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Postage stamps and postal history of Austria

From Academic Kids

(pre-stamp postal history here)

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3-kreuzer stamp of 1850; note the rough surface of the hand-made paper.

The postage stamp issues of Austria began on June 1, 1850 with a series of imperforate typographed stamps featuring the coat of arms. At first they were printed on a rough hand-made 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.

Franz Josef profiles reappeared in 1867, as a side-effect of the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (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.

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72-heller stamp of 1904, on granite paper and showing varnish bars

1899 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. In the illustration to the left, the bars are so prominent that they appear to be on top of both design and cancellation, but of course this is impossible; note especially the "72" in the lower right, where even the brief soaking that removed the stamp from the letter caused the ink of the design to start flaking off. The experiment was abandoned with the 1908 issue.

In 1908, Austria issued a series of large pictorial stamps 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.

Austrian stamp of Charles I overprinted Deutschösterreich
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Austrian stamp of Charles I overprinted Deutschösterreich

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).

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2000 kroner of 1922 "Art and Science" design

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 milliard(!) 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. New stamps were printed also, featuring numerals (for the low values), a field crossed by telegraph wires, a white-shouldered eagle, and a church of the Minorite Friars. Subsequent issues depicted scenic views (1929), and costumes of various districts (1934). The assassinated chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was commemorated in both 1934 and 1936.

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Anschluss-era cover, May 1938, mixed franking of Austrian and German stamps

In early 1938 the Anschluss put a sudden end to Austria's stamps. Although the entry of German troops in March 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). The cover to the right, for instance, was mailed on 6 May 1938 from Vienna to Freiburg im Breisgau, then was forwarded to Hamburg. (Receiving marks on the back indicate that it arrived in Hamburg on the 8th of May.) After the transition period was over, Austrians used stamps of Germany until the end of the Third Reich in 1945.

1945 overprint on "" of Germany
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1945 overprint on "Hitler Head" of Germany

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.

1945 overprint, improved
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1945 overprint, improved

In the Soviet occupation zone, starting on 2 May 1945, the stamps of Germany were overprinted. Initially the overprint consisted of just "Österreich", or "Österreich" and a bar obliterating the "Deutches Reich" inscription. Hitler's face 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.

8pf stamp of the Soviet occupation, used in Vienna
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8pf stamp of the Soviet occupation, used in Vienna 2 August 1945

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.

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1g stamp of the AMG occupation

On the other side of occupied Austria, the Allied Military Government issued a series 28 June 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 DC, and valid for postage into 1947.

(Despite the relatively short period of use, almost all of the occupation-related issues are common and inexpensive to collect today.)

General issues produced by the Second Republic became available on 24 November 1945.

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50th anniversary issue, showing coats of arms

Since that time Austria has issued a steady stream of stamps with a variety of subjects, many of them attractively engraved.

Lombardy-Venetia

Lombardy-Venetia was a kingdom in the north of Italy that was part of the Austrian empire. The inhabitants used the Italian lira for money, so in 1850 the government issued stamps identical to those for the rest of Austria, but denominated in values from 5 to 45 centesimi. The monetary system changed in 1858, 100 soldis to the florin, which required a new issue of stamps, designs otherwise identical to the contemporary Austrian issues. Lombardy was annexed to Sardinia in 1859, and Venetia to the new kingdom of Italy in 1866, at which point the Lombardy-Venetia stamps went out of use.

Because of the early date and limited area, all Lombardy-Venetia stamps are uncommon, especially unused, the cheapest costing US$3 or so. The rarest type of newspaper tax stamp last sold for US$100,000.

Italian Occupation

Near the end of World War I, Italy captured the Austrian territories of Trentino and Venezia Giulia. In 1918, Italy issued overprinted stamps for these areas. Stamps sold at Trieste were overprinted "Regno d'Italia / Venezia Giulia / 3. XI. 18." on Austrian stamps of 1916, and then just "Venezia / Giulia" on Italian stamps, while in the Trentino the overprint was "Regno d Italia / Trentino / 3 nov 1918" on Austrian stamps and then just "Venezia / Tridentina" on Italian stamps. In January 1919 the Italians issued overprinted stamps for all of the occupied territories, the overprint consisting of, for instance, "5 / centesimi / di corona". This lasted until September, when the Trentino was permanently assigned to Italy and used Italian stamps thereafter, while Trieste became a free city.

Foreign post offices

Austria maintained foreign post in the Mediterranean area in the 19th and early 20th centuries. See:

for further details.

See also: list of people on stamps of Austria

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