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    

Germany & Area, British & French Colonies, Wonderful Selection Of 2000+ Stamps I1600 Germany Stamps To 1949 In Scott Specialty Album +several 100's In GlassinesGerman Colony Offices In China Mi. #1ii-6ii Complete Stamp Set! Cv $112.50Germany(-1945), Reich, 4000+ Stamps In A Kabe StocbookGerman Colonies + Pos - Used / Mint Lh Collection W/ Many Better Issues C960Dt. Reich Nothilfe Wagner 1933 Mnh Cv $ 2,925.-German Private Post Hamburg / Hamonia 18?? - Old Scarce Stamp Collection Germany(reich, Many Nh!!), British Col, Excellent Mint Stamps In A Stockbook Germany Ddr 1951 Sino-german Friendship Mao Strip Of 3 On R-cover To The Us C977Germany Unorganized Stamp Collection 2 Stockbooks Album - Much MnhGermany Reich Fine Collection In StockbookNazi Germany 3rd Reich Stamps, Nazi~3rd Reich Currency, Adolf Hitler Post Cards.Germany Colony Kiautschou, Kaiser Yacht, Assortment Of 28 StampsDt. Reich Berufsstände 1934 Mnh Cv $ 715.-Germany Altdeutschland Bavaria Fine Collection Luxe Album With Certificates - ReGermany Chaotic But Interesting Collection In 4 Stockbooks Much Classic MaterialGermany Berlin Black Overprint 1949 Mnh Expertsied Cv $ 585.-Germany Collection In Scott Hingeless Specialty Album, Mostly All MintGerman Colony Offices In China Mi. #2i-6i Scarce Stamp Lot! Cv $180.00Third Reich Mi. #606-607 Mint Never Hinged Zeppelin Stamp Set! Cv $62.50Nystamps Germany Bavaria Old Stamp Collection Stock Page High ValueDt. Reich Ostropa Block 1935 Mh Cv $ 1,430.-Germany Altdeutschland Very Nice Collection Luxe Album W Certificates - ReadBerlin / Germany Stamps In Nice Davo Hingeless Album 1948~1983 G679Upper Silesia Used On Piece (#15469)Deutsches Reich Mi. #114-131 Mint Stamp Set! Cv $87.50German Empire 4 Covers (#15447)German Empire 1872/74 Old Stamps(21) Un/usedG220- Wonderful Antique German Stamp Album With Stamp CollectionThird Reich Mi. #556-564 Mint Never Hinged Stamp Set! Cv $687.508646aj Germany Used Stamp Collection From Classics To Modern - Some Duplicates?Dt. Reich Kolonialforscher 1934 Mnh Cv $ 245.-Germany Ddr 1969/1989 Mnh Collection On PagesGermany Baden Lj3 Cds F Sound $20,000 Scv 99c No ReserveGermany 1923 Infla - 83 Stamps Franking On Cover Wüsting To RusingenGermany Oldenburg 2-3 Cxls Collection Lot $255 Scv 99c No ReserveGerman Colony Marshall Islands Scott 2 Mint Never HingedGermany/german States, Collection Of Early Stamps On 2x Old Album Pages, High CvGermany Berlin Freiheitsglocke 1951 Mnh Cv $ 155.-Nystamps Germany & State Old Stamp Cover Postal Card Collection AlbumNystamps Germany Memel Large Many Mint Nh Old Stamp & Block CollectionGermany In Occupied Czechoslovakia 1942 Hitler Set On Map Fdc/cover DeutschlandGermany Bremen 4a Chalky Paper F-vf App $1,500 Scv Town Cancel 99c No ReservGermany 26 Cds F-vf Sound $2,000 Scv 99c No ReserveGermany States Altdeutschland Bayern Bavaria Six Pages From Imperfs. West Germany Attractive Stamp On Stamp 1948 Cover (#15415)Huge Germany Perfin Letters A-d Lot Of 600++ All Different Designs Germany Altdeutschland Wurtemberg Fine Collection Luxe Album W Certificates - ReThird Reich Mi. #588-597 Mint Never Hinged Stamp Set! Cv $250.00Serbia German Occupation 2nb6 Mh Souvenir SheetGermany I Occ Italy 1944 Rare Ddp-alpenvoland R-cover Ortisei Deutschland,italiaDeutsches Reich Mi. #459-462 Scarce Complete Stamp Set! Cv $175.00Generalgouvernement Wwii Third Reich Occupation Mi. #14-39 Stamp Set! Cv $75.00Germany I Occ Italy 1944 Rare Ddp-alpenvorland R-cover Merano Deutschland,italiaGermany B68 On Registered First Day Cover, Xf (michel €1700.00) 1933German Reich: Last Stamp Issue On Cover, Apr.24th 1945[37320] Berlin 1949 Good Very Fine Mnh Set Of Stamps Value $510==germany Nazi Postcards Full Set Free Shipping==1949 Saar Relief Fund Sg 281-285 Used (cat £750)Germany 1939 Zeppelin Lz 130 Sieger Collection Flight Cover To Bielefeld