Monday, April 21, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Albania

Albania Overprint
Two-headed Eagle
Albania is a country located adjacent to Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo, and across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of the boot of Italy. Its location has made it a prime spot for invasion and both World Wars have figured prominently in its history.

Initially, the land of Albania was once part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the collapse of that empire, Albania was able to achieve its independence in 1912. In 1920, a republic was formed, and following some periods of political instability, Ahmet Zogu was declared Prime Minister. After a constitutional change that converted the country to a monarchy, Zogu was crowned King Zog I, in 1928. He stayed on the throne for 11 years, until Italy invaded Albania during World War II. In 1943, Germany replaced Italian forces, and in 1944 the German occupiers withdrew. Forces aligned with the Communists took the reigns of power, and the People's Republic of Albania was declared in 1946. Thirty years later, in 1976, the country was renamed the Socialist Peoples Republic of Albania. For the last several years, the country has moved toward democracy, although the transition has been slow.

Through all of this political turmoil, the consequences for the people of Albania have been tremendous. The political, social and technological infrastructure of the country has deteriorated to such a point that Albania lags far behind most of Europe in terms of advancement. The Albanians will have to overcome years of corruption. All of these political periods are represented on the stamps of Albania and knowledge of these periods is helpful in determining the date of a given stamp.

Albanian Stamps
Note spelling variations in country name
If you've ever sorted through stamps and are used to native spellings being similar to their English translation, this country will throw you for a loop. The name Albania is an English name; the name of the country in its native language is "Shqipƫria". The native name means "Land of the Eagles"; the national symbol for Albania is a two-headed eagle.

To add a little more confusion about the name, there have been many different spellings of the name to appear on the country's postage stamps. All of the names begin with the unique three-letter combination of "Shq" so that would be your tip off that the stamp you are examining is from Albania.

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog recognizes nearly 3000 regular issue stamps as authentic. It seems that Albania turned on the printing presses and left them running, as this number is a tremendous amount of stamps for a country which has 3.5 million inhabitants. Like many Eastern European countries, Albania uses stamp issues as a means of raising much-needed money for their deteriorating infrastructure. To put the number of stamps in perspective, it took 53 years to reach the first 1000 stamps issued (1966) and only 15 years to reach the next 1000 (1981). The stamp issues have diminished as they have yet to reach the third 1000 stamp block in the 27 years since.

Fortunately, for collectors, the Back-of-the-Book stamps have not been anywhere nearly as prolific. Scott recognizes 40 semi-postal stamp issues, with the charity portion mainly going to health-related causes such as the Albanian Red Cross. A total of 81 Air Post stamps, 3 Special Delivery stamps, and 44 Postage Due stamps round out the Back-of-the-Book stamp issues.

It would be difficult for the average collector to complete this country. The early issues are in short supply, leading to high costs. The first 10 stamps, for example, issued in 1913, have a combined catalog value for over $3,000 US in used condition (mint is more), and stamp #11 catalogs for the same amount!

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