The Albania Double Headed Eagle Overprints

16/01/2013     Birds on stamps, Albania

We often offer examples of Albanias first stamps which were Turkish issues overprinted with the unmistakable Albanian double-headed eagle. Their place in philatelic history may indirectly help to explain and unravel some of the history and mystery that is often associated with Albania. These are exceptional examples of Albania’s legendary third stamp issue of June 1913 bearing the Double Headed Eagle overprint, which were a short lived and desperate response to economic and political conditions following the then recent establishment of the Vlorë Government. The issue was only available for sale to the general public between June 13th and early October 1913, though never officially withdrawn and some were still available from smaller post offices until December.

The history of Albania is complex. The student is faced with a momentous task to unravel and identify a rapidly changing chain of events that have accompanied Albania’s turbulent development. This was particularly evident in the first half of the 20th century. It is no surprise that Albania’s closely linked philatelic history also requires a similar level of careful research to help understand how traumatic changes influenced the country’s philatelic development, whose native name is Shqipënia, meaning ‘Land of the Eagles’. Albania’s national emblem is the Double Headed Eagle which appears on the national flag.

Invasion and domestic political feuds created international isolation and until very recently prevented economic growth and stability. Even now, recovery is slow as Albania endeavours to catch up for lost time.

Albania has boundaries with Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. The country has a coast on the Adriatic Sea. Italy is approximately 45 miles across the Strait of Otranto to the west and to the south west is the Ionian Sea. For many years, the country remained internally fragmented with consequent barriers to improving postal communications. On the 28th November 1912 the new government of Prime Minister Ismail Qemali declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in the coastal City of Vlorë, then the capital of Albania. This ended nearly 500 years of Turkish control. The new administration’s plans for reform were resisted by splinter groups elsewhere in the country. In 1914 the Vlorë Government surrendered its powers to an Italian Commission. Albania became a Republic in 1925 and a Monarchy under William of Albania subsequently King Zog I in 1928. Invasion by the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany followed and after 1945 Albania became an isolated Communist State. During this period, like many Eastern Bloc countries anxious for overseas revenue, there were as many as ten commemorative stamp issues annually. The regime collapsed in 1992 and Albania then again became a Republic.

Albania’s first Minister of Post and Telegraph, under the new Government of 1912, was Lef Nosi, who was an enthusiastic philatelist. He immediately wanted to develop Albania’s postal services. In May 1913 the first Albanian stamps were issued. These were a single stamped ink seal either applied directly or on separately stamped pieces of paper stuck to envelopes. A second issue followed shortly afterwards. This time the seal was two-concentric circles.

On June 16th the third issue was released for sale at post offices. Rather than seals, stocks of unused stamps inherited from the Ottoman Empire and dating from the period between the years 1908-1909 were made available. The stamps were overprinted with an ink hand-stamp depicting the Double Headed Eagle together, at the base, the word Shqipënia. The hand stamps were manufactured in Italy. The overprint obliterated the tughras (calligraphic monogram or signature) of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and after 1908 of Sultan Mohammed V Reshad that originally appeared on the Ottoman stamps and also partially covered individual Piastra and Para values. It is estimated that only just over 35,000 overprinted stamps were available for sale to the public (refer Kröger). Whilst it is generally acknowledged that the Albanian postal service would not have placed a priority on recording which Ottoman stamps nor the Plates and Designs that were used, it is accepted that they are those listed by SG as Nos.1 to 15 and Michel as Nos. 3 to 15. These include various colours and shades, different values from 2 Para to 50 Piastra, postmark interest, inverted hand stamps and designs. It is also known that in addition to black ink, red, brown-red, violet and blue inks were used in producing the Double Headed Eagle overprints. The stamps have perforation gauges of either 12 or 13½.

Against such a fragmented background of social and political upheaval it is perhaps easier to appreciate the difficulties there are in looking in isolation at such a rapidly changing landscape. There was a need for revenue. Overprinting was an inexpensive means to an end. These stamps are relatively scarce and offer another small piece of evidence that perhaps helps to explain how and why Albania has developed over the past one hundred years.

The country is now a Parliamentary Democracy with a population of approximately 3 million. The capital is Tirana and despite recent significant migration, has a growing economy and has improving relations with other countries including those in NATO, which Albania joined in 2009. Membership of the EU is pending.

Early Albanian stamps and postal history is a fascinating area, the scarcity of so many items cannot be overstated yet prices are still within the reach of most collectors. We expect that once EU membership arrives, along with the single currency, that situation will change!


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