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1850, 8½ (later 8) cuartos = 1 real.
1866, 80 cuartos = 100 centimes de escudo = 1 escudo.
1867, 1000 milesimas = 100 centimos de escudo = 80 cuartos = 1 escudo.
1872, 100 centimos = 1 peseta

Before 1650

Country which at various times has occupied most or all of the Iberian Peninsula. Originally a loose alliance of kings and dukes which fell prey to the Muslim invasion in the 8th century following an invitation to the Moors to assist in a civil war in Spain. Southern Spain was held by the Moors until they were driven out in the 15th century. In 1469 Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castille and nearly all the Christian dominions in Spain were united under their control by 1479.

In 1492 Columbus was sent from Spain on his voyage of discovery which led to the establishment of the Spanish empire in the Americas in the 16th century. In 1516 the Habsburgs of Austria became kings of Spain, and in 1519 Charles I of Spain also became Holy Roman Emperor. Although this direct connection was short-lived, it led to Spain's involvement in European power politics. Philip of Spain married Mary of England in 1554, but he returned to Spain when she died in 1558. Portugal was united with Spain in 1580, and from this base Philip launched the armada against England.

The Moors were banned from Spain at the start of the 17th century and over 900,000 were forced to leave for North Africa. Portugal was lost in 1640 and never regained.

During this period the postal service was a royal courier service only. The main cities of the country were linked by this service, which reported to the capital, Madrid, or further south to the royal palace of Aranjuez. The Moors to the south had their own links with Africa but no regular service. However, connections with the Holy Roman Empire led to a ship-borne link being created in the Mediterranean, as relations with France generally made it impossible for couriers to cross the mainland. This in turn led to Spanish influence in Italy.


Spain was constantly involved in European and foreign wars during this period, and although its maximum power had passed in the 16th century, it still played a leading part in power politics. In 1700 the Habsburg line died out and a Bourbon was nominated as king. The link between the Spanish and French royal houses was unacceptable and the War of the Spanish Succession was fought from 1700 to 1713.

By this time a public postal service had been introduced and the earliest postal markings appeared: Barcelona and Tarragona in 1717, Jerez in 1718, Cadiz and San Sebastian in 1721, Bilbao in 1722; and by 1732 twelve different towns are recorded. Surprisingly, Madrid did not issue handstamps until 1763, but thereafter many different types were used.

Contact was maintained with the overseas empire by the galleons which sailed on an annual basis from Spain or South America. The link with the Far East colony of the Philippines was maintained by a route through Mexico from Corunna to Vera Cruz, overland to Acapulco and then by galleon to Manila. Incoming letters were marked FILIPINAS on arrival in Spain.

In 1759 the King of the Two Sicilies became King of Spain, which reinforced the link with Italy.

By 1793 the Spanish postal service was fully developed and all the main cities were linked on a regular basis.


Spain did not support the revolutionary forces of France, but war with Britain broke out again in 1796. In 1805 the Spanish and French fleets were destroyed at Trafalgar. In 1807 the French entered Spain and a Spanish army was sent to the Baltic to support the French forces there. The French took Madrid in March 1808. The king abdicated in favour of Napoleon in May, and Napoleon's brother Joseph became king in July.

The Spanish people never accepted French control and a guerilla war broke out, supported by British forces landed in Portugal (q.v.) in 1808. A British presence remained until 1813 when the last French forces were driven from Spain.

French forces used the postal markings of the Grande Armee, but the British army relied on the packet service from Falmouth to Lisbon. the Spanish internal service was completely disrupted throughout the period of the Peninsular War but was quickly re-established in the areas which were liberated by allied forces. More straight-line postmarks were introduced during this period and by the full restoration in 1814 the service was in a stronger position than before. Even small villages were now linked to the main service.

Although the king was restored in May 1814, the American empire had begun to break up by 1810, with a revolt in Mexico. Although this was suppressed, the state in Mexico prevented the use of the route to the Philippines after that date.


Following the defeat of France and the restoration of King Ferdinand, the constitution was set aside and the king ruled autocratically for several years. In 1820 a new constitution was placed before the Cortes. The king was forced to retire to Seville and later in 1823 to Cadiz. As a result, the French entered Spain, and in June invested Cadiz. The French remained in Cadiz until 1828 and military marks were used by the French garrison.

In 1833 Ferdinand died and was succeeded by his infant daughter, but Don Carlos, the King's brother declared himself to be the legal successor to the throne and the First Carlist War began. It lasted until 1840, and the young queen's party was supported by a British legion which fought in northwest Spain. Letters from this force bore no special markings but can be recognized by arrival marks in England.

In the early 1840s a complete new series of standard postal markings was introduced. These were large double circles with the name of the office at the top, the district in the lower part and a number on each side. These numbers represented the province in which the town was situated and ranged from 1 (New Castille - the area about Madrid) to 26 (Cadiz). Other numbers were used for colonies and dependencies abroad including 27 (Africa), 28 (Balearic Islands), 29 (Canary Islands), 30 (Cuba and Puerto Rico) and 31 (Philippine Islands).

In the period from 1832 to 1853 there was a British Consulate Office in Cadiz which was responsible for the transmission of mail for Britain. It had two different cancellations inscribed 'B.C./Cadiz'.



The first series, showing the head of Queen Isabella, consisted of five values based on the currency of 8 cuartos = 1 real. Some contained the inscription 'Certificado' because they were intended for registered mail. Initially the series of dated handstamps introduced in the 1 840s was used on stamped letters, but generally was not used to obliterate the stamps - these were cancelled with a lozenge-shaped network of lines. Additionally, other types of cancellation were used, including laurel wreaths, numerals and straight-line markings.

A further issue in the same currency was issued in 1856, but in 1866 the currency was changed to 1000 milisimas = 100 centimos = 1 escudo. This led to some unusual inscriptions on the succeeding stamp issues.

In 1868 Isabella was deposed by the Cortes and fled to France. She was obliged to abdicate in favour of her son Alfonso in 1870, but he was not accepted by the Spanish parliament, who offered the crown to Amadeo, the son of the King of Italy. He accepted the crown on 4 December 1870, and the scene was set for the Second Carlist War.


The Carlist War continued until 1875, and this was the start of a period of political instability from which Spain suffered for the following 70 years. King Amadeo abdicated in 1873. A republic was proclaimed on 11 February 1873 and fighting continued between government forces and the Car-lists who supported the~ grandson of Don Carlos for the throne.

Disruption of the postal service was inevitable and many different stamp issues appeared during this period. In 1872 the currency was again changed to 100 centimos = 1 peseta and after Amadeo abdicated stamps were issued by the republic and by the Carlists.

In 1874 Alfonso was proclaimed king but he died in November 1885 and was succeeded initially by his daughter, Mercedes, but later by his posthumous son, Alfonso XIII, when he was born on 17 May 1886. In 1898 the Spanish-American War broke out and was conducted mainly in the Philippines and Cuba. As a result, Spain lost its remaining major colonies. Spain was a signatory of the UPU at its first meeting, the colonies in 1877. Spain remained neutral throughout World War I.


Madrid was the site of the VIIth Congress of the UPU in 1920, the first Congress since 1906.

The reign of King Alfonso XIII ended with the collapse of the monarchy in 1931 and a republic was proclaimed. Political parties ranging from royalists to anarchists were unable to agree on any policy and for five years there was no real direction to the country.

At that time, there was a military uprising in the North African garrison town of Melilla and this was associated with a general rebellion by the army. The rebels, or Nationalists, quickly captured most of Andalusia, but were not supported in the north or near Madrid. In 1937 Asturias in the north of Spain fell to the Nationalists and after fierce fighting the following year, the army broke through to the sea. Barcelona fell in January 1939. The country was re-united under Franco in March of that year when the government surrendered.

During the war many issues of a provisional nature were prepared by both sides. As the nationalists advanced, they were faced with demands for postage stamps and republican stamps were overprinted with patriotic slogans both with and without official permission. The postal service was totally disrupted and stamps of both types were used concurrently.

The use of Republican stamps in the Nationalist areas was forbidden after 1 August 1937, but they continued to be overprinted when captured. The first stamps produced by the Nationalists appeared in Granada in August 1936 within a month of the outbreak of hostilities.

The Republicans were running short of foreign currency in 1938 and a philatelic bureau was established in Barcelona. Both parties experienced shortages of stamps during the war; the Nationalists because they had limited facilities for printing, and the Republicans because they were unable to supply the towns still nominally under their control. Fiscal stamps were used when possible in some of the towns which had been cut off by the Nationalists.

Local war tax stamps were issued by the Nationalists and these, though intended to be used in addition to normal postage stamps, were often used on their own.

Military marks on mail are numerous and indicate the battalion of each regiment. The Nationalists were supported by the Italians and Germans while the Republicans were supported by the Russians and the International Brigade, which comprised nationals from many countries including Britain. First stamps portraying General Franco appeared in 1939, at the end of the civil war.

Spanish Civil War 1936-9
Click map for larger view


Spain remained neutral during World War II. It was necessary to rebuild the economy which had been so severely affected by the civil war. However, because of the assistance received by the Spanish Fascists during the Civil War from Germany and Italy, the Government of Franco was not accepted by the United Nations and they were unable to attend the UPU Congress at Paris in 1947.

1945 to date

Spain was accepted as member of the United Nations in 1955 and continued its recovery throughout the early years after the war. It became a major tourist area in the 1960s and when Franco died in 1975, the royal family was re-instated, King Juan Carlos being crowned in the same year.

Dispute with Britain led to the closing of the boundary with Gibraltar in 1969, and it was not re-opened until February 1985.

Canary Islands

FIRST STAMPS Spain from 1845


Island group off the north-west coast of Africa. A Spanish province since 1483. Used stamps of Spain from 1854 except in 1936-38 when overprinted airmail stamps were issued for the Lufthansa transatlantic service to Brazil. This service was curtailed before the end of the Civil War in 1939

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