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First postage stamps valid throughout Switzerland

While individual cantons have been issuing postage stamps since the 1840s, federal stamps now arrive on the market. They allow Swiss Post to collect postage from the sender, not the recipient.

The first postage stamps valid throughout Switzerland: Swiss cross, post horn and face value of 2½ centimes.

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They are called the “Zurich 4”, “Zurich 6”, “Double Geneva” and “Basel Dove”: Switzerland’s first stamps. These are postage stamps issued by cantonal postal administrations in the 1840s, and are therefore only valid in each canton. Nevertheless, Switzerland is the second country in the world – after England – to introduce postage stamps.

In 1850, just after the founding of the Confederation and the establishment of the federal postal service, the first stamps valid throughout Switzerland appear. They simply bear the Swiss coat of arms and a post horn symbol. Postage stamps simplify operations: it is now possible to collect postage from the sender, not the recipient. This simplifies and speeds up the service provided by mail carriers, who no longer have to collect the transport costs themselves.

Craze for collecting kicks off

In addition to the range of definitive stamps, stamps for special purposes or occasions are also issued as time goes by. These include anniversary and commemorative stamps, official stamps, air mail stamps, special stamps with surcharge for Pro Juventute and EUROPA stamps.

Just a few years after the first stamps appear, the craze for collecting kicks off: trading and counterfeiting begin. Catalogues, magazines and specialist literature are sold, and associations are founded, such as the Swiss Philatelic Society in Zurich in 1883. Today, the Museum of Communication in Bern holds the world’s largest collection of postage stamps open to the public.

Three postage stamps from 1914 with “Homeland motifs”: mountains, lake, Helvetia. Source: Eugène Grasset (stamp designer) / Museum of Communication
Stamps designed by Eugène Grasset with “Homeland motifs”, 1914. Source: Museum of Communication

From Helvetia to Globi

Postage stamps are not just stamps. They feature images that reflect the cultural and mental state of mind of the people of Switzerland. Until the 1940s, stamps are adorned mainly with national symbols: the Alps, Helvetia, William Tell, coats of arms, traditional costumes. From the 1990s onwards, they also depict modern paintings, comic book characters (e.g. Globi) and current events. In 2007, Swiss Post features tennis star Roger Federer on a stamp – a living celebrity for the first time in its history.

Since 1901, Swiss Post has opened the design of new stamps out to competition or commissioned them directly from artists or graphic designers. Swiss Post chooses its designs in the knowledge that the stamps are ambassadors of Switzerland and that they should appeal to the tastes of Swiss Post customers and collectors.

Found in the PTT Archive: stamp for “International Women’s Year”, 1975

In 1975, a stamp was to be designed for “International Women’s Year”. However, the stamp jury (which did at least include one woman other than the secretary of the stamp department) was not happy with any of the designs submitted. A reworking of one submission, a motif that featured faces and was produced by a female artist, was described as “hopeless”. The order was then unceremoniously given to Hans Erni, himself a member of the stamp jury.


Lavanchy, Jean-Claude: “Postwertzeichen”, in: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), online: https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/046683/2015-03-26Target not accessible

Karl Kronig, Museum of Communication (ed.): Ab die Post! 150 Jahre schweizerische Post. Bern, 1999.

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