We offer this content as an introduction to the stamps and postal history of the German Colonies, courtesy of our member Gannon Sugimura.
Welcome to the world of German colonial philately! Our particular corner of the philatelic world deals with the postage stamps of the ten colonies and three overseas postal networks operated by the German Empire beginning in 1870 and ending with the First World War in 1919. This information is designed to introduce anyone with an interest in this area with some of the background of its postal history, key vocabulary and unique variations. Enjoy!
In the case of the majority of the colonies and offices abroad, Vorläufer are typically stamps of the German Empire that were placed in use before distinctive colonial stamps were issued. A few exceptions do exist. The colonies in the Mariana and Caroline Islands, as well as the post offices in Morocco, had distinctive issues from the first day of postal operations, so there are no Vorläufer known for these areas. Kiautschou Vorläufer are usually stamps of the German Offices in China, but can also be stamps of Germany proper. An example of a Vorläufer from German Southwest Africa (see right) shows an otherwise ordinary German 2 Mark stamp from the 1890s with a cancel applied at the GSWA post office at Keetmanshoop.
The term “Mitläufer” has no direct translation in English, but means approximately “concurrent use” or “tolerated franking.” In the German colonial context, it refers to a stamp of Germany proper accepted as valid at a colonial post office or an office abroad, despite the availability of a local issue. The colonies accepted any stamp valid in Germany as a proper franking, in small quantities, for as long as Berlin remained in control of that colony. Some were created when someone happened to bring German stamps with them to a colony, particularly in the case when a German military vessel happened to call on a port in a German colony. Most were likely to have been created when German stamps purchased before distinctive issues appeared were used up in the course of ordinary postal business. Whatever their origin, Mitläufer are typically encountered in smaller quantities than Vorläufer.
Collecting both Vorläufer and Mitläufer requires obtaining used stamps and knowledge of dates of use. A stamp may have been purchased at a colonial office or a post office abroad, but unless it was also used there, there is no way to absolutely determine this fact. Additionally, determining whether a stamp is a Vorläufer or a Mitläufer requires a clear postmark date to determine whether it was used before or after a colonial replacement was issued. The scan of a Mitläufer (middle image below) shows a clear cancel from Swakopmund, GSWA, applied on 30 July 1898. This stamp was used in GSWA nearly a year after a distinctive stamp with overprint (see bottom right image) was issued in July 1897, making the 1898 usage a Mitläufer.
This can be somewhat complicated for colonies that issued different stamps issued at different times. In the case of Kiautschou, for instance, the first issue produced for that colony was a 5-pfennig stamp created as a local surcharge on a German Offices in China (GOC) 10 pfennig stamp. This surcharged issue was placed on sale on 9 May 1900. To specialists, any GOC or German Empire 5 pfennig stamp used in Kiautschou after that date is a Mitläufer—but any example of the other six denominations available in Kiautschou on that same date continues to be considered a Vorläufer if used prior to the issue of the first “Yacht” stamps in Kiautschou in January 1901.
Many of the colonial and offices abroad stamps were created by overprinting contemporary German stamps. This was done by running sheets of stamps through a printing press which changed a stamp’s denomination, added an additional inscription, or both.
In the case of colonial issues, there was typically one overprinted issue where the name of the colony was overprinted diagonally over the face of the stamp. All of the stamps to which this overprint were applied are examples of the 1889 “Number / Eagle” definitive series. For those colonies with a second such issue, the only difference is the angle at which the overprint was placed. Issues for the Mariana islands, for instance, were placed either at 48 degrees or 52 degrees. All of these overprints are in black (as seen at right).
In the case of issues for the offices abroad, three major types of overprint occur. For China and Morocco, diagonal overprints on the 1889 issue were created. On issues for Turkey, horizontal overprints were issued at the same time, but which were slightly different in ways which will be discussed in a description of that area. All of these overprints were in black.
Once the 1900 “Germania” series appeared, new overprints appeared for all offices, all of which were horizontal and were also in black. An exception to this was the overprint applied to the 3 Mark stamp, which was vertical, on both sides of the stamp, and in red ink. Stamps issued prior to 1905 had overprints in “Lateinschrift” (see middle image below). Issues for 1905 and after were overprinted in “Frakturschrift” (see bottom right image), an ornate Gothic font associated with German printing until the 1940s.
Additionally, the Frakturschrift overprints for China included small additional ornaments, called “rosettes” which were placed so as to cover up the stamp’s original denomination.
Handstamp overprints are encountered, but only as provisional or emergency issues. Stamps with handstamped overprints were issued in the Carolines, China, and Kiautschou.
The “Yacht” series was the first (and only) stamp design specifically produced for use in the colonies but not at the offices abroad. Stamps of this series all show an engraved image of the SMJ Neue Hohenzollern, the Kaiser’s Imperial Yacht and are generally thought of as a keytype series. Printed in Berlin, they match the colors and face values found on contemporary German stamps of the “Germania” series, except that some denominations were never issued for the colonies.
Stamps were issued in two sizes, identical to those in Germany. Those with a face value of less than 1 Mark are smaller than those of 1 Mark and greater, and these two sizes are sometimes referred to as “Small Yachts” and “Large Yachts” respectively. Small Yachts with face values up to 20 pfennig are single color (seen at right), while those from 25 pfennig to 80 pfennig have the ship vignette and the frame of the stamp printed in different colors, some on tinted paper of a third color, and with the colony name and denomination printed in black. Large Yachts are single color except for the high value of the series, which was had one color for the frame and another for the vignette.
The majority of German colonial stamps were printed on ordinary paper. Once distinct stamps were produced for the colonies and offices, stamp colors and printing features matched those of the stamps with the same denominations from Germany proper, as well as equivalent stamps from the other colonies that used the German mark as their currency. This included stamps printed on tinted papers, a feature that first appeared in 1900.
For those colonies that did not use the mark, stamp colors and papers matched as closely as possible whichever German stamp was closest in value to the colonial issue. For example, the $1/2 stamp issued by Kiautschou is the same shade of carmine as a German 1 Mark stamp, as both were equal in value. By contrast, the high values of German East Africa do not match the shades of any current German stamps, as there was no obviously equivalent value (1 rupie = 1,33 Mark).
Beginning in 1905, stamps began to be printed on watermarked paper. German colonial stamps that were not printed on ordinary paper were printed only on paper watermarked with a series of diamond lozenges.
This watermark is “Wz. 1 (Wasserzeichen 1) in the Michel catalogue and “Watermark 125” in Scott (see at left).
The terms Kriegsdruck (war printing) and Friedensdruck (peace printing) are routinely used for stamps issued around the time of the First World War. All German colonial stamps printed on ordinary wove paper are Friedensdruck. For the smaller colonies, the ordinary paper printing of 1900 was large enough that watermarked issues were never issued before the First World War. For the larger colonies, watermarked Friedensdruck printings were made of some denominations, typically the ones which saw the most use. Watermarked Friedensdruck printings of 5 pf and 10 pf stamps were made for every colony that issued any watermarked stamps before the war, for instance.
Kriegsdruck issues, by comparison, exist only on watermarked paper. Most were created in 1916 or later, and at a point when Germany had lost control of the colony in question. These stamps were presumably printed under the assumption that German colonial administration would resume once the war was over. As this never happened, genuine postal use of Kriegsdruck issues is typically impossible. The Allied blockade prevented the Germans from sending such stamps to their colonies, even in the event that they retained control. For nearly all colonies, Kriegsdruck issues were created for the high and low values of the series, i.e. the 3 pfennig and 5 Mark values. For the smaller colonies, these were the only Kriegsdruck stamps printed. Larger colonies may have had other values produced, based on projected, post-war demand.
Distinguishing Kriegsdruck from Friedensdruck can be more of an art than a science. Few absolute statements can be made regarding their differences. In general, Kriegsdruck stamps have darker, more drab colors, and were printed with blurry, unclear, or broken impressions from plates that were wearing down. The paper is typically rougher, and the watermark may also be blurry. For unused stamps, the gum is typically more yellow and has a high gloss. Friedensdruck stamps have clean, clear impressions, are well printed, and have brighter colors. The watermarks are always clear, and the gum (for mint issues) is whiter and has a more matte finish. In the case of higher values (especially the 5 Mark value) there are specific printing and perforation varieties that occur only with Kriegsdruck and can sometimes increase their value.
Below are examples of Friedensdruck and Kriegsdruck front and back respectively