A Philatelic Profile of Fiume

By Giorgio Migliavacca ©

At the end of World War One the Croatian port of Fiume  (now called Rijeka) on the East side of the Northern Adriatic Sea became the subject of controversy between the new nation of Yugoslavia and Italy.  Fiume dates back to Roman times when it was called “Tarsatica” or “Terra Fluminis Sancti Viti” (the river-land of St Vitus); Fiume, in fact means river.

At the end of the fifteenth century Fiume was bought from the Emperor of Austria, Frederick III as a much needed outlet on the sea.  It later became Hungary’s only major port when it was annexed to that country in 1776 by a decree of Empress Maria Theresa. In 1809 Fiume was incorporated in the Napoleonic province of Illyria, but in 1814 it was returned to Austria, and eight years later  re-assigned to Hungary. In 1848, despite the city’s adverse feelings to ‘croatisation’, it became part of the Croatian Crownland. In 1870 the postal network was controlled by Hungary. Stamps of Austria were used at Fiume until 1871 when Hungarian stamps were introduced.

The secret Treaty of London (26 April 1915) assigned Fiume to Croatia, while Italy was to annex Dalmatia.  But when the “October Revolution” forced Russia to withdraw, Italy found herself bearing the burden; thus, expectations of greater rewards were fuelled by public opinion, and while Dalmatia had only marginal connections with Italy, Fiume had a strong ethnic presence of Italians. The suburb of Susak had 11,000 Croats and 1,500 Italians, but the rest of Fiume was said to have 22,488 Italians and 13,351 Croats.  On 28 October 1918 the  Italian flag was raised on the Civic Tower of Fiume (A4 type: Scott 30-32) heralding the strong wind of change. Two days later a plebiscite called for annexation to Italy, and an inter-Allied force (British, French and American) had to intervene to prevent a clash. 

From a strictly postal viewpoint, the “de facto” Italian annexation resulted in overprinting stocks of Hungarian stamps with the name “FIUME” in capital letters.  This operation was carried out by letterpress for the post office stocks and by hand for  privately held part sheets or single stamps. The provisional (overprinted) issue of Fiume (Scott 1-23; SG 1-28) is familiar to specialists for its complexities. Many of these stamps are known with two distinct types of  letterpress overprints and as many as six distinct types of hand overprints (Scott 7, SG 5 exists with hand overprints but the rare letterpress type is known only with overprint inverted, regular - upright - letterpress overprints of this stamp are forgeries).  Forgeries abound,  but Fiume overprints are not exceedingly difficult to assess once some genuine reference copies of each overprint are acquired.

Eventually Rome twisted the arm of the Allies and on 22 February 1923 (Scott 184-195) Fiume was annexed to Italy. The process had been far from painless as it involved the highly embarrassing intervention of Gabriele d’Annunzio - a charismatic hero and poet with a penchant for flamboyance - and his “Arditi” paramilitary force. 

After the Rapallo Treaty was signed (11 November 1920) it became necessary to get rid of the belligerent poet-hero and his Legionari and on Christmas Eve the battleship “Andrea Doria”  shelled d’Annunzio headquarters and his men capitulated.

Between December 1918 and March 1924 (“Annessione” set: Scott 196-207, SG 225-238) Fiume had issued no less than 280 stamps. This figure (which is taken from Sassone - the standard Italian catalogue) excludes the offshore islands of Arbe and Veglia (now known as Rab and Krk respectively). With only one exception (Scott B4-B15, SG 71-82) all the series issued by Fiume between 1918 and 1923 have been forged. The proliferation of these forgeries was fuelled in the post World War One years when demand for “war stamps” was at its peak.

Genuine letterpress overprint (machine) Type I

Genuine letterpress overprint (machine) Type II; notice the chalky aspect at the top of the letters. This is not to be confused with forged overprints that have tiny dots. Letterpress  and hand overprints were also used for postage due stamps. One easy rule of thumb for letterpress overprints on postage due stamps is that they invariably bear the “machine” (letterpress) Type II overprint which is characterized by a vaguely blurred and chalky outline to some of the letters. The overprint in this case is better inked than Type I, but the resulting light-feathery smudging is most often a rather visible give-away. Any postage due stamp of Fiume bearing the distinctive Type I letterpress overprint is therefore a forgery. Type I has clear, thin letters and the impression is “dry”. By paying close attention to minute details and watching out for certain characteristics, such as the inner angle of the “M” and the clean serifs in “F” and “E”, the forward sloping serifs on the beaks of the “F” and the “E”, Type I becomes relatively easy to detect, once the eye has been duly acquainted. And since over forty types of forged overprints have been counted so far, the specialist will have fun lining them up, as they will provide handy reference material. Even Italian catalogues do not give distinct evaluations for the two types of letterpress overprints, but reliable, contemporary sources indicate that quantities in both categories were appreciably moderate and in quite a few instances decidedly low.

The  1918-1924 issues of Fiume have witnessed a great revival in popularity during the last fifteen-to-twenty years.  The specialist’s appetite is greater than ever and the advanced collector is always on the lookout for something impressive to add to the collection. The “unique”  1920 d’Annunzio “Pro Fondazione” 15c. stamp was until recent times Fiume’s most elusive acquisition. Recent research has proved that the stamp is not “unique” and that some books, a philatelic encyclopedia, some Italian catalogues, and a few over-zealous auctioneers had been deceived by d’Annunzio’s lie.  The stamp depicting the poet wearing a Lancers beret to disguise his bald head was welcomed by d’Annunzio but was not readily available to the general public. 

In recent years a few copies of the so-called unique d’Annunzio stamp prepared in January 1920 by superimposing a photographic profile of the poet-hero on the 15c. of the “Pro Fondazione Studio” series  have surfaced on the market.

Until recently only one cover with this semi-stamp was known; it was autographed by d’Annunzio himself to give it the needed “pedigree” and attest its “uniqueness”. In due course the cover  was auctioned for 50,000 Lire (or today’s equivalent of $25,000).  In recent  times two postcards with the same  unique d’Annunzio stamp have surfaced on the market; needless to say, the perspective buyers got suspicious that many more may  come out of the drawer and one such item offered at auction with an estimate of $3,000 found no buyers. To clear d’Annunzio’s reputation from allegations of getting rich at the expense of stamp collectors suffice it to say that the proceeds from the sale of the “unique” stamp were donated to a Fiume welfare institution. 

Originally, the Legionari stamps  were printed with the inscription “FIUME D’ITALIA”; as such they may have been mistaken for revenue stamps and therefore the issued postage stamps were inscribed “POSTE DI FIUME”. The four denominations with “FIUME D’ITALIA”were overprinted and utilized as revenue stamps. Only a few copies of the unoverprinted 20c. with “FIUME D’ITALIA” survived. 

After a few weeks of life the 1920 Legionari issue (Scott type A12; SG type M17) was overprinted and all the Lira denominations were handstamped  on the gummed side with the emblem of the Arditi - snake swallowing its own tail symbolizing eternity and Rome the eternal city. Needless to say, this overprint has been forged causing great concern among collectors. Unfortunately the Arditi handstamp, or backprint, is not illustrated in major catalogues, except for Catalogo Enciclopedico Italiano and Michel. But such illustrations are of little help to the collector who wants to detect forged backprints.

The following Scott numbers (Fiume) must have the Arditi emblem on the gummed side: Scott 113, 117, 118, 119, 120,  121, E4, E5 and additionally Scott 125 and 131 (for which Scott 113 was utilized - both widths of overprint, 14 and 19 mm etc).  Although the Lira denominations of the  “Reggenza” overprints without the Arditi emblem on the gummed side exist, they are quite elusive and under normal circumstances such stamps should be regarded with suspicion. For the sake of clarity it must be noted that Scott E6, E7, E8 and E9 do not have the backprint.

A charity label utilizing the Civic Hall design of the 1919 pictorial series was issued. Does anyone know  if  other labels were issued?

The genuine Arditi emblem hanstamped on the gummed side of the Legionari Lira denominations

Forged Arditi emblem. Clues: the position of the eye; the stars are clearly outlined including the 4th on the top row and the 1st on the 2nd row;  the body of the snake is designed as a rope with a clear central line; the inner part of the mouth is curved and the tail is not downward pointed at the end; the snake forms a well shaped circle.

With the advent of the Fascist party to power, the 1920 Rapallo Treaty, which envisaged a free state of Fiume-Rijeka with an Italo-Fiuman-Yugoslav consortium for the port, was ignored despite the fact that such a solution had been approved by the Fiuman electorate on 24 April 1921.

In 1941, following the Italian occupation of the outskirts of Fiume, Yugoslav stamps were overprinted “ZONA OCCUPATA FIUMANO KUPA”; at top on the perforations is partly visible the continuos “ZOFK” overprint.

Benito Mussolini’s pressures resulted in a new Italo-Yugoslav treaty (Rome, 27 January, 1924) recognizing Fiume itself as Italian while Susak was given to Yugoslavia. 

After the official annexation Italian stamps were used at Fiume. In May 1941 Fiume-Kupa,  the outskirts of Fiume, including Arbe and Veglia,  were occupied and later annexed to the pre-existing Province of Fiume. A number of overprinted Yugoslav stamps were issued; some of the overprints include the initials ZOFK - Zona Occupata Fiumano Kupa (Fiume Kupa Occupied Zone) - and MAS (the abbreviation for the Latin motto MEMENTO AVDERE SEMPER [Remember always to be daring] which is also repeated in full on some stamps) typically struck as a continuous legend on the horizontal perforation line. Additionally some overprints include the acronym O.N.M.I.  (Opera Nazionale Maternità Infanzia) National Organization for Maternity and Child welfare, and the legend BVCCARI  to celebrate the February 1918  naval raid when d’Annunzio sank several Austrian ships anchored at  Buccari (Bakar).

Stamps of Mussolini’s Social Republic were overprinted with a Communist star over sunrise to mark the liberation of Fiume

After Mussolini’s ousting (25 July 1943) Italy signed an armistice with the Allies (8 September 1943). However, Mussolini was able to establish a civilian government in Northern Italy called the “Italian Social Republic”. Fiume, thus came under the new regime and stamps of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana were used in its province. In May 1945 Yugoslav partisans liberated Fiume which reverted to its Croat name of Rijeka. Stocks of the “Italian Social Republic” stamps were overprinted with a Communist star over the sunrise, the bi-lingual inscription FIUME RIJEKA, and the liberation date  3 May 1945.  Fiume then came under Yugoslav military rule and used the stamps of Istria, and eventually on 10 February 1947 the Treaty of Paris gave all of Fiume to Yugoslavia.

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