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”)



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    

Dt. Reich Nothilfe Block 1933 Mnh Signed Cv $ 9,100.-German State, Bavaria, Wonderful Selection Of Stamps Mounted On PagesGermany In Occupied Czechoslovakia 1943 Unusual Frank R-cover To Deutschland,ww2Germany Ddr 1949-1990 Mnh Collection In Six Super De Luxe Safe Albums - ReadGerman States, Spectacular Stamp Collection Mounted On Pages Germany In Occ Yugoslavia/italy 1944 Ljubljana,very Rare R-cover Lubiana,italiaScarce Registered Fdc Germany China Friendship Mao Tse-tung 1951Germany Scott B91-b92 Mnh 1936 Olympic Souv Sheets+ 1800's German States Lot Collection Some Forgeries ReprintsNystamps Germany Large Mint Stamp & Souvenir Sheet Collection AlbumInteresting Germany 1949 Registered Cover Philacall Germany 1936 Dt. Reich Mi Block 5 X Summer Olympics, Berlin Mnh (331Nice Germany Danzig Collection On Pages Mh/used StampsCkstamps : Outstanding Mint Most Nh Germany & Saar Stamps Collection In PagesGermany Old States Braunsweig 1864 Used Stamp On Folded Cover..............b1847Germany 1937 Brown Ribbon Miniature Sheets Mnh Excellent Condition Ms637a Ms618Philacall Germany 1936 Dt. Reich Mi Block 6 Summer Olympics In Berlin Mnh (332Dt. Reich BerufsstDeu 027 Germany - German Colonies Papua New Guinea Mh Stamps High Cat.value $$Deutsches Reich Valuable Brustschild Shields Stamp Collection! Cv $509.25Deutsches Reich Mi. #15 Scarce Mint Brustschild Shields Stamp! Cv $66.50Noblespirit~no Reserve~3668b/6 Valuable Germany Specialized Album 1933-58 !!!!Dt. Reich Reich+ Kiloware 430gr 15 Ounce Hitler Swastika Nazi Hindenburg Period Ww2Third Reich Mi. #block 10 Stamp Sheet W/ Commemorative Cancel! Cv $175.50Germany Huge Mnh Stock In 6 Big StockbooksGerman State, Wurttemberg, Excellent Stamps Mounted On PagesDeutsches & Third Reich Germany Valuable Stamp Collection W/ 100s Of Stamps!Germany Berlin Very Nice Collection In 2 Schaubek AlbumsGraf Zeppelin Cover 1935 Paraguay 5th South America Retur Flight Full Set Si.304Germany D.reich-1930 Graf Zeppelin South America Mnh SignedNice Germany Saar Collection On Pages Mh/used StampsGermany Posthorns Blocks Of 4x 50, 80 And 90pf (#13874)Noblespirit~no Reserve~3668b/11~berlin Overprint #9n21-32 Mnh Signed =$1,300 CvNystamps Germany Rare Local Stamp Collection Album Page Seldom SeenGermany 1872 (8.5.) Incpl.fold.lett.stralsund To Leith U.k. Mi 4,5 (2)Germany Nazi Era Letter Seal Kanzlei Des FGermany Reich 1934 Professionals Mnh (!) Set - Please Read:Germany 1862 Hannover State On Rare Railroad Cover Lingen To. ,deutschland,trainDeutsches Reich Mi. #13 Scarce Mint Stamp! Cv $186.50Nystamps Germany State Old Stamp & Cancel Collection With MintGermany Sbz + Ddr 1948-1960 Very Nice Collection In Schaubek AlbumNystamps Germany Large Old Stamp Collection Album Page1933 Germany Welfare Strip Of 4 Sg 522-5 Used Cat £2400Graf Zeppelin Cover U.s.a. Uss Los Angeles 1925 Sie.20s Very Rare. Patoka Mi#6aNystamps Germany & Wwii Reich Old Stamp Cover & Postal Card CollectionNice Memel Klaipeda Collection On Pages Mh/used StampsDeutsches Reich Mi. #11 Scarce Used Brustschild Shields Stamp! Cv $675.00German States,baden Year 1862-1865 Sc#24 UsedGermany Reich 1933 Wagner Mi 507 High Value Mnh (!) StampDeu 020 Germany - German Colonies Cameroon With Watermark Mh High Cat. Value German East Africa 1901 5p Postal Card Used From Tanga To England Via ZanzibarGermany 1862 Good Hannover State+border-nr On Rare Railroad Cover ,deutschlandThird Reich Wwii Occupation Montenegro Rare Mint Overprint Stamp!Dt. Reich Braune Band 1938 Mnh Cv $ 195.-Deu 019 Germany - German Colonies Cameroon Without Watermark Mh High Cat. Value Germany Large Mnh Assortment In 13 Circulation BooksDanzig 1930 Scarce Graf Zeppelin "nordland" Flight Cover To Hammerfest In Norway[10161] Germany 1948 Good Very Fine Used Stamp - High ValueGerman East Africa 1891 10pf Forerunner German Postal Card Used From Zanzibar