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Proceed to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

Introduction To Collecting Poland

In 1914, World War I split the ranks of the occupying powers pitting Russia, as ally to France and Britain, against the leading members of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1916, attempting to increase Polish support for the Central Powers and to raise a Polish army, the German and Austrian emperors declared a new Kingdom of Poland (Regency Kingdom of Poland). During this time, military field stamps were brought into circulation in the territory occupied by Austria-Hungary. Stamps from Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina were also used. This constitutes the collecting interest (5) Austrian Occupation. German stamps overprinted “Russisch Polen” (Russian Poland) and other overprints were issued in the German area called General Gouvernement Warschau (General Government Warsaw). This constitutes collecing interest (6) German Occupation. As part of the plan to position the Regency Kingdom of Poland for more autonomy, Essays were developed via a competition among Polish artists and the winning 13 designs inscribed Królestwo Polskie (Kingdom of Poland) were printed. However, stamps were not printed nor issued. This brief activity constitutes colleting interest (7) Kingdom of Poland Essays.

During the period 1915-1918 the occupying powers had control of postal services but these services did not include local delivery, i.e., delivery to the addressee. As a result, some town councils produced stamps for this service and others used cachets that were hand stamped on the letters. This specific area defines collecting interest (8) Local Postal Service.

An independent Poland, absent from the map of Europe for 123 years, was reborn following the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and emerged as the 2nd Republic of Poland. Polish authorities set out to organize a consolidated postal service and, in the interest of time, issued instructions to temporarily use existing stamps and modify or replace cancelling machines with Polish place names. This is the start of collecting interest (9) 2nd Republic of Poland - General.

The first stamps to be released by the newly established Republic and the Polish Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in Warsaw were Provisional Issues on 17 November 1918. (See Figure 2) Four different designs of unissued stamps, which had been produced for the Warsaw Local Post in 1916, were overprinted with the value in “fen” at the top and “Poczta Polska” at the bottom. This is the world’s first known occasion on which local stamps were used to produce state or country stamps. They were in circulation for only a few weeks and the most common postmarks to be found on these stamps were “Warschau”, “Warszawa”, and “Łódź,”.

Figure 2

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A Second Provisional Issue used a large stock of General Gouvernement Warschau stamps left behind by the Germans. These stamps were overprinted by obliterating bars and “Poczta Polska”.

The First Lublin Provisional Issue was based on three values of the Austro-Hungarian K and K Military Post Imperial Welfare Fund stamps, overprinted in Lublin with “POLSKA” at the top, Polish eagle in the center and “POCZTA” at the bottom. There were 64,000 copies overprinted and distributed to 41 post offices. All stamps were sold within ten days of being issued. Due to the haste of production, errors such as inverted overprints and double overprints are known to exist. A Second Lublin Provisional Issue based upon ten different values of the Austro-Hungarian K and K Military Post Imperial Welfare Fund stamps was released on 19 December 1918. As with the First Lublin Provisional Issue, errors are known to exist.

Serious collectors of the 2nd Republic of Poland include the Provisional Issues, especially the Cracow Issues. On 2 January 1919, all Austrian stamps that were held in Kraków were sent to two printers (A. Koziański and F. Zieniński) for overprinting. One printer, A. Koziański, used a typograph process for the overprinting, whereas the other printer used a lithograph process. In total 20 different postage stamps; 5 different newspaper stamps; and 12 different postage due stamps were overprinted with Poczta Polska in two lines with a diamond or similar ornament shape between the lines. The stamps were issued for sale on 10 January 1919. Based upon the quantities printed, ranging from 440 of the 10 korona (Figure 3) to 100,000 of the 25/80 halerz (Figure 4), catalogue prices can range from USD$12,000 to USD$10. As with most overprints and surcharges, especially a series commanding high prices such as the Cracow Issue, excellent counterfeits exist. I highly recommend expertizing by a certified expert as a condition of purchase.

Figure 3 Figure 4

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The remainder of the general stamps issued during the 2nd Republic of Poland are considered to be commemorative issues honoring heros, leaders, artists, monuments, and landmarks. Included in this remainder are the thirteen stamps commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Poland’s Independence. This is a very popular set of stamps that reflect the history of Poland, including the stamp (see Figure 5) that sparked a “philatelic war” between Poland and Germany. (this is another story for another article).

Figure 5
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The end of World War I ushered in regional conflicts that threatened the borders, if not the independent status of Poland. The most significant of the conflicts was the Polish - Russian War of 1919 - 1921, in which Russia under communist leadership had hoped to fully occupy Poland, and use it as a bridge to assist other communist movements and bring about other European revolutions. The Battle of Warsaw in August 1920 was such an unexpected and great defeat for the Red Army that it was called by some as the “Miracle at the Vistula”. A formal peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, was signed on 18 March 1921.

The collecting interest (10) Central Lithuania (Polish: Litwa Środkowa) is a specialty area with a finite number of stamps issued from 23 November 1920 to 1 February 1922. (see the first stamp issued in Figure 6) This short lived Republic is the result of an armed conflict between Lithuania and Poland for the territorial control of the Vilnius (Polish: Wilno) and the Suwałki Regions. On 8 October 1920, General Żeligowski proclaimed a new state, the Republic of Central Lithuania. On 24 March 1922, Parliament voted to have Central Lithuania to become part of Poland, where it remained until WWII.

Figure 6
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The Free City of Danzig (Polish: Gdańsk) was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig (now Gdańsk,Poland). It was created on 15 November 1920 in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles after the end of WWI and was under the protection of the League of Nations. The Free City had its own stamps, the first of which were overprinted German stamps issued on 14 June 1920 and later, the stamps were of the Danzig Free State. Due to the majority of German inhabitants, the stamps and postal system was heavily influenced by Germany. However, Poland operated a post office in the harbor of Danzig from which stamps destined for Poland were issued. Most of these stamps were existing Polish postage stamps overprinted “PORT GDAŃSK” on two lines. The first Port Gdańsk stamps were issued on 5 January 1925. (see Figure 7) The Danzig Free State and Port Gdańsk stamps continued to be used until 1939 and the outbreak of WWII. Collecting interest (12) Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) is a specialty area for collectors of German, as well as, Polish stamp collectors. Whereas, the collecting interest (13) Port Gdańsk is more of a specialty area for collectors of Poland. In either case, there are finite numbers of stamps that were issued, many interesting covers and cancellations, and an excellent subject for the pursuit of postal history.

Figure 7
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Another remnant of WWI and the regional conflicts that ensued are the plebiscites. By definition, a plebiscite, or referendum, is a direct vote of the people to decide a matter of national importance. In this case, the popular votes determined that a country’s territory was ceded to another or not. The four listed in Table 1 are examples of territories that were included within the boundaries of the 2nd Republic of Poland but with strong objection by the inhabitants, many of whom were inclined to remain loyal to their previous state.

As an example, take Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn), an East Prussian area and a town in the Mazurian lake district, and Merienwerder (Polish: Kwidzyn), a West Prussian area, both with sizeable German inhabitants. In 1920, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, plebiscites were organized. The decision to hold a plebiscite provided the rationale to issue a special stamp instead of using the Polish stamps available. Therefore, in both Allenstein and Merienwerder special stamps were prepared.(see Figure 8 and 9) Both used German stamps with overprints, with the exception of Merienwerder who had two special plebiscite issues printed in Milan, Italy. In both cases the stamps promoted the plebiscite. The results of the plebiscite were heavily in favor of remaining with Prussia, hence Germany, instead of with Poland. This existed until 1945 and the end of WWII.

Figure 8 Figure 9
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Of the specialty areas listed as Collecting Interests, (14) Plebiscites can be a fascinating and manageable adventure. The advantages are: (a) a limited number of stamps issued in a short period of time; (b) a challenging hunt for covers with plebiscite postage and cancellations; (c) reasonable market conditions and favorable for your philatelic budget; and (d) a great topic for philatelic history research and possibly exhibiting.

The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 was the tripwire that set off World War II and on 17 September 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, once again dividing and occupying Poland. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Poland was occupied by Germany alone and postal service was subjected to German administration or, as it was called “General Gouvernerment”. In May of 1945, Germany was defeated ending WWII, however, Poland had been abandoned by the Western Allies and was subjected to the communist system against the will of the Polish people. This was the beginning of the People’s Republic of Poland during which time Poczta Polska resumed postal servics.

By 1989 the rise of the Solidarity Union and its recognition by the communist government led to the first free election in over 50 years. With the Polish government now led by non-communists, the plan to transform the Polish economy repidly from centrally planned to free market was adopted and the country renamed the 3rd Republic of Poland. Through the political transition since the end of WWII, Poczta Polska continued with postal services, however the subjects featured on the postage stamps changed. Topics forbidden under communism can now be seen on new issue of Polish stamps. One example is shown in Figure 10 below. This stamp was issued in August 1990, marking the 50th anniversary of the Katyń massacre, which was a series of mas executions of Polish nationals carried out by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police in April and May 1940.

Figure 10
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Having completed the chronology of postal history for the past 450+ years, we can now review the outline for “Other Collecting Interests” that appear more generic for philatelists but including some unique areas, such as, (7) Military, (8) Polonica , and (15) Słania Engraved Stamps, etc.

In the category of Special Collecting Interests under Table 2, (7) Military is rather unique due to the wide displacement of Polish forces during the conflicts. One example is (i) Ander’s Army - 2nd Corps in Italy (Figure 11). The 2nd Polish Corps were formed on Soviet soil and was composed of Poles, who were exiled and imprisoned in various gulags and camps in Siberia and other parts of the USSR. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the General Anders and his men were released from imprisonment, transferred to the British forces in 1942, trained in Iraq in 1943, and arrived to fight victoriously at the Battle of Monte Cassino later that year. The stamps were issued in Italy and the air mail cover was directed to the Polish Ambassador to the Vatican on the 10th anniversary of Monte Cassino.

Figure 11
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Another unique specialty area is (9) Polonica, which is described as collecting philatelic material from foreign postal authorities that contain a thematic reference to Poland. Examples are: Chopin, Copernicus, Madame Curie, Pope John Paul II, Kościuszko, Battle of Grunwald, et al.

Collecting interest (15) Słania Engraved Stamps (not to mention portraits and art) is a popular specialty area. Polish born and schooled engraver, Czesław Słania was the most prolific stamp engraver in history. He is credited with engraving over 1070 images of stamps for 32 countries. In 1972, he was appointed Court Engraver of Sweden and died on 17 March 2005. One of the most important works by Słania was his diploma engraving for graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts from Kraków in 1956. This engraving was of a painting by Jan Matejko of the Battle of Grunwald. A compressed version of this engraving was made into a postage stamp but never issued for use on postage. However, a few covers with the unissued stamp have been found and are very rare. Figure 12 is one such rare piece, a registered air mail cover mailed from Kraków to New Britain, Connecticut on 1 March 1956 with the 90 gr. diploma stamp.

Figure 12
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Proceed to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI