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...

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Paraguay - Bud's Big Blue

Paraguay flag, front, cropped
Bud's Big Blue
Bud's Observations

A lion, a star, and a floppy Phrygian cap on a stick – strange choices for Paraguay’s national symbols. No lions live there. Phrygia, an ancient kingdom in what is now eastern Turkey, is 7404 miles away. Alpha Centauri A and B, although visible from Paraguay, are about 4.35 light-years away. Moreover, the bleu, blanc, rouge colors of the French revolution flag seem out of place. The only local elements are the palm and olive branches beside the star. Paraguay’s flag is one of the few with different sides, a star on the front and a lion on the back.

Paraguay flag, back, cropped

The star and the lion with the cap are featured on almost all of Paraguay’s stamps from 1879 through 1930. These symbols can be traced back to Paraguay’s independence from Spain (1814). Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the country’s first president/dictator, was a scholarly disciple of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and he tried to build a utopia based on Rousseau’s theory of social contract. Paraguay’s national symbols connote Francia’s fascination with post-revolutionary France, although the flag was not adopted until 1842, two years after his death.  

Scott #s 12 orange brown and 13 green, lion with human face?

Francia’s utopia aimed to eliminate racial disparities. He forbade Spaniards from marrying other Spaniards; they could wed only Mestizos, Amerindians, or Africans. He limited the powers of the Church and the landed elites, placing welfare of the poor beyond charity and in state control. He also imposed an inflexible economic isolation by banning international trade and championing local industry. Such policies conformed to the wishes of Paraguay’s marginalized and vulnerable peoples (i.e., most Paraguayans at the time) among whom he was extremely popular. They called him El Supremo. The wealthy, of course, resisted. In subsequent years repression resumed.

Scott # 81, carmine, star shining behind cap

The lion, a common power metaphor in Europe, signifies strength and courage of Paraguay’s new start, particularly fiscal courage since it is the insignia of the Treasury and the Supreme Court. In the Americas, the floppy Phrygian cap came to denote liberty (see discussion in the Nicaragua post), although it never had that meaning in Phrygia; and the star, the most common of all national symbols everywhere, portends utopian hope and happiness.

Scott #276, dull blue, star but no lion 

All these symbols derive from Francia’s Rousseau-inspired vision. Their signifying power continues even today. According to a recent Gallup poll on well-being, Paraguay, although still poor, ranked as the world’s happiest nation. (1)

It’s curious, then, that Francia’s image appears on no Paraguayan stamps or currency until September 1940, the centenary of his death. (Compare George Washington’s slew, or Miguel Hidalgo’s, the founding father of Mexico).

Scott #s 382-385, Francia Centennial, portrait and book-lined study

There are few surviving engravings or other portraits of Francia. The two best known were used for the 1940 stamp series.

Engraving by Alfredo L. Demersay

Unknown authorship

Another curiosity is Paraguay’s stamps with ocean-going warships. Paraguay, despite its reclusiveness, has the largest navy of any landlocked country. Although nearly 100 years old, the “Paraguay” gunboat is still commissioned for active duty. It accesses the Atlantic via Río Paraguay and Río Paraná.

Scott #C40, dark blue, the Paraguay gunboat

The “Humaitá” now serves as a museum. Both ships saw active duty during the 1930s.

Scott #L33, deep blue, the Humaitá gunboat

Paraguay’s classic era stamps remain comparatively inexpensive, and recent interest in South American stamps has stabilize prices. Forgeries abound, as do errors and oddities. From the mid-1960s onward, heaps of mint wallpaper stamps – Disney, nudes, antique cars, etc. – have sullied comprehensive modern Paraguay collections.

Census: 357 in BB spaces, six tip-ins, 201 on supplement pages.

(1) https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/worlds-happiest-country-would-you-believe-paraguay-n110981

Jim's Observations

1933 Scott 335 2p multicolored Genuine
"Flag with Three Crosses: Caravels of Columbus

Paraguay has a number of quite attractive issues, not the least the lithographic multicolored 1933 eight stamp "Flag of the Race" ("Bandera de La Raza") emission that celebrates the 441st anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. (441st? I have no idea why. ;-)

I needed the last three stamps in the set, and when a national dealer was having a sale on Paraguay, off went my order.

The design depicts the caravels of Columbus on the sea, and the flag with three crosses. Produced by lithography, the stamp has three colors, and would require three pass-through printings of the sheet to make the finished stamp. The first printing would be for the frame design, the second printing for the globe and caravels on the sea central design, and the last printing for the crosses, which are always in a violet color.

Quire striking, Yes? And the entire eight stamp set is only CV $6+ unused.

What could go wrong?

A lot as it turns out. I was surprised to find, among the apparent genuine 10c and 2p, six stamps that had the look of a sketchy cartoon of the originals.

I believe the sketchy stamps (in more ways than one) are reprint forgeries from someone who had access to the original, but now worn, plates. A quick review of the usual sources could find no information on these reprint forgeries. 

Could the "reprint-forgeries" actually be a second stamp printing sanctioned by the Paraguayan postal officials? I suppose it is possible, but they are so bad in appearance, it is highly doubtful.

If the reader is interested in more on this topic, click the second link below.

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Comments appreciated!


  1. Bud, Jim, Paraguay is one of those countries where cost isn't an issue- but finding the stamps can be. Main problem is, IMO, that most dealers won't mess with this country, at least for online sales, because there are so many quarter stamps.

    So, there is certainly a demand from BB and other World and South America collectors, but supply is the issue, or maybe it isn't. Could be dealers out there, or collectors that are part-time dealers that just won't list stamps from this type of country online, but certainly have them in stock.

    I would think that Scott one of these days would look at countries like Paraguay and price their catalogue based on supply/demand or on scarcity. Lots of other countries like this-- how about Spanish Colonies, Colombian States, etc.

    Nice write-up, and thanks again to the two of you guys!

    1. Ray - I totally agree that dealers do not want to monkey with inexpensive CV stamps. Unless one can take a look at the stock of WW dealers at stamp shows, one may be need to "order" the stamps from a South American specialist dealer. Expect to pay full CV or over full CV. ;-)

    2. Wholesale dealers, if you can find them, might be another source. A while back if found one who piled pages of low CV stamps in a back room and was glad for me to pick through them. The downside of that approach is that you may be left with a few blank spaces that are difficult if not impossible to fill. I've found that the rare items with low CVs are harder to find than rare stamps with high CVs. All that's needed for the latter is a thick wallet.

  2. Guy Shaw was a Latin America Dealer that had a online store, but he recently retired. eBay is actually a good option, because there are numerous sellers from around the world. In addition, you can view and vet their online offerings for forgeries etc. Overall, I have had very good success for acquiring difficult to find stamps there.

    1. I agree. Hipstamp, stamps2go, delcampe are good, too.