by William E. Critzer

This article was originally published in the January 1998 edition of SOS SIGNAL, the bulletin of the Stamps on Stamps Centenary Unit. For several years now, Mr. Critzer has served the Stamps on Stamps Centenary Unit as the Editor of their official journal, SOS SIGNAL and has produced a remarkable renaissance not only of the group itself, but also of the group's journal. Mr. Critzer has continued to serve the group at Editor into the new era marked by the adoption by the group of its new name, Stamps on Stamps Collectors Club.


A proposal by the Home Office, quoted in part below, resulted in a royal decree by the Queen of Spain, Queen Isabella II, on October 24, 1849 authorizing the issue of adhesive postage stamps for the prepayment and registration of correspondence.

Proposition to Her Majesty the Queen

The method of franking letters invented in England and recently introduced into France, has been approved by public opinion in Spain, and the desire is general to see it adopted in this country. The time has arrived for this to be done as happens with every new idea when public opinion requires to be satisfied either by rejecting the idea or by adopting it.

It was proposed that lower rates of postage should be applicable to prepaid letters in order to encourage people to prepay the postage. The postal rate on prepaid letters was fixed at 6 cuartos, while unpaid letters had to bear 1 real, equal to 8 cuartos. Letters of a heavier weight might be sent for 12c if prepaid, but were rated at 15c if unpaid.

During the two months between announcement and actual introduction of the stamps on January 1, 1850, several decrees and proclamations were published regarding use of stamps. They were to be placed on the top left corner of the letter; and the stamps could be used only on prepaid mail to be sent within the kingdom, with the sole exception of prepaid letters to Italy. "Of the letters addressed abroad only those of Italy should be prepaid. All others may not and ought not to be prepaid."

Two designs were used for the first stamps of Spain. The original designs were reproduced in 1950 to commemorate the centenary of Spain's stamps (Scott Nos. C128 and 777 in Figure 1) and in 1964 on an issue for International Stamp Day (Scott No. 1245 in Figure 2).

Figure 1. From Spain's 1950 Stamp Centenary Issue.

Figure 2. Spain's 1964 issue for International Stamp Day.

The 6c stamp of 1850, also known as the Spanish penny black', shows a profile of the queen facing left; and the other denominations use a similar profile facing right. The portrait of Queen Isabella II does not have the distinctive beauty of the portrait of Victoria used on British stamps, but her features graced most Spanish stamps until her abdication in 1868. To avoid defacing the features of Isabella, an unusual postmark was devised which was intended to frame her portrait, the "Arana," see below.

Postal rates were reduced to 1c in November, 1852 for ordinary weight letters posted in Madrid for delivery within the city. Stamps of 1c and 3c were issued in April, 1853 featuring the city's coat of arms. These stamps were typographed in bronze, which was the first time metallic ink had been used in the production of stamps.

Fear of forgery caused the postal authorities to change the designs of the stamps at annual intervals, with only a few exceptions. Spain produced a total of 285 different stamps in the first twenty years involving twenty nine distinct designs. Early collectors shied away from Spanish stamps because of this prodigious output, although by modern standards we would have to classify this number of issues as modest.

In the beginning, stamp on stamp designs began on April 2, 1936 with two stamps for the First National Philatelic Exposition, see Figure 3. The Arms of Madrid design shown is similar to Scott Type A5. These were also overprinted "CORREO AERO" in blue or red.

Figure 3. Spain's issue of 1936 to commemorate
the First International Philatelic Exhibition.

The centenary of Spain's first perforated stamp was commemorated with three designs on November 22, 1965, Scott Nos. 1327-29, see Figure 4.

Figure 4. Spain's 1965 issue to commemorate the centenary
of Spain's first perforated postage stamps.


On May 6, 1966, the anniversary of the original Penny Black, a set of three stamps were issued by Spain for International Stamp Day, Figure 5.

Figure 5. Spain's 1966 issue for International Stamp Day.

These stamps reproduced covers and postmarks -- as opposed to stamps alone -- and, in that regard marked a relatively new approach to stamp on stamp design. The stamps shown in Figure 5 feature the classic cancellations applied to Scott Nos. 1, 3, and 5.

The local " mute" cancellation on Scott No. 1350, shown at the left in Figure 5, is known as the Grill of Reus. It is called a mute cancel because it doesn't say anything.

Scott No. 1351, illustrated as the center stamp in Figure 5, shows the famed "Arana" (Spider) cancel which became mandatory on January 24, 1850. The "Arana" cancel leaves a large open space in the center, as Queen Isabella did not want her face to be marked with anything as demeaning as a cancel.

The "O"cancellation featured on Scott No. 1352 at the right in Figure 5, is a pre-stamp marking indicating "certificado" or registered mail.

Pre-stamp markings carried into the advent of adhesive stamps and many years passed before they disappeared from use. Even after adhesives came into use, letters continued to be sent stampless. Not until 1854 did franking with stamps become mandatory for domestic mail and finally, in 1857, for foreign mail.


The idea of featuring stamps and postmarks on the same stamp was continued in a beautifully designed series, beginning on May 6, 1967 and ending in 1976, which celebrated World Stamp Day, see Figures 6, 7, 8, and 9. The designs are elegant in their simplicity and very powerful. Queen Isabella's countenance seems to be improving! These are some of my favorite stamps on stamps.

Figure 6. Spain's 1976 issues for International Stamp Day.
Left: Scott No. 1468. The long grill of Madrid, also known as the "coffin."
Center: Scott No. 1469. Crowned "M" postmark of Madrid.
Right: Scott No. 1470. Numerical postmark No. 3 of 1850.

Figure 7. Spain's 1968 and 1970 issues for International Stamp Day.
Left: Scott No. 1527, issued in 1968. Galicia is a province in northwest Spain.
Center: Scott No. 1528, issued in 1968. Serena is an area in southwest Spain in the province of Badajoz.
Right: Scott No. 1608, issued in 1970. One of the earliest railroad postmarks. Gijon is one
of three stations on the Langero railroad in northern Spain.

Figure 8. Spain's 1969 and 1971 issues for International Stamp Day.
Left: Scott No. 1568, issued in 1969. Crowned "M" and date is a pre-stamp marking.
Center: Scott No. 1569, issued in 1969. Corvera is in southeast Spain in Murcia province.
Right: Scott No. 1677, issued in 1971. The "A" was used for official letters.

Figure 9. Spain's 1973, 1974, and 1976 issues for International Stamp Day.
Left: Scott No. 1754, issued in 1973. The design features a red Madrid 1853 cancel.
Center: Scott No. 1806, issued in 1974. Blue Seville cancellation with grill.
Right: Scott No. 1943, issued in 1976. Coruna datestamp cancel of May 6, 1851.

The following tabulation gives a summary of the stamps on stamps issues of Spain for the period between 1936 and 1989.

Date of   Scott                         
Issue     Cat. #       Stamp Reproduced                     Event              
4/2/36    572-73    Spain Type A5 (Apr 10, 1853)  First National Philatelic
4/2/36    C88-89    Spain Type A5 (Apr 10, 1853)  First National Philatelic
                    Overprint of 572-573          Exposition     
10/12/50  776-9     Spain 1 (Jan 1, 1850)         Centenary Spanish Stamps     

10/12/50  C127-30   Spain 4 (Jan 1, 1850)         Centenary Spanish Stamps     

5/6/64    1244-46   Spain 1 (Jan 1, 1850)         World Stamp Day              
                    Spain 898 (Mar 24, 1959)
                    Spain 916 (Feb 29, 1960)
                    Spain 998 (Jul 10, 1961)

11/22/65  1327-29   Spain 78, 77, 80 (Jun 1, 1865) Centenary first Spanish
                                                   perforated stamps           
5/6/66    1350-52   Spain 1, 3, 5 (Jan 1, 1850)    National and International  
                                                   Stamp Day

5/6/67    1468-70   Spain 3, 2, 4 (Jan 1, 1850)    World Stamp Day             
5/6/68    1527-28   Spain 1, 4 (Jan 1, 1850)       World Stamp Day             
5/6/69    1568-69   Spain 6, 11 (Jan 1, 1851)      World Stamp Day
5/6/70    1608      Spain 51 (Feb 1, 1860)         World Stamp Day
5/6/71    1677      Spain 1b (Jan 1, 1850)         World Stamp Day             
5/6/73    1754      Spain 23 (Jan 1, 1853)         World Stamp Day

5/6/72    1719      Pre-stamp postmark             World Stamp Day             
5/6/74    1806      Spain 28 (Jan 1, 1854)         World Stamp Day             
1/2/75    1865      Spain 1b (Jan 1, 1850)         125th Anniversary of
                    Spain 1802 (Apr 4, 1974)       Spanish Stamps        
5/6/76    1943      Spain 10 (Jan 1, 1851)         World Stamp Day
5/7/77    2043      Spain 1b (Jan 1, 1850)         50th Anniversay             
                    Spain 334 (Dec 1922)           Philatelic Market in 
                    Spain 883 (Jul 30, 1958)       Plaza Major, Madrid 
                    Spain 1329 (Nov 22, 1965)
                    Spain 1877d (Apr 4, 1975)

5/27/78   2104      Spain 240 (Jul 1, 1878)         Stamp Day
5/18/79   2151      Bulgaria 1 (May 1, 1879)        Philaserdica '79           
7/1/80    2216      Spain 4 (Jan 1, 1850)           50th Anniversary of First  
                    Spain 24 (Nov 1, 1854)          National Philatelic
                    Spain 345 (Feb 15, 1929         Exhibition
                    Spain 409 (May, 1930)

10/2/89   2608      Spain Type A34 (1889)           Centenary Alfonso XIII     


Griebert, Hubert. 1919. The Stamps of Spain 1850-1854.

Mackay, James A. 1973. The Dictionary of Stamps in Color. Macmillan Publishing Co.

Mackay, James A. 1972. The World of Classic Stamps 18 40-1870. Putnam.

Scott 1998 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, Vol. 6, 1997, Scott Publishing Co.

Van Dam, Theo. (no date). The Postal Markings of Spain in Billig's Handbook on Postmarks.. Volume 13.

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