APSC logo

The Andorran Philatelic Study Circle welcomes all those interested in the stamps and postal history of Andorra

Take a look at our Information Page

For general philatelic sites try our Links page

If you haven't found the information you wanted E-mail us.
We might be able to help.

Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index


Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 3, p1-5 (Feb 1976).

Copyright notice

The Postal History of Andorra (Part 3)

By D. W. Tanner

Andorran Sovereignty and the Postal Problem

The long delay on the part of Spain in introducing a proper postal service in Andorra undoubtedly arose not from negligence or because the postal needs of the five or six thousand inhabitants of that undeveloped country were small, but due to problems arising from the complex nature of the sovereignty of Andorra. Despite the allocation of Andorra to Spain by the Postal Union Convention, Spain in actual fact possessed no rights whatsoever in the Principality, the sovereignty pertaining jointly to the Bishop of Urgel and the President of France. This dual nature of the sovereignty has always created problems, each co-sovereign (or "Co-Prince") closely watching the other to ensure that no encroachment on his own rights occurs as the result of action taken by his counterpart. On the French side it is argued that, as the French Co-prince becomes holder of this office by virtue of his election to the French Presidency, then the sovereignty extends to the French State which consequently possesses rights in Andorra. On the Spanish side, however no such argument can be sustained as the Bishops are appointed not by the Spanish State but by the Pope, thus even if there is an extension of the sovereignty beyond the Co-Princes to those by whom they are elected or appointed then here it clearly extends not to Spain but to the Vatican. That Spain possessed no rights in Andorra was, in fact, politely pointed out to the Spanish Government by the Bishop of Urgel shortly after the postal service commenced, as will be recorded here later.

The whole question of the Andorran Posts was thus an intricate one. As a non-independant territory Andorra itself was considered unable to conclude the necessary international agreements for the introduction of a full postal service, neither was it able to become a member of the Universal Postal Union in its own right. Spain lacked the necessary sovereign rights which were vested in the Bishop who, however, possessed no international "postal power". And France, while considering that she possessed every sovereign right to introduce a postal service in her small neighbour was faced with the fact that under the U.P.U. Convention, to which she was a signatory, Andorra was Spanish postal territory. For these reasons the problem of the postal service was left unattended for so many years, the various interested parties hesitating to take any steps in the matter until the energetic intervention of a complete outsider, a Swiss subject, Friedrich Weilemann, so forced the hands of all concerned that within the space of three and a half years Andorra found itself provided with two distinct postal services.

Friedrich Weilenmann and the Post in Andorra

The fact that Andorra was peculiar among European nations in that it lacked its own postage stamps had, on several occasions, attracted the attention of private individuals residing far from its frontiers who had then approached either the General Council or the Bishop of Urgel in an attempt to obtain contracts for the printing of suitable stamps, or some similar concession. All such attempts had failed, and if they ever came to the notice of the authorities in Paris or Madrid they aroused little or no interest. But then, none of the would-be concessionaries had ever pursued the matter to such lengths, or displayed such energy, persistence and thoroughness as the German-Swiss from Zurich, who arrived on the Andorran scene in the mid-l920s with a number of proposals. These embraced not only a postal concession but also such matters as the building of a hospital, new schools, road construction, public transport services and agricultural reforms, part of the funds for which would be provided from the revenue accruing from his proposed postal organisation.

In a book "Die Vahrheit uber die Pyrenaenrepublik Andorra" which he himself published in 1939, Herr Weilenmann tells us that his interest in Andorra was first aroused in the year 1922 when he met some Andorran stock breeders at a Swiss cattle fair and it is evident that from this time onwards the small "Switzerland" in the Pyrenees, of which he was eventually created an Honorary Citizen, became his major preoccupation, for as late as 1936, some months after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, there were reports linking his name with an attempt to make Andorra independent of the Co-princes and with a monopoly for the sale of postage stamps if independence was attained. (1)

Having delved deeply into matters pertaining to Andorra and visited the country in 1925-26 to study it at first hand, Weilenmann began to formulate his plans. That he thoroughly prepared his groundwork is evidenced by the fact that in Berne he first consulted the U.P.U. headquarters before embarking on his schemes and also obtained letters of introduction from Swiss diplomatic sources to ensure his reception in official circles in Spain and France. His scheme was that the Co-Princes should consent to the granting of a postal monopoly to the General Council of Andorra, and that he would then enter into a contract with the Council as its technical adviser in order to organise the postal service on the Council's behalf. He planned to divide the country into six postal districts corresponding to the six parishes, to bring in Swiss postal experts to train the necessary staff and provide advice, to open post offices where necessary and, in general, to introduce a postal system based on that of Switzerland which would comply fully with the requirements of the U.P.U. and the needs of Andorra. With regard to stamps, in addition to regular issues he proposed a number of commemoratives and sets with a surcharge on the lines of the Swiss "Pro Juventute" charity series in order to increase further the funds available for school buildings and similar projects.

The General Council of Andorra having promised its support, Weilenmann now attempted to obtain the consent of the Bishop of Urgel and the authorities in Paris and Madrid, and there began a vigorous round of negotiations which, for the first time in many long years, brought the half forgotten question of the Andorran Posts into the full light of official scrutiny at a high levels. In Paris Weilenmann engaged as his interpreter the consultant lawyer of the Swiss Legation, Jacques de Pury, and from a report drawn up by the latter covering the negotiations in the summer of 1927 it is evident that the proposals had caused something of a flurry in French official circles, a committee having been set up to deal with the matters and various sections of the French Foreign Ministry being involved as well as the Ministry of Posts and the French Delegate for Andorra. Hampered by the U.P.U. Convention's allocation of Andorra to Spain the French authorities appear to have been put to some difficulty but nonetheless gave it as their intention to resume the negotiations in the autumn of 1927. In the meantime, however, the authorities in Madrid, who had also been approached by Weilenmann and were well aware that endless complications were likely to arise with the French if some prompt action were not taken, decided to resolve matters in their own way and, by a Ministerial Decree dated 31st October 1927, created the Spanish Postal Administration of Andorra la Vella, empowering it to take all steps necessary to introduce a full postal service in the country.

Weilenmann however, was not to make his exit for a long time yet as the General Council of Andorra, dismayed by the Spanish action and seeing their country deprived forever of the much desired postal revenue, for a number of years attempted by various means to have the stipulations of the Postal Union Convention annulled. At first the Council adopted the age-old Andorran tactic of playing off their two neighbour states one against the other and protested to the French about the Spanish seizure of the posts. As this only resulted in the French having the Convention amended at the Postal Union Congress held in London in 1929 so that France also could operate a postal service in Andorra, the General Council then tried through Weilenmann to have the relevant article declared void. An authority of the Council dated 21st September 1931 - i.e. within three months of the commencement of the French postal service - empowered Weilenmann to intervene through the Swiss Political Department and the General Secretariat of the U.P.U. in Berne to have the clause annulled on the grounds that neither the Spanish nor the French delegation at the London Congress possessed either the right to handle the matter or had been authorised by the General Council to do so. And again, on 25th February 1933, one day after it had created Weilenmann an Honorary Citizen of Andorra, the Council issued a similar authorisation, that he should "take all measures necessary with the relevant Governments and Authorities so that the Republic* of Andorra may, as an autonomous member form part of the Universal Postal Union." Such "authorisations", however, lacked any validity under International Law as the sovereignty pertained to the Co-Princes, not to the General Council, and despite every effort Weilenmann was unable to obtain the intervention of the competent authorities in the matter. A number of contracts were also drawn up between the General Council and Weilenmann relating to the issue of postage stamps, but these likewise were considered invalid in the absence of the consent of the Co-Princes.

It has been stated that a series of stamps intended for issue if Andorra achieved sufficient independence to handle its own posts was at one time in the possession of Herrn. Weilenmann.(2) However no examples appear to have been circulated on the philatelic market, and no essays or unrecorded stamps were found by the solicitor who made the inventory of Weilenmann's effects following his death on 23rd April 1953.**

----------------------------------

* Concerning the use in official documents of the title "Republica de Andorra", it was partly the independent attitude of the General Council of this period which led to its dissolution by the Co-Princes on 10th June 1933 and to the occupation of Andorra by a force of French gendarmes on the 18th August. As a last gesture of defiance a section of the Council, presided over by the deposed President and Vice-President, met in exile in Barcelona on 28th August 1933 and handed a final document to Weilenmann conferring on him general powers to act as its plenipotentiary representative and intervene at the League of Nations against the occupation of Andorra by the French forces.

** This date is certified by the "Office d'Etat Civile", Zurich, hence there appears to be a misprint in the quoted Philatelic Magazine article where the year of its writer's visit to Weilenmann is shown as 1954.

Spanish Preparations

The Spanish Postal Administration of Andorra having been created by a decree dated 31st October 1927 of the Spanish Postal Directorate in Madrid, preparations for the introduction of the postal service now proceeded with some haste, the initial ministerial decree being followed by two Royal Decrees, dated 18th and 30th November 1927, providing for the establishment of various postal duties and services in Andorra. On 1st January 1928 post offices were opened throughout the principality and the postal service was officially inaugurated. By some omission the Bishop of Urgel, the Co-sovereign, was not consulted until after the initial moves had been made, as in the book "Instituciones politicas y sociales de Andorra" one finds the following:-

"About November 1927 the Marquis of Estella, Minister of State, informed the Bishop of Urgel that the reorganisation of the postal service would be rapidly proceeded with on the basis of a memorandum presented by a Spanish official who had studied the matter. It appears that the Bishop was displeased because the preparations had ostensibly commenced without his consent having been requested and moreover the General Council was silently opposed to the Spanish undertaking: this motivated a communication from the Marquis of Estella in December 1927 requesting the collaboration and assistance of the Bishop and the General Council in order that the organisation of the post could be brought to completion."

Viewed in retrospect, this "oversight" on the part of the Spanish authorities, by which the Prince-Bishop was notified only after the preparations had been commenced, seems to have been an astute move rather than a mere error. The Bishops of Urgel, in their capacity as Co-Princes of Andorra, are normally reluctant to make any unilateral decisions with regard to matters outside their ecclesiastical sphere, and when decisions not connected with the ecclesiastical part of their authority are required these are usually taken only after consultation with the delegate of the French Co-Prince. Had Spain first consulted the Bishop for his formal consent to the undertaking of the postal duties Andorra, this would have placed him in an awkward position; his unilateral consent could have led to difficulties with the French authorities while any approach to the latter would equally have placed him in an embarrassing situation with the Spanish government. Faced with the fait accompli, however, the Bishop would be spared any difficulties which might arise with the French, who would now have to deal direct with the authorities in Madrid if they wished to make any representations or protest. Spain could, perhaps, also have argued that technically she did possess some Authority to undertake the postal service by virtue of the U.P.U. Convention, on the grounds that this could only have assigned Andorra to Spain in the first place with the consent of the two Co-Princes of that period. That such consent was ever thought about, let alone obtained, when the original lists were compiled is doubtful but in any event Spain certainly had a stronger case than did France which, while operating a postal service into Andorra throughout the years had nonetheless signed all the subsequent Conventions, such as those of Rome 1906, and Stockholm 1924, which continued to allocate Andorra to Spain alone.

Continuing with the correspondence between the Bishop of Urgel and the Marquis of Estella, one finds the Bishop taking a cautious attitude in attempting to establish the precise basis on which the Spanish undertaking stood, at the same time making the point that it was not regarded as a right:-

"On the 26th January 1928 the Bishop of Urgel acknowledged receipt of the list of Postal staff provisionally named, and affirmed it as being his criterion that the undertaking of the postal service by Spain was not a right of the Spanish State but a favour conferred on Spain by Andorra.

In the month of April the Marquis expressed his satisfaction to the Bishop and concurred with the criterion of the prelate; he deemed, in agreement with the Bishop, that it is Andorra which grants a favour to Spain in permitting that she organises and undertakes the postal service in the Valleys, and that the Spanish government possesses no rights in the small country, but the postal service will contribute to the maintenance of those favourable reputations to which His Most Reverend Excellency refers; the Marquis concluded with his felicitations on the happy interchange of opinions."

The coincidence of opinion so happily reached by the Bishop and the Marquis of Estella was, alas, not shared by the General Council of Andorra. Far from viewing the postal service now operating in their midst as a token of a favour conferred on Spain by Andorra, ths Council saw it as a downright usurpation of Andorran rights, and lodged a protest with the French authorities in Perpignan. The "Echo de la Timbrologie" dated 31st May 1928 reported as follows:-

"The Andorrans, it seems, do not look favourably on the seizure by Spain of their postal services, and their protests have found an official echo in a resolution passed by the Council of the Valleys. Following this resolution, the First Sindic of Andorra betook himself to Perpignan in the company of another official with the aim of protesting energetically to the Prefect of Pyrenees-Orientales, who is the competent representative of France for Andorra, against the Spanish interventions in which the Valley of Andorra sees an outrage against its rights and independence. The Sindic added that Andorra feels itself perfectly capable of organising its own postal services, of issuing stamps, and collecting the money, without the help of anybody. The Prefect, following the classical formula, promised the Andorran representatives that he would take up their wishes with the French government."

What steps were taken by France following this protest, or whether indeed the General Council was ever subsequently consulted in the matter in view of the French attitude to Andorra itself dealing with such affairs, we do not know as the ensuing correspondence between France and Spain remains a secret of government archives. Even the Bishop of Urgel appears not to have been informed of the negotiations which took place between France and Spain at this period, as from a letter which he wrote to Weilenmann several months later it seems that he was under the impression that the matter of the post was completely settled. This letter, dated 1st March 1929, also succinctly stated the French attitude to Andorra handling any affairs, such as the postal service, where international considerations were involved:

"Various official duties have prevented me from replying to your favour of the 24th January. The matter of the Post of Andorra is resolved and concluded. The Spanish government has organised this postal service for the satisfaction of the Valleys and is operating the same. Nobody will now have the intention of conferring this service to a third party as a government monopoly. The representation of Andorra at international conferences inasmuch that Andorra itself deals independently in the international sphere, will always be opposed by France since France does not award any international personality to this small country." (3)

Far from being resolved and concluded, the affair of Andorra's postal services was on the point of being raised at the highest possible levels, at the Universal Postal Union Congress held in London three months later, in June 1929, when at the request of France and with the agreement of Spain, the relevant article of the Convention was amended:

"After reiterated negotiations between the two countries, the Congress of London of 1929 accepted an important modification of the relevant article of the Universal Postal Convention, which now reads:-

"The following are considered as belonging to the Universal Postal Union:

(d) ......
(e) The Valleys of Andorra, as served by the Postal Administrations of Spain and France....." (4)

Thus, from considerations of political prestige, the ground was prepared for a second postal organisation to come into being in this small country.

That the Bishop of Urgel had still not been informed of the Franco-Spanish negotiations even at this stage is evidenced by another letter quoted by Weilenmann, from which it also appears that the Bishop, in the absence of information as to the French view, had until this time been careful not to express his official recognition of the Spanish postal service even though it had been operating for some eighteen months. The letter from the Bishop is dated 17th July 1929:

"I have to acknowledge your esteemed favour of the 4th instant. As you report therein - and I did not know it - the French government has expressively recognised the Postal service conducted by Spain in Andorra, and has applied to this recognition only one stipulation, namely the stipuation that I myself am in agreement with this recognition."

As I express this recognition as Co-Prince of Andorra, I can undertake nothing contrary to this agreement.

In that which concerns the issuance of commemorative stamps, which you request me in a petition to recommend I have done all that I could do in your favour in the present situation by the certificate I sent to you in April.

Any further action or recommendation would place me in great difficulty with the Spanish and French governments, which I must at all costs avoid.

Reciprocating your kind regards, I am, with my benediction, yours faithfully,

Justino, Bishop of Urgel.

The "expressive recognition" by the French government of the Spanish postal service being contained in the amended Postal Convention signed on 28th June 1929, it would seem, in view of his statement "I did not know it", that the Bishop first learned of the amendement from Weilenmann's letter of the 4th July, the contents of which are not stated in the book, but the Bishop had evidently been officially brought back into the picture by the date of his reply.

Pursuant to the amendment of the Postal Union Convention a Hispano-French agreement concerning postal relations with Andorra was signed on 30th June 1930, and in the following year the French Postal Service was inaugurated.

References

1. "Philatelic Magazine" 30th October 1936.
2. "Philatelic Magazine" 20th September 1963.
3. "Die Wahreit uber die Pyrenaenrepublik Andorra" p 128
4. "Union Postale" Vol. 70, No. 7 Berne, July 1945.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

A more recent account of Andorran postal history up to and including 1931 is available in "Les Services de la Poste Francaise ... a Partir de 16.6.1931" published by CIFA. Available from W. A. Jacques

Articles index | Home Page

Andorran Philatelic Study Circle / Hon. Librarian: E. J. Jewell / apsc@free.fr /
Updated 15 Feb 1998