The “Correos” Stamps of Venezuela

During the last few months we have read and heard very much of Venezuela. Financial difficulties and political combinations have brought into prominence this South American republic, the stamps of which will be at present of interest to many, and a few notes dealing with the “Correos” series may not displease our readers.

Venezuela means “little Venice,” a name given by the discoverers Hojeda and Vespucci in 1499 to a village found by them to have been built on piles, and this name was later on applied to the whole country beyond. It is now a Republican Confederation of States, situated in the northern part of South America between Brazil and British Guiana; in 1831 it was declared to be independent from Colombia and practically founded then. Fifty years later, in 1881, the country was re-divided. Since then Venezuela comprises 8 States, 8 Territories, 2 Settlements and a Federal District, all under one President. The area and population is variously stated, the latest estimate being 594,165 square miles with 2,444,816 inhabitants, mostly Mulattos of Indian, Spanish and Negro descent. Capital is Caracas.

After 1876 two sets of stamps to prepay postage are used side by side, the “Correo” (Post), or “Correos” (Posts), and the “Escuelas” (Schools), altered lately into “Instruccion” (Education). Some authorities declare the latter labels to be revenue stamps which may be used for postage like some of the Australian fiscals; others again say that stamps of the “Correos” class are used for Foreign postage, the proceeds of their sale going to the Post Office Department, while the “Escuelas” and “Instruccion” stamps are set apart for Inland postage, the revenue arising from their sale being handed over to the minister of education for the maintenance of the State Schools. But, as Dr. Moschkau remarks, “It is strange that in spite of prolonged researches no official decree could be placed before us to prove that those stamps were used exclusively for Inland postal service as is presumed by many philatelists.” Without entering into this controversy we will at present take up the “Correos” stamps only as being undoubtedly true postage stamps.

On January 1, 1859, Venezuela issued its first set of adhesives. It consisted of three small-sized stamps to the value of 1⁄2 real, orange or yellow in color; 1 real blue or dark blue; and 2 reales red or rose, all imperforate. The design shows the arms of the country between branches on a background of vertical lines. On top in two lines are (in white letters) the words “Correo de Venezuela,” the value, also in white letters, is in a tablet at bottom. The paper is white, but there is also a scarce set on bluish paper. The stamps were made at Caracas in the lithographic offices of Senor Felix Rasco, and are lithographed in two distinctly different qualities. From this circumstance has arisen the assumption that one set only is lithographed and the other engraved, the former to be a kind of provisional issue, put in circulation during the preparation of the engraved plates. Senf’s Catalogue states in conformity with others that all stamps up to 1882 are solely made by lithography, adding a few characteristic points between the two printings of 1859-60, for which apparently two transfers on stone have been employed.

Coarse Printing

Details of design are indistinct, especially are the white letters of the inscriptions partly thick and partly thin or have run into each other.

The spaces between the stamps of a sheet are without printed dividing lines.

The intermediate spaces, although unequal in width, are sufficiently wide to allow dividing the stamps without mutilating them.

Fine Printing

Paper hard and crackling, and from the gum more or less brownish in tone.

All details of design are clear, especially exhibit the white letters of the inscription a certain symmetry and sharpness.

There are colored vertical division lines in the spaces between the stamps.

Most of the stamps are placed very close together, and frequently they are so much slanting to one side that the division line runs into the outer frame of the stamps, thereby making it often impossible to divide the stamps without damaging them.

On August 7, 1861, three supplementary values were issued to satisfy, no doubt, the demand for stamps of a smaller denomination. They are in centavos, the currency of Venezuela then being 1 peso (boliviano) of 100 centavos, divided into 8 reales. The stamps are of the same design as the foregoing issue, but are larger and square; the Coat of Arms this time has a white background, and all letters are colored. The values and colors are:

1⁄4 centavo, green or yellow-green; 1⁄2 centavo gray-lilac or brown-lilac; 1 centavo brown or dark brown. All early stamps of Venezuela can be found in a large range of shades.

From November 1863 until the beginning of 1864 an entirely new design, uniform for all values, made its appearance. It is rather pleasing and consists of an eagle on a solid disc of color within a pearl border, seven stars above, and a ribbon with “Venezolana” below. In the rectangular frame on top the word “Federacion,” and value at bottom. Reference list: 1⁄2 centavo, pale red; 1 centavo, slate-gray; 1⁄2 real, orange to light yellow; 1 real, blue to dark blue; 2 reales, green to blue-green. Of the 1⁄2 real there is a second type from a re-engraved plate in which the right foot of the eagle is further away from the circle which contains now 52 pearls, instead of 49 as before, and the value “Medio Real” is in slightly thinner letters.

On January 1, 1866, another set of adhesives was issued, returning to the armorial design. This time the stamps are perfectly square, and the arms is placed on a solid ground together with a ribbon containing the motto “Dios y federacion” (God and Federation) within an octagonal frame, the whole being set in a square frame. The inscription is a more ambitious one, reading “Correo do los E.E. UU. De Veneza.” (Post of the United States of Venezuela). The values are: 1⁄2 centavo yellow-green, 1 centavo blue green, 1⁄2 real rose or brown violet, 1 real vermilion, 2 reales yellow. The 1⁄2 centavo and 1⁄2 real stamps exist tête-bêche, the 1 real and 2 reales were cut diagonally and used as 1⁄2 and 1 real respectively. Although the stamps are issued imperforate some values are met with perforated privately. The 1⁄2 real is known to have been issued in July 1870, printed on a very much thicker wove paper, and April 1897, the Timbre poste proved with its customary (sometimes wearisome) minuteness that the lithographer, Felix Rasco of Caracas, had made a second transfer causing a lot of small differences. It is in this second transfer that the tête-bêche stamps appear. By the way, the sheets contain 135 stamps in 15 rows of 9.

January 1, 1874, a new issue was brought out. Same design as 1866 series, but the 1⁄2 centavo is omitted and a 2 centavos added, the new set printed in partly different colors. A feature of this series is a remarkable overprint used as a safeguard against fraud. It consists of two lines of diamond letters 6 mm. apart, the top line always repeating the word “Contraseña,” the bottom line “Estampillas de Correo.” In 1875 the lettering was made a trifle larger. There are numerous errors and misprints, for instance Estampilla, Correos, omissions of capitals, reversion of lines (Contraseña as bottom line), placing overprint upside down, etc. The 1 real stamp occurs tête-bêche five times on a sheet of 150.

On January 1, 1880, Venezuela issued the first of the long line of stamps bearing a portrait of Simon Bolivar. The arms design is not used again, and we also have in this set the last of the lithographed adhesives, although in 1887 a spontaneous outbreak of lithographic deterioration occurred.

A few words about this valiant solder and statesman, Simon Bolivar, who plays such a prominent part on the stamps of Venezuela up to the present day, must be inserted here. He was born July 24, 1783, in Caracas. Being one of the patriots, he headed many expeditions against the Spaniards, and with only a small force delivered his native country from its oppressors under Monteverde. In August 1813 he entered Caracas in triumph. At the end of 1814, however, the Spaniards were again masters of the situation, but at last, after Bolivar’s great victory at Boyaca, August 7, 1819, he was enthusiastically hailed as “Liberator and father of his country,” driving the Spaniards away forever in 1820.

Bolivar was elected first President in 1821. Afterwards he liberated Peru, and a new republic, Bolivia, was named after him. This great and skillful general died in retirement at Cartagena, December 17, 1830.

The design of the new set is simple yet effective, consisting of a likeness of Bolivar looking to the left on a colored background within an oval; “Venezuela” above, denomination of value below, and numerals in squares repeated twice. With regard to the latter, it must be mentioned that in 1880 the currency was changed from peso to bolivar, divided in 100 centimos. The paper is of two kinds, ordinary wove and a very decidedly thick paper. The stamps are now perforate (11). Six values were issued: 5 centimos blue, dark blue; 10 centimos carmine-rose, brick-red; 25 centimos light yellow to orange; 50 centimos brown, dark brown; 1 bolivar light and deep green. The 50 centimos stamp has been bisected diagonally and each half used as a 25 centimos value.

August 15, 1882, witnessed the issue of an entirely new series. The stamps were finely engraved (very likely in the United States), showing a portrait of Bolivar in oval, set into various artistic frames. With the exception of the 5 centimos label, the numeral of value is repeated in all four corners. Wove paper, perf. 12: 5 centimos blue, 10 centimos red-brown, 25 centimos light brown, 50 centimos green, 1 bolivar violet. Of this set also the 10 centimos and 50 centimos stamps have been cut diagonally to procure 5 centimos and 25 centimos stamps. Many adhesives of the 1882 issue are found with what looks at first sight like an overprint, “FUERA DE HORA.” This is merely a cancellation for letters posted over the counter after closing the boxes, and means “After the hour.”

In 1887-88 there suddenly appeared the foregoing series of engraved stamps printed locally by lithography, and not perforated but rouletted (8); the 25 centimos stamp being also perf. 11. Why this should have come to pass is a puzzle; it is, as another writer remarked, very difficult to imagine why, possessing such finely engraved stamps, the Post Office should ever have adopted these lithographed imitations. But the ways of South American States are hard to interpret.

In October 1892, the first provisionals were launched forth. Owing to a scarcity of 25 centimos labels a provisional supply was procured by stamping two of the current stamps with a violet hand-stamp bearing in a circle the words “Resolucion de 10 de Octubre 1892” and “25 Centimos” across. The 5 centimos and 10 centimos of 1882 were thus treated, and it must not be overlooked that, whereas usually provisionals are created by lowering existing values (an excellent method to prevent fraud), in this case the value was considerably raised. Not satisfied with what had been done the authorities similarly treated the 25 centimos and 50 centimos adhesives of the same series, making 1 bolivar stamps of them. But why did they spoil in this way the needed 25 centimos stamps when there was a scarcity of this very same value?

In the next year, 1893, in consequence of a large number of stamps having disappeared during the previous revolutionary movements, the stock in hand of the authority was overprinted with the national arms, either in red or black, on a kind of groundwork of slanting lines running from left upwards to right. This overprint, covering the whole stamp, is frequently shifted to one side or other, also printed upside down or even on the back of the stamps, and it cannot be said to have a beautifying influence on the otherwise nice enough postage labels.

1893 was surely a busy year at the Venezuelan Post Office Department. After the above mentioned exploit, a Columbus stamp was issued to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. It is engraved by the American Bank Note Co., similar in size and appearance to the Columbian series of the U.S.A.., and depicts Columbus and his companions raising a cross on the land. The stamp is perf. 12, value and color, 25 centimos violet.

Not enough yet, a brand new set followed immediately, comprising the usual values: 5 centimos red-brown, 10 centimos blue, 25 centimos violet, 50 centimos violet-brown, 1 bolivar green. The series is nicely engraved by the American Bank Note Co., showing the head of Bolivar to the right within an oval band inscribed “Correos” above, denomination of value below and the numerals placed in the sides of the oval in a rather odd manner, that is, horizontally instead of vertically. These numerals are also twice repeated in the lower spandrels but are seemingly too small there.

On February 8, 1895, Venezuela celebrated the centenary of Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, one of the liberty men and victor over the Spaniards; 1825-28 President of Bolivia, assassinated 1830. A circular handstamp with inscription “Primer Centenario del Mariscal Sucre, 1795, 8 de Febrero 1895” was applied on all letters passing through the post during three days.

July 4, 1896, another Jubilee was enacted, that of General Francisco de Miranda, of whom the Government must have had an exalted opinion. A special set of five stamps was brought out to be used during four months, and the inscription on them, “Apoteosis de Miranda,” means nothing less than that the General is placed among the Gods! The labels are of the Columbus stamp size but have a bare aspect because instead of showing us a spirited historical representation, something from which we could get an inkling of Miranda’s greatness, we find nothing but a miniature map of Venezuela in the center. Still, this map is also interesting in as much as it shows clearly the boundary (from a Venezuelan point of view) between the Republic’s and British territory. The values and colors were as follows: 5 centimos light green, 10 centimos light blue, 25 centimos yellow, 50 centimos red, 1 bolivar violet, perf. 12. Several tête-bêche stamps are to be found on every sheet of the 50 centimos value.

In April 1899, a new array of regular postage stamps presumably of U.S.A. manufacture helped to swell the already long list of Venezuelan issues. The labels show again the head of Bolivar but now to the left. Above the portrait are the words “Correos de Venezuela” on a ribbon, and below in a straight line is the value indicated by either Centimos or Bolivar and Bolivares respectively. A numeral in a square is repeated on each side. For the first time a higher value, 2 bolivares, has been added, as will be seen from the following list: 5 centimos dark green, 10 centimos vermilion, 25 centimos dark blue, 50 centimos gray, 1 bolivar light green, and 2 bolivares orange. Perforation as usual (12). The colors, as is the case with engraved stamps, do not vary greatly, or possibly the editions were small, not requiring many printings. There is, furthermore, an addition to the above set, a registration stamp for 25 centimos of a somewhat similar design to the foregoing issue but larger, besides having added twice the word “Certificado” (registered). The color is light brown.

Not long after the 1899 set was issued to the public, a large theft of stamps took place, and in consequence the remaining stock received in black an anti-theft surcharge in the shape of a fanciful design covering each stamp completely. This design is a laurel branch behind a ribbon on which appears the word “Resellada” (re-issued) and the initials “R.T.M.” (the “T” looks far more like an F), meaning Ramon Tello Mendoza, the Minister of Finance.

A few months later, in September 1900, another design was applied over the 5, 10 and 25 centimos stamps. This time, besides “Resellada,” we notice the year “1900” and the bold signature of President Castro, one of the chief figures in the last political muddle, and a crafty party leader. On the 5 centimos and 25 centimos values, the overprint has been seen upside down. The two higher values were printed in different colors, 50 centimos orange, 1 bolivar gray, and then received the black overprint “1900” only, without the fancy design. Senf and Kohl also chronicle the 5, 10 and 25 centimos with “1900” only.

At the end of 1902 a set of curious provisional stamps was issued at Carupano, a seaport town in the Venezuelan State of Bermudez with less than 13,000 inhabitants. The labels are type-set, of large size, oblong in shape, and printed on colored paper. The inscription reads: “Correos de Venezuela – Carupano, 1902 – No hay estampillas – Provisorio – Vale B. 0,05” (or other values) in five lines. E.W.S.N. states that the 10 centimos is smaller than the other four values, is set in a different type and with a different pattern of frame, and is printed in tête-bêche pairs. The others are printed in hand press in strips of ten. In every case the value is expressed in decimals of a bolivar. Reference list: 5 centimos purple on orange, 10 centimos black on orange, 25 centimos purple on green, 50 centimos green on yellow, 1 bolivar blue on rose.

Herewith we have arrived at the end of the present “Correos” stamps of Venezuela. As far back as January 15, 1900, a decree was issued ordering a complete new set of stamps from the American Bank Note Co., yet nothing further has been heard. Smith’s Monthly Circular for April 1900, published even a full list of all the kinds, values and colors. After the settlement of the present financial and political affairs, we shall probably very soon receive an addition to the philatelic output of Venezuela.