Albania’s Unwanted Prince

The emergence of modem Albania was far from problem free. Just before the outbreak of World War I, the great European powers decided to make Albania an independent principality. As was often the case, they refrained from consulting Albania’s immediate neighbours and the Albanian people.
Queen Elisabeth of Romania had heard rumours that a suitable prince was needed to lead Albania. She felt that her nephew Prince William of Wied would be the perfect choice. She acted strongly in support of the German prince and in November 1913 the European powers accepted her proposal.
The prince was far less enthusiastic and it was only several months later that he finally acquiesced to the request.
William was born in 1876. The family had ties to many of the European royal families so from that point of view it was a good choice. William had begun a military career and when he left for Albania he was a captain in the German army.
Officially William was appointed prince of Albania on March 7, 1914. This was commemorated by having the current definitives overprinted with the date and commemorative wording. The basic stamps depicted Skanderbeg, the national hero who fought bravely against the Turks in the 15th century. The overprint includes the word mbret which is Albanian for king. However, abroad William has always been given the title of prince.
About a month later Prince William and his staff arrived in the country. The city of Durrës became the capital and seat of government. His first task was to form a government. Essad Pasha was the chief minister but it turned out that he was far from trustworthy and with his own political agenda.
The situation in Albania was chaotic. The southern parts of the country had been occupied by Greek forces, there was a rebellion going on in Central Albania and Essad Pasha worked closely with the Italians to stage a coup d’état. Prince William found out about Pasha’s plans and the minister was sentenced to death but he was later sent into exile.
At the outbreak of World War I, Austria-Hungary wanted Prince William to help with Albanian soldiers. The prince refused stating that Albania had to remain neutral in the conflict as per previous agreements.
On September 3, 1914, the situation had become impossible for thc prince and he decided to leave the country. He first went to Italy and then on to Germany where he rejoined the army. After the war he once again claimed the throne of Albania. On January 31 , 1925, Albania was officially declared a republic. It must have been with considerable bitterness that Prince William received the news that Albanian president Ahmed Zogu had proclaimed himself king in 1928. King Zog I then ruled his country until the Italian occupation in 1939.
Prince William passed away in Romania in 1945. His son continued to claim the Albanian throne but he also died many years ago.
The government in Vienna wanted to give the prince’s new administration a helping hand by providing postage stamps. The set comprises seven values from 1 qintar to 1 frank. The stamps were delivered to the palace in Durrës in early September 1914. However, by then Prince William had already left Albania. Some of the stamps had been cancelled with a Durrës postmark dated September 4, 1914. This was probably intended to be the date of issue and the cancelled stamps were undoubtedly planned to be sold to collectors.
Due to the political developments the stamps could never be issued. Many stamps have still reached the philatelic market place in mint condition. It seems large quantities were looted by soldiers occupying the Durrës palace. The low values are still quite common while the 1 frank top value is somewhat scarcer. The stamps were perforated and they depict an impressive portrait of the prince. In 1920, some of the stamps were overprinted to be used in the city of Shkodër. Thus some of the stamps finally could be used for their intended purpose.
However, there is a further value making up the set. The stamp has a denomination of 2 frank. It is imperforate and printed in orange colour. For years the stamp has been mentioned in rather cryptic terms in the German MICHEL catalogue. According to the catalogue, all denominations are known imperforate. They are probably proofs. The 2-frank stamp can best be described as an essay.
The 2-frank stamp appears to be missing from most of the important collections of Albanian philately which suggests that it is a very scarce item. On January 9, 2009, A. Karamitsos, a major Greek auction company, offered the W.A. Knapp collection of Albania and Epirus. This enormous collection had only the basic set from 1 qintar to 1 frank in mint condition. On sale was also the illustrated postcard depicting the prince. It’s obvious that this photo of the prince was used for the design of the stamps.
I recently discovered the 2-frank stamp in a small lot of Albanian stamps in a Danish auction. It’s a nice addition to my collection of unissued stamps and other philatelic curiosities from Albania and Epirus. It also gave me the inspiration for this story. The 20th century history of Albania is extremely interesting and almost every political change has resulted in exciting stamp issues.