with two exceptions) the prime minister of Prussia were also the emperor and chancellor of the empire – meaning that the same rulers had to seek majorities from legislatures elected from completely different franchises. Universal suffrage was significantly diluted by the gross overrepresentation of rural areas from the 1890s onward. By the turn of the century, the urban-rural balance was completely reversed from 1871; more than two-thirds of the empire’s people lived in cities and towns.
In 1875, the German Empire implemented a single currency, for use in all its European states. The Goldmark, or Mark, was equal to 100 Pfennig. Between 1875 and 1877, a new series of postage stamps was issued, featuring a large numeral in the middle, or an eagle in the middle, with large numerals in the lower corners, and they were denominated in “Pfennige”. A two Mark denomination postage stamp was also issued in 1875, primarily intended for domestic official usage. In 1880, the 1875 postage stamps were re-issued, with the denomination changed to “Pfennig”. Between 1889 and 1900, a new set of seven postage stamps was issued, with new designs featuring a new inscription, REICHPOST and modified numeral arrangement. These stamps also served as forerunners, having been used in the German colonies, in their offices in the Turkish Empire, and in their offices in Morocco, prior to official postage stamps being printed and issued in those areas.
On March 9, 1888, the 90 year old Kaiser Wilhelm I died, and his only son, Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl, ascended to the Imperial throne as Kaiser Friedrich III. Unfortunately, on June 15, 1888, following a long struggle with cancer of the larynx, Friedrich III died after a reign of only 99 days. Had he ascended to the throne earlier, with his consort Victoria Louise and his ideas of government reform based on the British model, world history could have been very different.
On June 15, 1888, Friedrich’s oldest son, Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht, ascended the throne of the German Empire as Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was also the first Grandson of Queen Victoria, and at the time he was born he was sixth in the British line of succession. Chancellor Bismarck had exerted great control over Wilhelm, and even alienated him from his parents, in an effort to use the young prince as a weapon, in order to preserve his own political dominance. Wilhelm shared none of his parents’ liberal ideas, and the rift between he and his parents over their political ideologies endured throughout their lives. His mother, Victoria Louise, viewed Wilhelm as a “complete Prussian”. Though Chancellor Bismark was a great mentor to the prince during his youth, Wilhelm quickly grew tired of Bismarck once he became emperor. After a political struggle over Wilhelm’s interest in social problems, especially in regards to the treatment of mine workers, the emperor forced Chancellor Bismarck to resign in 1890.
At the beginning of 1900, the German Empire issued a brand new series of definitive postage stamps. The denominations from the 2 pfennig through the 80 pfennig featured the bust of Germania, wearing armor and the imperial crown. All of the 1900 postage stamps are inscribed REICHSPOST, and are printed on unwatermarked paper. These German Imperial stamps were designed by Paul Waldraff from a portrait of the German actress Anna Führing. She was born in Hamburg to an actor father and was active both in the theater and in silent movies in Germany, but she will be forever remembered as the model for the Germania postage stamp.
The four high-values of the new German Empire series were wide format pictorials, featuring representative subjects about the German Empire. The 1 mark shows the General Post Office in Berlin. The 2 mark shows a modified detail of the painting, “Union of North and South”. The 3 mark stamp portrays the unveiling of the Kaiser Wilhelm I Memorial in Berlin. The 5 mark shows Kaiser Wilhelm II speaking at the empire’s 25th anniversary celebration.
The Germania stamps were issued from 1900 until 1922 making it the longest running series in German philately with the change in the inscription from REICHSPOST to DEUTSCHES REICH being the major modification during this period.
Following the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke of Austria-Este, Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, the Kaiser offered Emperor Franz Joseph full support for Austro-Hungarian plans to invade the Kingdom of Serbia, which Austria-Hungary blamed for the assassination. Germany began World War I by targeting its chief rival, France. Germany saw France as its principal danger on the European continent as it could mobilize much faster than Russia and bordered Germany’s industrial core in the Rhineland. Unlike Britain and Russia, the French entered the war mainly for revenge against Germany, in particular for France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871. The German high command knew that France would muster its forces to go into Alsace-Lorraine. Aside from the very unofficial Septemberprogramm, the Germans never stated a clear list of goals that they wanted out of the war.
Towards the end of the war conditions deteriorated rapidly on the home front, with severe food shortages reported in all urban areas. The causes included the transfer of many farmers and food workers into the military, combined with the overburdened railway system, shortages of coal, and the British blockade. The winter of 1916–1917 was known as the “turnip winter”, because the people had to survive on a vegetable more commonly reserved for livestock, as a substitute for potatoes and meat, which were increasingly scarce. Thousands of soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry, who grumbled that the farmers were keeping the food for themselves. Even the army had to cut the soldiers’ rations. The morale of both civilians and soldiers continued to sink.
Many Germans wanted an end to the war and increasing numbers began to associate with the political left, such as the Social Democratic Party and the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party, which demanded an end to the war. The entry of the U.S. into the war in April 1917 changed the long-run balance of power in favor of the Allies.
The end of October 1918, in Kiel, in northern Germany, saw the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. Units of the German Navy refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war which they saw as good as lost, initiating the uprising. On November 3, the revolt spread to other cities and states of the country, in many of which workers’ and soldiers’ councils were established. Meanwhile, Hindenburg and the senior generals lost confidence in the Kaiser and his government.
Bulgaria signed the Armistice of Solun on September 29, 1918. The Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros on October 30. Between October 24 and November 3, 1918, Italy defeated Austria-Hungary in the battle of Vittorio Veneto, which forced Austria-Hungary to sign the Armistice of Villa Giusti on November 3. So, in November 1918, with internal revolution, the Allies advancing toward Germany on the Western Front, Austria-Hungary falling apart from multiple ethnic tensions, its other allies out of the war and pressure from the German high command, the Kaiser and all German ruling princes abdicated. On November 9, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a republic. The new government led by the German Social Democrats called for and received an armistice on November 11. It was succeeded by the Weimar Republic. Those opposed, including disaffected veterans, joined a diverse set of paramilitary and underground political groups such as the Freikorps, the Organisation Consul, and the Communists.
Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate on November 9, 1918 by the Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden. The abdication instrument was signed November 28, and by then, his six sons had sworn not to succeed him, so ending his dynasty’s connection with the empire and with the crown of Prussia. The following day, November 29, 1918, the Kaiser crossed into the Netherlands, to begin his exile. After the Treaty of Versailles, Queen Wilhelmina refused to turn him over to the Allies. He purchased a small castle in Doorn in 1919, where he was to spend the remainder of his life. Kaiser Wilhelm II died on June 4, 1941. He vowed that he would never return to Germany, until the monarchy was restored, so he was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of his estate in Doorn, where he remains to this day.
The defeat and aftermath of the First World War and the penalties imposed by the Treaty of Versailles shaped the positive memory of the Empire, especially among Germans who distrusted and despised the Weimar Republic. Conservatives, liberals, socialists, nationalists, Catholics and Protestants all had their own interpretations, which led to a fractious political and social climate in Germany in the aftermath of the empire’s collapse.
Under Bismarck, a united German state had finally been achieved, but it remained a Prussian-dominated state and did not include German Austria as Pan-German nationalists had desired. The influence of Prussian militarism, the Empire’s colonial efforts and its vigorous, competitive industrial prowess all gained it the dislike and envy of other nations. The German Empire enacted a number of progressive reforms, such as Europe’s first social welfare system and freedom of press. There was also a modern system for electing the federal parliament, the Reichstag, in which every adult man had one vote. This enabled the Socialists and the Catholic Centre Party to play considerable roles in the empire’s political life despite the continued hostility of Prussian aristocrats.
The era of the German Empire is well remembered in Germany as one of great cultural and intellectual vigor. Thomas Mann published his novel Buddenbrooks in 1901. Theodor Mommsen received the Nobel prize for literature a year later for his Roman history. Painters like the groups Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke made a significant contribution to modern art. The AEG turbine factory in Berlin by Peter Behrens from 1909 can be regarded as a milestone in classic modern architecture and an outstanding example of emerging functionalism. The social, economic, and scientific successes of this Gründerzeit, or founding epoch, have sometimes led the Wilhelmine era to be regarded as a golden age.
In the field of economics, the “Kaiserzeit” laid the foundation of Germany’s status as one of the world’s leading economic powers. The iron and coal industries of the Ruhr, the Saar and Upper Silesia especially contributed to that process. The first motorcar was built by Karl Benz in 1886. The enormous growth of industrial production and industrial potential also led to a rapid urbanization of Germany, which turned the Germans into a nation of city dwellers. More than 5 million people left Germany for the United States during the nineteenth century.
Scott #39, 10 pfennig red, was released in 1880 using the 1875-1877 Imperial eagle design but spelling the denomination “Pfennig” rather than “Pfennige”. Perforated 13½x14½ with the center embossed, the stamp exists on both thin paper and thick paper with the latter valued considerably more.