Philately in Albania

Philately in Albania began in the second half of the 19th century. The documents of the time and the current studies state that the first post office un- der the administration of the Ottoman occupants was opened in Shkodra in 1822, almost 18 years before the first distribution of the mail stamp in the U.K. (1840) and around 41 years earlier than the release of the first stamp of the Ottoman Empire (1863). The first Albanian stamp had two concentric circles, in- side of which was written the name of the city in Turkish. Post offices were later opened in Gjirokastra (1866), in Tirana (1871), in Tepelena (1876), in Korca (1890), etc.

The post offices of the Ottoman occupants were functional until 1913. By the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, there were two navy organizations in operation.The Austrian navy of Lloyd and the Italian navy of Pulia conducted the postal service in Shkodra, Durres, Vlora, Shengjin and Saranda.

At the beginning of May, 1913, the first Alba- nian national stamp was released.The six first stamps issued by Government of Ismail Qemali are of spe- cial interest. The Minister of Postal Services  was the famous philatelist Lef Nosi who dedicated spe- cial care to the postal services in general and to the production and release of the stamps, in particular. On July 7, 1913 the Temporary Government of Vlora made a request for membership in the International Postal Union (IPU), which was obtained after 8 years, and by October 1922, Albania became a member of the IPU.During this period there was a high demand of stamps and the Ministry of Postal Services was very efficient and practical.

The first release, or the first stamp, was not like common stamps of today. It was in the shape of a black seal with which 2,232 envelopes were stamped. This stamp-seal cost was 1 “grosh” (i.e.Albanian “cent”)and was sold in 14 postal offices, under the jurisdiction of the Vlora Government. The release date is still disputable, but it is either on May 1, 1913 or May 5, 1913.

The second stamp released is similar to the first one. Here again, we have the stamp-single seal, round shaped, with two con- centric circles inside which is written: “Postat e Qeverries se Perkoheshme te Shqiperise” (“The Stamps of the Temporary Government of Albania”). Its price is not on the stamp, but there are references that it was valued again 1 grosh. This stamp was used from May to November 1913. Aside being pressed on the envelope, this stamp was also cut and sticked on envelopes. This stamp has also been falsified on several occasions by various speculators.

The third issue has an important place in the history of Albanian philately, and remains the most de- manded from the philatelists because of its high col- lectors value. This release was used in the postal of-
fices from June 16 until October 20, 1913. For this release the Alba- nian post used a considerable amount of stamps from the Ottoman occupying administration during the years 1909- 1910, which were not used earlier. On top of the stamp was the “sursazhi”: a double headed eagle and below it the word “Albania”. Their values varied from 2 para to 50 piastra, while the productions of 16 pieces (50 piaster) up to 11,607 pieces (the highest production of the 20 para value).
Aside the their low production, especially for some of the values, their rareness is related also to the various colors of sursazhimit: black (dominating color), light blue, red, red to brown and violet. This release, the first to be rubbered, due to the times when it came out it has many mistakes, especially in cases of reverse sursazhimit, which are in high demand by national and foreign philatelists. The 50 piastra stamp of this emis- sion in the Michel catalog is of 45,000 German marks exchange value.
As in other countries, the philately of Albania is closely related to its history, and even history has found its adequate reflection in philately. This is better testified between the two World Wars. To note is that we can mention the exact number of re-
leases in the years 1914- 1919, or during World War I. They have been mainly releases of local stamps, such as in Shkodra, Korca, Berat, Vlora, Gjirokastra, Tepelena, Himara, Elbasan, etc. A  variety of issues were made by the occupiers in Albania during World War I. These releases circulated together with the dat- ing seals that have writings in the language of the oc- cupier.
Aside the low number of issues, the subject has been quite narrow, with the dominant subject being political. Following the tradi- tion of other countries, the stamp displayed more often the portrait of the King Ahmet Zogu (in the period until 1939 most of the stamps have his portrait), while during the Italian occupation, is frequent the portrait of Victor Emanuel III. The only theme, if can be called as such, were the air stamps, hav- ing fixed an airplane figure showing that they served to the air mail, which also corresponded with the high value they had.
The Albanian philately of this period is very interesting. It can be mentioned many issues that have become very rare like the envelopes with the golden seal of stamps with the portrait of Skanderbeg; the envelope with the seal of the
Finance Office in Elbasan; the envelope with the seal of Tepelena; the envelope with the seal of Berat; the Gothic release with the sursazhin “Mbr. Shqiptare” (“Albanian Kingdom”); the stamps of the Provisional Control Commission of Korca; the emission of March 29,
1915 dedicated to the setting of the flag in the Shkodra’s fortress as well as  those stamp issued from the Greek, Italian and German occupation, especially the issue of September 14, 1943 that is no- ticed for the diversity of mistakes.
An impressive tableau presents the period after the Liberation of Albania (1944)until the 1990’s. It is no- ticeable for many issues (an average of 10 issues per year) for a right proportion of national and international themes, for many images on each issue, etc. Generally, the stamps are politicized and ideological. There are also many issues for Enver Hoxha, repeated ones for the 5th anniversary of commemorative historical events, of high production.
In the last decade, aside the oscillations of the transition years, ’91-’93, serious commitment has been made to de- politicize the stamps; the quality of their production is also better, since they are printed in Switzerland and Greece. In general, there have been optimal indicators for the production of the stamps driven by the demand and collection.
The first Albanian philatelists are from the Alba- nian Renaissance period. among the most notable to list are: Thimi Mitko, Sami Frasheri, Ndoc Xhuxh e Murat Toptani, and later on Luigj Gurakuqi. However the father of Albanian philatelys is Lef Nosi who was also the first Minister of Postal Services and who was distinguished for conceptualizing and releases of the first Albanian stamps. The Albanian philately also has an issue with his portrait.
Albanian philately had a better development between the two World Wars. From the documents of the time, it is found that in this period the first shops for selling stamps opened in Shkodra, Korca and Tirana. In the daily press there were many advertisements for exchanging stamps, and among the best traders were: Zef Prenushi from Shkodra. He was a well known trader and expert of mail stamps, a competent professional and member of the main European cities’ philately networks. Aurel Ballamaci was an Albanian stamp trader in Torino, Italy and had his philately shop for 40 years.
The philatelists became much more organized after the Lib- eration of the country and in 1947, the Philately Club was estab- lished in Shkodra; in 1949, the Philately Group was established in Korca; and the Philatelists’ Scociety  was established in Tirana in
1959. Such organizations also existed in Vlora, Puke and other regions.The Federation of the Albanian (stamp) Collectors was set in 1991 and has many phi- latelist members. This federation became a member of IPF (International Philately Federa- tion in Z├╝rich, Switzerland) and the EFPS (Eu- ropean Federation of Philately Societies in Den Haag, The Netherlands) in 1994.The Albanian Federation of Collectors has its own press “Koleksionisti” (the Collector) and the first edi- tion was published in 1998.
Philately exhibitions in Albania have always been very rare. During the 1990’s there was only one national exhibition, and was organized as “KOLEKSPO ’93". But there is considerable participa- tion of the Albanian philatelists in international exhibitions presenting rare collections and have been awarded with 28 various medals, among them 7 first place or gold medals. Albanian philatelists have partici- pated in exhibitions in Greece, Turkey, Romania, Norway, Israel, Russia, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, U.K., Bulgaria, China, Spain, Belgium and Japan.