A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Vatican City

1933 Scott 31 2.75 l dark violet & black "Pope Pius XI"
Quick History
Vatican City, a walled enclave within the city of Rome, consists of 110 acres, and a population of 800. It is the smallest state in the world.

The "State Religion", naturally, is Roman Catholicism, and the everyday language is Italian, although the Holy See uses Latin for official documents.

Vatican City
Vatican City, as an independent city-state, came into existence in 1929 through the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Holy See. This explains why stamps for Vatican City have only been issued since August 1, 1929. (Prior, Italian stamps were used on Vatican City mail.)

And collecting the religious themed stamps of Vatican City is big- really big- among the adherents of Christianity, and Roman Catholic Christianity, in particular. It is one of the major sources for financial support of the Vatican City State budget.

The Holy See (Sancta Sedes: Latin) has existed back to early Christianity, and has 1.2 billion members throughout the world.

Italy 1796 with the Papal States
The Holy See (See of Rome) had direct ownership of the former Papal States (Roman States) between 756-1870 in the central Italian Peninsula. After formation of the Kingdom of Italy, the Papal States disappeared from the political map in 1870.

Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have resided in the Apostolic Palace within now Vatican City. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) rules Vatican City within an ecclesiastical theocracy.

Michelangelo's Pieta
As one can imagine, with the Renaissance and Baroque St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and the Vatican Gardens, it draws millions of visitors and pilgrims yearly.

I still vividly recall the profound peace I felt when encountering the Pieta some 45 years ago.

1933 Scott 19 5c copper red "\
"Arms of Pope Pius XI"
Into the Deep Blue
The 2014 Scott Classic Specialized catalogue has, for Vatican City 1929-1940, 109 major number descriptions. Of those, 63 are CV <$1-$1+, or 58%. Although Vatican stamps are popular among collectors, there are plenty of inexpensive examples to be had by the WW collector.

One of the stamp ironies of Vatican City, is, although the Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest historical institutions extant, stamps for Vatican City proper were only issued beginning in 1929. There is a lot of past history of the Vatican - essentially a good deal of western civilization history- that is missing. Of course, the stamps from 1929 on do celebrate much of the church history, but as commemoratives of long ago events.

True, there are stamps of the Roman States, which were under the direct government of the See of Rome, produced between 1852-1868.

Lets take a closer look...

A closer look at the stamps and issues
100 Centesimi = 1 Lira
1929 Scott 3 20c violet & lilac "Papal Arms"
The first issue of August 1, 1929 has the "Papal Arms" engraved design for the seven lower denominations on surface colored paper. Do you spot the "Poste Vaticane" in colorless letter rows on the stamp background?

This was known as the "Conciliation" issue, because of the reconciliation of the papacy and the Italian Government after 60 years of "cold war", resulting from the loss of the Papal States in 1870.

Coat of Arms of Vatican City
Note the keys?

This comes from Matthew 16:18-19....

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

King James Bible

1929 Scott 13 10 l olive black
"Pope Pius XI"
The six higher denominations are printed with photogravure on white paper. They have a portrait of Pius XI, who reigned as Pope since 1922.

He was born in 1857, the son of an owner of a silk factory, and his Italian name was Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti.

He was a scholar (Life and Works of St. Charles Borromeo), and a mountaineer (Matterhorn, Mont Blanc).

The first 1929 issue of thirteen stamps has a CV of <$1-$5 for twelve stamps.

1931 Scott 14 25c on 30c indigo & yellow
1929 Scott 5 Surcharged in Red
In 1931, the 1929 30c indigo & yellow was surcharged in red as shown. CV is $2.

The 25c value paid for several heavily used domestic letter and foreign postcard rates.

1933 Scott 21 12 1/2c deep green & black
"Vatican Palace and Obelisk"
The 1933 sixteen stamp issue with five designs was engraved.

The vignettes were done by Austria's master engraver, Ferdinand Schimbock.

Four of the lower denomination stamps have the "Vatican Palace and Obelisk" scene.

Vatican Obelisk
The Obelisk was originally removed by Caligula (yes, that Caligula! ;-) from Heliopolis in Egypt, transported by sea, and placed in Rome as a centerpiece for a large racetrack (circus of Gaius and Nero). It was relocated by Pope Sixtus V in 1586.

1933 Scott 27 80c rose & dark brown
"Vatican Gardens"
Four middle denominations depict the Vatican Gardens.

Vatican Gardens
The gardens date back to 1279 (Pope Nicholas III), and encompass 57 acres.There is no general public access, although guided tours can sometimes be arranged.

1933 Scott 30 2 l dark brown & black
"Pope Pius XI"
Four higher denominations have a center vignette of Pius XI. These have a CV of $5+-$60.

His reign was between the two great wars of the 20th century. He saw the rising dangers of Fascism, Nazism, anti-Semitism, and Communism, and wrote encyclicals (Example: Mit brennender Sorge) to that end. When western democracies said nothing, he complained bitterly of the "conspiracy of silence".

He died on February 10, 1939, on the eve of WW II.

Truth be told, the papacy in the 1930s could very well be described as one of powerlessness.

Joseph Stalin said famously in 1935: "The pope! How many divisions has he got?"

1933 Scott 33 10 l dark blue & dark green
"St. Peter's Basilica"
The three highest denominations of the 1933 issue show "St. Peter's Basilica". Interestingly, the CV for these stamps is only <$1. !!

St. Peter's Basilica seen from the River Tiber
Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter is buried there, and there has been a church (Old St. Peter's Basilica) at this site since the days of Emperor Constantine the Great in 319 AD. The present basilica was started in 1506 (Michelangelo was one of the architects), and finished in 1626. One of the largest churches in the world, it is most renowned for the Renaissance architecture.

1935 Scott 43 25c green 
"Tribonian Presenting Pandects to Justinian I"
Most of the commemoratives issued during the Pius XI era were related to international conferences held in Rome.

For the 1934 International Juridical Congress in Rome, a six stamp photgravure issue with two designs was released by Vatican City, actually in 1935.

The stamp image shown here is based on a fresco by Raphael in 1508, that is housed in the Vatican Palace. (The fresco was supervised by Raphael. Many art historians now believe the fresco was actually a work of Lorenzo Lotto.)

                                       "Tribonian Presents the Pandects to the Emperor Justinian"
It shows the jurist Tribonian presenting law codes to Emperor Justinian the Great, who ruled 527-565.

These documents are regarded as the basis of Western civil law.

1935 Scott 46 1.25 l dark blue
"Pope Gregory IX Promulgating Decretals"
The second fresco by Raphael (and stamp image) depicts the promulgation of letters relative to canon Law, written by Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241).

Gregory IX presents the Decretals
The Raphael painting actually depicts Pope Julius II (1502-1513), the pope who commissioned the fresco. !

These documents are considered as the basis of Western ecclesiastical law.

1936 Scott 49 25c yellow green
"St. John Bosco"
The World Catholic Press Exposition (May 1936, stamps issued June, 1936) sought to counteract aggression against the Catholic press by Fascists and Communists.

The eight photogravure stamps released have four designs.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) is the patron of editors and publishers, and founder of the order of St. Francis de Sales.

Pius XI had known Bosco, and pushed his canonization forward, which occurred on Easter Sunday, 1934.

1938 Scott 55 5c bister brown
"Crypt of St. Cecilia in Catacombs of St. Calixtus"
In 1938, a six stamp photogravure set with two designs was released in conjunction with the International Christian Archaeological Congress.

The ancient Catacombs of St. Callixtus are located along the Appian Way outside Rome's old city wall. St. Cecilia, a third century martyr, was initially buried there. 

1939 Scott 66 50c indigo & salmon buff
1929 Issue Overprinted in Black
"Interregnum Issue"
Pope Pius XI died on February 10, 1939. An interregnum issue (to mark the period between the death of one pope, and the election of another) was released February 20, 1939 with overprints of the 1929 Scott 1-7 stamps. The set was withdrawn March 2, 1939, the day Pius XII was elected.

1939 Scott 70 80c violet
"Coronation of Pope Pius XII"
On June 2, 1939, a four stamp photogravure set commemorating the coronation of Pius XII on March 12, 1939, was issued. The stamps depict the pope being crowned with the papal triple tiara by the cardinal on the left, while the cardinal on the right is holding a pastoral staff and crucifix.

1940 Scott 76 2.75 l dark rose violet & black
"Pope Pius XII"
One year from his coronation, on March 12, 1940, an engraved five stamp issue was released. Four of the stamps show Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, or Pius XII (1876-1948).

Of interest, this issue, as well as nearly all the Vatican City issues from 1935-1953, were designed by the renowned Corrado Mezzana.

1933 Scott B2 75c + 15c scarlet
"Cross and Orb"
For the 1933 Holy Year commemoration, an engraved four stamp semi-postal issue showing the "Cross and Orb" was released. CV is $4-$10+.

1938 Scott C7 5 l slate black
"Elijah's Ascent into Heaven"
The 1938 engraved eight stamp air post issue has four designs. The Mezzana engraving of Elijah's ascent into Heaven is outstanding!

Elijah's Ascension
Engraving- Gustave Dore- 1865
There are many depictions of the scene from the Bible. Perhaps equaling the Mezzana stamp engraving is the 1865 Gustave Dore. Elijah did not die as we ordinary mortals, but "went up by a whirlwind into heaven".

1929 Scott E2 2.50 l dark blue "Pius XI"
Two special delivery stamps were issued in 1929. With their horizontal format, they resemble the Italian special delivery stamps of the era.

1933 Scott E3 2 l rose red & brown
"Aerial View of Vatican City"
The 1933 two stamp special delivery issue offers an aerial view of Vatican City, and is clearly part of the 1933 regular issue in design.

1931 Scott J1 5c dark brown & pink
1929 Scott 1-3 Overprinted
The 1929 "Papal Arms" set was often did double duty as overprinted issues. Here, the 1931 postage due issue uses four of the 1929 stamps by overprinting them as shown.

1931 Scott Q4 25c dark blue & light blue
1929 Scott 1-7 Overprinted
Likewise, the Parcel Post lower denomination stamps of 1931 used overprinted stamps (seven) from the 1929 "Papal Arms"set.

1931 Scott Q11 2.50 l orange red
1929 Scott 8-13 Overprinted
The middle denominations (six stamps) of the 1931 Parcel Post issue recycled overprinted 1929 "Pope Pius XI" stamps.

1931 Scott Q14 2 l carmine rose
1929 Nos. Scott E1-E2 Overprinted Vertically
The two highest denominations of the 1931 Parcel Post issue used overprinted 1929 special delivery stamps.

Deep Blue
1936 "Catholic Press Conference" Issue in Deep Blue
Deep Blue (Steiner) has, for the 1929-1940 era, eight pages for the stamps of Vatican City. The spaces follow the outline of the modern Scott catalogue, and all major numbers have a space.

1936 Scott 51 75c rose red
"Allegory of Church and Bible"
Big Blue
Big Blue '69, on three pages, has 91 spaces for the 1929-1940 stamps of Vatican City. Categories include regular, air post, special delivery, semi-postal, parcel post, and postage due. Coverage is a decent 83%. 

There are sixteen spaces that require CV $10+ or higher stamps. Of those, five are in the "Most Expensive" (CV $35+) category, ranging from $42+ to $60. See the "Expensive Stamps" listing after the checklist for specifics.






Next Page





Air Post

Next Page

Special Delivery



Parcel Post

Postage Due


A) Expensive stamps ($10 threshold):
1929 Scott 13 10 l olive black ($10)
1933 Scott 29 1.25 l dark blue & black ($10+)
1933 Scott 30 2 l dark brown & black ($30+)
1933 Scott 31 2.75 l dark violet & black ($60)
1935 Scott 43 25c green ($20+)
1935 Scott 44 75c rose red ($60)
1935 Scott 45 80c dark brown ($42+)
1935 Scott 46 1/25 l dark blue ($52+)
1936 Scott 49 25c yellow green ($10+)
1936 Scott 51 75c rose red ($47+)
1938 Scott 59 80c violet ($20)
1938 Scott 60 1.25 l blue ($20+)
1929 Scott E1 2 l carmine rose ($10+)
1929 Scott E2 2.50 l dark blue ($10+)
1933 Scott B3 80c + 20c red brown ($10+)
1931 Scott J5 60c on 2 l olive brown ($20+)
B) (    ) around a number indicates a blank space choice.

1938 Scott 60 1.25 l blue
"Basilica of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus in Catacombs of St. Domitilla"
Out of the Blue
I recently obtained a Vatican City album that is mostly complete up to 1980. Considering Vatican City's reputation for fine stamp designs, I should enjoy going over this collection.

Note: Maps pics, and art images appear to be in the public domain.

Comments appreciated!


  1. Jim, this is one of my favourite country when I speak of philately, and I also like the fine engrave on most of its stamps. It's the perfect country for a thematical collection (Christianity). Catalin

    1. I agree Catalin - some lovely engraved stamps that approach art.