When I began collecting El Salvador, one fact that became evident was the apparent scarcity of postal history and philatelic information. With the few exceptions listed below, it initially seemed that El Salvador was nowhere within the philatelic literature radar. When I got deeper into the subject, thanks to the guidance of Abraham Luspo, Pierre Cahen and Joe Hahn, I started learning that El Salvador had a rich postal history worth sharing with a broader audience. Somehow, the project of writing a Philatelic and Postal History Handbook, or at least a specialised catalogue, had not happened for years.
With these considerations, in early 2000, Joe Hahn and I began working on bringing the Handbook idea to fruition. The initial thoughts were to consolidate the vast wealth of information about El Salvador ‘hidden’ within collections and archives around the world in a short period of time; in reality, the task proved to be significantly longer and more complex than expected. After four years, we had been able to partially work our way up to the 1890s, but then the project lay dormant because of the re-launch of the El Salvador Filatelico – El Faro (now the El Salvador Philatelist), the on-line quarterly journal of the El Salvador Philatelic Association (www.elsalvadorphilately.org).
Four more years passed without any progress on the Handbook. In 2008, after a conference about the Pre-stamp Period at the Salvadorean Academy of History, we decided to review the original draft of its chapter. This ‘revision’ of a single chapter outgrew itself to become the first volume of the Handbook, covering the Pre-stamp Period from 1525 to 1866. Published by the Collectors Club of Chicago in 2015, the book was very well received in philatelic circles, winning several international prizes, including the Bronze Posthorn for Postal History Literature at Postgeschichte-Live 2015 in Sindelfingen, the 1st Place in the category of Print, Digital Media and Promotion of Youth Philately of the 2015 C.G. Awards in Monte-Carlo, a FIP Gold Medal at New York 2016 and the FIAF Alvaro Bonilla Lara Literature Award in 2016.
The same year this first work was published, we started working on the planned second / third volumes, which were to cover the 19th century postal issues of El Salvador. In the end, we decided to merge both in a single book, covering postal history, stamps and postal stationery issues from 1867 to mid-1900.
The first known postal guide of El Salvador was published by the government in 1876; they were regularly updated until at least the late 1990s. They listed the postal regulations and responsibilities of the service employees, although no information about postal issues was included until the 1960s. Although the 19th century Salvadorean stamp and postal stationery issues were regularly covered in the international philatelic press of the period, the first specific publication about the country’s postage stamps was the Catalogo de Todos los Sellos Postales de la Republica del Salvador, locally published in 1901 by Ricardo Sagrera, a prominent businessman who was also a part-time stamp dealer. It was more a price list than a catalogue, but it is a very good source of information about what was locally available in the country at the turn of the 20th century. Only two copies are known, one at the library of the Collectors Club of New York and the other at the British Library. Other local collectors at the time were Mariano Duarte, Oscar Ulex and Emilio Ferrer.
The controversy around the ‘Seebeck’ issues during the 1890s caused many collectors worldwide to reject Salvadorean stamps and postal stationery. This is the main reason why we have avoided to use the term ‘Seebeck’ issues in this book, as it is still derogatory in some philatelic circles. As a side effect of this blacklisting, little research was done on the country’s philately. Internationally, the first overview of the Salvadorean stamps was done by Joseph B. Leavy at the start of the 20th century in several instalments published in the Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal. These studies were complemented in the following decades before the Second World War by sporadic articles about specific issues mostly authored by Benjamin W. Warhurst, Victor Berthold, Ernest Schernikow, Joseph Kroger, who did the first classification of the Hamilton papers in the 1910s, Alex Cohen and Rafael Alexander, an American collector who lived in El Salvador.
The Sociedad Filatelica de El Salvador (Salvadorean Philatelic Society, now Salvadorean Philatelic Association) was formed on 5 January 1940 by Enrique Patiño, J. Antonio Pinto Lima and Ciro Rusconi. In March 1941, the society published the first number of El Salvador Filatelico, which had a continuous run until the late 1960s, and then was occasionally published from the 1970s to the 1990s. Notable collectors in El Salvador have been Salvador Cañas, Pierre Cahen and Jose Luis Cabrera. Cañas wrote a draft for an El Salvador philatelic book in the 1980s, which was never published, but a copy was used as a reference source for this Handbook.
The interest in Salvadorean philately was revived in the United States around the late 1960s / early 1970s, mainly through the efforts of Joseph D. Hahn. In 1970, he became the editor of the quarterly journal The El Salvador Philatelist, later changed to El Faro in 1978. The Associated Collectors of El Salvador (ACES), the first philatelic club in the United States devoted to El Salvador, was created in May 1975, by Joe Hahn, Joseph Mandos, Alan Powers and Robert Fisher. El Faro, under its editors Robert Fisher, Steven Ross, Jeff Brazor, Peter Bylen, and again Joe Hahn, was the major source of information about Salvadorean philately until its last issue in 1998.
In the early 1970s, Bruce Ball published some detailed studies about Salvadorean stamps in The Oxcart, the journal of the Society for Costa Rica Collectors (SOCORICO), which were reprinted in the El Salvador Philatelist. Also in this decade, James R.W. Purves published his definitive analysis of the 1879 issue, which was later complemented by Martin Spufford for this book. In April 1979, Joe Hahn’s collection was auctioned by Christie’s in Geneva. This has been the only stamp auction devoted solely to El Salvador, and its catalogue is still prized by collectors.
At the start of the 1980s, Phillips Freer, then the ACES President, promoted the idea of a handbook about Salvadorean philately. Steven Ross was asked to work on the postal stationery, and a draft of the postal cards section was produced. In the end, the project did not materialise, and parts of Steven’s draft were also incorporated in this work. Some other notable collectors during the 1960s to the 1990s were James Beal (whose collection formed the basis of Hahn’s), Harry Eisenstein, Clarence Hennan, Norman Hubbard, Jack Luder (owner of Corinphila), Albert Quast, David Stern, Finn Stjernholck and Heinz von Hungen.
The publication in two parts of the article El Salvador, the Seebeck Stamps in the 43th and 44th American Philatelic Congress Books (1977-1978) by Joseph Hahn and Joseph Souza was the first serious attempt after Kroger to separate the originals and reprints of the ‘Seebeck’ issues for El Salvador. This effort led the way in the renewed interest in the Hamilton Bank Note Engraving & Printing Company issues and Nicholas Seebeck that started in the 1980s thanks to the work of collectors and dealers like Bill Welch, John Fosbery, Brian Moorhouse and Henry Madden. In 1986, Danilo Mueses published Seebeck, Heroe o Villano? (Seebeck, Hero or Villain?), the first general review of the ‘Seebeck’ issues for all countries including El Salvador, and the short-lived ‘International Seebeck Study Society’ was created by Bill Welch and Henry Madden. This work to better understand the Hamilton issues has been continued mainly by Bob D’Elia for Ecuador and Michael Schreiber for Nicaragua.
In July 2004, ACES and the El Salvador Philatelic Society merged and launched a digital publication, initially called El Salvador Filatelico – El Faro, but changed in 2013 to the El Salvador Philatelist. With Guillermo F. Gallegos as its editor, this publication took El Faro’s previous role as the major source for philatelic and postal history information about the country, having a relatively steady run until 2015. Although it has been sporadically published since then, it is expected to be revived in late 2021. During the last two decades, only three collectors have exhibited internationally their El Salvador collections: David Chiong, Michael Peter and one of the authors. Other collectors that have shared items or information to this work are listed in the Acknowledgements section.
This book combines the accumulated knowledge outlined above with a significant amount of original research done over 40+ years to provide the most detailed overview ever done of the Salvadorean postage stamp and postal stationery issues, plus postal history information that was never published before. Philatelically, it includes a description of all 19th century issues, including printing details, types and varieties, essays and proofs, cancellations, recorded usage and counterfeits, complemented by the postal history aspects like regulations, the development of the postal service, rates and routes.
Although we have tried to document as much as possible, new information and items will appear in the future that may change some of the conclusions within the work. Philatelic knowledge is never written in stone, so our expectation has been to publish a solid base that will hopefully open the door for more research in the field, which in the end will enrich the philately and postal history of El Salvador.
Guillermo F. Gallegos
Fellow, Royal Philatelic Society London
Royal Hispanic Academy of Philately & Postal History,