The featured stamp commemorates the 50th anniversary of the cession of Heligoland to Germany. The significance of this anniversary is indicated by the date of issue 1940 and the inscription ‘Deutsches Reich’ – an issue of the German national state during World War II. The stamp is an historical example of postage stamp propaganda and celebrates the strategic significance of these small and otherwise relatively insignificant islands.
Heligoland is a small archipelago comprising two islands in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea lying almost 70km off the coast of Germany. The derivation of the islands name is believed to be from High German language Heiligland, meaning Holy Land. The two islands were once one and were separated by a great storm in 1720. They were occupied in turn by Denmark and various German coalitions for several hundred years until they were conquered without resistance by Britain in 1807 – an action that was taken to protect trading links when Denmark allied itself with Napoleon. The islands inevitably became an important centre for smuggling and espionage against Napoleon’s forces in continental Europe.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the islands lost their strategic significance, British soldiers left in 1821 and trading activity almost stopped entirely. However, postage stamps were eventually issued in 1867 featuring the embossed head of Queen Victoria and the two prominent colours that became a feature of the islands stamps; Green, representing the land and Red, representing the characteristic brown-red sandstone cliffs accentuated in the featured image. Stamps were issued in British currency until 1875 when they were also denominated in German currency, reflecting the rapprochement with the German mainland.
In 1890, Britain offered Heligoland to Germany in exchange for the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa. The Germans agreed and immediately simplified the name to Helgoland. During the unsettled history of the early 20th century, Germany established a naval base at the islands and they achieved great strategic military significance during both First and Second World Wars. This significance was exploited by Hitler with the issue of the featured 6pf + 64pf stamp, the additional denomination funding Hilter’s Culture Fund. Ironically, towards the end of World War II, the islands were bombed to oblivion by British air raids and the landscape became virtually lifeless. The islands were reclaimed by the British after the war and then returned to Germany in 1952. Today, Heligoland is part of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, a holiday resort that enjoys tax-exempt status.
To view postal issues of Germany, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.