Exile governments, stamps and catalogs

July 28, 2009 by
Filed under: Stamps 

Ever since governments were ousted governments refused to accept such situations and decided to entertain their own court abroad, hoping for a day when, either by their machinations or by some remarkable change of fortune, they could become the accepted government of their former territory. The only serious exile government at this time seems to be the Tibetan government, residing in India, but recent history has shown that some groups can be persistent. Best known for its resilience was the Polish government in exileW, formed after being ousted from Poland by Nazi Germany. They not only managed to survive the Second World War but where even included in post-communist Poland, thereby proofing all along that they had formed a legitimate government abroad. Not all such exile governments however were so lucky in the past, most noticeable in Eastern Europe the exile governments of Croatia (NDHW, lead by PavelicW) and Romania (Iron GuardW, lead by Horia SimaW). These last two examples had one thing in common with the Polish exile government: they too had once been ruling a part of Europe.

Europa 1961: an example of CEPT look-alikes

Europa 1961: an example of CEPT look-alikes

The major difference however was their (lack of) esteem in Western Europe due to war atrocities committed in their respective territories, meaning in practice that they were only welcome in Francoist Spain and seen by the rest of Western Europe as the last remnants of fascist groups from Eastern Europe. Over time these groups effectively dissolved due to a lack of popular support, although in the vestiges of the political specter their legacy was kept alive, for various reasons. Be that as it may (I can imagine some of the readers having a wildly different opinion on the NDH), both these organizations have one other very interesting feature in common with the Polish exile government (and even the Tibetan exile government): they produced stamps. And that of course is where any philatelist suddenly awakes from the history lesson so far, as I did after starting to collect stamps again after a 15 year winter sleep.

OP3: 5 Kuna (Siroki Brieg), 1951

OP3: 5 Kuna (Siroki Brieg), 1951

Now, the first thing anyone with an interest in stamps should do is to get himself a proper catalog. A catalog has the advantage of giving you an idea of what you’re actually collecting (and when you’ve completed a collection) plus what prices you can expect. Obtaining a good catalog is not a problem when it comes to the regular stamps of regular (including former) nations, like the NDH until 1945 and Romanian stamps of the same period. These catalogs are readily available, quite often several. Take for example the Netherlands, my native country. No problem in getting a proper listing of stamps here: Michel, Yvert and Scott all list the stamps printed since 1852. Also, most nations have their own national catalogue (like the Netherlands, the NVPH catalog, or in Spain, the Edifil), printed in the vernacular. Some nations have several national catalogs, like Italy, which has the Sassone and Unificato catalogs (oddly enough with sometimes wildly differing prices!). The exile government stamp collector is not so lucky, he has to accept catalogs of a much lesser quality.
Again, the Polish stamps are an exception. Scott lists the stamps produced by the exile government in the UK during the Second World War (like the 1941 and 1943 sets) and Sassone lists the stamps produced for the Polish Corps fighting in Italy.

Bleiburg memorial stamps 2007

Bleiburg memorial stamps 2007

Not that those stamps were really used on a grand scale, but the fighting at Monte Cassino had given the Poles a lot of respect and perhaps that’s why these stamps are listed, unlike for instance the Ukrainian exile stamps printed in Italy, which have to make do with a graphically much lesser product. So, the Polish exile stamps are listed in professionally printed catalogs. I do not own a print version of the Scott catalog (only a version in the PDF format), but the Sassone catalog I have is a very beautiful product. Other exile stamps are at best listed in basically photocopied catalogs, like the stamps of exile groups from Latvia. Those stamps are listed in a Xeroxed A5 size booklet which only has color because of the usage of green paper for the cover… The Romanian exile stamps are listed in a catalog by Traian Popescu and Flor Strejnicu. Again, this catalog is technically nothing more than a photocopy glued together with a somewhat more colorful cover, not very attractive. (However, don’t let yourself be fooled by the look, the information in these catalogs is up to par!)When I bought these catalogs I actually paid 25 dollars for them (including postage to the Netherlands), which is rather a high price for books of such an inferior quality. Don’t get me wrong, the information inside is actually very good, but since such catalogs are volunteer efforts it’s not the information you pay for, but the production itself. And that isn’t worth 25 dollars for these very basic booklets. What a difference was the Oparic catalog of 2002 which I recently managed to obtain through the CPS! Again, 25 dollars including postage to the Netherlands (25 dollars must be a very common price in the US…), but technically a completely different ballgame. As a former employee at a publishing company of medical books I understand that color is expensive in a book, but what a treat color is, especially in a (stamp) catalog. The Oparic catalog is by far the most professionally produced catalog of exile stamps I have seen so far and perhaps will not see again in the (near) future. And not only because of it’s use of color. That would have been a major feat on it’s own, but the catalog is printed on glossy paper, excellently glued in its cover and the catalog has a perfect layout which really makes reading this book a breeze.
The catalog consists of several parts, each with its own merit. Croatian Stamp CatalogThe first few pages contain a short history of Croatia and some postal documentation from 1942. After these pages the real catalog starts, with page after page of variations of the 1951 series of stamps. The 1951 series itself is rather common (and can be easily obtained) but so far I have only very seldom seen all the other variations. Actually, without this catalog I would not have known about them, showing the value of this type of catalog. The same goes for the stamp overprints on proper NDH stamps from the Second World War. The Bleiburg stamps are more common, I’ve seen them listed on Ebay for example, but without this catalog it would have been impossible to know how many language variations were available. The second part within the listing contains the CEPT look-alikes, printed between 1960 and 1972. Why printing CEPT look-alikes was such a popular idea with exile governments is unknown to me, but the NDH group wasn’t the only one, as for instance the Romanian group did this as well and so did certain islands of the UK (like Sethou). Pages 36 through 94 then go on to show all these aforementioned stamps in their proper sheets. This may seem like a waste of space, page after page of sheets, but they are shown with some details which can be of value to collectors. A section on postal stationary is also included, with both postal cards and FDC’s plus some examples of postal usage. The FDC’s are original, in that they were produced by the exile group, but the postal usage is rather fake. I have seen this use before, where these stamps were put on regular postal envelopes with actual stamps from a real postal service (I own several examples from the Romanian exile community). For propaganda this was probably a good idea, but philatically speaking this is sheer nonsense. Take the envelopes on pages 88 and 89, the NDH stamps have no use whatsoever and these examples should probably not have been included. For people who are interested in the shady business of the anti-communist groups of Eastern Europe, the WACL FDC shown on page 90 gives a tantalizing view of yet a completely different philatelic area. Nice is also the inclusion of some stamps not produced by the exile NDH group but which have the same background theme (an independent Croatia or the suffering of the Croats). Mr. Oparic does make the correct separation between the other stamps and the postwar NDH stamps, so this catalog really lists what it should list (and not what it shouldn’t) making a distinction between the semi-official stamps of the NDH and the completely private stamps of other individuals. Perhaps in the near future the catalog being developed by Mr. Mikulic could fill that gap?

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