Friday, December 28, 2007

WWII: Posted at Medernach; Registered at Fels

Philately of the German occupation of Luxembourg abounds with postal history not seen during any other period of Luxembourg's philatelic history. In this regard, the registered cover shown here is exemplary for three reasons.

After having been posting at Medernach, the letter had to be registered elsewhere (in this case, the next morning at Larochette [in German: Fels], which was the closest post office with registry service). At the time, Medernach had only the services of a parcel post agency (an agence aux colis), and presumably this agency lacked authority to register letters.

Second, the cancels used at Medernach during the WWII occupation are distinctive. Two types exist -- the one shown with Medernach in Gothic letters, and a similar type but with Medernach in Arabic letters. The German administation never issued its standard, round double circle bridge cancel to Medernach (Type 41), perhaps because Medernach was only a parcel post agency. However, when the cover was registered at Larochette, the German Type 41 cancel of Fels is seen on the cover along with the Fels registry label.

And last, the combination franking of Hindenburg and Luxembourg overprints is interesting in its own right. The date of posting at Medernach, Monday, March 31, 1941, was the last day of validity of the Luxembourg overprints, of which the 10-Rpf. on 40-centime and pair of the 12-Rpf. on 60-centime Charlotte (2nd issue) pay 34 Rpf. postage. The addition of 25 Rpf. in the form of a 15-Rpf. and pair of the 5-Rpf. Hindenburg overprints is puzzling as these stamps continued to be valid through the end of 1941. A first-step registered letter would have required only a 42-Rpf. franking (leaving the cover 17 Rpf. overfranked) and a second-step only a 54-Rpf. franking (leaving the cover overfranked by 5 Rpf.). Perhaps the sender was simple disposing of the Luxembourg overprints, which were about to become invalid, or had philatelic motives. In addition to being postmarked on April 1 at Fels, the cover is backstamped at Luxembourg-Ville the same day, and was received in Berlin, April 3, 1941.

What's your opinion of the postal history significance of this cover?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

May 10, 1940 - Detained Mail

Airmail Letter Awaiting Dispatch on May 10, 1940
1.75 F UPU 20 g letter rate + 1.75 F registry fee + 3.50 F airmail surcharge/5 g

The Germany Army overran Luxembourg in the early morning hours of Friday, May 10, 1940, less than two days after this letter had been posted late Wednesday afternoon at Luxembourg-Gare. In the course of the occupiers seizing control of the Grand Ducal postal system, this four-gram registered airmail letter was opened, censored and detained for nearly a half year. Routed "Via Lisbourne" [Lisbon, Portugal], it arrived in New York on November 8, 1940, and at its destination, Chicago, Illinois, November 9, 1940, some 185 days later.

From an exhibit-in-progress entitled Luxembourg Postal History During the World War II German Occupation -- May 10, 1940 - September 10, 1944

Monday, December 10, 2007

Invalid, Dubious & Questionable Uses (IDQs)

Let me ask you, “How should we organize those Luxembourg covers and cards that were used in unusual ways, but which don’t fit nicely into traditional postal history categories?” There is a body of philately devoted to EFOs (errors, freaks and oddities). Why not develop one devoted to the study and showcasing of IDQs?

We might begin with these categories (and any others you can think of):


Invalid, Dubious & Questionable Uses


Luxembourg franking no longer valid


Luxembourg franking valid, but not for the requested service


Luxembourg franking used abroad & foreign franking used in Luxembourg


Luxembourg and foreign franking used in combination


Luxembourg postal card imprint cutouts used as postage


Non-postal use of Luxembourg stamps and stationery


Luxembourg revenue stamps used to pay postage


Reuse of previously used Luxembourg stamps

Type 1 ─ Luxembourg Franking No Longer Valid

T-1 ─ Invalid Use ( 25c 1891 Adolphe): Attempted use of the 25c definitive to pay the 20 g UPU rate on a letter to the United States from Dalheim, April 3, 1911.

However, the 1891 Adolphe issue had been demonitized on January 1, 1909. In accordance with UPU regulations, the Dalheim post office marked off the invalid stamp with blue crayon, indicating with a zero that it had no monetary value and that postage due was to be charged to the recipient. The New York exchange office then taxed the letter ten US cents (double the five-cent UPU letter rate).

T-1 ─ Invalid use (30c Charlotte & 4 Rpf. Hindenburg): Letter posted from Luxembourg-Ville to Rumelange, September 10, 1944, the day Luxembourg was liberated from WWII German occupation and 10 days after the Nazi administration in Luxembourg had collapsed. Although the letter was censored on December 6, 1944, domestic mail delivery to towns outside Luxembourg-Ville was not resumed until March 26, 1945. The March 26, 1945, Rümelingen backstamp shows that this letter was delivered on the first day that inland deliveries were permitted, 196 days after it had been posted.

Two of the stamps were invalid on the date of posting. The 30c 1926 Charlotte had been invalidated on October 1, 1940; the 4 Rpf. Hindenburg on January 1, 1942. The 4 Rpf. Hitler head remained valid until September 29, 1944. However, as the letter rate was 12 Rpf., the Rumelange post office only charged postage due for a 1 Rpf. deficiency in the franking after giving the sender 11 Rpf. credit for the three stamps. (The 30c Charlotte was converted to Reichpfennings at the rate of 10 centimes to 1 Rpf., thus being worth 3 Rpf.) The 20-centime postage due charge reflects the 1 Rpf. deficiency doubled.

T-1 -- Invalid Use (1970 Chateau II Caritas semi-postals): A philatelically-inspired use of the Chateau II set posted from Luxembourg-Ville, October 19, 1972, to Andernach, Germany, taxed double the three-franc, 20-gram letter rate to Germany (T 6/3) for use invalid postage, as the last day of validity for the Chateau II set was December 31, 1971, 293 days before this letter was posted.

T 2 -- Luxembourg Franking Valid, But Not For Requested Service

T-2 ─ Airmail Use Disallowed: Reply card from a 75c+75c Luxembourg Ècusson double card mailed May 4, 1936, on the special German automobile postal service between Berlin and Leipzig with a blue Luxembourg airmail label and 75c Luxembourg airmail adhesive added purporting to pay supplemental postage for return of the reply card by airmail.

Airmail service (apparently) was not available or offered for return of foreign reply cards, as indicated by the German post office having marked off the adhesive stamp with blue crayon, crossed out the airmail etiquette and indicated no postal value for the adhesive. The 75c Luxembourg postal stationery imprint on the reply card correctly pays the 75c postal card rate in effect at that time between Luxembourg and Germany.

Type 3 ─ Luxembourg Franking Used Abroad & Foreign Franking Used in Luxembourg

Used within Germany

T-3 ─ Illegal Use in Germany: Attempted use of a five-centime 1882 Allegory postal card uprated with a 5-centime 1895 Adolphe definitive to pay postage from Rüttgen to Bad-Kreuznach, Germany, September 23, 1895. At that time, Rüttgen was part of the German Lorraine, on the German side of the border with Luxembourg. Today it is part of France and known by its French name, Roussy-le-Village.

The writer dated the card two days earlier at Frisange, a nearby village in Luxembourg. As the card was posted on the German side of the border, the German post office correctly marked off the Luxembourg stationery imprint and stamp with blue crayon, indicating their invalidity and postage due of 10 pfennig.


Used within France

T-3 ─ Illegal Use in France: Attempted use of a 35-centime Charlotte definitive to pay postage on a viewcard sent from Thionville to Roubaix, France, August 16, 1933. The Thionville post office marked off the stamp with blue crayon to indicate its invalidity, taxed the card, and applied a pair of French postage due stamps. As the card was refused by the addressee, it was sent to the dead letter office in nearby Lille.


Illegal use1898

T-3 -- Illegal use from Germany to Luxembourg in 1898:

Attempted use of a 10c G.D. Adolphe (1st issue) postal card from Oettingen in the then-German Lorraine, June 4, 1898, to Esch-sur-Alzette via Luxembourg-Gare the next day, taxed 20 centimes, [blue crayon] double the 10c UPU postcard rate.

T-3 ─ Illegal Use to the USA from France: The message discloses that the writer had stopped in Luxembourg on a drive from Wiesbaden, Germany, to Verdun, France. The picture postcard, which shows a night time view of the Adolphe Bridge in Luxembourg-Ville, is franked with a pair of Luxembourg six-franc 1977 Europa stamps, but it was posted from Verdun, France, October 12, 1977, to San Diego, California.

In accordance with 1974 UPU convention regulations for calculating postage due, the Luxembourg stamps were given no value (indicated by "= 0 in red) by the French post office. Postage due was calculated by multiplying the T 100/140 fraction by the US first-step foreign surface rate of 18 cents. This amount (12.86 US cents) was rounded up to 13 cents and a 20-cent handling charge was added, resulting in a postage due charge of 33 cents, as shown by the New York exchange office.

T-3 ─ Illegal Use to Great Britain from Germany: Attempted use of 3.50 francs of Luxembourg stamps to pay postage on a picture postcard from Volkingen, Germany, to Goldsithney-Penzance, England, August 25, 1967. The German post office marked off the stamps with blue crayon to indicate their invalidity. On arrival in England an auxiliary mark was applied reading “Stamp Not Valid - To Pay 10p,” payment of which is shown by three British postage due stamps. The writer notes that “As I write this, we are now traveling through Germany towards Saarbrücken.”

T-3 -- Illegal Use in Luxembourg of German postage to France: Attempted use of the 5 pfg. Germania definitive on a picture postcard posted at the 5c printed matter rate from Luxembourg Ville I, July 15, 1906, to Mersault, France, taxed and charged 10 centimes postage due in France (double the 5-centime deficiency).

T-3 -- Illegal Use in Luxembourg of Belgian postage to Germany: Attempted use of the 4-franc Belgian Abdication of Charles V commemorative (Scott #487) to correctly pay the 20 g letter rate to Germany from Belgium but posted from Luxembourg-Gare, July 8, 1955, invalidated in blue crayon and taxed 0.40 gold centimes (T 0.40 ct or) in Luxembourg, with the tax doubled on arrival in Bielefeld, Germany (Nachgebuhr 80).

Type 4 ─ Luxembourg and Foreign Franking Used in Combination

T-4 ─ Luxembourg & Italian Franking: 6-centime reply card from an 1875 6c+6c double card returned from Milan, Italy, September 23, 1906, used in combination with a five-centime Italian adhesive to make-up the ten-centime UPU rate then in effect. It was received in Luxembourg-Ville, September 24, 1906, and not taxed, as this practice was widely tolerated by European postal authorities although technically violative of UPU regulations, which required that the return card be entirely franked with the country of origin’s postage.

T-4 Luxembourg & German Franking: 5-centime Allegory postal card for domestic use, illegally uprated with a 5-pfennig German adhesive to pay the 10-centime postcard rate to Germany, posted from Luxembourg-Ville, October 21, 1892, to Cöln-Ehrenfeld, Germany, but the illegal combination franking apparently was not noticed by the Luxembourg post office.

T-5 ─ Postal Card Imprint Cutouts Used as Postage

T-5 ─ Use of a 5c postal card imprint: Attempted payment in 1915 of five centimes of the ten-centime letter rate to France with a five-centime Écusson postal card cutout, but noticed and taxed by the Luxembourg-Ville post office. The return address is that of the Carmelite Tertiary nuns, the frugality perhaps reflecting their vow of poverty.

T-5 Use of a 45c postal viewcard imprint cutout: Attempted payment in 1935 of part of the 70-centime domestic letter rate on a sealed letter to the suburb of Limpertsberg, otherwise franked only with a 35-centime Charlotte adhesive. Although an illegal use, the 45-centime imprint was nicely hand canceled and no postage due charged.

T-6 ─ Non-postal Uses

T-6 Oberpallen Private Overprint: Nicolas Gallé, who was the customs and immigration officer in charge of the Oberpallen border crossing between Luxembourg and Belgium in the late 1800s, must have been something of an eccentric. He apparently had five-centime Allegory postal cards overprinted “Oberpallen.” across the stamp imprint by letter press in purple. These cards were used to record the names of persons who crossed the border at Oberpallen each day and are all addressed to Mr. Gallé.

Oberpallen has never had a post office, and an examination of these cards readily reveals that none ever passed through the mails. They lead my list of dubious and questionable items. Use of the Allegory postal cards in this curious manner probably was unauthorized, may have been illegal, and likely served no revenue purpose.

T-7 & T-8

I have yet to discover a Luxembourg revenue stamp used in lieu of a postage stamp. Likewise, I have not (yet) seen an example of an attempt to reuse a previously cancelled Luxembourg stamp. Certainly such uses must exist.

Today might be a good time to organize the IDQs in your collection and share them with the others.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Castellum.

WWII German Occupation Tax Stamps

Fiscal (or "tax") philately often provides the collector with an adventure into uncharted (or at best, poorly cataloged) philatelic pastures. Thus, it is not surprising to find that little has been written about the tax stamps used in Luxembourg by the German administration during World War II. What I present here is just the tip of the tip of this philatelic iceberg. Surely others will contribute as well to help fill this immense philatelic knowledge gap.

Recently I acquired a WWII food ration card used in Luxembourg City. It bears the official imprint of the "Stadt Luxemburg Ernährungsamt" or Luxembourg City Nutrition Office and a 50 Rpf. "Quittung" (or tax receipt). A rubber date stamp showing the date September 2, 1942, ties the stamp to the card. In all, the card bears 17 such rubber-stamped dates, all between 1941 and 1943, and shows three different addresses for the cardholder. The text states that the cardholder must present the card each time food rations are requested.

The stamp is shown below along with the front and back of the ration card and the Municipal Nutrition Office official imprint. A similar 60 Rpf. stamp surcharged with a large "5 Frs" is shown at the beginning of this post. Was the German-issued stamp surcharged to Luxembourg francs after the occupation ended?

What else is known about these quaint tax stamps?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Centenary of the International Reply Coupon: 1907 - 2007

I. Introduction

The International Reply Coupon (IRC) was introduced at the 1906 Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress in Rome. First issued on October 1, 1907, an IRC at that time could be exchanged at any UPU-member-nation post office for the postage required to prepay a single-rate, surface-delivery letter. Today, one hundred years later, an IRC can be redeemed for the minimum postage required for an unregistered priority airmail letter. UPU-member postal services must exchange an IRC for postage but are not required to sell them. IRCs remain popular with philatelists, autograph collectors, and radio amateurs exchanging QSL cards, who want to prepay return postage from a foreign country without sending cash or obtaining foreign postage in advance. They are sold in more than 70 countries.

Collectors classify IRCs by design (or “frame”), with the design taking its name from the city where the UPU Congress was held that adopted the design. Table 1 summarizes the five basic designs that have appeared over the past 100 years:

Luxembourg has issued IRCs in each of the five designs (including both Beijing models) and is one of only 35 countries to issue the recent Beijing Model 2 commemorative Centenary design.

The available information on Luxembourg’s IRC tariffs is summarized in Table 2.

II. Rome Design (1907–1930)

During this nearly 23-year classic coupon period, Luxembourg issued five Rome-design IRCs. They paid four different tariffs. Moreover, when the tariff was increased, some of the coupons were uprated with the new value in manuscript. All of the Rome-frame coupons are very scarce.


January 11, 1910.


Roodt, December 26, 1919,
and uprated in manuscript to 55 centimes

III. London Design (1930 – 1965)

During the 35 years that the London design was in use, Luxembourg issued IRCs in five different denominations. As the IRC tariff was increased to 2.75 F at the same time that the London design was released (i.e., July 1, 1930), Auguste Wéry, on the basis of reports in the philatelic literature, states that a 2.25 F IRC might have already been ordered but never put into circulation. Whether a 2.25 F IRC exists remains an unsolved philatelic puzzle.

Unlike the Rome design, inexpensive examples of the London design appear frequently in the philatelic market. But in acquiring examples, don’t overlook the fact that 14 varieties have been documented! They are summarized in Table 4 below.


Postmarked Luxembourg-Ville, September 1939
Shanghai, China, February 14, 1940


Luxembourg-Ville, August 29, 1947

IV. Vienna Design (1965-1975)

The four different Vienna-design IRCs known for Luxembourg are summarized in Table 5. A Vienna printing that I have not seen listed for Luxembourg reads in French on the front “letter ordinaire de port simple” instead of “premier échelon … par voie de surface.”

Luxembourg-Ville, December 28, 1973

V. Lausanne Design (1975-2002)

The Lausanne design first appeared on February 1, 1975. The price is not shown on this design; however, when Luxembourg increased the IRC tariff from 10 F to 16 F on January 1, 1976, postal clerks sometimes indicated the new price in manuscript in the center box.

Varieties that I have not seen listed for Luxembourg include Lausanne printings with (i) “par voie aérienne” instead of “par voie de surface” on the front, and (ii) “CN01” instead of “C22” in the front upper right corner, and (iii) printings without the broken circle in the box on the right. The only known varieties are summarized in Table 6.

Luxembourg-Ville, July 31, 1979
Horizontal UPU watermark

VI. Beijing Design: Models 1 & 2; Centenary Printing

2002 - 2007

Shown below are the two Beijing-model IRCs. The first appeared in 2002 and was valid for exchange until December 31, 2006. The second appeared in 2006 and is valid for exchange until December 31, 2009.

Beijing Design – Model 1 (2002)

Luxembourg-Ville, February 14, 2006

Beijing Design – Model 2 (2006)

Luxembourg-Ville, October 18, 2006

In February 2007, a special printing of the Beijing Model 2 IRC appeared to commemorate a century of IRC use. The Centenary IRC has the inscription “1907 – 2007” added, as shown below in a cut from the specimen posted on the UPU website. Since February, only Luxembourg and 36 other countries have ordered and placed on sale the Centenary IRC. A total of just over 180,000 Centenary IRCs were printed for the entire UPU membership, and the UPU states that this special commemorative printing will not be reissued. As some countries have ordered as few as 500 or 1,000, the Centenary IRCs will undoubtedly be much sought after by collectors. I have not yet received an example from Luxembourg, nor do I know how many the Luxembourg PTT ordered.

Centenary Inscription “1907 – 2007”
on the Bejing Model 2 Special Printing

VII. IRCs & Ponzi Schemes

IRCs gained international attention early in 1920 when Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), a renowned international swindler, touted them as the inspiration for what is now commonly referred to as a “Ponzi scheme.” The phrase denotes an investment scheme in which the investor’s returns are paid not from profitable investments but rather from the inflow of cash from new investors.

In August 1919 a Spanish businessman enclosed an IRC with a request for a publication Ponzi had been promoting. Upon seeing the coupon, Ponzi realized that based on post-war exchange rates, IRCs bought in much of Europe were worth more when redeemed in the United States than what they cost in Europe. This realization led Ponzi to offer to enrich investors by buying IRCs in Europe and selling them at a profit in the United States. He successfully convinced investors to give him money in exchange for a promissory note, promising them a 50% profit in 45 days based on his (supposed) transatlantic trading in IRCs.

In fact Ponzi never used his investors’ money to engage in IRC arbitrage. He quickly learned that the IRCs could only be exchanged for stamps, not cash, and that they were not intended for financial speculation. But by July 1920, Ponzi was taking in $250,000 a day in investments, and his success continued until Post magazine revealed that to cover the investments made with his company, 160,000,000 IRCs would have had to be in circulation—in fact, at that time only about 27,000 were actually circulating.

When federal agents shut down Ponzi’s company on August 10, 1920, they found that he indeed had no large investment stock of IRCs. Eventually, Ponzi was arrested, tried and incarcerated in federal and state jurisdictions for mail fraud. In 1924, his bankrupty estate was the subject of litigation in the United States Supreme Court brought by some of his defrauded investors. In the case report, Chief Justice Taft notes that Ponzi began his fraudulent arbitrage enterprise with capital of $150. (Cunningham v. Brown, 265 U.S. 1 (1924).) Similar schemes abound today on the Internet and through the mails. What was it that P.T. Barnum once said?

VIII. Conclusion

After a century of use, the IRC remains a viable means for writers to prepay the return postage for letters from their correspondents. And finding Luxembourg IRCs − particularly the various Rome and London designs used between 1907 and 1965 − continues to provide formidable challenges for postal history and postal stationery collectors. Don’t pass up an opportunity to add them to your collection.


Basien, Dieter & Hoffkamp, Fernand, Tarife der Briefpost in Luxemburg 1852-2002, (Luxembourg: P&T, 2002), pp. 160-162.

Hurtré, André, website: “Postal Reply Coupons—International Reply Coupons,”

Paul-August Koch, Wim V. M. Wiggers de Vries, and Auguste Wery, Die Internationalen Antwortscheine von Belgien und Luxemburg (Krefeld-Traar: Bund Deutscher Philatelisten e.V., 1984).