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 (occupation Of Rhodes) 1945 Rare Feldpost Air Letter Inselpost OverprintGermany (occupation Of Leros) 1945 Rare Feldpost Cover With Inselpost OverprintNystamps Germany & Danzig Old Stamp Collection Scott Album PageGermany (occupation Of Rhodes) 1945 Rare Feldpost Cover With Inselpost OverprintWild Flea Market And Adventure Box From Germany #371German States Old Stock PageCkstamps : Outstanding Mint Germany Occupation & Ddr Stamps Collection In AlbumNoblespirit~no Reserve~1540/15~very Desirable Germany & Colonies Stamp AlbumNystamps Germany State Old Stamp Collection Album Page !Germany Reich And Areas Interesting Lot 2 Stockbooks7651aj Germany Mint Sheets Collection "inflation Period" - Ideal For SpecialistGermany 1944 - Nazi Hitler Youth Dedication Stamp + Special Postmark On PostcardGermany (occupation Of Rhodes) 1945 Rare Feldpost Letter Weihnachten OverprintWwii Third Reich Postcard Nazi "reichsparteitag Nurenberg '34 " .circulated RrrGermany Berlin Beautiful Album With Complete Mnh Collection From 1954-1990Germany Bund Mint Numeral Collection Lot $100+ Some Signed 99c No Reserve1862 Bavaria 12k Yellow-green Sg 30 Mh/* (cat £130)1849 Bavaria 6k Brown Sg 7 Used (cat £325)Noblespirit~no Reserve~1525/1~very Desirable 2 Vol Germany Album Collection!Noblespirit~no Reserve~1540/16~ Desirable Germany Schaubek Stamp Album!Germany 3rd Reich Large Fine Used Lot All Different , 2 Scans German Occ. Of Ljubljana ( Ww2 ) 1944 - Registered Cover To ItalyGermany Berlin Fine Used Collection In Luxe AlbumGerman Colonies New Guinea,michel Cat.9-19,mint Hinged-mh,cv350$Germany 1945 Volkssturm Pair On Rare Late Wwii Cover Herzberg To.., DeutschlandUpper Silesia 1921 Gorny Slask Imperfs On Pieces Bogutschutz Cancels - (360)Dachau 3k Concentration Camp Letter On Form 28/3/1943 Censored Prisoner MailGermany Soviet Zones Occupation Used Collection In An AlbumNystamps Germany State Large Old Stamp Collection Album Page With MintGermany 1927 Perfin & Consular Scadta Stamps On Air Mail To Colombia.......a5705Germany Ddr Large Mnh Collection In Big Abria AlbumDt. Reich BerufsstGermany Saar 3 Album Pages Collection Lot $$$$$$$ 99c No ReserveDanzig 1 M. Grosser Innendienst 1920 Used Signed Cv $ 3,250.-Dt. Reich Flugpost 1934 Mnh Cv $ 910.-Nystamps Germany Saar Large Old Stamp Collection Album PageGermany 1929 Used Stamp On Zeppelin Air Mail To Egypt......................a5707Wild Flea Market And Adventure Box From Germany #372Third Reich Postcard Nazi Sudenten "bohemia & Moravia" 1938Germany Ww Ii Occupation Of Lithuania, Rokiskis, 2bii-5bii Mnh Signed Krischke Graf Zeppelin Cover Lz 130 Landing Flight To Eger Czechoslovakia - GermanyGerman Colonies Southwest Afrika,michel Cat.24-32,mint Hinged-mh,cv160$Germany In Occupied Poland 1944 Rare Red Cross Maxi Card Set ,deutschland,polskaDeutsches Reich Mi. #424 Scarce Mint Never Hinged Zeppelin Stamp! Cv $175.501951-52 West Germany Posthorn Selection Mh/* (cat £90)Germany In Occupied Italy 1945 Rare Ddp-adria R-cover Trieste Deutschland,italiaNystamps Germany World War Ii Reich Large Stamp & Souvenir Sheet Collection !Nystamps Germany & World War Ii Reich Old Stamp Cover Postal Card CollectionNystamps Germany France Occupation Saar Stamp Cover Collection Seldom SeenGermany Saar 1920 Bavaria Ludwig Issue O/p 5m Fine Used Mi.30East Germany Ddr Used Collection 1949-1990 In 3 Shaubek AlbumsHolocaust 1942 Ww Ii Nazi Germany, Concentration Camp Auschwitz, Ls.Germany 1937 Graf Zeppelin Photocard Used Titisee-england With Special CachetDeutsches Reich Mi. #423 Scarce Mint Never Hinged Zeppelin Stamp! Cv $400.00Dt. Reich Olympiade Blocks 1936 Mnh Cv $ 315.-Germany States Heligoland 1867-1876 Sixteen Mint & Used Values Mi.1-171854 Bavaria 18k Orange Sg 19 Used (cat £275)German Reich 1933 - 1945 Powerfull - Mint & Used - Stamp Collection - High Cv!!!Dt. Reich Iposta Block 1930 Mnh Signed Cv $ 1,950.-Wwii Third Reich Postcard Nazi "reichsparteitag Nurenberg 1934 " .circulated Rrr