Vatican City Collectors’ Stamps

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As the world's smallest country, you wouldn't think Vatican City would have the rich philatelic history it does. A large tourist market and the fact the microstate is highly regarded as having one of the best-run postal systems in Europe, however, have contributed to the enduring popularity of Vatican City as a collector's market.

Many attractive issues have been printed since the country was granted independence in 1929; however, most of these have been limited-run productions of between 300,000 and 500,000, which means in-demand stamps can fetch high prices. It also means prices are less subject to artificial inflation, making Vatican City collectors' stamps a good investment for the future.

Vatican City: History and Context

Vatican City has been one of the most important sites in Catholicism since as far back as 313 AD, when Constantine I and Licinius I signed the Edict of Milan, formally ending religious persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Not long afterward, in 380 AD, Christianity was officially recognized as the state religion of the Empire, with Rome functioning as its administrative center.

For much of its history, Vatican City was the de facto capital of the Papal States — independent territories in present-day Italy governed by the Pope. With the unification of Italy in 1870, these territories were gradually annexed by the Kingdom. The secular role and status of the papacy remained in question until 1929, at which point Vatican City as we know it today was granted its political autonomy and independence.

Mail in the Vatican City

Vatican City's postal system was formally established on February 13, 1929. The country became a member of the Universal Postal Union on June 1. In July, it signed an agreement with Italy allowing for the routing of mail through Rome.

The new country issued its first stamps on August 1. Since then, it has earned a reputation for efficiency, having been called one of the best postal systems in the world. Even today, many Roman residents use the Vatican system exclusively for important mail. Add to that a tourist industry that brings in more than 20,000 visitors a day, and it is easy to see how the state's sole postal code, 00120, is the origin of more letters than any other in the world.

Vatican City is also known for frequently producing beautiful issues, both for commemorative purposes and internal use. Some of the most notable or rare Vatican City stamps include:

  • 1939 Pius X overprints: In accordance with a longstanding tradition in Vatican coinage, following the February 1939 death of Pope Pius X, several stamps from a 1929 definitive series were overprinted with the then-current year in Roman numbers and the inscription Sede Vacante or "the See is vacant." These stamps were valid until the election of a new pope on March 3 of that year, making them among the rarest Vatican stamps.
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  • 1966 definitive series: 1966, during the reign of Paul VI, saw the last of what is now considered the "classic" Vatican City definitive issues. These attractive stamps were based on a Rudelli bas-relief. Following their issue, the Vatican postal system moved towards higher-volume production of a range of face values, while retaining the larger, pictorial nature of conventional commemorative stamps.

Buy Rare Vatican City Stamps Online

If you're considering starting a collection of rare Vatican City stamps or are looking to add to an existing collection, Apfelbaum, Inc. can help. We offer our customers several different ways to shop, with online only sales, buy-it-now sales and more. We also have a team of expert appraisers who would love to speak with you and provide assistance with estate sales, collection valuations, shipping and handling, and other relevant issues. Check out our current inventory and upcoming sales of rare Vatican City stamps or contact our office directly for assistance.