Postal history and postage stamps of Switzerland

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The Swiss postal history can be preserved thanks to numerous letters to the Middle Ages trace. The country has become known among philatelists above all for being the first country in the world to issue postage stamps after Great Britain with Zurich 4 and Zurich 6 . This time of the canton stamps is an extremely popular collecting area. Today you can find the inscription "Helvetia" on Swiss postage stamps in order not to prefer any language in Switzerland. A postal code system has existed since 1964 .

The Swiss postal history before the federal state

The first directories on Swiss letters

As in most Central European countries , the first postal services in Switzerland can already be found in the Middle Ages . In most cases, however, these did not represent a regulated postal system, but rather different forms of private courier services . The first indications of an “orderly” Swiss postal system can be found in the middle of the 17th century. At this time, the first postal directories appeared on letters from the Old Confederation . Just a few decades later, the first postmarks were used in Switzerland. This is an indication of the increased existence of post offices at the time. The first Swiss postmark dates from 1689 and was used in Geneva . This hand stamp showed the words "DE GENEVE" (from Geneva) and was applied to letters from Geneva to France .

Several French-speaking places in Switzerland followed this example. In the meantime, however, there were only handwritten markings in the remaining areas . In the following decades, more common place stamps were introduced in Switzerland. In the 1780s the first can be found in Aarau , Basel , St. Gallen , Lausanne , Vevey , Bern , Freiburg im Üechtland and Saint-Blaise . The postal connections between the individual Swiss locations and the postal system experienced constant improvements.

Under Napoléon , the postal system fell into French hands

The takeover of the postal system by France

The expansion of the Swiss postal system was interrupted by the invasion of French troops on May 5, 1798. In the newly established Helvetic Republic , the postal system has now been taken over and administered by France. The restrictions on the sovereignty of the individual cantons during this time proved to be quite conducive to the development of a uniform postal system. The post offices of the larger cities were provided with oval stamps with insignia of the newly established republic, the postmarks and tariffs standardized.

At the time of the French occupation, the well-organized French field post was used in Switzerland. Numerous hand stamps on French field post letters, such as the Rhine Army based in Basel , bear witness to this. After the collapse of the Helvetic Republic in 1803, the independence of the cantons was strengthened again by a new constitution.

However, several French-speaking cantons fell to France, which have now been fully integrated into the well-developed French postal system. In France they were given names and serial numbers: Mont Blanc (84), Mont-Terrible (87), Léman (99) and Simplon (127); Mont-Terrible was dissolved in 1800 and Haut-Rhin (66) was annexed. With the fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the old order was restored during the restoration .

The cantonal post office

The first Swiss postage stamp

Zurich 4 and Zurich 6

The great independence subsequently led to a largely independent development of the postal system in the Swiss cantons. The relationships and connections that had already been established remained in place, but no centrally controlled postal system was set up. A similar development could be observed at the same time in the German Confederation . When developing their own postal system, the three cantons of Zurich , Geneva and Basel deserve special mention as they were the only ones to issue postage stamps to simplify the postal system.

The first Swiss postage stamps of this kind were issued in the Canton of Zurich. The Zurich government council approved a “simplification of the postal taxes for letters from the canton of Zurich”. With two different value levels of 4 and 6 cents , the tariffs for postal traffic within the canton should be covered. Within the city, the city post tariff of 4 cents applied, within the canton 6 cents had to be paid for the delivery of a letter. Registered mail had to be franked with an additional stamp of 4 and 6 centimes. These two postage stamps , which collectors also call Zurich 4 and Zurich 6 due to their dominant numbered drawings , could finally be used from March 1, 1843. These imperforated stamps, however, did not have any gum coating .

The Geneva takeover of the idea

Double geneva

The canton of Zurich was soon followed by the French-speaking canton of Geneva. On June 13, 1843, the Geneva finance department decided to commission the competent authorities with the preparation of drafts for postage stamps based on the models of Great Britain and Zurich. On September 26, 1843, the postal tariffs were finally set, which amounted to 5 centimes within a municipality and 10 centimes within the canton up to a weight of one ounce . For this purpose, the so-called double Geneva was finally issued by the Geneva Post on September 30th, which was worth 10 centimes as a whole and halved as a 5 centimes stamp could be used for local traffic. The stamp was designed accordingly.

This issue of stamps was initially only accepted very reluctantly by the people of Geneva, especially since the use of stamps was not mandatory. The system with the halved stamps for the local post initially seemed a bit strange. In order not to be left with leftovers, the Geneva postal administration decided to sell half a double Geneva from March 1, 1844, with a postage value of 5 cents at a price of 4 cents. Using postage stamps saved 1 centimes for local letters and 2 cents for cantonal letters.

New editions

Nevertheless, after all the Double Geneva stamps had been used up, the Geneva Post decided to issue a new, ordinary series of stamps. In addition, the decision was made to transport all letters up to a weight of one ounce within the canton at a price of 5 cents. The difference between local postage and cantonal postage was eliminated. Heavier letters weighing up to three ounces were transported within the canton for 10 centimes. These innovations also made a new stamp issue necessary, as the inscription on the double Geneva still mentioned local postage and canton postage.

The first new postage stamp with a unit postage of 5 centimes appeared on April 1, 1845 and was designed very much like a halved double Geneva. However, it was overall larger than its predecessor and had an inscription adapted to the new tariff system. The reduced sales price of 4 centimes was retained, however. In the following years the eagle drawing was enlarged a little and the paper color changed. The philatelist knows these three variants under the names "Kleiner Adler", "Heller Grosser Adler" and "Dunkler Grosser Adler". Geneva also issued its own envelopes with stamp imprints, which are also cut out on ordinary letters.

The Basel Dybli

Basel pigeon

As the third and last canton, Basel finally issued its own postage stamp on July 1, 1845. This was intended for the city post office and had a face value of 2½ cents. The design of this stamp in particular caused a sensation at the time. With a carrier pigeon , a motif was chosen that did not correspond to the usual images of numbers, coats of arms or rulers. In addition, the “ Basler Taube ” designed by the architect Melchior Berri was the world's first multi-colored postage stamp. In Switzerland, the Basler Taube is better known as Basler Dybli ( Basler Pigeon ).

Swiss Post

Local post in postal district I and postal district VIII

Swiss Post was founded on January 1, 1849 . She took over the central administration of passenger transport as well as the delivery of mail and money . Standardization was very slow, however, and the three cantons with cantonal stamps used them until September 30, 1854. In Postkreis I even their own transitional stamps were issued. These included the canton of Geneva and the Nyon district in the canton of Vaud . The first postage stamp issues of the postal district, the Vaud , are named after the latter .

Vaud's first 4 centimes postage stamp was issued on October 15, 1849 and shows the Swiss cross in a post horn . However, the cut stamp in landscape format was soon replaced by the Vaud at 5 Centimes. This was made simply by changing the printing plate of the 4 centimes and was used from January 22nd, 1850. Since the printing plate consisted of 100 stamps, there could be a hundred different variants of how the value indication could look. Due to the short period of use of the Vaud at 4 centimes, only a few pieces have been made and have been preserved. Fewer than 5 centimes were used up after January 22nd.

The successor mark has become known under the name Neuchâtel , although its use was by no means restricted to this canton. This stamp again shows the Swiss coat of arms, but in portrait format. This 5 centime stamp was the last transitional stamp of postal district I. However, there was a similar issue in postal district VIII. This included the canton of Geneva and also the Swiss city of Winterthur , after which the only transitional stamp of this postal district is named, the " Winterthur ". Like Vaud 4 and 5, it shows a Swiss cross in a post horn in landscape format.

The first general editions for Switzerland

Local postage stamp for 2½ cents

In May 1850, the first postage stamps were issued by the newly founded Swiss Federal Post Office. Together with the subsequent postage stamps issued in 1851 and 1852, they form the series local post and rayon stamps . In addition to these new issues, the older canton stamps and the issues from the transition period remained valid. With their eponymous inscriptions, the local post and rayon stamps should contribute to making Switzerland's new postage system more customer-friendly. In addition to the motif, a Swiss cross with a post horn, the inscriptions Orts-Post or Poste Local , Rayon I , Rayon II or Rayon III were found on the stamps. The design of the new stamp issue shows a resemblance to the Neuchâtel.

These inscriptions above the post horn indicated the circumference within which a letter weighing up to half a lot could be transported. The decisive factor here was not only the distance, but also the number of hours the postman traveled . A separate issue of postage stamps was dispensed with for the postage zone Rayon IV. These were also dissolved in 1862 and treated as Rayon II from now on. For every further half a lot an additional 5 centimes had to be stuck on. The following table shows the postage zone within which the individual stamps were valid.

Postage zone fee League hours kilometre
Local post ( Poste Locale ) 2½ cents within the community within the community
Rayon I 5 cents up to 2 leagues up to 9.6 km
Rayon II 10 cents up to 10 leagues up to 50 km
Rayon III 15 cents up to 40 league hours up to 200 km
Rayon IV 20 cents from 40 leagues from 200 km

The development up to the First World War

Patriotic motives

The stamps of the following decades were primarily characterized by patriotic motifs. As early as 1851, thought was given to replacing the local post and rayon stamps, which at that time had not all appeared. One wanted to replace the heraldic motif with a more representative representation. Swiss Post agreed on the issue of a Helvetia motif, which should be based on the new coins of the Swiss federal state.

So far as all Swiss stamps except for Basler pigeon in lithography had been made, it has not been in a position to the new Helvetia brands schedule in book printing to produce. That is why the first Helvetia stamps, which appeared on September 15, 1854, came from Munich . Soon afterwards these could be replaced by postage stamps from the Federal Mint in Bern . In contrast to the Munich prints, however, the Bern prints were mostly unclear and blurred. As a result, the wreath of the seated Helvetia often reminds more of a disheveled head of hair . This issue was soon given the nickname “Strubel”, based on Struwwelpeter .

The following editions also showed the portrait of Helvetia in various representations. Incidentally, from October 1862 these first appeared serrated . Until the beginning of the 20th century, Helvetia dominated the motifs of Swiss stamp issues. It only disappeared from the Swiss postage stamps at the end of 1942. From 1907 it received steadily growing competition from Wilhelm Tell ( Tell breast picture , from 1914) and his son ( Tell boy with crossbow ) as a definitive stamp motif . The first edition, which showed little Walter behind an oversized crossbow , had great teething problems.

Modernization and new techniques

Postman uniforms from 1900, 1980, 1870 and 1950

The postal system was also modernized during the same period. From 1857 onwards, the old stagecoaches were slowly being replaced by the first rail mail deliveries . These enabled mail delivery to be significantly faster. The last horse mail in Switzerland was only stopped in Avers in 1961 . The rail mail service also lasted longer than average. He was only hired by the Swiss Post in 2004. This happened relatively late, although the Swiss Post used the first motor vehicles to transport mail as early as 1903. After rail mail and motor vehicles, the first air mail transports soon took place in Switzerland. From 1913 onwards, numerous flight stamps appeared on the occasion of private flight events. The first official airmail stamps were issued in 1919.

The security features of Swiss postage stamps were also significantly improved during this period. While the first Swiss postage stamps were issued without any security features, the Helvetia stamps were the first protective measures against forgeries . These were silk threads of different colors worked into the postage stamp paper. From 1862 the Swiss postage stamps were stamped with an oval cross on the reverse. From 1905 there was finally a switch to the use of watermarks , which were supposed to make forgery more difficult. Fiber paper was introduced two years later.

New types of postage

During this period, numerous new types of stamps appeared in Switzerland, but most of them were abolished after a few decades. These include postage stamps that were first issued in 1878, as well as telegraph stamps. In addition, there are special types of postage that were rarely represented outside of Switzerland. These are, for example, postage-free stamps that can be traced back to the free mail delivery carried out by the converted and interned French military during the Franco-German War . There are also railway stamps and postage-paid notes from this period.

The development until today

The time of the world wars

The neutrality of Switzerland, it is thanks to the effects of the world wars was largely spared. This enabled an undisturbed expansion of the own postal system. Even before the First World War , Switzerland began issuing charity stamps for Pro Juventute . During the world wars, Pro Juventute devoted itself primarily to combating war-related needs with the proceeds from the sale of stamps.

During the world wars, Switzerland maintained a censorship system for foreign mail. However, the Swiss Red Cross tried to use Switzerland's neutrality and set up the country as a transshipment point for the mail of prisoners of war . Since a decision by the Universal Postal Union at the Universal Postal Congress in 1906 , this had to be transported free of charge. These attempts, as well as the funding of social projects at the time, were crowned with success.

International organizations in Switzerland

The expenditure for the UN in Geneva is often viewed as a separate collection area

In the 20th century, Switzerland increasingly began to issue stamps for international organizations. In addition to its own official stamps, it issued its own editions for the League of Nations for the first time in 1922 . Other organizations such as the International Labor Office , the International Bureau of Education , the World Health Organization , the International Refugee Organization , the meteorological world organization , the Universal Postal Union , the International Telecommunication Union , the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Olympic Committee followed the 2000th

Switzerland's most famous international editions are undoubtedly those for the United Nations . These are published together with Vienna and New York and already have an international audience of collectors. The first Swiss editions were made on October 4, 1969. Most recently, Swiss Post issued a stamp in the spring of 2006 in honor of the UN. The topic was the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Stamp printing from 1930

The printing of stamps was restructured in 1930 and hived off from the Federal Mint. The newly created PTT stamp printing department was relocated in Ostermundigen , at the headquarters of the PTT general management . The printing of the Pro Juventute stamp series from 1931 was outsourced to Hélio Courvoisier SA in La Chaux-de-Fonds - it didn't stop there: the PTT companies became regular customers of Courvoisier.

In the years that followed, a fixed work schedule became established: Definitive stamps were produced by the stamp printing company using the letterpress or offset printing process, while Courvoisier's special and advertising stamps, including Pro Juventute and Pro Patria, were produced using the gravure printing process . This new structure had different effects on the postage stamps: for the first time larger series of stamps were created in which different frankings were given different motifs (1932 Gotthard Railway anniversary, 1934 definitive series landscape pictures).

In the case of the special stamps, which Courvoisier produced from around 1937 using etching gravure, the regular use of several printing inks became apparent for the first time. Monochrome stamp motifs remained until 1949, which changed suddenly. The increasing number of special, advertising and commemorative stamps meant that stamps in the colorful Courvoisier print made up more than half of the annual expenditure. With the exception of one series (1973–1975), the stamp printing company remained with definitive stamps until 1982 with monochrome printing.

The precise Courvoisier print had a decisive influence on the appearance of Swiss philately, and the fact that there were no misprints was particularly remarkable. The indirect advertising through the work for the PTT earned Courvoisier orders from over 100 postal administrations over the years and the reputation of being one of the leading postage printing companies worldwide. However, quality has always been reflected in the price.

For a good 70 years, Courvoisier and the stamp printing company shaped “Switzerland in small format” before both disappeared from the market within a very short time. Courvoisier shut down postage stamp printing in April 2001 due to a worldwide decline in orders and increasing price pressure. In the last financial years before the shutdown, the almost 35 employees produced between 250 and 300 different stamps per year; Between 500 and 700 million individual stamps were printed annually. Within a month, Swiss Post announced that it would close its stamp printing plant. The closure in June 2002 was justified with the lack of future prospects for postage stamp printing.

The situation today

Today, Swiss Post AG is a company with around 61,000 employees. It currently transports around 2.3 billion addressed mail items and over 110 million parcels each year . With her often unusual stamp issues she tries to attract a new collector audience. For example, she issued postage stamps that were printed or embroidered on wood and fabric or that smelled of chocolate. Or popular characters for children like the singing Swiss mouse Jimmy-Flitz . The Post caused a sensation in 2007 when, for the first time in its history , it portrayed a famous person still alive on a stamp, Roger Federer .

In August 2009, shortly after the letter monopoly was relaxed from 100 to 50 grams, Quickmail AG was the first and so far only private postal service provider in Switzerland. In September 2009, the company received the concession for the transport of parcels and letters weighing over 50 grams from the then postal regulatory authority PostReg and thus also the authorization to issue its own postage stamps. According to PostCom's 2012 Activity Report, Quickmail is the market leader among private service providers in the area of ​​addressed domestic letters weighing up to 1 kg. So far, the legislature has opened up 25% of the mail market to competition, with Swiss Post having a market share of 98.7% in the opened submarket for domestic letters from 50 grams.

On May 26, 2011, Quickmail issued the first stamp from a private postal service provider in Switzerland. The block postage stamp shows a letter drawn in the sand on the beach with the company logo. The stamp with a face value of CHF 2.50 has a circulation of 10,000. The actual vignette is stamped with a company stamp with the date, but no time. The "Native Butterflies" stamp series followed on June 27, 2012. These are three self-adhesive motifs with a total print run of 116,000 copies.

The SMS postage stamp was introduced on a trial basis in 2013 and finally introduced in 2014.

See also

Due to geographical and historical circumstances, Swiss Post has close relationships and links with postal systems in other countries. See also:


  • Jürg Abbühl, Walter Knobel (Ed.): Yellow moves . The Swiss Post from 1960. Published by the Swiss Post, Stämpfli, Bern 2011, ISBN 978-3-7272-1217-8 (a comprehensive self-description of the Swiss Post - from the entrepreneur's point of view, with statements from contemporary witnesses).
  • Arthur Wyss: The Swiss Post from its beginnings to the present. In: Archive for German Postal History Issue 2/1978, pp. 102-137.
  • Philately of the Confederation - First Swiss stamps issued 170 years ago. In: expertise Publisher: Deutsche Post AG, issue 1/2013, pp. 8–11.
  • Manual dictionary of the postal system , publisher Bundespost, Frankfurt am Main, 1953, pp. 673–675.
  • Hans Schwarz: 175 years of Swiss postage stamps: a national cultural asset is celebrating its birthday. In: The Philatelic Journalist No. 156 of July 2018, pp. 14-16

Web links

Commons : Swiss Postal History and Postage Stamps  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Post special stamp for Roger Federer -, April 10, 2007
  2. ^ Postmarket: License for Quickmail AG -, September 22, 2009
  3. 2012 Activity Report of the Postal Commission ( Memento of the original from June 6, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. -, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ The first private "postage stamp" - In: NZZ of June 7, 2011
  5. Quickmail with the "Native Butterflies" stamp series - Quickmail, June 27, 2012