The origins of the Europa stamp

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20 November 2013
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Today more than 60 countries take part in the Europa stamps programme, but the annual stamp issue began with just six countries, as our collectors' guide to the origins of Europa stamps reveals ...

The idea of the joint stamp issue dates from the early 1950s in a time when various European countries were nourishing their relations with each other in order to rebuild the continent after the devastation of two world wars.

In 1956, the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (the forerunner of what is now the European Union) issued what were to become the sought-after first ever Europa stamps. The six countries used a common symbolic design of the Tower of Europe by the Frenchman Daniel Gonzague. To avoid confusion, the Latin word for Europe, Europa, was incorporated and that has given the name to the still popular annual issues.


'The Latin word for Europe, 'Europa', was incorporated into the early designs'


The idea was soon welcomed by others and the number of participating countries grew year after year.

After the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) was established in 1959, the Europa issues became known as the CEPT issues. This name was first used on the 1960 issues, which were based on a common design by the Finnish designer Pentti Rahikainen, depicting a Roman mail-coach wheel with 19 spokes for the 19 participating countries (the 20th participating country, Liechtenstein, opted for a different design). 1960 was also the first year that Great Britain participated.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, most countries used a common design by one of the countries’ top designers. But more and more mutterings were heard that the idea of a common design was restrictive and outdated. As a preliminary concession, CEPT allowed countries to issue a second annual Europa stamp which did not have to make use of a common design, but this policy never really took off. And so, from 1974 onwards, the common design was abolished in favour of a common theme, which the postal administrations could interpret any way they liked. In that year ‘Sculptures’ was the theme.

For many die-hard collectors this is a cut-off point, although in subsequent years the common design did pop up every now and then. In 1984, for example, to mark the 25th anniversary of CEPT, a common design by the Frenchman Jacky Larrivière was used by most countries, again Britain included. Yet another Frenchman, Jean-Paul Cousin, was responsible for the next and so far last common design used.

In 2000, to mark the Millennium, the common design depicted children building a tower of European stars, a theme harking back to the first Europa stamps.

With CEPT moving more towards telecommunications, PostEurop took over the management of the Europa stamps in 1993.

With nowadays around sixty countries participating each and every year, collecting Europa stamps may be a bit of a challenge, but thanks to the regulations that a maximum of two stamps may be issued, it is a collection which is affordable to most and which will give much enjoyment with its variety of themes.