Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 54, pp3-7 (October 2001)

En français

Andorran Post Offices Past and Present (Part 1)

by E. J. Jewell

Introduction

The original French and Spanish post offices The two original post offices of Andorra la Vella are a familiar sight to Andorra collectors from postcards of the era and more recently from stamps depicting them (French Bureau Yv. 277 & 388 and Spanish Bureau Yv. 106 & 204). Their successors, while arguably less photogenic, are known to most collectors both with regard to their location and period of service.

The locations and dates of opening/closure of the agencies in the villages are much less well documented. This series of articles attempts to trace the history of all the Andorran post offices with information on the premises they occupied and period of service and, where possible, what has become of the premises subsequently. Just as with the pre-stamp post office of Tomàs Rosell i Moles and his son Tomàs Rosell i Duran who ran the postal service as a sideline to their business as cobblers, the village agencies were originally located in shops or private houses and supplemented the main occupation of the agent. Some passed down in families and their history reflects the fortunes of the family concerned. In more recent times, as the postal traffic has grown, some have relocated to premises dedicated to the postal function, in some cases in municipal buildings. They may now be better described as branch post offices rather than agencies.

For an outsider, the village agencies were often difficult to find and had erratic opening hours. Originally they were recognisible by the blue "Agence Postale" sign for the French agencies and by an enamel posting slot plate on the Spanish ones. Examples of both are exhibited in the stair well of the Museu Postal in Ordino. Some later Spanish agencies had no outward indication whatsoever of their postal function. Some of the Agence Postale signs still survive but both services now display more modern logos and their locations, where not on the main road, are generally signposted. Opening times are now more predictable. With minor variations of time, all are open in the morning Monday to Saturday except that not all Spanish agencies open on Saturday.

Our first reliable account of the post offices is based on a visit to Andorra by Derek Tanner in September 1953. We also have information from Gilbert Goudard on the situation around 1990 and information published by the German society of Andorra collectors. It is supplemented by my own observations on visits between 1962 and 1985 though written notes I made at the time are rather scanty so some of my recollections, particularly with regard to when changes took place, may not be entirely accurate.

It is readily acknowledged that the information presented is woefully incomplete, particularly as regards dates, and may in some cases be inaccurate. It is published in the hope that readers may come forward with further information and corrections and, if possible, with additional pictures. Any new information will be published as it becomes available and the version of the articles on the APSC web site will be updated from time to time to present the current state of our knowledge.

Andorra la Vella ...

The first post offices of the stamp era are well known, located at the southern corner of the Plaça Princep Benlloch, either side of the main road. However, the term "original" should more properly be applied to the cobbler's shop of Tomàs Rosell i Moles and his son Tomàs Rosell i Duran who ran the pre-stamp postal service. No contemporary picture of the premises is known to have survived but Jean Bacquer describes it thus (Valira Torrent no. 5, p.7):

The Rossell i Moles house
Fig. 1: The Rossell i Moles house
(photo: E. Jewell 2001)

"The Rossell y Moles family lived at Carrer Major in the Puig district at Andorra la Vieja in a little two storey house, the front of which is now painted yellow, situated immediately on the left of the Calones Hotel. On the ground floor, in a half basement, there is a barbers shop. The two rooms where Tomas Rossell y Moles (nicknamed "Tomasset" by the Andorrans who knew him well) carried out his postal activities are situated on the mezzanine floor. On the left of the building a few steps of an outside stone staircase remain. I have been told that in those days this staircase was situated at the front, but it had to be moved to the side to widen the way into the Carrer Major, it being very narrow at that point. That three step staircase led to the Post Office door which had a mail box for Spain and France and these were used when the office was closed."

The building stilll exists and remains recognisble from this description although the front is no longer painted (Fig. 1). The orange building is the Hostal Calones.

From their original positions in the Plaça Benlloch, both French and Spanish offices have relocated twice as the postal traffic has grown.

... French Bureau

The original French post office Situated on the angle of the main road and the Carrer de la Vall at the southern corner of the Plaça Benlloch leading to the Casa de la Vall, the original French bureau of the stamp era opened on 16th June 1931. It remained there until (?date) when it moved to purpose built premises on the edge(!) of the town close to the bridge over the river on its eastern bank. It is hard to believe now that, at the time, there were almost no other buildings to the east of the river and a substantial tract of fields remained between there and Les Escaldes. That situation did not last long as Andorra la Vella and Les Escaldes rapidly expanded towards each other in the early 1960s. Within a few years the location of the post office had become central to the area it served rather than on the edge.

The original building in the Plaça Benlloch still stands (Fig. 2). The shop front has undergone changes but it is otherwise still recognisible. It was recently (2000) covered with scaffolding and sheeting and appeared to have been undergoing refurbishment as a bank. However, the scaffolding has now been removed and the building is at present (August 2001) unoccupied.


The buildings of the original post offices as they are now The second French post office
Fig. 2: The Plaça Benlloch (Photo: E. J. Jewell 2000) Fig. 3: The second French post office (Photo: C. Romo 1972)
The old French post office undergoing refurbishment. The building on the east side of the river close to the bridge.

Solidly built of granite (fig. 3), the new building changed little during its lifetime. There was some not very noticeable additional building on the back of it to enlarge the sorting area and in the public hall minor alterations were made to accommodate an increasing number of P.O. boxes from which box holders could collect their mail. The counter was on the far side of the public hall. To the left of the entrance were two telephone cabins and behind the counter a primitive manual switchboard, at the time the only direct telephone link with France. You booked your call at the counter and were directed to one or other of the cabins. One of my lasting memories is of the lady at the switchboard replying "Andorre écoute" when some distant exchange called back to say that the connection had been successfully established. The telephone facilities were removed in 1967 when the modern telephone service was inaugurated. Nothing now remains of the building. The area it occupied has been redeveloped and the place where the post office once stood is now a busy cross roads (Fig. 4).

Where once there was a post office ..... The current French post office
Fig. 4: Where once there was a post office ..... (Photo: E. Jewell) Fig. 5: The current French post office (Photo: E. Jewell)
The site of the second French post office, now redeveloped. The new building in the Carrer Bonaventura Armengol.

The post office moved again on 10.7.1990 to its present location on the junction of the Carrer Bonaventura Armengol and the Carrer Pere d'Urg (fig. 5), a hundred metres or so directly south of its previous location on one of the major roads which now intersect its former site. The new post office provides a possible 4 counter positions arranged in an arc, compared with 3 positions in the old building. It is unusual, however, to find all of them manned. Opening hours: Monday-Friday: 8.30 to 14.30; Saturday: 9.00 to 12.00.

The original post office depicted on the 2f30 Europa stamp of 1990 The Europa stamps of 1990 featured (not very convincingly!) the original 1931 post office and the interior of the current one. Interior of the current post office depicted on the Europa stamp of 1990

... Spanish Bureau

The original Spanish post office

The western side of the Plaça Benlloch is noteworthy to Andorraphiles for two things - Valenti Claverol's postcard shop and the first Spanish Post Office. The postcard shop was, I think, his orginal premises. By the 1960s a larger one had opened in the Avinguda Meritxell. The post office building still remains but has undergone substantial changes (fig. 6).


The Plaça Benlloch as it is now (2000) The entrance to the arcade
Fig. 6: The original Spanish post office as it is now (photo: E Jewell) Fig. 7: The entrance to the arcade Photo: C. Romo 1972)
Note considerable alterations to the left hand part of the building.  

From the Plaça Benlloch the post office moved in (?date) to an arcade in the Avinguda Meritxell on one side of which was the entrance foyer of the Hotel Montserrat. The post office was in the far left corner of the arcade (Fig. 7, 8). Later the postal service acquired space in the right hand corner of the arcade. This was used as an additional sorting area and was not normally open to the public. However, on the first day of a new stamp issue, a small counter would be set up in this area to deal with the queue of philatelists.

The second Spanish post office The hotel Sàvia d'or, site of the second Spanish post office
Fig. 8: Inside the arcade (Photo: C. Romo 1972) Fig. 9: Hotel Sàlvia d'Or (Photo: E. Jewell).
The entrance to the second Spanish post office. Where the second Spanish post office once was.

After the post office moved again, the arcade was absorbed into the Hotel Montserrat and became part of an enlarged foyer for the hotel. More recently the name of the hotel has changed. It is now the Hotel Sàlvia d'Or (Fig 9).

From the arcade in the Avinguda Meritxell the Spanish post office moved (circa 1985?) to its present position on the corner of the Carrer Joan Maragall and the Carrer de l'Aigüeta (Fig. 10). There are four counter positions. Originally these were designated for particular types of business but now all four positions transact all types of business. A staircase leads up to a mezzanine level. Originally one went up there to collect lista de correos mail but now all business is conducted at the main counter (see addendum).

The original Spanish post office The 1990 Europa stamps showed the original and current Spanish post offices. The current Spanish post office
The current Spanish post office Spanish post office - additional accommodation at the side
Fig. 10: The current Spanish post office (photo: E. Jewell) Fig.11: Side entrance in the Carrer de l'Aigüeta (photo: E. Jewell)

It is rare for all four positions to be manned. Positions 1 and 2 (counting from the left) are most used. Each position has a label machine. One may expect labels from the less used positions 3 and (particularly) 4 to be less frequently seen and maybe worth a small premium. Two "Correos y telegrafos" postmarks used on registered mail are shared between the four positions. The one used by positions 3 and 4 tends to give clearer impressions though are none are good. These cancellers are of a self-inking type, similar in appearence to the "wavy circle" type used at the counter by smaller post offices in the UK.

The postal service has acquired additional accommodation next door in the Carrer de l'Agüeta (fig. 11). Although this has a "shop front" and public entrance with hours of business displayed, it does not appear to be offering additional counter positions for general business. The purpose to which it is put is not known (see addendum). The opening hours of the post office are Monday-Friday: 8.30 to 14.00; Saturday: 9.00 to 12.00.

To be continued. The next instalment will cover St Julià and Santa Coloma

Part2

Articles index | Home Page

Addendum

Collection of poste restante letters is not, as I thought, possible at the main counter. It is done in the annexe in the Carrer de l'Aigüeta where collection of parcels and their customs clearance is also carried out. This counter has a "Correos y Telegrafos" cachet similar to those at the main counter.

Andorran Philatelic Study Circle / Hon. Librarian: E. J. Jewell / apsc@free.fr /
Updated 13th October 2001