Cats on Czech Revenue Stamps
by Valerie Jean Kramer
as published in Cat Mews, the journal of the Cats on Stamps Study Unit
Summer 2014, Vol. 22, No. 2, ISSN 0891-8635 starting on page 54.
According to legends recorded in the Chronicles of Dalimil, the Czech Prince Vladislav II was promoted to King and granted the right to bear a silver lion on a field of red on his coat of arms by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa as a reward for his military assistance at Milan, Italy. The same source also says that the second tail (double-queued) was added as a reward from Roman King Oto IV to Czech king Přemysl Otakar I for helping to defeat the Saxons in 1204. The first truly documented occurrence of this lion dates to about 1213 on an equestrian seal of the Moravian Margrave Vladislav Jindřich. The tail is not clear on that seal and the first reliable image of the two-tailed “Bohemian Lion” dates from the seal of Prince Přemysl Otakar II in about 1247. The “Bohemian Lion” or “Lion of Bohemia” eventually became a symbol of Czechoslovakia and appears on many of their coins and stamps, particularly on their revenue stamps.
“Revenue” stamps, also known as “Fiscal”, “Documentary”, “Duty”, or “Tax” stamps are stamps used to indicate the payment of taxes or fees on things like documents, tobacco, sugar, playing cards, etc. The Czechoslovakia Revenues catalog published by J. Barefoot Ltd. lists more than 25 categories just for prewar Czechoslovakia. Collecting revenue stamps was once popular but was out of favor since the 1920’s until interest began to revive about 1990. It is still a largely unknown field and it is often possible to acquire valuable stamps at bargain prices… or get gouged if you aren’t careful!
There are two main sets of revenue stamps that were issued by Czechoslovakia which are relatively easy to find and reasonably inexpensive.
Figure 1. Samples of the 1919-1937 series
The first set was issued from 1918 to 1938 (see Fig. 1). All of the stamps in this series are dated “1919” surrounding the lion except for the 180h red stamp which is dated “1925”. The lower values are blue-grey with red lines underprinted on the gummed side except for a 20h value printed in 1925 which is yellow-green with no underprint. The higher values (1K and up) are red with a blue/gray underprint. Most are printed on Pelure paper which is thin, brittle, and translucent. Again, the 1925 issues are different and were printed on white wove paper with no underprint. You can read writing on a document right through one of these stamps! (See Fig. 2.)
Figure 2. Pelure paper showing how one can see through it.
The earliest printings were perf 11½ which soon changed to perf 14. Various differences can be found in printings dated 1919, 1920, 1922, 1924/5, 1928, 1930, 1932, and 1935. Those interested should consult the available specialty catalogs. Even without getting into such detail, there are some 40 cats to collect in this series alone!
Figure 3. Samples of the 1938-1947 series
The second common set was issued from 1938 to about 1947 (see Fig. 3). the date, “1938” or “1939”, is at the foot of all of these stamps. There were about 13 different issues of this series as the country underwent a great deal of turmoil. During World War II, Czechoslovakia was split and parts of it were claimed by Germany, Hungary and Poland. After the war it was reunited except for the Eastern end of Ruthenia which became part of Russia. Stamps in this series may be found in blue, blue/gray, red/brown, olive/gold, red, carmine, green, and vermilion. Thus there are at least another 138 cats here to collect!
Figure 4. Samples of other Czech revenue stamps with lions
There is at least one more significant series from which some stamps can easily be obtained. It debuted in January 1958 with a crowned lion. In October 1961 the design was altered, replacing the crown with a star, changing the cross on the shield with a revolutionary flame, and putting “CSSR” at the foot of the stamp instead of “CSR”. (See Fig. 4.) These changes reflected the new constitution of July 11, 1960 which codified the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. These are two-part revenue stamps consisting of a main stamp image and a tag separated by a perforation. In some cases the entire stamp would be attached to a deed while in other cases only the top half would be affixed while the bottom portion would be put on the submitted request or stuck in the official registration book. There are 78 of these stamps listed in the J Barefoot catalog.
There are many more lions to be found among the Czech revenue stamps though many of them may be more difficult to locate. See Fig. 4 for some examples. The Bohemian Lion can be found on stamps issued to control the use of Austrian and Hungarian banknotes in Czechoslovakia; to indicate payment of taxes on sugar, yeast, saccharine, matches, meat, or sparkling wine; for transportation fare exemptions for state officials; for rail travel permit fees; to show payment of the investment tax, food tax, explosives monopoly tax, or statistical fees; and to support the red cross.
Some of the revenue stamps were issued in the Czech language and some in Slovakian. The two are very similar but not identical. Another oddity from an American point of view is that their language makes three distinctions for plurals. See the following table.
1 haléř. 1 koruna.
2, 3 or 4 haléře. 2, 3, or 4 koruny.
5 or more haléřů. 5 or more korun.
1 halier. 1 koruna.
2, 3 or 4 haliere. 2, 3, or 4 koruny.
5 or more halierov. 5 or more korún.
There are 100 haléřů in 1 koruna and 1 koruna is worth about $0.05 in US money.
Those interested in pursuing Czech revenue stamps should get a copy of the Czechoslovakia Revenues catalog from www.jbarefoot.co.uk (One copy is available from Valerie@mydfz.com email for price/availability.) You will also want to visit the Society for Czechoslovak Philately at http://www.csphilately.org. If you happen to be in the Czech Republic, the current revenue stamps still have lions on them and can be purchased at any post office. (See Fig. 5.) Good hunting!
Figure 5. Current revenue stamps