By Christer Brunström
Cinderella specialist Christer Brunström goes beyond the catalogue listings to present a special report for those looking to add something different to their Andorra collections.
Some ten years ago this writer travelled by bus from Barcelona to Andorra, a small landlocked country located high up in the Pyrenees between France and Spain (Fig 1).
As the bus struggled along the meandering road, we had some spectacular views of mountainous landscapes before reaching Andorra la Vella, the principality’s capital.
Andorra is home to some 75,000 people who mostly speak Catalan. There is also a large group of expats who enjoy the tax benefits offered by the principality. In winter, skiing attracts many visitors from both France and Spain. Before returning home, they most likely fill their cars with cheap alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and electronic gadgets for which Andorra is famous.
Among the world’s states, Andorra occupies a unique position. It is a principality with two princes – the Bishop of Seo de Urgel in Spain and the French president. These positions are mainly ceremonial as the country has a democratic system of government. Despite this, both France and Spain play major roles in the country – especially so when it comes to the country’s postal system. There are both French and Spanish postal services, each releasing stamps of their own. This has been going on since the 1920s.
The first Spanish Andorran stamps were issued in 1928, followed by French stamps in 1931. At first the situation was rather complicated as there were two currencies in use – the French franc and the Spanish peseta. However, this all changed with the introduction of the euro.
Mail to Spain is supposed to be handed in at the Spanish post offices, while letters and cards addressed to France should be handled by their French counterparts. This curious arrangement makes for some rather interesting postal history items. However, in this story, I intend to spotlight a number of Andorran stamp issues which cannot be found in our general stamp catalogues except, perhaps, as footnotes.
Republic of Andorra
Long before the two postal services in the principality issued their first stamps, collectors had been able to add Andorran stamps to their albums. In 1896, a set of 12 different values in two different designs reached the philatelic marketplace. They were undoubtedly received with considerable suspicion as the country name was given as ‘REPUBLICA DE ANDORRA’ at the top, despite it being a principality, and the Catalan word ‘CORREUS’ underneath the Andorran coat of arms (Fig 2).
The set can be found regularly perforated, line perforated or imperforate. The sheet layout included a tête-bêche pair and some of the stamps exist in the wrong colour. The stamps are watermarked ‘R A’ in script letters.
We know that these stamps were produced by Plácido Ramón de Torres (1847–1910), one of the very first stamp dealers in Spain. He was based in Barcelona and must have been well aware of the fact the Andorra was a principality. Still he chose to release postage stamps for a non-existent Andorran republic. Señor Torres was not only one of the very first Spanish stamp dealers but also a prominent forger of stamps from Spain and other countries.
It has been suggested that the ‘R A’ watermark was due to the fact that he had earlier produced forgeries of the Argentinian Rivadavia issues of 1864–67. These stamps are indeed printed on watermarked paper having the letters ‘R A’ (República Argentina) in script. Not wanting to waste the surplus paper produced for the Argentinian forgeries, he decided to print the Andorran stamps instead. The supply of script ‘R A’ watermarked paper must have quite extensive as the set is still very common today.
In his book, Andorra Andorre (published by Robson Lowe Ltd in 1974), author W A Jacques suggests that the designs were actually produced by a man called Tomás Torrabadella, who is known to have designed stamp albums for Torres. There is some evidence suggesting that Torres had the stamps printed after negotiations with the local council in Andorra. Many people in the principality were far from satisfied with the postal arrangements and wanted Andorra to be allowed to run its own postal service. If the Andorrans wanted their country to become an independent republic that would explain the ‘REPUBLICA DE ANDORRA’ caption.
In his book, Jacques includes the above set, together with the early essays produced by Frenchman Henri Douchet in the hope of having the Andorran authorities accept them. However, it is very likely that this never was Torres’s plan with the stamps. He obviously wanted to market them to gullible collectors – hence the large printing of the ‘essays’.
The early essays produced by Henri Bouchet mentioned by Jacques are extremely scarce. However, there are other Bouchet essays created for Andorra which are more plentiful. I have a number of stamps inscribed ‘PRINCIPAT D’ANDORRA’ printed in a variety of colours and all having the same denomination of 5 c., including one overprinted ‘CINCH CENTIMS’. The design is made up of arabesques and an ornate frame (Fig 3).
These essays were produced by Henri Douchet in 1907 for a planned internal postal service charging 5c. per letter. Once again, the co-princes refused to accept the proposal. There was a strong movement for Andorran independence in the early 20th century but the French and Spanish governments flatly refused all attempts to set up an independent postal service in the principality. The 1907 essays are of far inferior quality when compared with Douchet’s earlier work.
In 1928 collectors were surprised to find the appearance of Andorran postage due stamps with inscriptions in Spanish (Fig 4).
The first stamps for the Spanish post offices in the principality had been released that same year and the plan was, of course, to make collectors believe that the postage due labels had been printed to coincide with the release of regular postage stamps. However, a check in the catalogues shows that there never were any postage due labels released for the Spanish postal service in Andorra The postage due set has eight values, ranging from 5c. to 1p.50. The inscription ‘MULTA’ at the top is the Spanish word generally used to indicate a postage due fee. It is believed that these labels were actually printed by some enterprising philatelic entrepreneur, possibly located in the Netherlands or Belgium. It is quite interesting to compare the Andorran 1928 postage due labels with a rather similar looking set released by Malta in 1925. It is fairly obvious that the Maltese labels provided the inspiration for the forger.
Today this set is rarely seen. I obtained my set during a visit to the Champs Elysées open air stamp market in Paris many years ago. When I asked one of dealers if he had anything in the field of Cinderellas, locals or unissued stamps he put his hand into one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a bunch of glassine-wrapped packets. One of them contained my set which I acquired after some negotiations. He certainly was a true vest-pocket dealer!
Airmails but no airport
Tiny countries like Monaco are well known for having released numerous airmail stamps despite the fact that they do not have an airport (although there is a heliport in Monaco). This was also the case in Andorra where privately issued airmail stamps were printed in 1932.
The Spanish government in Madrid and the local council in Andorra had entered into negotiations with Jaime Nadal Maimón, a millionaire businessman from Barcelona, in 1931. Nadal was in poor health and spent long periods in La Seo de Urgel enjoying the beneficial mountain air. The plan was to initiate a regular air service between the principality, La Seo de Urgel and Barcelona speeding up the delivery of mail and cargo. The planes would also carry passengers.
In his book, Jacques states that the Spanish businessman was only referred to as ‘Señor N’ in the discussions. He had an airstrip built at Monte de Cuervo very close to the Andorran border as no suitable site could be found in the principality’s mountainous terrain. A number of test flights were carried out to the satisfaction of everyone. The airline was also allowed to issue special airmail stamps for this service and a set of 12 in three different designs was printed (Fig 5).
Sadly, the Barcelonese businessman died two weeks after he had received the concession. His heirs started the service but it was not as successful as expected as the quantity of mail was very small indeed. In fact, it seems most of the mail originated from the local council and it apparently enjoyed a free franking privilege.
The almost weekly flights were reduced to just one every two weeks. According to Jacques, as this did in no way correspond to the terms of the concession, it was withdrawn by the Spanish authorities. Another explanation is that Nadal’s heirs simply stopped financing the service as it was not profitable.
The basic set of 12 stamps also exists overprinted ‘FRANQUICIA DEL CONSELL’ to be used as service stamps by the Andorran local council (Fig 6).
A number of minor varieties are known.
The remainders were sold to the stamp trade in 1934. They were once fairly common but today the two sets are rarely met with. They are, of course, of a semi-official nature. They were listed in the famous Sanabria catalogue of worldwide airmail stamps with the note: ‘Authorized but not issued’ which sums up the nature of these interesting stamps.
Meals and hotel stays taxed
In many countries where there is a significant tourist industry visitors are requested to pay a tourist tax. Today it mostly involves a tax on hotel nights. On a recent visit to Nice on the French Riviera, a daily tourist charge was added to my hotel bill.
A similar scheme was introduced in Andorra in 1939. A meal was taxed at 25c. and 50c. was the tax for a night at a hotel. Four fiscal stamps featuring the Andorran coat of arms were printed for this tax (Fig 7).
They were supposed to be affixed to the bills to indicate that the appropriate taxes had been paid.
The set comprises 15c., 25c., 50c. and 1p. values. They were printed in large sheets containing three panes of 40 each of the higher values but only 30 stamps of the 15c. There was no tax that corresponded to the 15c. denomination.
The outbreak of World War II brought an end to the tourist industry in Andorra and the tax stamps thus had a very short life. They have no postal significance but are still actively sought by many collectors of Andorra.
Although not listed in the major stamp catalogues, the stamps described in this story add a lot of spice to any collection of Andorra. I am indebted to Gerhard Lang-Valchs for some of the information in this story. His comprehensive study of Andorran postal history ‘Historia postal (y filatélica) de Andorra’ appeared in Estudios Postales II (Madrid 2017).