22 July 2006
William Finlay sees what the stamps of El Salvador, both old and new, has to offer collectors. ...
To the original Pipil Mayan inhabitants it was known as Cuscatlan (‘land of beautiful jewels’), but the Spaniards piously named it El Salvador (‘The Saviour’) – the only country in the world which derives its name from Jesus Christ. It lies on the Pacific coast of Central America, with Guatemala to the west and Honduras on the north and east. With an area of just 8,123 square miles (21,040 sq. km.) – about the size of Wales – it is the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The Spaniards under Pedro de Alvarado arrived in 1524 and rapidly overran the country, establishing their capital of San Salvador (St Saviour) the following year. Like the rest of Spanish America, El Salvador rose in revolt on November 5, 1811. On September 22, 1821 El Salvador joined with the other provinces of Central America in declaring their independence. Two years later they formed the United Provinces of Central America, but when this federation was dissolved in 1838 El Salvador became a separate sovereign state.
Internally, Salvador was torn apart by a civil war that raged between 1980 and 1992 and claimed the lives of at least 75,000 people. In January 1992 the rebels and the National Republican Alliance signed a peace accord. Free, democratic elections have transformed the country in recent years and by 2005 El Salvador had the strongest economy of any country in Central America.
El Salvador is a land of volcanoes, giving rise to the popular nickname of Valley of the Hammocks. When stamps were introduced in 1867 the design showed a volcano surrounded by 11 stars. These stamps were tastefully engraved by the American Bank Note Company.
Around the turn of the last century an American businessman, Nicholas Seebeck won a contract to supply Salvador with new stamps each year free of charge, from 1890 to 1896. In return he got to keep the unsold remainders as well as the right to reprint the stamps for sale to collectors. As a result, these ‘Seebecks’ flooded the market and are very cheap to this day.
In the 20th century Salvador relied heavily on the British security printing firms. As well as the big companies, such as Bradbury Wilkinson and Waterlow, contracts were awarded to Thomas
Macdonald of London to engrave plates for stamps printed in San Salvador from 1906 to 1912.
Seebeck Stamp of 1893
In 1924 Waterlow began printing stamps for Salvador using the photogravure process, then a relative newcomer to stamp production. Since 1978, the vast majority of Salvadoran stamps have been produced in multicolour offset lithography by Servicios Graficos of San Salvador.
Overprints and surcharges on El Salvador's stamps
The philately of El Salvador was bedevilled in the early years by frequent overprints and surcharges, a policy which peaked in 1917-21 but continued intermittently till the mid-1970s. This expedient was often used to convert obsolete stamps into new commemoratives, and it tended to militate against popularity in the philatelic world.
In 1970 a set of 16 portrayed all the teams which reached the final round of the World Cup; this set was re-issued with an overprint celebrating Germany’s victory in the tournament. Both sets were roundly condemned at the time but are now much sought after – such is the way of philately!
For the World Cup in 1982, however, Salvador first produced a set of four for the preliminary round against arch-rival Honduras, but marked the finals in Spain with two sheets of 24 showing the flags and the emblems of the qualifying countries, with a large 49th stamp showing the Salvadoran team and the trophy.
Fortunately such excesses are now a thing of the past and the contemporary scene is relatively conservative with an average of 50 stamps a year, mostly released as singles, pairs or sets of four. El Salvador remains a staunch supporter of the World Cup but issues of more recent years have been much more modest with sets in which individual stamps featured the flags of the groups in the final round. Other sporting events, such as the Olympics and the Caribbean Games are also given due prominence.
The country has a lively philatelic scene with a number of clubs and a national society whose golden jubilee was the subject of a miniature sheet that reproduced some of the landmark stamps since the inaugural issue of 1867. In recent years there have been frequent thematic sets often released as sheets of six or eight and covering a wide range of topics. The vast majority of stamps in recent years have been confined to subjects of national interest, reflecting the flora and fauna, the famous personalities and the aspirations of a country which has now cast off its image as a dictatorship and even plays its part on the world stage.
The Philatelic Bureau operates as an integral part of the postal service. It does not have a website as yet and subscriptions for new issues and first day covers have to be prepaid (in US currency, of course). Attractive, full-colour leaflets are produced in connection with each new issue, but are inscribed solely in Spanish. For further details write to the Philatelic Bureau, Direccion General de Correos, Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador, El Salvador, CA.
Stamps depicting the 2002 World Cup, Group 'H'