Museums in Liechtenstein show the elegance of life – decorated eggs, historical and contemporary artwork and postage stamps. All this fits very well with the classy atmosphere of this prosperous little state.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a small, alpine German-speaking country doubly landlocked by Switzerland and Austria. It is the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire and an independent nation with very close ties to Switzerland. Here you find all the good things in life, high standard of living, incredibly beautiful mountain scenery and a capital city, Vaduz, that is modern and a major center of commerce and international banking.
All of this we learn while touring the museums of Vaduz. Our history and art tour ends at the Postal Museum. Postal? Stamps? Why? On the second floor of a building that also houses the crown jewels, we learn that stamps and Liechtenstein are a perfect fit. Stamps have been a major export for Liechtenstein for many years, even though the country is so small, that its inhabitants hardly would have a use for them. But as the use of pieces of paper folded into envelopes as a means to deliver messages shrinks, the stamp still holds a special place here as a tiny work of art.
Postage Stamp Country
For the people of Liechtenstein, the history of stamps goes hand in hand with the history of the country. Liechtenstein has often been referred to as a “Postage Stamp Country”, one of a handful of remaining corners of old Europe still ruled by active royal families.
Until 1921, the people in Liechtenstein used Austrian stamps. The right to issue its own briefmarken marked the country’s first modern step towards internationally recognized independence. These first stamps were created by a well-known artist from Austria, Koloman Moser, and, as you can imagine, the Liechtenstein royal family has been a popular subject for the artwork. The stamps were masterpieces of philately, and presented Liechtenstein’s identity to the outside world. Today’s postage stamps of Liechtenstein are still collected everywhere. About two-thirds of the 40,000 stamps which are printed each year here are purchased by stamp collectors from at least 66 countries.
A 9.5 Million Dollar Stamp
Liechtenstein isn’t the only country that likes stamps. Although the invention of email has hurt postal mail service, stamp collecting is still a passionate hobby and a valuable business and investment strategy in many countries. Billions of stamps have been issued since the British Penny Black, the world’s first stamp, was first used in 1840. Many stamps are laced with romance and lore, transporting collectors to exotic destinations, important moments in history and, for some, elusive future fortunes.
Of all countries in the world, the hobby of philately has its strongest roots in Central Europe. At one time, there were over millions of stamp collectors in Germany and Switzerland alone. But more than just numbers of collectors, the German speaking peoples approach the hobby with a thoroughness and dedication that is unparalleled in the rest of the world. As part of the Germanic block of countries, Liechtenstein enjoys great popularity and an extensive collector and dealer network.
Stamp collecting is very much an aesthetic hobby. You buy stamps because you want to enjoy looking at them, which doesn’t mean that there are no fortunes to be made. Some of the world’s most popular examples are the result of printing errors, making them rare, while others may have become scarce due to political or historic circumstances. Sometimes, the piece of mail a stamp is fastened to, a historical letter for instance, can raise the worth of a stamp by a few hundred dollars.
The champion among stamps is the one-cent magenta, a not very attractive magenta octagon with handwritten black script released in British Guiana in 1856. In 2014, it set the record for the most money ever paid for a postage stamp when it was sold for 9.5 million dollars, nearly a billion times its original penny value. Not only was the magenta the most expensive stamp ever sold, the tiny paper square became the most valuable product on the planet by weight.
So Back to the Museum
In Liechtenstein, stamps became a past time for visitors when Liechtenstein Consul H. W. Sieger, an avid stamp collector himself, decided to donate his own philatelic collection to the country. This is what started the Post Museum, first established in 1936, and until now you can not only see Sieger’s stamp collection, but also the original designs, engraving plates and print proofs.
The museum itself added all kinds of other items, so that now you can spend hours here pulling out the stamp racks and looking at templates and exhibits - Postmen's bags, post-carriage horns, ornate scales, maps of old postal routes across the Alps, prints of coaches dashing dramatically through Alpine villages with the mail. There's even one of the British Imperial camel-post. Basically, the museum takes you to the world of stamps dating back centuries.
And there is shopping to be done. In the museum shop, there is a huge variety of stamps for sale, including special commemorative covers and sets. Popular with the Chinese tourists are the sets for the Chinese Lunar New Year and those with artwork from popular Chinese artists.
So a Post Museum? Yes - a must for stamp collectors. Quirky and unusual objects and photographs, old post office delivery vehicles of all shapes and sizes, post uniforms and bad weather gear. They all make for a different glimpse of the past.