In 1913, Albania's first definitives invoked the medieval warrior who defined the national identity. But copious overprints betrayed the new state's chronic instability
It was not until the early 20th century that an independent Albania emerged from the crumbling Ottoman Empire of Turkey, which had dominated the Balkans for centuries.
The new country comprised thousands of tribes who were very suspicious of each other, but the hunger for self-determination was the glue that held them together – that, and the support of powerful allies.
When Serbia and Greece threatened to divide the territory between them during the First Balkan War of 1912-13, Europe’s great powers instead brokered the creation of a buffer state of ethnic Albanians, to be ruled over by an appointed monarch, the German prince Wilhelm of Wied.
Albania’s first stamps were Turkish issues overprinted with a double eagle motif and the country name ‘Shqipënia’. But its inaugural definitive issue followed in December 1913.
Under a provisional government pending the arrival of the king, the stamps were typographed by the Italian government printing office in Turin and depicted Albania’s all-time national hero, Skanderbeg.
Gjergji Kastrioti, widely known as Iskander Beg or Skanderbeg by way of comparison with Alexander the Great, had served in the Ottoman army as a young man but later led a rebellion which ousted the Turks from his homeland for two glorious decades in the mid-15th century.
On a set of six stamps, ranging from 2-qint to 1-franc in value, he is shown wearing his trademark helmet topped by the skull of a horned goat, after a portrait by Heinz Kautsch.
Within a couple of months, the Skanderbeg definitives were also being pressed into service as provisional postage dues, with overprints of a large ‘T’ and the word ‘Taksë’. The use of two separate handstamps for these ensured that many varieties exist.
When Wilhelm arrived in the country on March 7, 1914, he was welcomed by the issue of a set of Skanderbeg definitives handstamped with the text ‘7 Mars’ and ‘1467 Rroftë Mbreti 1914’, linking the new monarch with the heyday of the medieval hero. Again, two different handstamps were used, so many varieties may be found.
Before the year was out, more surcharged and provisional postage due issues had appeared.
The fledgling country, however, was weak from the start. Wilhelm’s own chief minister, Essad Pasha, was soon in revolt against him, provoking civil war, and after the outbreak of World War I parts of Albania were occupied by French, Italian, Serbian, Montenegrin or Greek forces. Wilhelm fled back to Germany, having reigned for only six months.
Pasha’s self-proclaimed pro-Turkish government in the centre of the country issued another handstamped overprint in 1914, and there were subsequent local overprints for Vlorë (Valona), inscribed ‘Poste d’Albanie’, and Shkodër (Shkodra), inscribed ‘Shkodër 1919’.
Thereafter, the origina Skanderbeg definitives disappeared from the scene, although a smaller image of the hero would adorn a different design issued by the new Albanian republic in 1920.
|Europe's definitives: Albania|
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