Philately of Czechoslovakia for Beginners

by Phillips B. Freer 
As a social hobby, philately relies on the interchange of postal data and ideas between stamp collectors. If you ever tried to join a club whose members looked upon you more as an intruder than as someone interested in sharing and exchanging ideas, you invariably dropped out of that group. And if such an experience repeated itself two or three more times, you would doubtless lose interest in the hobby itself.


But with the S.C.P. (Society for Czechoslovak Philately), my experience has been just the contrary. And so it is that when you find yourself surrounded by persons willing and anxious to have you participate in their philatelic endeavors, their enthusiasm rubs off. You acquire an incentive to help them help you in understanding and enjoying your newly-discovered interests.


Before we go any further, a few words regarding the past history of the Czechoslovak Republic. As a nation, Czechoslovakia has had a turbulent century. Starting with its independence in 1918 was the so-called First Republic era which came to a screeching halt with Hitlers occupation of the lands in 1939. Then came the second phase known as the Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate era during which Slovakia enjoyed a so-called period of “independence” under the sponsorship of the Third Reich. The end of World War II gave the country a brief return to freedom until 1948, when it fell under Communist domination and was then known as CSSR. Finally, starting with January 1990, its post-World War II democracy was restored under the name of the Czechoslovak Federated Republics. As of January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia, as a political entity, was peacefully divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


Now, how do you begin a collection of Czechoslovakia? The beginner can start with No. 1 and collect all stamps up to the present time until you have everything up to the last stamp issued. That is one way of doing it. However, you will not only run into difficulties, but you will have passed up some very exciting and interesting aspects of Czechoslovak philately. In other words, dont be satisfied to become just an accumulator. I suggest that after you become better acquainted with various issues you concentrate on a specific issue or a specific phase of Czech philately before going on to other issues or phases.


The beginner starting his or her collection logically with the First Republic is advised to acquire as many copies of the first and second sets of the Hradcany issue as possible. Most of them are not expensive. In gathering these stamps, do not mount them. Instead, place them on stock pages or in a stock book where they can be readily examined and rearranged.


I am making this suggestion for several reasons. First, you will notice that all these stamps have the exact same theme and picture, namely the Hradcany Castle in Prague. Behind the castle one can see the rising sun. Actually, the sun can neither rise nor set in that scene behind the castle. It is merely symbolic of the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 28, 1918. Secondly, all the stamps seem to have exactly the same design, but that is deceptive. Actually, each of those 53 stamps can be listed under one of five different types. There are two sets in this issue. The first set consists of 20 stamps, some of which are imperforate and some perforated. The second set comprises 33 stamps, some of which are imperforate and some perforated. All the imperfs were officially issued, but only some of the perforates are official. Those that are not were privately perforated.


The Hradcany issues can be classified under five different types. The first set appears in Types I and II, whereas the second set is made up of Types III, IV, and V. Can these two sets be easily distinguished? Fortunately, yes!

The first set has the words “POěTA ESKO-SLOVENSKA” along the top and the two vertical borders, while the second has the same text on a horizontal line just below the picture. And this is also one of the differences between the first two Types and the last three. Illustrated here are the five different Types. Look closely and see if you can find the other less obvious differences. (Figure l)

Figure 1
Figure 1
(click for larger image)

A word about the design of the Hradcany stamps. At the time Czechoslovakia first gained its independence in 1918, there lived in Prague a graphic artist of world renown. His name was Alfons Maria Mucha. He was a leading exponent of French Art Nouveau, and the Hradcany issue is a shining example of that style. The printing press in those days consisted of four panes, each containing room for 100 stamps. Obviously, there were some slight variations from one stamp to the next. An instance of a redrawn design in the Hradcany issues which is easily detectable under magnification is found in the second set . Look closely at the left-hand and right-hand framework design. The differences are seen in Figure 2, type IV is on the right, type V on the left.

Figure 2
figure 2
(click for larger image)

Apart from these design variations, there were also plate faults or flaws in the plate itself. Since plates wore out after constant use, they had to be replaced by new plates. Thus, we have another category of nomenclature, i.e. Plate I, Plate II, Plate III, etc. Since faults existing on one plate did not carry over to another plate, a specialist who seeks to identify a fault on a Hradcany stamp must list its position on the sheet as well as the plate on which the fault was found.


Do the issues of all the subsequent stamps printed in Czechoslovakia have as many varieties, errors, faults, and differences as the first 53 stamps? Of course not! With each succeeding issue, the Ministry of Posts in Prague learned more about producing fine postage stamps through its designers, engravers and print mills and gradually eliminated most of the problems encountered with the First Issue.

Addressing myself to the beginner in Czech philately, I think that in collecting every Hradcany stamp he can find, even if it appears to be a duplicate of what he already has, the beginner will soon notice those minute differences. Not only will it provide him with a sense of pleasure at being able to corroborate the work of experts, but it will serve to expand his collection from a basic to a specialized one. Critics often label this as “fly-speck” philately which, in an exaggerated sense, is true. However, these “fly-specks” were not manufactured intentionally. They were the result of trial and error in the development of fine stamps, and they therefore deserve their place in the schematics of specialized collecting.


Hence, if the beginners aim is ultimately to gather enough material to put together as complete as possible the story of a Czech issue, and perhaps to prepare an exhibit, the first and second sets of the Hradcany issue are the ideal places to start. However, do not take this to mean that the Hradcany stamps are the beginning and end to any philatelic challenge one might expect from collecting Czechoslovakia. There are many, many more fascinating phases of Czech philately as will be seen in the following pages.


A final word regarding the Hradcany stamps. As has been mentioned, the stamps were designed by Alfons Mucha. Several months after the stamps were first issued, the historian Jundich NovaÔek interviewed Mucha and asked him why he has chosen Hradcany Castle as the motif for the first stamps. Muchas reply was, “Why I decided on Hradcany Castle as the symbol for our first postal issue? Every nation has a palladium of its own embodying past and future history. Ever since my boyhood I felt and saw in the architectural lines of St. Vitus Cathedral built so close to the castle, a powerful interpretation of our national symbol. I could, therefore, select no other subject for my design than Hradcany Castle and the surrounding architecture of the Middle Ages.”


His words were well chosen and most appropriate. His essay, or sketched proposal, on Hradcany was not the only one submitted for the first stamp of Czechoslovakia. There were at least ten others.


Following the Hradcany stamps were the first of many stamps bearing the likeness of Thomas Masaryk, the founder and first President of Czechoslovakia. These stamps were designed by Max ěvabinsky, who was destined to become one of the country’s great designer artists. The Masaryk set comprises three oversized stamps with denominations of 125h, 500h, and l000h, all perforated 13á and all available as imperfs. The basic issue is a simple one, though there is a color variety of the 125h. In addition, there are a number of plate faults and printing varieties and a myriad of color proofs. Like Hradcany, the first Masaryk set has been and still is a favorite subject of philatelic literature. ( Figure 3).

Figure 3
figure 3

Also, in 1920 the first of a series of allegory stamps were issued. Of these, Jaroslav Bendas letter-carrier pigeon was the first. It comprised eight stamps with six denominations:5h, l0h, 15h, 20h, 25h, and 30h. However, the 5h and the l0h exist in two different colors. They are all comb perforated 14 and are available as imperfs. (See Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4

The second allegory is referred to as the Chainbreaker, symbolizing the country in the form of a woman breaking the chains of bondage. The set, designed by V. H. Brunner, consists of eleven stamps of ten denominations: 20h, 25h, 30h, 40h, 50h, 60h, l00h, 150h, 185h, and 250h. They are comb perforated 14 as well as imperf. The 50h exists in two different colors. (Figure 5)

Figure 5
Figure 5


These two sets popularized the tête-bêche, which is the French term for two stamps that are printed upside down, relative to each other. (See Figure 6). The reason for them as well as for gutter margin tête-bêche, is that in 1921 a private company proposed that these stamps be printed in booklet form, and the company agreed to pay the cost of printing so long as blank spaces be provided in each sheet of stamps where company advertising would be inserted. However, the deal fell through but the stamps had already been printed. The arrangement of the stamps on a sheet for booklet use resulted in a considerable number of tête-bêche pairs. The stamps in these booklets were perforated 13â.

Figure 6
Figure 6
(click for larger image)


Both the Letter-Carrier Pigeon, sometimes referred to as the “Dove Stamps”, and the Chainbreaker stamps can furnish the beginner, as well as the experienced collector, with hours of enjoyable research. Not only are there shade and color varieties, but there is actually a slight design variety in the Chainbreaker. This variety is found in the 40h. (See Figure 7). It is called Type I if there are nine leaves on the right side of the womans hip, and Type II if there are ten leaves to the right of the womans hip.

Figure 7
Figure 7


During 1920-1925, stamps known as the Agriculture and Science series were issued. I find these stamps one of the most interesting of the New Republic. Their design shows a seated figure holding a sheaf of wheat with the left arm and supporting an open book with the right arm. (See Figure 8). In front of the book, and extending upward from it, is a linden tree from which leaves are growing. In the upper right-hand corner is a buried sword from which leaves are sprouting.

Figure 8
Figure 8

There is a difference of opinion regarding two things in connection with this stamp. First, this issue is referred to as the Agriculture and Science issue here in the United States. Some European philatelists call it the Economy and Science issue. Second is the question regarding the sex of the seated figure. Some say it is a man. Others claim it is a woman. At the moment I think it is a woman. Tomorrow I will probably contend it is a man.


The stamps of the first series were issued in 1920 and were in six values: l00h, 200h, 300h, 400h, 500h, and 600h. The 1923 issues were in denominations of l00h, 200h, and 300h but in different colors. They were withdrawn from use on December 31, 1925.


The overall design of these issues is common to all values, but differences in the numerals within the upper left-hand oval can be found. As for the three values which were issued in 1923, at least three types are recognized. These three types are distinguished by the characteristics of the three leaves directly below the “PO” in “POěTA” and by the left side of the numeral oval. Figure 9 illustrates the three types as identified by the appearance of the leaves. Note how the veining differs in each of the types. As for the oval, the scalloping on the outer left side of the oval signifies the differences in the types. Note also that the triangle beneath the leaves varies in position and in shape.

Figure 9
Figure 9


The basic perforation of all values is 14. However, several of the 1920 series are found perforated 14 x 13á, and all of them exist imperforate. All three values of the 1923 series exist perforated both 14 and 14 x 13 á.


In 1922 three of the 1920 series were overprinted for use as airmail stamps. In so doing, the Ministry of Posts changed the l00h by overprinting it as 50h. The 200h was overprinted l00h and the 400h became 250h. In 1926 the 300h, 400h, 500h, and 600h of the same series were overprinted as postage due stamps, and their values were changed to 40h, 50h, and l00h respectively.


Total counterfeits the Agriculture and Science issues are not known. However, the airmail overprints have been forged. Attempts have also been made to create imperforate stamps from perforated copies. Because of this fact, collectors are advised not to accept allegedly imperforate stamps of this issue unless the margins exceed those of their perforated equivalents.


Because of the popularity of this set and the interest it has generated worldwide, there is much literature to be found for the benefit of those wishing to delve further. The Czechoslovak Specialist, the official journal of the Society for Czechoslovak Philately, has published at least five articles over the past fifty years on this subject, and members may borrow this material from the Society library. For those who can read Czech, Monografie, Vol. II, has an entire chapter about this set starting on page 362. This volume can also be borrowed from the Society library.


In 1920 two stamps were issued depicting a Hussite priest. (Figure 10) These stamps commemorated the Hussite movement which was in conflict with dogma of the Catholic Church in the 15th century. The movement gets its name from the founder, Jan Hus, who was born in the late 14th century in Husinec in southern Bohemia. Hus received a Master of Arts degree in 1396 and was ordained a priest in 1400.

Figure 10
Figure 10


The conflict between Hus and the Church was brought about by Hus belief that the laity should have the right to partake of both bread and wine at communion. Hence the chalice became the chief emblem of the Hussite movement. The Hussite Priest with Chalice seen on the two stamps is actually from the portrait of Hus himself as a young priest painted by Alfons Mucha. Hus was excommunicated by the Pope, and in 1414 he appeared before the Council of Constance where he was condemned and was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.


The story behind the issuance of these two stamps is somewhat unusual. Alfons Mucha originally designed the stamp as a single issue with a l00h denomination. The numerals appeared in the lower left and lower right corners with the following text between them: “Droite a la Coupe” (The Rights of the Chalice).


Some government officials argued that only the Czech language should appear on stamps of Czechoslovakia. Still others believed that the text offended those who embraced the Catholic faith. The words were therefore omitted from the final design. Furthermore, members of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications felt there were ample stamps already in circulation with the l00h denomination. Since the Hussite Priest raised a few eyebrows among religious non-reformists, the denominations of 80h and 90h were agreed upon inasmuch as the need for those values was generally small. Finally, when the two stamps were issued, one major political party objected to their issuance. This objection was circumvented by a compromise under which only a limited number of post offices throughout the country were to be supplied with the stamps, which would remain valid for postal use for only ten months. This was done despite the fact that more than four million copies of each stamp were printed. However, a large supply of the Hussite Priest in both values was retained in Pragues main post office where they could be purchased at face value through 1935. It is for that reason that, although the stamps themselves are readily available even today, covers bearing those stamps are not at all common.


Statistically, the stamps were printed by neo-type in sheets of 100. The 80h is purple; the 90h, brownish black. These colors, along with the design, make them appear somewhat drab and unattractive. These stamps were line perforated 13 â as well as imperforate. Issued in June 1920 and withdrawn from official use in April 1921, they are probably the least popular of the First Republic sets.


The stories behind many stamps can be as fascinating as the stamps themselves. In this case the story accompanying the issuance of the Hussite Priest stamps is even more fascinating. What a treasure lies in store for the new collector of Czechoslovak philately!


When referring to Czechoslovakia, we think of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk as the “Father of the Country.” He, above all others, led the pre-Armistice campaign to bring the Czechs and Slovaks under one banner to establish Czechoslovakia as a free nation. He was the driving force behind Woodrow Wilson’s plan for a post-War Europe in 1918. His reward, as we all know, was to be the Republic’s first President. It is, therefore, logical that his picture appear on some of the country’s earliest stamps. The first Masaryk stamp has been previously mentioned, but some more information on this first Masaryk stamp may be of some interest.


The first day of issue was March 7, 1920, for the last two stamps, and August 23, 1920, for the 125h stamp. The set was withdrawn from circulation on January 31, 1923. The 500h had a slate color and was printed in a quantity of 525,000. The l000h stamp was dark brown with 5,000,000 copies printed. The 125h had a blue color and an ample quantity of 17,590,000. The quantity in this instance should alert the newcomer to Czechoslovak philately of their relative value. It should also be borne in mind that a limited quantity of each stamp was overprinted “SO 1920”. This overprint will be mentioned later on.


Another noteworthy Masaryk set was the one issued on October 27, 1923, in a quantity of only 140,000, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Republicis independence. It appeared in denominations of 50h, l00h, 200h, and 300. (Figure 11). On May 11, 1925, the first three stamps were overprinted“Congres Olymp. Internat. – Praha 1925” and on June 1, 1926, the entire set was overprinted “VIII Slet VÔesokolsky-Praha 1926”.

Figure 11
figure 11
(click for larger image)

This set led to the release of another related Masaryk issue comprising three stamps with denominations of 40h, 50h, and 60h. (See Figure 12). Apart from the denominations, see if you can distinguish the differences in design between this set and the one in Figure 11.

Figure 12
figure 12
(click for larger image)

Just to complicate matters, the set shown in Figure 11 was reissued together with the set shown in Figure 12 but with different values (1k, 2k, 3k, and 5k) and in no less than seven different Types. These Types vary in size and, in some instances, in color and perforation.


But what is most important about these last two sets is that they are the first stamps of Czechoslovakia to be produced on watermarked paper. The watermark is of linden leaves, the linden tree being the countrys national tree. There are eight different positions of watermarks on these stamps, and they are shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13

Figure 13
(click for larger image)

The first three of these stamps were produced by photogravure and the rest were engraved, there being four different engravings. In order to properly identify individual stamps in this series, very close attention must be given, under magnification, to the size of the stamp, perforations, watermark positions, and the distinctive marks of the different engravings.


As mentioned before, the first Masaryk stamp was first placed on sale March 7, 1925, on the 75th birthday of President Masaryk, and special postmarks in red were used on covers bearing these stamps in the cities of Praha 1, Kosice 1, Opava 1, and Pardubice 1. These postmarks were used for one day only and are not to be confused with favor cancellations.


I would suggest that any collector who has a special interest in the Masaryk stamps obtain a copy of Henry Hahn’s publication, Stamps with a Portrait of T. G. Masaryk. This booklet can be purchased from the book sales manager of our Society.





Up to this point I have discussed the early stamps of the First Republic. Considering that Czechoslovakia became a free nation in October 1918, the only stamps that were being used during the first two years of its existence were intended for surface mail. Europe did not start issuing airmail stamps until 1920 and then only on an experimenta1 basis. Furthermore, Czechoslovakia was confronted with a unique problem: postal services in the new Republic had to continue uninterrupted from the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and, therefore, some sort of stamps had to be provided.


By decree of the new government in Prague, Austrian and Hungarian stamps were valid as postage until the end of February 1919. In the meantime, the newly formed Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications rushed to print its own stamps, the first of which were not issued until December 1918. That left almost two months when Austrian and Hungarian stamps enjoyed usage in the new Republic. During that time, certain private parties designed their own overprints which were used on Austrian stamps. Those included Mares’ (“CESKO-SLOVENSKÝ STAT”, Figure 14), Horner (“CESKO-SLOVENSKÝ STAT”, see Figure 15), Srobar and Rossler-Otovsky (“PROVISORNÍ CESKOSLOVENSK VLÁDA”, see Figure 16). These were used on Austrian stamps. Other overprints include Skalica, Zilin, and Chust. These were used on Hungarian stamps. Stamps with these overprints were postally used and canceled on covers. Counterfeits abound.


Figure 14
Figure 15
Figure 16
figure 14
Figure 15
figure 16

In the meantime, the Ministry of Posts prepared a series of overprints, “POěTA CESKOSLOVENSKA 1919”, which are found on many Austrian and Hungarian stamps but which experienced virtually no postal usage. Despite their non-use, many counterfeits exist, and collectors, especially beginners, are warned to seek expertization of any overprinted stamps they wish to acquire.


As mentioned earlier, much of Europe was experimenting with airmail during 1920, but there were few, if any, regularly scheduled flights or routes. Czechoslovakia finally took part in the signing of agreements for airmail flights abroad. But, again, the country had no airmail stamps of its own, so, as a temporary measure, early Hradcany issues, both imperf and perf, were overprinted and surcharged with new values to serve as Czechoslovakias first airmail stamps.


The first overprints were as follows: 14k on 200h ultramarine (reddish overprint), 24k on 500h red-brown (blue overprint), and 28k on l000h red-violet (green overprint). (See Figure 17). 300,000 copies of those denominations were overprinted with a high-wing monoplane, a surcharge value in the center near the bottom of the stamp, and an airplane propeller on each side of the value. Counterfeits of the overprints exist, and expertizing is advised.

Figure 17
Figure 17

The first flights were scheduled for transport of mail from Prague to Paris, Prague to London, and Prague to Warsaw. In some instances, emergency landings had to be made before final destination was reached, and the postal authorities did not guarantee direct air delivery in such cases.


The original air mail rate for a letter was quite high, and, hence, the public made little use of airmail. As a result, genuinely flown covers during this early period are quite scarce. From October 5, 1920, to March 31, 1921, there were perhaps only four or five hundred genuinely flown covers, which means that existing ones are of considerable value.


On March 27, 1921, the Ministry of Posts announced a reduction in the air mail rate which took effect on April 1, 1921. The new rates were Prague to Paris, 3k; Prague to Strasbourg, 1.50k; and Prague to Warsaw, 1.50k. The use of airmail stamps immediately increased.


Official airmail labels were printed for the Paris, Strasbourg, and Warsaw flights. The labels were perforated, and the text was in Czech as well as in French.


In 1922 three values of the Agriculture and Science issue of 1920 were overprinted for use as airmails. They are the 50h on l00h, the l00h on 200h, and the 250h on 400h (see Figure 18). The overprint and surcharge markings of these three stamps are somewhat different from the Hradcany overprints. There is the same monoplane, but above and a bit to the left are two propellers, and the surcharge is also below the airplane but on the right-hand side of the stamp.

Figure 18
Figure 18

Returning to overprints for regular surface mail use, even though Czechoslovakia issued its own stamps the latter part of 1918, stamps of Austria and Hungary remained valid for postal use until the end of February 1919. They were then withdrawn and sent to Prague where they were supposedly overprinted instead of being destroyed. The reason for this was to avoid waste in destroying so many millions of stamps. No doubt there was some philatelic motivation behind the expense of overprinting so many stamps, especially in view of the fact that by then Czechoslovakia had already printed its own first issues.


One of the earliest overprints is known as the HLUBOKA overprint named after the location of the originator, a man by the name of MareÔ who had a die made and overprinted a total of 42 different Austrian stamps with it. Apparently, almost all, if not all, of these overprints were placed on covers which went to philatelists.


Another overprint, of which examples of stamps bearing the overprint are still sometimes available, is the so-called Homer overprint. Josef Homer was a stamp dealer who became dissatisfied with the service provided by MareÔ and hired the same engraver used by MareÔ to produce another overprint. The same Austrian stamps as were used by Mareš were overprinted with the Homer overprint plus a few more. There were other overprints on both Austrian and Hungarian stamps but the one of most interest to collectors is found on both Austrian and Hungarian stamps which are considered in some catalogs as semi-postals. The overprint, usually in diagonal form, is “POěTA CESKOSLOVENSKA 1919” (see Figure 19). These overprints are found on 1916-1919 Austrian postage stamps, newspaper stamps, special handling, air post, and postage dues, as well as on Hungarian 1913-1919 newspaper stamps, special delivery, semi-postal, and postage due stamps. There are a total of 63 Austrian issues and 58 Hungarian issues with the overprint. Some of both the Austrian and the Hungarian overprints are extremely rare. These overprinted stamps were sold at the Prague Philatelic Window at 50% over face value for the benefit of a charity, but they were valid for ordinary postal use within the country.

Figure 19
Figure 19

As might be expected, there are some very clever forgeries of these overprints. Collectors who have these overprinted stamps are urged to get a copy of the book Forgeries of Czechoslovak Postage Stamps by J. Karsek, Z. Kvasnika, and B. Pauliek which has a section on the overprint forgeries. The book has been translated into English by Jaroslav Verner and Henry Hahn and can be obtained from the Czech Society for a nominal price.


In addition to the above described overprints, there are the “VZOREC” overprints with their very interesting background. (See Figure 20). The Universal Postal Union (UPU), with headquarters in Switzerland, receives examples of all stamps issued by member countries. One copy is kept on file at the UPU and other copies distributed to other countries. By this means many countries have developed extensive postal museums. Czechoslovakia joined the UPU on May 18, 1920.

Figure 20
figure 20

Stamps sent to the UPU are overprinted indicating that they are “specimen” stamps and, of course, are not valid for postal use. In the case of Czech stamps, the overprint is VZOREC, which is the Czech word for “specimen”.


In August of 1920, the Czech Ministry of Posts sent the required number of regular postal issues, special delivery, and postage due stamps to the UPU, most of them without the VZOREC overprint. Just how this happened is not known. Subsequently, a rather small supply of the overprints was sold to the Czech Philatelic Club in Prague and divided among the members. Hence, the existence of Hradcany regular issues, newspaper, special delivery, and postage due stamps overprinted VZOREC.


There is another group of overprinted stamps which are very definitely a part of Czechoslovak Philately, but is not be found in the Czech section of all catalogs. They are sometime listed under the heading “Eastern Silesia“. They are Hradcany issues, both imperf and perforated: the 500h and l000h of the first Masaryk stamps, special delivery stamps, postage due stamps, and newspaper stamps, all of which are overprinted “SO 1920”. Included in the Eastern Silesia listing are ten stamps of Poland with the same overprint. The explanation for these overprints is a story of considerable historic significance. There is a part of the former Austrian Silesia which is known as Teshin and, because of its economic importance, was of great interest to both Poland and Czechoslovakia. Following the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland occupied this territory. However, the Czechoslovak army pushed the Poles back and occupied the region. At a conference in 1920 the Teshin area was contained within the boundaries of Czechoslovakia, and a Commission, which took over the government of the area, suggested that both Czech and Polish stamps be overprinted “SO,” which probably stood for the Latin “Silesia Orientalis”,Eastern Silesia, plus the year date 1920. For some reason (perhaps philatelic?) these stamps were overprinted in rather large quantities considering the comparatively small area intended for their use. Many varieties of the overprint as well as counterfeits are found. These stamps properly used on cover are quite rare. (See Figure 21).

figure 21
Figure 21


The first airmail stamps of the Republic of Czechoslovakia have already been mentioned. They comprise the early Hradëany issues and three values of the Agriculture and Science set which were overprinted for use as airmail stamps until actual airmail stamps could be printed.


The first stamps specifically printed for airmail use were issued during the period of 1930 – 1939. They show an airplane in flight over various Czech and Slovak landscapes taken from photographs. They are 50h green, 1k red, 2k green, 3k violet, 4k dark blue, 5k brown, 10k violet-blue, and 20k grey-violet. The 50h and 1K are found in both narrow and wide format. The rest of the stamps are in a horizontal format with slightly different designs in both plane and background (Figures 22 ). Later a 30h violet was printed with the country’s name was hyphenated to read “Cesko-Slovensko”.

Figure 22
figure 22
(click for larger image)

There is a difference in dimensions found in the 50h green, the 1k red, 2k green, and the 4k blue even though they were all printed from one single plate. These dimensions are as follows:

Original Dimensions
New Dimensions
50 h Green

17.7x 21 mm

17.2 x 21.7 mm
1k Red
17.7 x 21 mm
17.2 x 21.7 mm
2k Green
31.5 x 21.5 mm
30.5 x 21.8 mm
4k Dark Blue
31.5 x 21.5 mm
30.5 x 21.8 ms

The explanation for these differences has to do with the way the paper roll was cut which, in one case, was slit in the longitudinal direction of the roll, and in the second instance was slit transversely. The cut sheets, which were wetted prior to printing, shrank the design to the different dimensions when they were dried. The paper expands in longitudinal direction and shrinks in transverse direction, so that the stamps are either longer and narrower or shorter and wider.


The stamps were printed from steel plates and since there were frequent printings, there are many shade varieties. They were line perforated 13 3/4. However, a few stamps were found to be perforated 12 1/4 , so the Ministry of Posts issued some additional values with line perf 12Ä. Despite that, they are all more valuable than those with 13 3/4 perfs. Other perforations also exist, as well as imperforate, but those are mainly proofs and were not valid for postage.


The above mentioned group of stamps with their perforation varieties and their slightly different dimensions highlight the necessity of obtaining very accurate perforation gauges and a very accurate millimeter rule. There are many perforation gauges available, some more accurate than others. Be sure to check with reliable authorities before choosing which ones to buy.


At this point it might be well to consider the difference between “line” and “comb” perforations, since stamps of Czechoslovakia, particularly the First Republic, were perforated by both methods. The terms “line” and “comb” refer to the positions of pins in perforators and how they work. The “line” perforator perforates the stamps in a straight line across the entire sheet, both horizontally and vertically. The “comb” perforator has pins that literally look like a comb and move from one side of the sheet to the other, cutting the comb sequentially. The comb just cuts down the page (actually, it is the paper that moves, not the comb). Thus, the holes at the corner are “clean”, that is, they do not overlap. The line seldom has clean corners because the pins are not mounted in a horizontal-vertical relationship. Note the “clean” corners of the comb perfs in Figure 10 and the ragged or overlapping corners on the line perfs in Figure 23.

Figure 23
Figure 23
(click for larger image)


The next set of airmail stamps was issued during 1946-47, a total of nine stamps. (Figure 24) Four of them show the portrait of a pilotthe others show planes in flight. Each stamp has a different color and denomination. Those showing a plane in flight exist with coupon tabs. In September 1949 when new airmail rates took effect the stamps were surcharged with new values and bars obliterating the old denominations. (Figure 25)


Figure 24
Figure 25
figure 25


The last set to be mentioned here is the airmail issue of 1951. They picture an airplane flying over various spas. There were four stamps in this set. The stamps show a plane flying over Karlovy Vary (6k, sage green), over Piestany (10k, deep plum), over Marianske Lazne 15k, ultramarine, (Figure 26), and over Silac (20k, sepia). They came perforated 13 á only.

Figure 26
figure 26

This last set comprises the first airmails to be issued by the countrys new Communist regime. These as well as most of the sets that followed were as attractive as the early issues and their propagandistic themes were kept to a minimum with a few exceptions. Many collectors who specialize in airmails will find these of Czechoslovakia particularly appealing.



Back-of-the-Book” refers to stamps which have been issued for a special purpose, other than for regular postage, or which may carry an added value in addition to regular postage charges. In most catalogues they appear in sections after the listing of the regular postal issues, commemoratives, and air mail stamps. Hence, they are referred to as “Back-of-the-Book“. Other catalogues may list these special purpose stamps along with regular postal issues chronologically according to the date when they were issued. This is based on publishers choice.


Czechoslovakia back-of-the-book material is composed of Semi-postal stamps, special delivery stamps, personal delivery stamps, postage due stamps, official stamps, and newspaper stamps.


Semi-Postal Stamps
The semi-postal stamps composed of Austrian and Hungarian stamps which were overprinted, have been mentioned previously. The remainder of the semi-postals were issued for various commemorative or charitable purposes. Among them are two Hradcany stamps and one of the first Masaryk stamps, surcharged in red for the benefit of the Red Cross.

Special Delivery Stamps


Special Delivery stamps were issued in 1919-1920 in three values, 2h, 5h and l0h. They were printed on yellowish paper (see Figure 27). In 1921 there was apparently another printing on white paper, but there is some question as to whether they were actually issued.

Figure 27
figure 27

The special delivery stamps were issued to speed up delivery of printed matter such as circulars and newspapers. In the printing of the 2h and 5h stamps, two plates were used: Plate one with three printings and Plate two with two printings. There was probably only one printing of the l0h value.


Postage Due Stamps
Although postage due stamps are no longer used in Czechoslovakia, the stamps that were issued and in use from 1918 until sometime in the early 1980s constitute a fascinating branch of Czech philately. The first postage dues were specially printed for postage due purposes and inscribed “DOPLATIT” (Figure 28). From 1922 through 1926 Hradcany postal issues were overprinted “DOPLATIT” and a surcharge imprinted for use as postage dues. Also, in 1926 the Agriculture and Science stamps were overprinted “DOPLATIT with a surcharged value as were the “Chainbreaker” stamps overprinted in 1927. There is a most interesting story in connection with these last overprints. By mistake, a sheet of the 50h “Chainbreaker” stamp was overprinted “50/50” as a postage due and was used by the post office before the error was discovered. There are no known mint copies of this error but there are probably 20 to 30 used copies in the possession of collectors. Obviously, this stamp is quite valuable. The rest of the postage due stamps were specially printed for postage due purposes.

Figure 28
figure 28
(click for larger image)

Ordinarily, if there was insufficient postage on a letter, the postage due would be twice the value of the amount tariff was short. There are several interesting markings found on covers on which there was insufficient postage when mailed. A large “T” may be stamped on the cover or the “T” which stands for “Taxe” (French text) may be made with a colored pencil, or there may be a large “D” which stands for “DOPLATIT” (Czech text).


When the use of postage due stamps was discontinued, the remaining postage dues were used as regular postage for both domestic and foreign mail. Nowadays if a piece of mail bears insufficient postage, the recipient receives a postcard indicating the amount of additional postage due.


Official Stamps
In 1945 the first group of official stamps were issued. They picture the Czech Coat of Arms and are perf 101/2 x 10. In 1947 the design of these stamps was redrawn and given perf 14. (Figure 29)

Figure 29


Newspaper Stamps
The first newspaper stamps were designed by Alfons Mucha, and the central figure is a bird with spread wings which is known as the “Sokol” (Falcon) or “Sokol in Flight”. The stamps are in various colors and are imperf, although this set has been privately perforated.


This issue offers many possibilities for the specialist. The stamps were printed by topography. Many different plates were used and there are innumerable retouches to be found by close examination. For example, the position of each stamp on the plate can be determined by examining each separate letter of Mucha’s name at the bottom of the stamps.


At this point the beginner may well wonder, “What is Sokol?”It is a Falcon, but more that that, Sokol is the Czech Gymnastic, Nationalistic and Pan-Slavic organization which was first formed in Prague in 1862. The first Sokol unit in the Unites States was formed in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1865. So what does this have to do with Czech philately other than the Sokol bird on these newspaper stamps? A specialized topical or thematic collection and/or exhibit can be made of the stamps, covers, etc., relating to the Sokol movement.

In 1925-1926 the Sokol 2h and 6h stamps were overprinted “* 5 *” (Figure 30). In 1926 the 5h and l0h special delivery stamps were overprinted “NOVINY”and an additional surcharge of 5h was overprinted on the 2h stamp to serve as newspaper stamps. In 1934 the Sokol l0h, 20h, and 30h stamps were overprinted “O. T.” for use by commercial printed matter.

Figure 30
figure 30

(click for larger image)

In 1937 additional newspaper stamps were issued. They are rather plain looking stamps bearing the figure of a carrier pigeon. In 1945 additional newspaper stamps were issued in the same format as the Carrier Pigeon stamps except the central figure on the stamps was a newspaper delivery boy.




Over the years, Czechoslovakia has issued many souvenir sheets. As with other countries, they are usually issued to commemorate some special event as, for example, an international philatelic exhibit, a special period in the life of a nationally or internationally known personality, or a date of historical significance.

Without a doubt, the most famous souvenir sheet issued by Czechoslovakia, actually two sheets, issued in 1934, commemorates the centenary of the Czech national anthem. It is illustrated in Figure 31.

Figure 31
figure 31

(click for larger image)

Each of these sheets contains blocks of 15 stamps depicting a pastoral scene. The first sheet has stamps of 1k in value and is in claret; the second sheet has stamps of 2k in value and is in blue. The stamps themselves were issued at the same time as the sheets, same design, colors, and values, and perf 10. The stamps of the sheets are perf 13á, with no gum, and the sheets are on thick, very soft paper. The sheets are framed with a linden leaf motif, for the linden is the national tree of Czechoslovakia.

These artistically designed sheets commemorate the centennial of the composing of what later became the national anthem of the Czechoslovak Republic. The title of the anthem, “KDE DOMUV MÙJ?”, is translated, “Where Is My Home?”

Forgeries of these sheets exist inasmuch as they are in great demand, and their price has risen appreciably in philatelic markets. They were printed in very limited quantities: only 12,900 of the 1k sheets and 9,600 of the 2k sheets were printed.

In 1937 a souvenir sheet was issued on the occasion of the Bratislava Philatelic Exhibition. (Figure 32) Two stamps make up the sheet: a 50h showing a view of Poprad Lake and a 1k stamp picturing the tomb of General ětefánik. This same sheet was overprinted with French text and was on sale at a philatelic exhibit in Brussels, Belgium.

Figure 32
Figure 32
(click for larger image)

An international philatelic exhibition took place in Prague in 1955. A souvenir sheet showing five stamps was issued both perforated and imperforate in September of that year. The 30h shows the rotunda of the Holy Cross Chapel; the 45h shows the Old Town Bridge Tower; the 60h features the Singing Fountain; the 75h pictures the Hibernia House; and the 1.60k shows Charles Bridge with Hradëany in the background (Figure 33).

Figure 33
Figure 33
(click for larger image)

On March 21, 1966, a souvenir sheet commemorating the centennial of the first performance of Smetanas comic opera “The Bartered Bride” was released, much to the gratification of music topical collectors (Figure 34). In May of the same year, a set of two stamps and a souvenir sheet were printed to honor Prague Castle. The sheet features a 5k stamp showing the coronation crown of Premysl Vratislav II, the first Bohemian ruler raised to the rank of king in A.D. 1086 (see Figure 35).

Figure 34
Figure 35
Figure 34
(click for larger image)
Figure 35
(click for larger image)


There are many more souvenir sheets which could be mentioned, many of which are beautiful reproductions of famous paintings. Here I will mention just one in particular, and that is the Guernica sheet which was issued on the occasion of the birth centenary of the world famous artist, Pablo Picasso, and the 45th anniversary of the International Brigades in Spain (see Figure 36).

Figure 36
Figure  36

The design of the stamp adorning the sheet is a reproduction of Picassos famous “Guernica” painted in 1937. Guernica was a Basque town in northern Spain which was mercilessly bombed and completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

How do souvenir sheets differ from miniature sheets and stamps with coupons? The answer is simple. Stamps are .printed in sheets of 50 or 100. Therefore, if there are fewer than 50 stamps in the sheet, it would presumably be a miniature sheet. A sheet comprising five rows of stamps with five stamps in each row would qualify as a miniature sheet unless the stamps themselves were oversize. However, miniature sheets are usually smaller.

A typical example is the Komensky (Comenius) sheet of 1957 ( Figure 37). It is also one of the more beautiful ones. Another example of a miniature sheet is the airmail sheet of 1951 (Figure 38). Note that there are only four stamps in the Komensky sheet whereas the airmail sheet contains ten stamps. However, neither sheet has any text on it, and that is the clue.

Figure 37
Figure 38
Figure 37
(click for larger image)
Figure 38
(click for larger image)


As long as the borders, or selvages, of the sheet are blank, it is just a small sheet. The moment something is printed on the selvage, the stamp which adjoins the printed matter is called a stamp with a coupon.

There are two types of coupons: official and private. Official coupons are planned and printed by the government, and their drawing and design has been approved by the Ministry. Private coupons comprise blank selvage which is utilized by a private person for advertising purposes. An example of this is seen in Figure 39. The censured, registered letter to Alfons Stach, who had been a stamp dealer in Prague before moving to the United States, bears the 4k Podebrad stamp which he had imprinted to advertise his business.

Figure 39
Figure 39
(click for larger image)

A simple way to differentiate between the three is to remember that a miniature sheet is just like a regular sheet of stamps except for the number of stamps it contains. Neither has anything added to the selvage. A souvenir sheet resembles a stamp with a coupon in that both contain something more than just the stamp itself. But where a stamp with a coupon is just one small part of the whole, a souvenir sheet is itself a complete entity. Tear a coupon from the stamp and the stamp is still valid. But, separate a stamp from the souvenir sheet and the sheet is destroyed.

A souvenir sheet may have a specific catalogue value apart from the stamp or stamps it contains. On the other hand, a miniature sheet is equal in value to one of its stamps multiplied by the number of stamps in the sheet.




In general, there is not the widespread interest in postal stationery of the world that there is in postage stamps. There are exceptions. Czechoslovakia is one of them. Why? Perhaps because, with the possible exception of postal cards, it is still possible to acquire a complete collection of Czechoslovak postal stationery, including all varieties that exist in the countrys letter cards, parcel dispatch cards, change of address cards, telegrams, envelopes, letter sheets, aerograms, pigeongrams, etc., at an affordable price. Or perhaps it is because the postal stationery of Czechoslovakia offers many rewards in its numerous interesting categories that fascinate the ever-growing mushrooming group of collectors that the country has recently attracted. But before delving into the subject itself, it might be appropriate to explain to the novice–a beginner in Czechoslovak philately–just what Postal Stationery means.

Postal Stationery may be described as any form of paper issued by postal authorities which allows for a written message to be transmitted through the mails from addressor to addressee and on which the cost of mailing is printed in the upper right-hand corner. The emphasis is on the word “printed” because that is what distinguishes it from any other kind of mailing. The cost of mailing is printed on the paper usually in the likeness of a postage stamp. The paper may take any of the forms listed in the paragraph above. The cost of mailing is the basic rate current at the time of issuance for that mode of delivery. The rate may change, generally upward, in which case either a new cost is printed on the form or the old cost is revalued by overprinting with the new denomination.

Ordinary postal cards were issued for domestic use or for neighboring foreign countries. For each category, they were issued as single cards, although double cards with reply cards attached were also available. The earliest Czech postal cards issued in 1918 were Austrian and Hungarian cards overprinted with “CSR” and the denomination “10”. They were first used in December 1918 and were valid until October 14, 1919. There are several varieties of thisoverprint. An example of these overprinted postal cards is seen in Figure 40.

Figure 40
Figure 40
(click for larger image)

The first truly Czechoslovak postal cards were imprinted with the classical Hradcany stamps designed by Alfons Mucha (Figure 41). Subsequent cards bore the imprint of the “Chainbreaker” stamps, Masaryk stamps, and others.

Figure 41
Figure 41
(click for larger image)

Perhaps the most prolific area of postal stationery are the envelopes with printed stamps. The deluge began in the early 1970s and includes envelopes for both surface and airmail use. These envelopes are of considerable current interest in both the United States and abroad because of the varied subject matter they encompass and because they are so colorful.

Like postage stamps, postal stationery is valued, or catalogued, on the basis of “mint” and “used” condition. A postal card, an envelope or any other form of postal stationery is “mint” when it appears exactly in the condition as issued by postal authorities, including revalued overprints. But once something is added to it such as a message, a handwritten address, a postage stamp or a cancellation, the piece is no longer “mint“. It would then be deemed as “used“.

During the 1920s and even later, some businesses issued envelopes with their names and addresses printed on the address portion of the envelope. These would have to be considered “used” covers even though they actually never passed through the mails, just as a cover that was favor-canceled but never mailed to any addressee is a “used” one. On the other hand, some businesses actually printed advertising cachets to the left of the address portion of a postal card or envelope.

Advertising cachets are private in origin. They may advertise a private business, an annual meeting of a particular government bureau, or a philatelic congress. Cachets such are always found on the left side opposite the addressee lines. Most of them are similar to the cachets found on first day covers. However, starting around 1930 and continuing until 1969, pictorial cards were in vogue. For a single printed image of a stamp, the Ministry of Posts would issue many cards with different photographic subjects. Figure 42 shows one of these cards. This same card was issued showing eight different scenes. Other pictorial cards included subjects like mountain views, towns and cities, architectural structures, sporting events, etc. In one particular case, a set of cards contained several hundred different pictures.

Figure 42
Figure 42
(click for larger image)

First day covers were mentioned above. Are they classed as postal stationery? No, they are not. You will remember that postal stationery was defmed as “any form of paper issued by postal authorities.. .on which the cost of mailing is printed in the upper right-hand corner.” First day covers are envelopes to which stamps are attached and which are then canceled on the day the particular stamp or stamps are first issued; usually the cancel is a special commemorative cancel. For many years the Czech Ministry of Posts issued first day covers, many of them with artistic and beautiful cachets. An example is seen in Figure 43 which was issued on the 30th anniversary of the death of Alfons Mucha.

Figure 43
Figure 43
(click for larger image)




Topicals, Thematics, and Exhibiting
In previous sections I have discussed the various aspects of collecting early issues of the Czechoslovak Republic and some of the elements of design and printing of stamps which refer, for the most part, to forming a traditional stamp collection. However, there are other areas which collectors of Czechoslovakia may be interested in. For example, there are topicals and thematic collections.

A topical collection is, of course, a collection of stamps built around some specific topic, i.e., sports, railroads, art, music, flora, or fauna. The stamps of Czechoslovakia abound in topical subjects, and topicals have, in the past few years, become very popular with many collectors.

I believe that some of the worlds most beautiful stamps comprise reproductions of famous paintings issued by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. The process by which these stamps are printed is of considerable interest. The older photogravure process was discarded and, instead, a planographic steelprint in four to six colors was used. When, for example, six different colors are employed, six different color plates have to be engraved. Once the different color plates are finished, the engraver makes trial prints on a small press in order to judge the correct color intensity and to make desired changes in the engravings. Once the engraver is satisfied with the end product, all trial prints are destroyed, and the plates for the single stamp are sent to the printer where the definitive plates are made for the final flat-plate printing. This is a long and laborious process not only on the part of the engraver, but also on the part of the printer because the presses for this type of work are not automatic but have to be operated by hand.

Four examples of stamps produced by the steelprint method are illustrated here. Of course, the real beauty of these stamps cannot be fully appreciated unless they are seen in color. The first is a reproduction of a self-portrait by Henri Rousseau (Figure 44). The engraver was Jiri Svengbir. The second is “The Conjurer” by FrantiÔek Tichý (Figure 45). The engraver was Josef Herík. Both the “Cabaret Performer,”(Figure 46) a painting by FrantiÔek Kupka, and “Josefina,” (Figure 47) painted by Josef Manes were engraved by Jifi Svengsbir. Masterpieces like these can be the basis for a beautiful exhibit of modern stamps.

Figure 44
Figure 45
Figure 44
Figure 45
Figure 46
Figure 47
Figure 46 Figure 47

There are an infinite number of topicals besides “Art” as mentioned above. The collector is cautioned not to make the topical so broad and all-encompassing that it goes off in all directions and becomes rather cumbersome. For example, a topical like “Railroads” can be confined to locomotives or cabooses. In the area of sports, try to limit yourself to a specific area like hockey or gymnastics. In music, you can specialize just in opera or in musical instruments. Besides, searching for stamps covering a limited area can be both challenging and rewarding.

There are other subjects in which the collector might wish to specialize: Postal History of Czechoslovakia, its postal stationery, overprints, airmails, or even “Back-of-the-Book Material”. The possibilities are limitless. Whatever it is you need, always remember that other members of our Society will be happy to help you in any way possible.

Apart from topicals, there are also thematics. A thematic collection concerns itself with a particular theme in which all the stamps, covers and perhaps other pertinent material are concerned with a central theme. For example, in Czech philately, the theme might be the life of President Masaryk or the Sokol movement. As an example, a friend of mine has a thematic collection called “Anniversaries of the United Nations“. For its 20th anniversary he shows a page of three stamps commemorating other anniversaries of the United Nations and shows these as well.

Having decided what it is you want to collect in the way of Czechoslovak philately, what do you do with that collection? In the evenings or on weekends, do you get it out and browse through it? Presumably, all of us do that, and we get a lot of satisfaction out of looking at the result of our labors. However, I would like to suggest a way we can get even more satisfaction out of it and that is to prepare an exhibit. Your immediate reaction may be, “No way will I enter my stamps in competition!” But, please bear with me and read further. An exhibit, whether you ever enter it in competition or not, can be a great source of personal satisfaction. An exhibit, again whether or not you choose to enter it in competition, tells a story. To tell the story you choose particular stamps and collateral material; you arrange the material in a particular way in a logical sequence. In other words, you are not just an accumulator. If you do decide to enter an exhibit, perhaps first in a local show, do not be discouraged if your first efforts are not awarded a prize. I well remember the first time I exhibited many, many years ago. I worked very hard on the exhibit and entered it in a national show–that was back in the times when there was no requirement that specimen pages be submitted prior to acceptance and there were seldom any judges critiques. I received no award, not even a certificate of participation. Naturally, I was disappointed. But I spent a lot of time looking at other exhibits, and I acquired a lot of ideas for improving mine. I continued with the same exhibit and finally won a bronze medal. Soon judges critiques came into vogue, and I attended as many as I could. Over the years my same exhibit kept improving. Eventually I won a gold in national competition and a silver in international competition.

So, whether or not you decide to enter into competition, decide on a particular subject or phase of Czech philately and experience the satisfaction of telling a story with your material. Whatever that story may be, you will have created something which is entirely your own.

Good luck! But remember, it is not just luck. It also involves research and study, plus inspiration and some hard work.

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