Specialized Collection of Pontifical State Postal Markings

Finding Guide
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Figure 1. The three and six bajocchi values from the first issue of the Pontifical State are used here on a cover that traveled from Ancona to Trieste via steamship. The date of mailing is January 4, 1852, just four days after postage stamps were introduced in the Pontifical State.

Prepared by Daniel A. Piazza, Assistant Curator of Philately with the assistance of Amelia B. Kile, Volunteer Research Assistant.


The National Postal Museum’s Specialized Collection of Pontifical State Postal Markings consists of approximately 2,000 stamps, covers, and fragments in twenty-seven volumes. It includes a wide variety of postmarks, cancellations, auxiliary markings, and official cachets from the former Pontifical State. Approximately 90% of the known straightline town cancels are represented, either on cover, fragment, or stamp.


The Specialized Collection of Pontifical State Postal Markings was donated to the National Philatelic Collection in two parts. The first gift, made in 1953 by Irvin Hermanoff, William Winokur, Seymour Winokur, and Lawrence Hollander, consisted of 8 volumes (Acc. No. 200460). Two years later, Hermanoff and the Winokur brothers made a second donation of 2,389 objects (Acc. No. 209392). (Both gifts were arranged through and appraised by Finbar Kenny, general manager of the New York philatelic firm of Julius and Henry Stolow.) In 1963, museum specialist Frank Welch reorganized and remounted the collection into its current configuration of 27 volumes. At that time, covers from Parma were stripped out and Pontifical State covers from other museum collections were added.


The Pontifical State once comprised 16,000 square miles of central Italy, over which the Pope ruled as a temporal sovereign for more than a millennium. Comprising the regions of Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio, it was bounded on the north by the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venice and the Duchy of Modena, on the west by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and on the southeast by the Kingdom of Naples. The population of the Pontifical State was just over 3,000,000 persons, and the government operated a highly-developed postal system that issued stamps in 1852, 1867, and 1868.

The Pontifical State collapsed during Italian unification, when General Cadorna's army invaded Rome in September 1870 and proclaimed the city as the capital of the new Italian kingdom. This launched a fifty- nine-year cold war known as the "Roman Question," during which Pope Pius IX and his successors declared themselves "prisoners in the Vatican" and sequestered themselves in the Apostolic Palace to protest the loss of their territories.

After the fall of Rome, the pontifical posts were integrated into the Italian system and Italian stamps were used on the Vatican’s mail. It was not until the Lateran Accords, signed February 11, 1929, that the Vatican and Italy formally recognized each other's right to exist and Vatican City became politically independent. Two days later, the Vatican reestablished its own post office (Poste Vaticane). It joined the Universal Postal Union on June 1 and signed a postal treaty with Italy on July 29, allowing Vatican mail to be routed through Rome. The first stamps were issued and the post office opened to the public on August 1, 1929. Today’s Vatican City State is the last remaining vestige of the former Pontifical State.