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The Vatican City Collection



Basilica di S. Pietro, Citta' del Vaticano stamp

In the heart of the Italian peninsula, nestled within the city of Rome, lies the world's smallest nation. Vatican City, less than one half the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC, became politically independent from Italy under the Lateran Pacts of February 11, 1929. Two days later, the Vatican post office began operating with donated supplies and equipment. It issued its first stamps on August 1, 1929.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of the Vatican City nation and its post office, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum has digitized its complete collection of 1,496 Vatican stamps from 1929 to 2008.

The Vatican Philatelic Society, based in the United States, is the only organization in the world devoted exclusively to the collection and study of the stamps, covers, and postal history of the Vatican City State. The Society cooperated with the National Postal Museum in putting these Vatican stamps online by allowing the NPM to republish information from the fifty-year run of their journal, Vatican Notes.


Basilica di S. Pietro, Citta' del Vaticano stamp

Vatican City 

Vatican City became politically independent from Italy under the Lateran Pacts of February 11, 1929. Two days later, the Vatican post office began operating with donated supplies and equipment. It issued its first stamps on August 1, 1929.


Poste Vaticane stamp with crossed keys

Pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939) 

Today's Vatican City State is the last remaining vestige of the Stato Pontificio, a vast territory ruled by the pope that once straddled the Italian peninsula. 


Poste Vaticane 25 cent stamp with Pope Pius XII

Pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958) 

Pius XII's pontificate was the most troubled of the twentieth century, spanning as it did the Second World War, the rebuilding of Europe, and the early years of the Cold War. 



Poste Vaticane 70 lire with Pope John XXIII

Pontificate of John XXIII (1958-1963) 

Blessed Pope John XXIII was intended to be a placeholder pope-a compromise candidate acceptable to both the conservative and liberal factions in the College of Cardinals because he would not 'rock the boat.' 


Poste Vaticane L.100 with a depiction of Pope Paul VI

Pontificate of Paul VI (1963-1978) 

Vatican City postage stamps changed dramatically during Paul VI's reign. The subjects commemorated became more internationalist in nature as opposed to focusing exclusively on church history and art. 


Sede Vacante Sett. 1978, Poste Vaticane 250 stamp with stained glass with crossed keys

Pontificate of John Paul I (1978) 

Nineteen seventy-eight is remembered as the “Year of Three Popes.” Paul VI died on August 6, and the College of Cardinals elected 65-year-old Albino Cardinal Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice, as pope. Luciani chose the regnal name John Paul. His papacy, however, was one of the shortest in history.




Poste Vaticane 2400, Anno Mariano 1987-1988 stamp with an illustration of four figures gathered around Mary

Pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005) 

Taking his predecessor's name, John Paul II was the youngest pope in more than a century and the first non-Italian since 1523. 


Citta' del Vaticano 0.65 Euro stamp with an image of the statue of Laocoön and His Sons

Pontificate of Benedict XVI (2005-2013) 

Elected on April 19, 2005, in a papal conclave and celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on April 24 2005, Pope Benedict XVI succeeds Pope John Paul II. 



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The National Postal Museum would like to thank the many volunteers and staff members who worked on this collection. Specifically, NPM Web Team members MJ Meredith, Christine Mereand, and Alex Haimann (database management and imaging), and Bill Lommel (website design and publication); Daniel Piazza, NPM Curator and author of Vatican City narratives; and Elizabeth Schorr, NPM Collections Manager. Additionally, a special thanks to Kellie Keating, NPM Intern, for imaging the collection and editing object descriptions; volunteers Ron Fett and Whitney Morell for many hours spent transcribing and editing object descriptions; and Terry Sheahan, editorial consultant.