Faeroese Postal History 

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Faeroes 1979
Scott # 43

Faeroes 1979
Scott # 44

Denmark maintained neutrality during World War I, but in August 1914 uncertainty created tension, especially in the distant Faeroes.  

A few supply ships arrived safely from Denmark during the war years, but the inevitable shortages arose, particularly in 1917.  Grain and flour were rationed; petroleum products, coal, margarine, candles, matches, soap and salt topped the want list.  Peat sufficed for heating and cooking, and seal-oil lamps provided lighting.  

Salt was especially critical because of its requirement by the salt-fish industry, and its price skyrocketed to almost ten times normal, exacerbated by the sinking of four cargo ships carrying salt from the Mediterranean in July. Just as the price of fish jumped in the years immediately after war, so did the postal rates - twice in 1919.  

Effective as of 1st January Denmark raised the local letter rate from 5 to 7 øre and the general postcard rate from 4 to 7 øre, following notification received in Tórshavn early in December 1918.  

  • Registered local letter, using both ordinary Danish stamps, surcharged Danish stamps, and a Danish bisect. Please read below to learn the dramatic story of the bisects. 

No stamps of Denmark prior to this time bore a 7ø denomination, except newspaper stamps which were not used in the Faeroes.   "Botnia", the last ship from Denmark in 1918, arrived in Tórshavn on 19th December - with no stamps!  Three days later a telegraphic correspondence between the postmaster in Tórshavn and the General Director in Copenhagen began, of such importance to future stamp collectors that it has been exhibited at stamp shows.  All messages were transmitted in English because of lingering war-time restrictions imposed by the British, this occurring only 5-6 weeks after the armistice.  

First, on 22nd December 1918, went the plea for 1,000 sheets of 7ø stamps (plus other denominations), as none had been received.  Six days later the 7ø (Scott # 98) went on sale in Denmark.  On 4th January 1919 Copenhagen responded by sending a shipment of stamps to the Faeroes via Bergen (Norway), which seemed the quickest way at the time.  No ship in Bergen could sail closer than England, to where the stamps went to be transferred to a ship for Scotland to meet another ship heading for the Faeroe Islands;  the stamps arrived in Tórshavn in mid-February.  
  • Denmark 1918.  Scott # 98.

Meanwhile, on 1st January  1919, the postmaster received word that a ship would depart Copenhagen on 18th January, with instructions to use up the existing stock of stamps in the Tórshavn post office:  6 sheets of 1ø, 2 sheets of 2ø, 1 sheet of 3ø, 11 sheets of 4ø, and at least 155 sheets of 5ø, see stamps below.  The sequence to follow for meeting the new 7ø postage rate was first to sell 5 and 2ø, then 5 and two 1ø, and finally to bisect the 4ø stamps.  An entire sheet of 2ø stamps was separated and sold on 2nd January, and the postmaster quickly came to the conclusion that his stock would not last until the ship arrived;  he asked Copenhagen if the postal rate increase could be suspended in the Faeroes until 1st February.  Replies on 4th and 5th January - Saturday and Sunday - instructed him to begin halving 4ø wrappers as well as stamps. 

Denmark 1914.
Scott # 85

Denmark 1913.
Scott # 86

Denmark 1913.
Scott # 87

Denmark 1917.
Scott # 88

Denmark 1913.  
Scott # 97

Actual bisecting of stamps, done only at the Tórshavn post office, began on Friday, 3rd January, and a few weekend postmarks exist.  Philatelists recognize the four possible halves;  most common would be the two halves produced from a diagonal cut from upper left to lower right, which explains a higher catalogue value for those cut from upper right to lower left.  The surcharge and bisecting was commemorated in 1979 by the issuance of two Europa Stamps dedicated to Postal History, see top of page. The two stamps - Scott # 43 and 44 - were engraved by Czeslaw Slania.  

Letter with bisected 4-ore stamp 
from upper left to lower right.

Letter with bisected 4-ore stamp
from upper right to lower left.

Two printings of the 4ø stamp met the scissors:  (1) perforation 14x14½ with cross watermark - Scott # 58a - of which eight sheets produced a possible 1,600 bisects, and (2) perforation 12-3/4 with crown watermark - Scott # 60 - actual number of bisects unknown.  The latter bisect could have resulted from any of the three remaining sheets in stock, sheets obtained from another postal station or from private sources.  Approximately 90% of the bisects were cancelled in Tórshavn and most show dates prior to 14th January.  Although Copenhagen had recommended that bisects only be used within the Faeroe Islands, it had not been forbidden to affix them to envelopes going abroad where higher postal rates applied; thus a few covers exist with bisects and other stamps to Denmark, England and elsewhere. 

Bisects from wrappers are relatively scarce.  Wrappers were lettercards with printed stamp on the face.  First the (imperforate) stamp had to be cut from the lettercard, producing irregular margins, then bisected to one of the four possible positions mentioned above.  

Unlike the gummed stamps, gumless wrapper bisects had to be affixed to envelopes with glue or some other adhesive, which must have been done carelessly based on existing bisects on cover;  it is believed that many simply fell off the envelopes.  

When it became obvious that bisects would sell out before the ship arrived, Copenhagen granted permission by telegram on 11th January 1919 to start using the plentiful stock of 5ø stamps, each to receive a 2ø surcharge.  

  • Denmark 1913.  Scott # 97, surcharged.

A Tórshavn carpenter, Peter Poulsen, made one wooden hand-stamp (now in the Danish Postal Museum) to hold the necessary metal type.  A known quantity of 155 sheets were hand-stamped quite neatly in the Tórshavn post office beginning 13th January, producing 15,500 overprints.  When you first see a multiple, it looks like a letterpress job, but a close look reveals subtle shifting of position.  

Only one inverted overprint is known.  Most were used during 13th-24th January, although they (and the bisects) remained valid for postage until 31st January.  

During the evening of 23rd January, the above mentioned ship "Botnia" sailed into Tórshavn with 1,000 sheets of the 7ø stamp - Scott # 98 - which were placed on sale the following day.  The 7ø postal rate continued to 1st October when raised to 10ø - Scott # 100.
  • Denmark 1913.  Scott # 98
  • Denmark 1913.  Scott # 100

Four cancelling devices issued in 1935 introduce a minor chapter in the Faeroese postal history:  a straightforward promotion of the most important Faeroese export product for many years.  "Klippfiskur" is split, dried salt cod, commonly called stockfish.  The first set of cancellers all had bridges, with the place name above the upper horizontal bridgeline.  The message beneath reads SPIS FÆRØSK KLIPFISK, which is Danish for "Eat Faeroese Salt Cod".  
  • Cutting from a postcard showing the promotional cancellation from 5th November 1935 (10-14 hours). The stamp used is Denmark 1935, Scott # 246, "The Ugly Duckling" by H.C. Andersen, issued 1935, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first publishing of the author's fairy tales. 

The cancellation could stand alone if applied at the four post offices having the device,  or it could be a transit strike accompanying a village cancellation.  Local and domestic covers, as well as mail abroad, bear the promotional cancellation.  Because of a change in Danish spelling and the later change to Faeroese place names plus variations, one can almost make a specialty collection of these cancellations.  In alphabetical order:

  • Klaksvig and Klaksvík
  • Thorshavn and Tórshavn
  • Trangisvaag and Trangisvåg and Tvøroyri
  • Vaag, Våg and Vágur

Cancellations with Faeroese spelling are bridgeless.  A fifth location, Vestmanna, received a bridgeless canceller in 1962.  Last day of use for those with Faeroese place names was 29th January 1975. 

During World War II and the German occupation of Denmark all connections between Denmark and the Faeroe Islands were cut, and the below types of Danish stamps were used surcharged for the Faeroe Islands. 

Scott # 224 exists also with a surcharge of 50 øre, and Scott # 224C exists with surcharges of 20 øre and 50 øre.

Denmark 1933.
Scott # 220

Denmark 1938.
Scott # 224

Denmark 1927.
Scott # 192

Denmark 1940.
Scott # 224C

  • Two censored letters from the Faeroes to Denmark using these surcharges, cancelled in Thorshavn on 31st March 1941.  The left letter uses a mixed postage of "pure" Danish stamps and surcharged Danish stamps intended for use from the Faeroes.  The right letter uses only Danish surcharges.  Both letters made quite a travel, since they were mailed from Thorshavn via New York and Lisbon before landing in Copenhagen.  

In May and June 1941 a shortage of stamps necessitated the use of special cancellations, indicating that payment of postage had taken place.  

A local letter cancelled on 5th May 1941 (9-13 hours) to be delivered in Thorshavn.  The letter rate was 10 øre, as seen on the right cancel.  


These cancels exist also with no prepaid denomination, but with handwritten values of 30, 45, 50, 60, 75, 80 and 90 øre, and 1,05, 1,45 and 2,50 kr.), according to the letter's weight and destination, either locally or abroad.  

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Revised 15 jun 2007 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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