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Portugal Celebrates 150 Years of Stamps

On 13 March Portugal released a set of four stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the adoption of adhesive postage stamps. Each of the four stamps reproduces one of the original series in ascending order of face values, with a narrow panel at the side bearing a second image.

The first stamps of Portugal were embossed with the profile of Queen Maria II looking uncannily like Queen Victoria (both born in the same year, 1819), and this impression has been heightened by the pictorial postmarks accompanying this issue, which show the Queen's profile as a black silhouette.

Maria da Gloria was born in Rio de Janeiro, the eldest daughter of Dom Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil. When his father, King John VI of Portugal died in March 1826, Pedro became Pedro IV of that country but he had no wish to leave Brazil where he and the royal family had gone into exile in 1806 following the Napoleonic occupation of his homeland. Pedro immediately abdicated the throne of Portugal in favour of his daughter Maria on condition that the seven year-old girl marry Pedro's brother (her uncle) Miguel who, in turn, had to swear loyalty to the Charter, a liberal constitution.

Miguel, who headed the extreme right-wing faction, hoped to gain the throne for himself without strings attached but civil war was only averted at the last moment when he backed down. In October he took the oath to the Charter and was formally betrothed to his niece. In exchange, Pedro appointed Miguel as regent but the latter soon went back on his word and had himself proclaimed king. The liberals declared a regency on behalf of Maria in the Azores, while Pedro I abdicated (1831) and returned to Europe to conduct the campaign on his daughter's behalf. In 1832 Pedro's forces, including British and French troops, invaded Portugal and although heavily outnumbered they eventually captured Lisbon in July 1833. Maria herself made a triumphal entry in September and the following March Miguel surrendered.

Worn out by his exertions Pedro died in September 1834 and his daughter, now 15, was declared of age. In December that year she married Augustus, Duke of Leuchtenberg who died four months later. Maria's second marriage was more successful; in April 1836 she married Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, son of Leopold, King of the Belgians and thus a cousin of both Queen Victoria and her own future husband, Prince Albert. Unlike Albert, Ferdinand was given the title of King-Consort and had a moderating influence on his wife who seems to have inherited the absolutist tendencies of her Uncle Miguel.

It has to be admitted that Maria's reign was neither happy nor glorious. In was a period in which Portugal was largely embroiled in a series of revolts and civil wars which depressed the economy and severely impeded progress and, indirectly, delayed the introduction of much-needed reforms, including a proper postal service. It was not until 1851 that peace was restored and a coalition government under the Duke of Saldanha could begin the enormous task of rebuilding the economy and infrastructure. One of Saldanha's reforms was the wholesale re-organisation of the postal service which was inefficient, antiquated and expensive. Uniform postage on the same lines as those introduced in Britain in 1840, was instituted on 1 July 1853 and it was in this connection that the four stamps were produced. That they were imperforate was not out of the ordinary at that time, for only Britain had experimented with roulettes and other methods of separation. But Portugal was the last country in Europe to adopt perforation (1867) and for this reason the quality of the early stamps varies considerably, good four-margined copies rating a good premium.

Poor Maria, whose rather portly portrait appears in the side panel of the €0.30 stamp, did not live long to enjoy the new-fangled stamps for she died on 15 November 1853. At least the series of October 1953 which belatedly marked the stamp centenary used a much younger and more flattering bust of her.

She was succeeded by her eldest son, Pedro V during whose minority his father King Ferdinand acted as regent. Stamps portraying the boy-king were released in January 1855 and had the same frames as his mother's stamps, but with his embossed profile facing right. Pedro was declared of age in November that year and assumed the reins of government, but he and his brothers Ferdinand and John died of cholera in the great epidemic of 1861.

Fortunately, his youngest brother, Luiz was out of the country at the time and thus escaped this dread illness. Embossed stamps with his left-facing profile were introduced gradually from July 1862 onwards. The original concept of different shapes for each value was scrapped in 1866, a series with a standardised design throughout being then substituted. Perforation was adopted a year later, and then in 1870 the design was redrawn with straight instead of curved ends to the value labels. This proved to be the most complex of all the classic issues of Portugal, with several changes of perforation combined with the use of unsurfaced or chalk-surfaced paper, not to mention numerous nuances of colour.

Embossed profiles gave way eventually to conventional portraits from 1880 onwards, by which time King Luiz was fat and fortyish, unlike the slim profile of the previous issues. His son, King Carlos, ascended the throne in 1889 and would probably have reached his jubilee were it not for the fact that he and the crown-price were assassinated in 1908.

His younger son took the throne as Manoel II but by that time republicanism was sweeping the country. Revolution broke out in Lisbon on 3 October 1910 and two days later the royal family sought refuge in Gibraltar, journeying on to England soon afterwards where they settled into middle-class exile in Middlesex.

A spate of provisional republican overprints preceded the introduction of the Ceres definitives in 1912, destined to become one of the longest-running as well as most prolific, definitive sets of the early 20th century. These stamps, with or without imprint in the bottom margin, on various types of paper, with a wide range of perforation, offer enormous scope for study, while frequent provisional surcharges, changes of colour and the addition of new denominations reflect the fragile state of the Portuguese economy. Between 1910 and 1928 Portugal endured more than 40 changes of government, some of which lasted only a few days, but at the conclusion of the bloodiest civil war in the country's history the partnership of General Carmona as President and Dr Salazar as Prime Minister introduced the era of a dictatorship that would last well into the 1970s.

Gradually Portugal recovered her national pride, and this is reflected in the definitives of 1931 showing the female allegory of the country reading the Lusiad, the epic poem by Camoens whose quatercentenary was the subject of a long commemorative set in 1924. Apart from the complexities of the classic issues the early philately of Portugal is notable for the frequency and length of its commemorative sets. The concept of commemorative stamps was still in its infancy in 1894 when Portugal embarked on this prolific policy with a set of 13 marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of Prince Henry the Navigator. An even greater innovation was the series of 15 stamps the following year honouring the patron saint, Antony of Padua whose prayer was printed on the backs of the stamps. In 1898 a set of eight marked the 400th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, and this gave rise to the world's first omnibus, with similar sets from several of the overseas territories.

After a long gap, Portugal resumed this policy, beginning with a set of 16 in 1923 for the flight of Coutinho and Cabral from Portugal to Brazil, closely followed by much longer sets honouring Camoens and the novelist Castillo Branco, as well as the two sets of 1926-7 tracing the history of Portuguese independence. In later years, however, a more moderate policy prevailed, but the long sets, once the subject if controversy, have come to be regarded among the classics of the early 20th century. Portugal has a strong indigenous philatelic market but increasingly is attracting serious attention in every part of the world, and this has been reflected in the steady increase in value of the issues prior to World War II.

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