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    

Third Reich Mi. #499-507 Scarce Mint Wagner Stamp Set! Cv $400.00Germany Ddr(-1978), Russian Zones, Wonderful Stamps Hinged/mounted In LighthouseNoblespirit~ No Reserve~ 3816/71 Colossal Cv Germany & States Stock Book W/ Saar 11 Stamps Air Mail Stamps Scott C1 Through C11 Mint Nh Og NoresThird Reich Germany 1933-1945 Stamp Collection In Hingeless Lighthouse Album!Germany(1998-2007), Much Euro Face!! Lovely Mint Nh Stamp Collection In A LightGraf Zeppelin Cover Gb 1935 4th South America Flight Uk To Brazil Si. 299Dr Jim Stamps German Olympics Fdc Cover 1936 Strip1936 Germany Olympics Sg Ms613a(a) Used (cat £75)Germany Postcard Third Reich Nurnberg Nuremberg Rally 2-11 September 1938 - 2Germany 1943 - Nazi Hoffmann Postcard Used Jersey Channel IslandsDanzig Germany 16 Air Mail Stamp C15 Through C30 Mint Nh Original Gum Noreserve1840-1933 Saar & Russia Offices In China Collection On Scott Pages1922 Germany 10pf Watermark Mesh Sg 177 Used (cat £275)1936 Germany Olympics Sg Ms613a(b) Used (cat £75)Third Reich Mi. #block 10 Mint Stamp Sheet! Cv $106.50La70579 Germany Poland Occupation Stamps 1940-1944 Fine Good Lot Of Stamps MnhZeppelin Lz129 Hindenburg Cover*1st Flight 1936 Germany - Usa*Graf Zeppelin Cover 1933 6th S/america Flight Luxembourg Return Si#229Germany Ddr(1979-1990), Wonderful Stamps Mounted In A Lighthouse Album, Mint NhGermany Soviet Zone Sbz Very Nice Collection In Schaubek AlbumGermany Postcard Third Reich Nurnberg Nuremberg Rally 9-13 September 1937 - 1Germany Reich Very Nice Used + Mnh (!) Collection In Stockbook - Read:Graf Zeppelin Cover 1933 2nd S/america Flight Luxembourg Return Si. 2141923 Germany 50md Rouletted Sg 341 Used (cat £1100)Germany B292-b293 Vf Cpl Very ScarceLiquidation Of Empire German Propaganda Reproductions Group Of 6 German Colonies #3 - Karolinen OverprintsGerman Colonies #6 - Marianen OverprintsStamps, Germany Reich Lots 8 Booklet, Pane, Mint Never Hinged ( 155 )German States Hannover Early Imperf M&u (21 Stamps) [g7336] A5Nystamps Germany Colonies Offices Rare Stamp Cancellation Collection Much SignedTanganyika - 1917 5r Gea On Reg Cover To England ... Scarce!! (cat £780)Germany Saar Perfin Lot Of Different Design FacesDanzig Germany 5 Air Mail Stamp C31 Through C35 Mint Nh Original Gum NoreserveNystamps Germany Danzig Stamp # B21a Mint Og Nh $110Germany Cols Togo Marianen Samoa Old M&u Lot (appx 37 Stamps)[g7331] A5Germany Interesting Assortment Also 100's Mnh Souvenir SheetsGermany Military Feldpost Stamps 3 X M805 1942, Block Of 8 M895 1944 All Mnh 99pNystamps Germany Stamp # 65a Used $4001921 Memel Registered Airmail Cover To Chemnitz Germany #c3 X 3 - Nice Cover1949 Berlin 75th Anniv. U. P. U. Sg B54-60 Used CatNystamps Germany & World War Ii Reich Stamp Cover Postal Card CollectionDt. Reich Braune Band Block 1937 Mnh Cv $ 250.-East Germany Mint Collection 1975-80 In Lindner Hingeless Springback Stamp AlbumCape Of Good Hope Caroline Is. Castellorizo 1853- 1924 Lot Of 53 On Scott AlbumGermany States Prussia 1850s/60s M&u (23 Stamps) [g7313] (a5)Deutsches Reich Mi. #425-429 Scarce Complete Stamp Set! Cv $270.00German Offices In Morocco Mi. #46-58 Scarce Mint Stamp Set! Cv $73.25Kamerun German Colony Valuable Stamp Collection W/ Kaiser Yachts!Third Reich Mi. #block 7 Mint Stamp Sheet! Cv $32.00Stamps German Reich Nazi Official Dienstmarke Swastica With Labels Mnh La72349 Germany Reich 1937 Hitler Sheet Kulturpspende Cv 130$ MhLindner Hingeless Album For German States, WurttembergGerman Colonies #4 - Kiautschou China OverprintGermany Berlin 75 Jahre Weltpostverein 1949 Mnh Cv $ 1,300.-Nystamps Germany Amazing Rare Stamp Picture Postal Card CollectionGerman Nazi General Govern Stamps-high Value!-complete Set!-1941-mnh-ww2 GermanyGermany C35-c37 Vf Cpl14 Germany 1934 Officials With Printed Margins Mostly Mnh - Just 99p!