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Ufficio Filatelico e Numistatico
story of who to value the little things
...continue The Philately 
in the San Marino

In the wake of the improvements wrought by the French, in 1826 San Marino felt it opportune to adopt a service that was less haphazard than the simple Postman, and so on the 7th of December, the Prince and Sovereign Council decided to, “ ….set up a post office which, for such a delicate affair seems a safer and more regular method than that practiced to date... ”. In the beginning it limited itself to promoting the Postman to Postal Official, conceding him a corner of the Palazzo Pubblico, but then, in 1833, to prevent any slip-ups, a proper Post Office was built next to the Palazzo, with its very own Director, whose task was to collect and sort the correspondence. He was also equipped with the first San Marino stamp: a ‘Franking’, used to indicate to the Director of the Post at Rimini that the sender had already paid the amount necessary to frank the letter… Meanwhile, the keys to the satchel were kept exclusively by the Directors of the San Marino and Rimini offices.
The opening of the office was just the beginning of San Marino’s postal innovations. When, in November of 1834 the Postman died, instead of a new one being elected his son took his place, also with an eye to “….providing him with some means to help the impecunious state of his rather large family….” while soon after, following the entreaties of his mother, he was even assigned a horse.
The year 1840 saw the Rowland Hill reform in Great Britain, with a uniform postal fee and the adoption of paper postage stamps − the famous ‘Penny Black’. San Marino already had a uniform fee, so in the following years it limited itself to complying with the papal model by using stamps showing the tiara of the Pope, finding itself in an enclave within the Church state; then, later on, at the end of 1859, when the Romagnas became part of the Sardinian states, it changed to using stamps showing Vittorio Emanuele II. It should be emphasised that the people of San Marino who franked the correspondence did not see these stamps since they were applied at the post office in Rimini. Not many years had passed when, in 1875, San Marino took the decision to “ ….not continue to avail itself of stamps from another State for postal correspondence... ” and began negotiations with the Italian Officina Carte Valori (official government printing works) to create its own. A new postal agreement of the 2nd of March 1877, opened up an exceedingly favourable way forward for San Marino: it stipulated that “ ...the franking of correspondence from the Republic of San Marino for the Kingdom of Italy….and the franking of correspondence from the Kingdom of Italy for the Republic of San Marino, shall be represented by stamps in use in the respective State.” In short, writes Antonietta Bonelli, “San Marino had decided to proceed with issuing and therefore making use of its own stamps, and this decision answered both the opportunity to fully enjoy one of the prerogatives deriving from the sovereignty of a State, and the necessity to encourage greater and more certain sources of revenue to swell the Republic’s extremely meagre funds”. The first San Marino stamps were issued on the 1st of July 1877 but, due to a delay in delivery by the Italian printing office, did not reach San Marino until the 2nd of July and were not put on sale for a further month. There are 5 values, drawn and engraved by Enrico Repettati, and they were printed by the fledging Officina Carte Valori printing works in Turin (founded in 1866). Each value was printed on sheets of 100 examples and they show the figure for the relevant amount or the Republic’s coat of arms: 2 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 30 cents and 40 cents. 



In an era when philately was just starting out and evoked dreams of travels to exotic lands, the Republic of San Marino was not well-known even among European collectors, because of its small number of editions. Not that is until, between 1891 and 1892, a young German trader arrived on Monte Titano in search of new opportunities: his name was Otto Bickel. The first thing he did was to found a specialist magazine entitled ‘San Marino Philatelist’ which immediately publicised the San Marino stamp, whose rarity, due to the low number of issues, attracted speculators who operated in that field. “To satisfy the collectors,” Filanci writes, “ Bickel always made use of considerable numbers of stamps all with perfect centring even if employing cuttings from a book of stamps and some 2-cent fractions”. In just one year, again citing Filanci, Bickel’s activity caused such a rumpus in the sleepy postal life of San Marino, that the 5-cent value suddenly ran out. While awaiting fresh supplies it was decided to overprint 10,000 30-cent stamps. As luck would have it, in San Marino the only printer’s on hand was Prof. Giuseppe Angeli’s and it was not equipped for such an enterprise: the necessity to use five letter Cs and five figure 5s meant using every available character, even if they were different from one another, and overprinting only half the sheet. It was enough for Bickel to use these stamps to send out his magazine and the entire run was finished. These are still very valuable and are much sought after. After a succession of overprints designed to cope with the sudden shortfall, ...new supplies of stamps and postcards arrived, and the fact that the colour of the stamps had been changed to bring them into line with the Italian values turned them into an overnight sensation among collectors, while revealing to the San Marino governors just what philately meant. Also one native of San Marino operated in the field of philately with much sincerity and pluckiness: this was Alfredo Reffi who, in 1855, founded the company he chose to call Antica Casa Filatelica. He traded in postage stamps and printed the first picture postcards showing views of the country at the end of the century. These too are much sought after, and given their rarity, command high prices. The figure of this San Marino native is of some note therefore, and he can be considered a real pioneer in an activity that would open the floodgates of tourism. In 1882 San Marino issued the first full cover. The first postage due stamps are from 1897, express stamps from 1907, parcel post stamps from 1928 and the first airmail stamps from 1931. “ When Bickel left San Marino in 1894, ” Filanci continues, “at this point the people of San Marino were in a position to carry on alone...” so much so that, on the occasion of the inauguration of the brand new Palazzo for the Prince and Sovereign Council they invited a star of the time, the poet Giosuè Carducci, to give the opening speech, while in the philatelic field they brought to light a series of firsts still without equal: the first issue in the world of a charity stamp, whose profits went to the hospital; the first envelope in the world designed for philatelic use and the only free one for anyone who made an order over ITL500; the largest stamp ever issued, the 5 Lira bustone (a world record yet to be surpassed) and, in the Italian area, the first celebratory issue. In the ensuing years new agreements were drawn up and new postal services launched; the philatelic issues showed panoramic views of Monte Titano, then major events in the history of San Marino, as well as works which from year to year supported and furthered our ancient Republic’s headway. It was the year 1945 which saw the founding of the Philatelic Office which was given the task of issuing and commercializing the stamps of San Marino. Ever newer themes were proposed involving art, sport, flowers and animals. Through its stamps, postcards, envelopes and aerograms San Marino has transmitted not only knowledge of the celebrities, events, traditions and institutions of San Marino, but also cultural and more up-to-date themes, from women’s and children’s rights to defence of the environment, from a vocation of intercultural dialogue to peace. And it has often done so in an original and innovative way: as well as the various firsts we have already mentioned, in August 2009 it issued the very first stamps to be viewed in 3D with an equally innovative postal/stereoscopic pack.

the citations come from:
- M. Antonietta Bonelli - 1998 - Una Montagna di Francobolli. Published by the Azienda Autonoma di State Filatelica e Numismatica – Rep. of San Marino
- Guide Postali Marini – 2008 - Franco Filanci: Da San Marino una lunga storia di posta, primati e francobolli. Genoa)