Before the unification of the German Empire in 1871, about half of the 27 individual German states issued their own stamps. Among the most interesting are the low-value stamps created for the states of Brunswick and Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which could be divided into quarters for minor postage needs. Most German stamps at the time featured large numerical denominations surrounded by fanciful scrolls indicating the specific currency and postal service.

Prussia’s first stamps appeared in 1850, portraying Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The king was replaced by the Prussian armorial design in 1861 after his successor, Wilhelm I, initiated this new trend. By the 1860s, other states like Bavaria had adopted designs emblazoned with their official coat of arms at center and the monetary value marked along the border. Armorial imagery generally included conventional symbols like castles, lions, crowns, keys, and dragons.

After the North German Confederation was established in 1868, the stamps of individual member states were substituted with numerical designs in either groschen or kreuzer currencies for the northern and southern regions, respectively. The unification of 1871 inspired stamps featuring the German eagle emblem to showcase the strength of a consolidated German Empire. A special issue from 1899 shows the actress Anna Führing in her popular role as Germania, wearing full battle gear and looking severely toward an unseen enemy.

Germany became the first country to produce stamps using photolithography in 1911 with a series celebrating the 90th birthday of Prince Regent Luitpold; two years later, stamps featuring the Luitpold’s son Ludwig III were the first to use the photogravure process.

Designs from the Weimar Republic era, which began in 1919, still incorporated the established title “Deutsches Reich,” or “German State,” but highlighted imagery of the labor class. Special issues of this era often had high premium costs to benefit state welfare funds. The hyperinflation of German currency in 1923 required overprinting for many German stamps to match new values which changed faster than designs could be released. The highest stamp value was eventually raised to 50 billion marks, with stamps labeled “50 milliard.”

Many of the most collectible German stamps come from the great period of upheaval which began with Hitler’s ascent to power in the 1930s and lasted through 1949, when two distinct German states were established. In 1933, the National Socialist Worker’s Party appointed Hitler as chancellor and shortly after the passage of the “Enabling Act” gave him absolute power. Under the Nazis, philately was used as a means for disseminating state propaganda, as seen in many stamps from the 1930s, like the design featuring ominous, disembodied hands extending toward a giant glowing swastika.

Other stamps celebrated the expansion of the Reich, including the acquisition of the Saar region which inspired stamps featuring a symbolic embrace between mother and child. As G...

Finally, in 1941, Hitler replaced the classic portrait of Paul von Hindenburg on the country’s definitive stamps with his own image. Two years later, in the midst of World War II, Germany introduced stamps commemorating its attacks on Poland and began labeling postage “Grossdeutsches Reich” or “Great German State.”

After the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, Germany’s postal system was completely wrecked, and many systems appeared to fill the voids. Very popular today are the stamps bearing Hitler’s portrait which were still used in eastern Germany where the Soviets had no immediate provisions for a new postal service. These stamps were routinely altered so that Hitler’s face was no longer visible, and only circulated for a few months following the war.

The occupying allied forces each issued stamps, creating unique versions for each postal zone within their own territories. Additional series of generic stamps for use in all of the American, British, and Soviet zones were created beginning in 1946, including the modernist series depicting a pair of hands breaking free from chains while reaching for a dove carrying an olive branch. Many municipalities again released their own stamps with charity surcharges to aid in reconstruction.

Finally, in 1949, the three western occupied zones became the Federal German Republic while the Soviet territory became the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The western portion of Berlin was officially ceded as a province of the Federal Republic in 1950, and would issue its own stamps through 1990. Stamps used in West Berlin were often just modified versions of the Federal Republic’s original designs, like the 1971 stamp commemorating the German postal service’s centenary.

Stamps in the GDR emphasized historical communist figures and anniversaries, as well as an idealized working class. The GDR also recognized many painful moments from Germany’s recent past, with series memorializing the Kristallnacht riots or the terror of concentration camps. However, the GDR’s postal service still attempted to censor philately that suggested problems with communism. For example, in 1965, a stamp commemorating the 20th anniversary of refugees fleeing East Germany was produced by the German Federal Republic; letters marked with this postage and mailed to the East were either returned or had their stamps painted over.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the currency of East Germany was replaced by the Deutschmark, and new stamps were printed reading simply “Deutsche Post.” One of the earliest designs depicted the reunification of Berlin, with revelers climbing the wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

First shown in 2008 to celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 15th anniversary, Alphabetilately is esse… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

7266aj Germany & States Mainly Early Used Stamp Collection - Unusal Selection ??1944 Germany Laibach Occupation Italy Air Cover, Fantastic Franking, RarityNystamps German States Bavaria Stamps # 1 Used $20001944 Germany Occupation Kotor Italy Cover, Superb Franking, "vinceremo", Unique3043. German South West Africa #17,21,26-34 Mlh/nh(32,34)Germany Reich 1933-1945 Complete Collection Signed1943 Zara Germany Occ Wwii Of Italy 10 Colors Cover, Great Rarity, L@@k7273aj Germany & States Collection Mint & Used Stamps - Mainly Classics - View ?Germany Reich And Areas Nice Collection In 2 Stockbooks3046. German East Africa #41 1908 MhWild Flea Market And Adventure Box From Germany #301Marienwerder, Excellent Stamps Mounted On A Kabe Page2988. Lot Of India Native Feudatory States Old Stamps Mh/usedGermany Reich 1923-1932 Complete Collection SignedGermany German States Oldenburg Mint And Used Old Stamps On Album Page Huge CvMemel, Excellent Stamps Hinged/mounted On Kabe Pages7272aj Germany & States Collection Mint & Used Stamps - Mainly Classics - View ?Nystamps German States Bavaria Stamps # 3 Used $240Germany Reich 1935 Ostropa Sheet Unused Margin Tear - Faults [g9471]Nystamps Germany State Old Stamp Collection With Mint & High Value1936 Danzig Germany To Usa Zeppelin Hindenburg Cover, Pink Special Cancel !!!Germany, Wwii Russian Occupation, Excellent Stamps On A Kabe PagesZs-m353 Germany - Zeppelin, Weltrundfahrt 1929 Si. 30ab To Los Angeles Usa Cover3047. German New Guinea #16,17,18,23 1900-14 MlhDt. Reich Iposta Block 1930 Mnh Cv $ 1,950.-Wild Flea Market And Adventure Box From Germany #300Danzig Good Collection, 185 Stamps...Noblespirit~no Reserve~3663/91$2,257 Cv Germany States & Colonies Pages Coll.!!Germany Bund Fine Early Used Collection In Lighthouse AlbumGermany, Wwii Polish Occupation, Excellent Stamps On Kabe PagesRussia Pleskau Excellent 1942 Registered Cover Ww2 Occupation Nice!!Dt. Reich Flugpost Polarfahrt Zeppelin 1931 Mnh Cv $ 5,200.-Germany Large Used Collection In 5 Neat Big StockbooksGermany, Inflation, Reich, Post Wwll, Empire, 350+ Old Covers, Postcards, & OthNystamps Germany State Wurttemberg Old Stamp Collection Scott Album PageNystamps Germany Stamp # 65a Used $400Germany Thurn And Taxis, Stamp On Stamp Cover, 3x 3kr (10859)1931 Germany Deutschland Reich Polarfahrt 2rm Vf Used B10.38 Start $ 0.99Germany Berlin 75 Jahre Weltpostverein 1949 Mnh Cv $ 1.300.-7257aj Germany Mint And Used Stamp Collection + Minisheets - Some Duplication ?Germany Classic Assortment In 2 StockbooksGermany:1872-large Grouping Of Eagles W/ Small &lg.shields: 100+ Stamps3048. German Mariana Is. #26-29 Comp. Set 1901 Mlh/mnh(29)Portrait Of Adolf Hitler Third Reich Photo Postcard PinholesNystamps German States Baden Stamps # 24 Used $575Ckstamps: Lovely Mint & Used Germany Ddr,danzig Stamps Collection In Album PagesZs-l674 Germany - Zeppelin, To Brazil 1931 Sudamerikafahrt Si.124db CoverWest Berlin, Berlin Relif Fund Green Fine Used Cat £200German Offices In Turkey Valuable Stamp Collection!Germany Colonie Cover Classic China Japan (t075)German Occupation Of Poland Scott Type Oos1 Mint Never Hinged Scarce Proof3045. German East Africa #40 1905-16 MlhNystamps Germany World War Ii Reich Stamp Postal Card Collection Scott Album PgGermany Mi#block 1 Istropa Mnh Nystamps German States Baden Stamps # 1 Used $2250Germany Berlin Fine Used Collection In Lighthouse AlbumClassic Lot Germany Deutschland Reich Nothilfe Vf Mh B12.4 Start $ 0.99Noblespirit~no Reserve~1533/30 Desirable Germany Mint Sheet File!!7270aj Germany Collection Covers & Receipts (postal History) - Unusal SelectionGermany Colonie Cover Classic China Japan (t068)