Today’s entry is a bit unusual in that it concerns a stamp-issuing entity that wasn’t a country, territory or a colony. In fact, it wasn’t a place at all but a family. The Tasso family began providing mail courier services for Italian city-states in the 13th century. By the 16th century, they had a monopoly on postal services, operating a network of postal routes in Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the Low Countries. At the peak of their operations, they employed some 20,000 messengers to deliver mail and newspapers. The family also became well known as owners of breweries and the builders of countless castles. Today, they are still one of the wealthiest families in Europe where they are called the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis (das Fürstenhaus Thurn und Taxis in German) which arose from the translation into German of the family’s French title (de La Tour et Tassis or de Tour et Taxis). Between 1806 and 1867, the family operated the Thurn-und-Taxis Post, a private company and the successor to the Imperial Reichspost of the Holy Roman Empire. It was headquartered in Regensburg from its creation in 1806 until 1810 when it relocated to Frankfurt am Main where it remained until 1867.
The Tasso (from the Italian for “badger”) were a Lombard family in the area of Bergamo. The earliest records place them in Almenno in the Val Brembana around 1200 before they fled to the more distant village of Cornello to escape feuding between Bergamo’s Guelf Colleoni and the Ghibelline Suardi families. Around 1290, after Milan had conquered Bergamo, Ruggiero Omodeo (or Amadeo) Tasso organized 32 of his relatives into the Company of Couriers (Compagnia dei Corrieri) and linked Milan with Venice and Rome. The recipient of royal and papal patronage, his post riders were so comparatively efficient that they became known as bergamaschi throughout Italy. Today, he is generally credited with initiating the first modern postal service as the administrator of the Imperial Post. Under the misspelling “Omedio Tassis”, Omodeo figures prominently in the Thomas Pynchon novella The Crying of Lot 49.
Ruggiero de Tassis was named to the court of the emperor Frederick the Peaceful in 1443. He organized a post system between Bergamo and Vienna by 1450; from Innsbruck to Italy and Styria around 1460; and Vienna with Brussels around 1480. Upon his success, Ruggiero was knighted and made a gentleman of the Chamber. Jannetto de Tassis was appointed Chief Master of Postal Services at Innsbruck in 1489. In 1495, Jennetto founded the Kaiserliche Reichspost (Imperial Mail) — the name of the country-wide postal service of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Bergamascan Tasso family had built up postal routes throughout Italy since c. 1290 and Jannetto’s uncle Ruggiero had worked for Frederick III since the mid-15th 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. By 1516, Francisco had moved the family to Brussels in the Duchy of Brabant, where they became instrumental to Habsburg rule, linking the rich Habsburg Netherlands to the Spanish court. The normal route passed through France, but a secondary route across the Alps to Genoa was available in times of hostility. 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.
Throughout the course of the 16th century, the Taxis dynasty was entrusted as the imperial courier of the Holy Roman Empire and in the Spanish Netherlands, Spain, and Burgundy. In 1595, Leonhard I von Taxis was the empire’s Postmaster General. Confirmed by Emperor Rudolph II that year, 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.
At the time, 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.
Maximilian I expanded their network throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Beginning in 1615, the office of General of the Imperial Reichspost became hereditary under Lamoral I von Taxis. In 1624, the family were elevated to grafen (“counts”). In 1650, the house was permitted with imperial authorization to rename itself from the House of Tassis (Taxis) to the House of Thurn and Taxis (from the French Tour et Taxis). They were named “princely” in 1695 at the behest of Emperor Leopold I. As a result, it was able to maintain the Imperial Reichspost in competition with Europe’s post offices.
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 August 6, 1806, but his postal authority continued as the Frankfurt-based Thurn-und-Taxis Post until the unification of Germany.
Due to the 1792–1802 French Revolutionary Wars and the following 1803–15 Napoleonic Wars, the Imperial Reichspost gradually lost more and more postal districts during the tenure of Karl Anselm, 4th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, beginning with the Austrian Netherlands, thus depriving the post of important sources of revenue. Upon the death of Karl Anselm on November 13, 1805, the office of Postmaster General was inherited by his son, Karl Alexander, 5th Prince of Thurn and Taxis.
After the Peace of Pressburg in December 1805, the operation of the Imperial Reichspost of the Holy Roman Empire was abolished in Württemberg, which then continued under government control. By contrast, Karl Alexander was granted the postal system in the Kingdom of Bavaria as a fiefdom of the House of Thurn and Taxis on February 24, 1806. On May 2, 1806, an agreement was signed between Karl Alexander and the Grand Duchy of Baden, also instituting its postal system as a fiefdom of the House of Thurn and Taxis.
The creation of the Confederation of the Rhine on July 12, 1806, virtually meant the end of the Holy Roman Empire and thus the end of the Imperial Reichspost and the hereditary office of Postmaster General held by the House of Thurn and Taxis. On August 6, 1806, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor dissolved the empire after the disastrous defeat of the Third Coalition by Napoleon I of France at the Battle of Austerlitz.
While the Imperial Reichspost and the office of Postmaster General ceased to exist, Karl Alexander’s wife Therese, Princess of Thurn and Taxis was instrumental in negotiating postal agreements with the Confederation of the Rhine and Napoleon, thus preserving the House of Thurn and Taxis postal monopoly as a private company.
On August 1, 1808, the Kingdom of Bavaria placed the postal system under its government’s control. The Grand Duchy of Baden followed suit on August 2, 1811. After Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg ceded Regensburg to Bavaria in 1810, the House of Thurn and Taxis relocated the headquarters of its postal operations to Frankfurt am Main. After the defeat and exile of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna recognized the postal claims of the House of Thurn and Taxis in several member states of the German Confederation as legitimate. This recognition resulted in Article 17 of the German Federal Act of June 8, 1815, which required states that had established their own postal system, or intended to do so, to give the House of Thurn and Taxis fair compensation for its loss of revenue.
Under the German Federal Act, the postal systems of the Grand Duchy of Hesse, the duchies of Nassau, Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Meiningen, and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the principalities of Reuss and Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, the free cities of Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck, the principalities of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Lippe-Detmold and Schaumburg-Lippe were placed under the now privately operated Thurn-und-Taxis Post. The seat of the post’s headquarters in Frankfurt am Main was confirmed on May 20, 1816.
On May 14, 1816, Karl Alexander entered into a contract with William I, Elector of Hesse to operate the postal system of Hesse-Kassel. Prior to the contract, the Thurn-und-Taxis Post had a January 23, 1814, mutual transportation agreement with Hesse-Kassel’s state postal system. On July 27, 1819, the Kingdom of Württemberg transferred the ownership and management of its state postal system to the Thurn-und-Taxis Post due to its inability to pay its compensation owed to the House of Thurn and Taxis.
In 1847, a German postal conference met in Dresden which resulted in the establishment of the German-Austrian Postal Association. The association came into force on July 1, 1850. On April 6, 1850, the Thurn-und-Taxis Post joined the German-Austrian Postal Association, which was greeted with negative reactions from the government of the Kingdom of Prussia. Above all, Otto von Bismarck, as a representative of the German Confederation in Frankfurt am Main, was disparaged.
The Thurn-und-Taxis Post issued its first postage stamps on January 1, 1852. One difficulty they faced, and that the German Confederation and Empire would eventually face, was that the Northern Germanic states and the Southern Germanic states had different currencies. They had to issue two series of postage stamps, one for the Northern District, denominated in Silbergroschen, and another for the Southern District denominated in Kreuzer.
Between 1852-1858, seven stamps were issued for the Northern District (Scott #1-7). These were typographed, imperforate, and unwatermarked. They featured a large numeral of value inside a square frame and were printed in black on colored paper: red brown for the ¼ sgr, buff for ⅓ sgr, green on the ½ sgr, dark blue for 1 sgr which was reissued in 1853 in light blue, rose for the 2 sgr, and the 3 sgr appearing on brownish yellow paper with a shade variety of pale orange yellow (Scott #7a).
In 1859 and 1860, the ¼ sgr, ½ sgr, 1 sgr, 2 sgr, and 3 sgr designs were printed in new colors (red, green, blue, rose, and red brown) on white paper (Scott #8-12). Two new high-values were added, the 5 sgr in lilac and 10 sgr orange (Scott #13-14). Genuine used examples of these last two stamps are very rare. Faked cancellations are abundant and certification is necessary for used examples. Reprints of Scott #1-12 were made in 1910, They all have ND (Neudruck) in script lettering printed on the back. According to the Scott catalogue, they are worth about US $6.00 each.
In 1862 and 1863, the ¼ sgr, ⅓ sgr, ½ sgr, 1 sgr, 2 sgr, and 3 sgr denominations were again issued in changed colors (black, green, orange yellow, rose, blue, and bister — Scott #15-20). In 1865, the previous issue was printed rouletted between the stamps, in order to facilitate their separation (Scott #21-26). These generally have rough and sometimes uneven rouletting lines. Scott #15-20 and 23-24 were reprinted in 1910 with a script ND on the back, valued at US $6.00 each.
In 1866, the final stamps for the Northern District of Thurn-und-Taxis Post were released using the same design but this time with colored rouletting between the stamps (Scott #27-32). These are very common in mint condition, but are very scarce genuinely used. Fake cancellations exist for many of the Northern District postage stamps, especially for the ones that are high-priced in used condition.
Stamps of the Thurn-und-Taxis Post were cancelled with concentric ring postmarks with the center number indicating the post office of origin. To these tired eyes, my copy of Scott #18 — 1 groschen rose issued in 1863 — seems to bear the number “231” which would indicate the post office at Eisenach, a small town about 93 miles (150 kilometers) northeast of Frankfurt. It is situated on the Hörsel river, a tributary of the Werra between the Thuringian Forest in the south, the Hainich mountains in the north-east and the East Hesse Highlands in the north-west.
Eisenach was an early capital of Thuringia in the 12th and 13th centuries. St. Elizabeth lived at the court of the Ludowingians here between 1211 and 1228. Later, Martin Luther came to Eisenach and translated the Bible into German. In 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was born here. In 1869, the SDAP, one of the two precursors of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was founded in Eisenach. Between the 1860s and 1938, the town hosted one of the largest Jewish communities in Thuringia with nearly 500 members at the beginning of the 20th century. Many Jews migrated from the Rhön area around Stadtlengsfeld to Eisenach after their emancipation in the early 19th century.
After the Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War, the Prussians occupied the Free City of Frankfurt and the Thurn-und-Taxis Post’s headquarters. The Thurn-und-Taxis Post transferred its postal system contracts to the Prussian state for the sum of three million Thaler after a contract was signed and ratified on January 28, 1867. The handover of control of the postal system took place on July 1, 1867. The last Post Director General of the Thurn-und-Taxis Post in Frankfurt was Eduard von Schele zu Schelenburg. Stamps of the Northern District were replaced by those of Prussia in 1867.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his Duino Elegies while visiting Princess Marie of Thurn and Taxis (née princess of Hohenlohe) at her family’s Duino castle. Rilke later dedicated his only novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge to the princess, who was his patroness. Marie’s relation to Regensburg’s Thurn and Taxis is rather distant, however; she was married to Alexander Thurn and Taxis, a member of the family’s branch that in the early 19th century settled in Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and became strongly connected to Czech national culture and history.
Several members of the family have been Knights of Malta The Thurn and Taxis family came to massive media attention during the late 1970s through mid-1980s when late Prince Johannes married Countess Mariae Gloria of Schönburg-Glauchau, a member of an impoverished but mediatized noble family. The couple’s wild, “jet set” lifestyle and Princess Gloria’s over-the-top appearance (characterized by bright hair colors and avante garde clothes) earned her the nickname “Princess TNT”.
The current head of the house of Thurn and Taxis is HSH Albert II, 12th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, son of Johannes and his wife, Gloria. The family is one of the wealthiest in Germany. The family has resided in St. Emmeram Castle in Regensburg since 1748. The family’s brewery was sold to the Paulaner Group (Munich) in 1996, but still produces beer under the brand of Thurn und Taxis.