Foreign Post Offices in Crete

27/02/2013     Crete & Post Offices

The Cretan State 1898-1913
What is the connection between an Italian 1905 5 Lira blue and rose & a 10 Lira lake, each bearing the head of Victor Emmanuel III and overprinted “LA CANEA” issued by the Italian Post Office in Crete and two hand printed 1898 20 Parades bright violet imperforate stamps, one postmarked with “ERAKLEION” issued by the British Post Office in Crete?

A brief summary of events in Crete during the late 19th Century that led to direct intervention by the equivalent of the modern day “super powers” provides an explanation.

For a relatively short period of time during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, postage stamps were issued by foreign Post Offices of four countries that were established on the island of Crete. The reasons for their presence and the very different and attractive designs of the stamps form part of the intriguing and eclectic history of the island, especially when the turbulent political history of Crete exploded violently during the last decade of the 19th Century.

A large island in the Eastern Mediterranean, Crete has always been considered to be of significant strategic importance. In 1669, following the defeat of the Venetian Empire, the Ottoman Empire invaded and took control. More recently, during the Second World War, the Germans used Crete as a springboard for the war in North Africa.

Following an armed uprising in 1897 accompanied by a declaration of war by Turkey against Greece, the four Great Powers, consisting of Russia, Italy, Great Britain and France, in a manner perhaps similar to action the modern - day United Nations might take to-day, agreed the urgent need to restore order, firstly by imposing a naval blockade and then by invasion and occupation. In 1898 further unrest resulted in a Turkish mob running amok and killing many hundreds of Cretan Greeks, a number of British soldiers and the British Consul. The occupying forces retaliated and all Turkish forces were expelled from the island.

Crete was occupied by military and administrative forces from the four countries who oversaw an uncertain transition. The territory was divided into regions roughly defined by the boundaries of the four provinces of Crete. These were Chania in the west (Italy), Rethymnon (Russia), Heraklion (Great Britain) and Lassithi in the east (France). Foreign Post Offices were established within each. Representatives from Russia, France, Great Britain and Italy oversaw the negotiations that resulted in the annexation of Crete in 1913 and a unilateral union with Greece when all foreign troops were withdrawn. In the same year Sultan Mehmed V of Turkey finally surrendered any claim to Crete.

A decree issued by the British Assistant Commissioner on the 25th November 1898 established a postal service in the British sector. This was short lived, with the postal service closing on the 24th July 1899, with stamps remaining in use until 1st March 1900. The Post Office was in Heraklion. The first definitive stamps were designed and lithographed by Grundman and Stangel in Athens. They failed to arrive on time. As an interim measure, provisional stamps were made locally that used a design of the Director of the Austrian Post Office in Candia. Each stamp was individually printed using a copper hand-stamp and bright violet ink. Only 3000 stamps were issued of which only half were circulated. Their use was discontinued when the delayed first issue definitive stamps were eventually delivered during December 1898. These had values of 10 Parades (pale blue) and 20 Parades (green). They were printed in sheets of 100 pieces and line perforated 11 ½. A number of postmarks were used by the British Postal Service. They are all one line marks, without a date and were cut from hardwood, probably olivewood.

The Italian Post Office was situated in the sea-port of La Canea. From 1898 until January 1900 it handled only military and official mail. From that date and until its closure in 1914, it also handled civilian post. Overprints of current Italian stamps were used including those bearing the head of King Umberto I (who was assassinated at Monza on the 29th July 1900) and subsequently his son King Victor Emmanuel III. The first overprints used red ink giving the value of “ONE PIASTRA” and later using black ink with the words “ONE PIASTRA” and “LA CANEA”.

The French and Russian Post Offices issued their own stamps concurrently with those of Great Britain and Italy. The Cretan State 1898-1913 and the stamp issues of the Foreign Post Offices offer an interesting insight into a period of significant political change. Following the decision to occupy Crete, the action taken shows the adaptability and inventiveness to what was an essential philatelic need. The Foreign Post Offices dealt with the immediate domestic requirements whilst the longer term future of Crete was considered. The variety of stamps and this brief overview provide a wonderful insight into the philatelic history and its adaptability to the traumatic events of the time and offer a chance to research further and discover more about the issues that ultimately lead to Crete finally becoming part of Greece.


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