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FIRST STAMPS ISSUED Cantonal issues 1843-1847.



1850, 100 rappen = 1 tranken.
100 centimes = 1 franc.
100 centimisi = 1 franko.

To 1815

A republic of Western Europe set in the Alps. It now consists of 23 cantons but for many years had only 22. The first confederation in 1307 comprised three cantons - Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden which declared Swiss independence from Austria. Lucerne joined the Confederacy in 1332 and, with four other cantons formed a 'perpetual league' in 1353.

Switzerland grew in size and importance during the following centuries and was established within its present borders by 1815. Postal markings were first used on Swiss mails in the middle of the 17th century. These were all in manuscript until 1689, when the Geneva post office began to use the single line handstamp DE GENEVE for letters to France. Similar handstamps appeared on letters sent to France from other offices during the 18th century, but other mail still had only manuscript markings. In the 1780s a more general range of town names began to appear notably at Aarau (1782), Basle (1783), Berne (1787), Fnibourg (1787), Lausanne (1786), Lausanne (1786), St Blaise (1788), St Gallen (1784) and Vevey (1786).

Switzerland was invaded by the French in 1798 who then established the Helvetian Republic within the French postal system. Until 1803, more town handstamps were introduced and cities used large oval hand-stamps with the insignia of the new republic.

Between 1798 and 1806, many handstamps of the French Military post were used in Switzerland. The Army of the Rhine was based at Basle in 1798 and the Army of the Danube at St Gallen. Handstamps of ARMEF. DE GRISONS, ARMEE D'ITALIE and ARMEE DE SUISSE are also known.

After 1803, parts of Switzerland were incorporated into the French departmental system and numbers were allocated to Mont Blanc (84), Mont Terrible (87), Haut Rhin (66), Leman (Geneva) (99), and Simplon (127). In 1815, the Helvetian Confederation was reformed, and the boundaries of Switzerland have been generally respected ever since.


By the Treaty of Vienna, Switzerland was increased to 22 cantons and the independence and neutrality of the Federation was guaranteed. There were religious problems related to the Jesuits in 1847-8 and the secularization of monastic property was agreed in November 1847.

The first stamps issued were the cantonal issues of Geneva (30 September 1843), Basle (1 July 1845) and Zurich (1 March 1847). These were only valid for postage within the individual cantons. Postage outside these areas had to be paid by the recipient.

So-called transitional issues for can-tonal use, but worded 'Poste Local', were issued in 1849-50.


Stamps for the Federal administration were issued in May 1850 and the famous 'Seated Helvetia' appeared in September 1854. These issues were accepted for postage by all countries with which Switzerland had postal conventions. In 1863 the Red Cross was formed based on the original idea of Henri Dunant. It was based in Switzerland and has remained so throughout its history.

Although Switzerland's neutrality had been guaranteed, the Swiss themselves protested over the annexation of Savoy by the French in 1860. In 1861 the French occupied the Valle de Dappes, and the problem was finally resolved by the Treaty of France in December 1862, when the area was demilitarized but ceded to Switzerland.

During the Franco-Prussian War Swiss neutrality was proclaimed. On 1 February 1871 a French army of 84,000 men entered Switzerland and was disarmed and interned. Postal services were provided for the prisoners until their return to France.


In 1874 Switzerland was home for the first meeting of the General Postal Union (Universal Postal Union from 1878). This body had been intended to meet in 1870, but the Franco-Prussian War delayed this. Although congresses of the new body were to be held every four to five years, the headquarters was based in Berne, where it still remains.


Switzerland's neutrality was preserved during World War I and the Red Cross used as the over-seeing body for prisoners-of-war throughout the world. In 1905 the Universal Postal Union had agreed that mail to and from prisoners-of-war should be without charge. Because of Switzerland's unique position, mail from the combatant nations was allowed to enter the country after censorship.


Switzerland was declared the seat of the League of Nations, and overprinted Swiss stamps were issued from 1922-45. Overprints for the International Labour Office appeared in 1923.


Again, Switzerland was the centre of the Red Cross and the link between prisoners-of-war and their home countries. Because of the extent of World War II, the problems were much greater, particularly in the Far East. The transfer of mail to Switzerland was much more difficult after the fall of France and the complete encirclement of the country. However, flights in and out were made and much worldwide mail is to be found addressed to the Red Cross International.

1945 onwards

With the end of the League of Nations, and the establishment of the United Nations, new overprinted stamps for the UN appeared on 1 February 1950. Special issues began to appear in 1955 and remained under Swiss administration until October 1969 when the issues came under control of the United Nations.

Issues have also appeared for the following international bodies: International Labour Office continued with special issues replacing the former overprinted stamps in February 1950. International Educational Office issued overprints in 1944 and special issues in 1958. These were withdrawn at the same time as Swiss UN stamps. World Health Organization issued overprints in 1948 and special issues in 1957. Although these were withdrawn in 1963, a further special issue appeared in 1975. International Refugee Organization issued overprinted stamps on 1 February 1950.

World Meteorological Organization issued special stamps in October 1956. These were withdrawn in 1963, but there was a special issue for the centenaryin 1973.

Additionally, issues have appeared for the Universal Postal Union (1957 onwards) and the International Telecommunications Union (1958 onwards). These stamps are only used occasionally by these bodies and then concurrently with Swiss stamps.

In 1978, for the first time since 1815, the number of cantons was increased. The 23rd canton, Jura, was created by dividing the existing canton of Berne.

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