Bavaria, The Land of Enchanted Castles and Fascinating Stamps
By Douglas Syson
In the southern part of Germany lies the old German state of Bavaria, its past hidden in the mists of ancient Europe. A single family ruled the land from about 900 A.D. until 1918. Luitpold was the first Duke of Bavaria in 895, and the first of the Wittelsbach line. In 1623, Maximilian I became the first Wittelsbach to assume the Electorial dignity. He was then followed by five other Electors. In 1799, Maximilian I of Zweilbrucken succeeded to the Palatinate and the Dukedom of Bavaria. He became King in 1806. He was followed in 1825 by Ludwig I, who abdicated in 1848 as the result of his scandalous affair with Lola Montez, a Spanish dancer about half his age.
His son, Maximilian II, took the throne in 1848. He was king when the first Bavarian stamps were issued. He lived until 1864 and was succeeded by his son, Ludwig II, who ruled until his mysterious death in 1886.
Following the death of Ludwig II, the castle builder, Bavaria was ruled as a Regency under Prince-Regent Luitpold, uncle of Ludwig II. Ludwig’s brother, Otto I, would normally have become king at the death of his brother, but he was insane and kept in custody for most of his life. Prince-Regent Luitpold ruled Bavaria for 25 years and was very popular with the people. Upon his death in 1912, the control passed to his son, Ludwig III. He became king in 1913 and was dethroned in 1918 as a result of the Communistic overthrow of the Bavarian government – another fascinating story. There was hope that after the overthrow of the Communistic government and when things settled down after the inflation period that devastated Germany in the early 1920’s that the kingdom would be offered to Crown Prince Rupprecht. With the rise of Nazism, this never came to pass. Since then, Bavaria has merged with the rest of Germany.
Bavaria is a story-book land. The many buildings, especially the castles, built by Ludwig II, “the mad monarch”, are famous as tourist attractions today. Probably the most famous of all is Neuschwanstein.
In 1849, Bavaria became the first German state to print and use the recently developed adhesive stamps. The first set consisted of just three values, one, three and six kreuzer stamps. The one kreuzer black has been a popular stamp for collectors for many years. It did pose a problem to the postal authorities, though, in that it was a deep black and the canceling devices used black ink. The more enterprising of the public took advantage of this to re-use the stamps. The current furor in this country over the re-use of stamps is thus not a new issue. It has been with us since the advent of the postage stamp. The government changed the color of the stamp to a lighter shade, but this did not succeed. They admitted defeat and in 1850, changed the color of the one kreuzer stamp to a pink color. Thus the one kreuzer black had a fairly short life.
The 3 kreuzer blue, on the other hand, remained in use until about 1864, following the introduction of the 3 kreuzer red in 1862.
Less than a year after the introduction of the postage stamps, the postal authorities devised a system whereby each town was given a number, and the well-known “millwheel cancel” came into being. The numbered cancel was to be applied to the postage stamp and then the town cancel was to be applied to the cover near the millwheel cancel. The system worked fine for a number of years, becoming a bit cumbersome with the addition of new post offices. These were added at the bottom of the list and issued the next available number. In late 1856, the postal authorities called in all of the millwheel cancels and then re-distributed them according to a revised alphabetical list. Thus, the same number was used by two different towns. The millwheel cancel system continued in use until March of 1869 when it was scrapped. The number of new post offices was increasing at a fairly rapid rate and the system lost its alphabetical arrangement. From then on, the towns reverted to the use of the town cancels.
Collecting millwheel cancels has become a fascinating sideline in Bavarian philately. With more than 900 different numbers, and both closed and open millwheel cancels, one could amass a very large collection in short order. The millwheel cancels were used on Scott numbers 1-22, as well as on postage due stamp J1.
In 1870, the first perforated stamps were issued. These were also the first Bavarian stamps to be watermarked. Two such sets were issued before the Bavarian currency was changed at the end of 1875 to match that of the German Empire. On the first day of January 1876, all of the previous Bavarian stamps being used were declared invalid and the new coat of arms series, in pfennigs and marks, was put into service. This series, with three different watermarks, two different perforations and a number of new values and color changes, served until 30 June 1912, when they were declared invalid for postage.
At that point in time, we have the very first set of Bavarian stamps to portray its ruler. In 1911, a complete set of stamps, from 3 pfennig to 20 marks, was issued to commemorate the 25th year of the regency of Luitpold. Two other commemorative stamps, Scott 92-93, were also issued at this time. They had postal validity for about 20 days and were only valid for use in Germany and Austria. They were very popular, though, and many of them, both mint and used, are available on the market. There were many souvenirs of the 25th anniversary of Luitpold’s regency and his 90th birthday and these were eagerly purchased by the public. The printed-to-private-order postal cards are still collected by many, as well as the multitude of view cards printed.
With the death of Luitpold in December of 1912, his son became Regent, and then in 1913 ascended the throne. In 1914, a set of stamps was issued, showing the new king. This set remained valid until the end of Bavarian postal autonomy in mid-1920. In 1918, with the collapse of the monarchy and the rise of the Communist government, the Ludwig III stamps were overprinted “Volksstaat Bayern” (Bavarian People’s State). With the collapse of the Communist government after a few months, the Ludwig III stamps were overprinted “Freistaat Bayern” (Bavarian Free State). The curious thing about this period of time is that all three varieties were valid for postage at the same time and interesting combinations can be found on cover. Also, during this time, with the rise of the Communist government in Munich, the Bavarian palatinate and other parts of Bavaria not under Communist control were supplied with stamps from Berlin, since they could not be obtained from Munich. Thus, we have the Germania and Post Office series overprinted “Freistaat Bayern”.
In early 1920, with the loss of postal autonomy looming close, the Bavarian government issued a final set of stamps, both regular postage and official stamps. These were long sets, including denominations that had not existed before. It was a totally unnecessary set, since there were plenty of the Ludwig III stamps available for use. These were issued in mid-February of 1920 and on April 1, the Bavarian Post Office was absorbed by the German Reichspost. The Bavarian stamps retained postal validity until the end of June 1920. Then, to cap things off, with the rise of inflation, the Reichspost determined that it would be cheaper to overprint all of the excess Bavarian so-called Farewell issue than to try and produce new stamps. Thus we have the Farewell issue overprinted “Deutsches Reich” and valid for use throughout Germany until the end of September 1923.
With the loss of postal autonomy, an era came to an end. Bavaria had been the first of many German states to issue a postage stamp, and was also the last of the German states to quit issuing them.
Collecting Bavaria is a lot of fun. There is the probability of being about 90% complete with little effort and a relatively small outlay of cash. The other part of Bavarian philately that is fun is the multitude of minor varieties that are to be found among its stamps. Many of them are inexpensive and easy to locate in dealers’ stocks. The 20th century material is readily available on cover and many pretty combinations can be found.
I, personally, have thoroughly enjoyed Bavaria as a collecting area. My only regret is that I did not do so sooner.
This has been reprinted from Global Stamp News – February 1991 – Issue #4