First Greek stamps: Kingdom of Greece
The first national stamps of Greece were issued in 1861 under the Kingdom of Greece, which had been established in 1832. These early stamps featured the head of Hermes and were inscribed ΕΛΛ ΓΡΑΜΜ, short for ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟΝ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΟΣΗΜΟΝ — “Ellinikon Grammatosimon”, or “Greek Stamp”. This would be the only design used on Greek stamps — one that was re-issued several times with a variety of colors and values — until 1886.
In 1886, a similar but indeed new design was used on stamps, with Hermes’ head smaller and the inscription shortened to ΕΛΛΑΣ — “Ellas”, i.e. “Greece”. In 1896, several more, entirely different designs were used on Greece stamps, including stamps honoring the first modern Olympic Games of 1896. Although the ΕΛΛΑΣ inscription was by far the most common, some Greek stamps of the early twentieth century featured no country name at all, in particular stamps commemorating various Olympiads.
Second Hellenic Republic, 1924 — 1935
In 1924, after the Kingdom of Greece was defeated by Turkey, and a republic was declared; this was known as the Second Hellenic Republic. Known in Greek as Ἑλληνικὴ Δημοκρατία (“Ellinikí Dimokratía”), the republic continued to use ΕΛΛΑΣ on its stamps, though at least one issue (in 1927) used the full name of the republic (in capital letters with no diacritical marks; EΛΛΗΝΙΚH ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤIΑ).
Kingdom re-established, 1935 — 1941
The republic didn’t last long; in 1935, the monarchy was re-established. At first, old stamps, including postage due stamps, were overprinted with ‘3 NOEMBPIOY 1935’ with a surcharge; the overprint appears to be a Latin-alphabet rendering of the Greek word for November, normally written as ΝΟΈΜΒΡΙΟΣ. Stamps issued by this period of the Kingdom of Greece again used ΕΛΛΑΣ as the inscription on stamps.
Temporary ‘Hellenic State’, 1941 — 1944
From 1941 to 1944, the monarchy was put on hold in favor of a new entity, called Ελληνική Πολιτεία (“Ellinikí Politeía”, or “Hellenic State”). Two stamp designs were issued in several values, and later, older stamps with new surcharges were issued. The new stamps were inscribed ΕΛΛΑΣ, as usual.
Kingdom re-established after World War II, 1944 — 1974
The Hellenic State was a brief interruption, during and because of World War II, in the rule of the monarchy, and in 1944 the Kingdom of Greece was again re-established. Stamp issuance was revived, and designs tended to show ancient Greek subjects — statues of philosophers, gods, et cetera. Inscriptions were kept the same, ΕΛΛΑΣ.
Explosion of Greek stamp issues
In the post-war years, Greece adopted a much more aggressive stamp-issuing policy, with several new designs and special collectors’ pieces being released with increasing frequency — and increasing design and printing quality. Multi-color and full-color stamps became the norm earlier than many other countries. Subjects chosen for stamps continued to reflect a certain fondness for the culture and remnants of ancient Greece, though modern subjects appeared often as well. In 1966, the inscription on Greek postage stamps was modified to include a Romanized version of the Greek name — thus, ΕΛΛΑΣ HELLAS (sometimes the other way around, on two lines).
Greek Republic, 1975 — now
In 1974, the monarchy was again disbanded, and the modern Hellenic Republic was established in 1975. Stamps continued unabated, with the ΕΛΛΑΣ HELLAS inscription retained in the beginning of the new republic — though the HELLAS part was usually much less prominent. In 1982, the inscription was changed, for the foreseeable future, to ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚH ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤIΑ — “Ellinikí Dimokratía”, or “Greek Republic”, but without the usual diacritical marks. It is virtually always rendered in capital letters; the lower-case version would be “Ελληνική Δημοκρατία”. HELLAS has often appeared on recent stamps as well.
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