Latvia’s First Stamps Printed on Maps! 

Item #MA1507 – Latvia #2, printed on German map.

On December 18, 1918, war-torn and recently independent Latvia issued its first stamps, printed on the back of German military maps.

After centuries of fighting and invasions, Latvia became part of the Russian Empire in the 1700s. Discontent there and in other areas of the empire led to the Russian Revolution in 1905, though the imperial government ultimately won.

Item #MA1508 – Block of 6 Latvia map stamps.

Then on August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia, catapulting Russia and Latvia into World War I. In the coming years, German forces invaded most of Latvia. Latvian riflemen units were raised to fight the German invaders while Latvian leaders began making calls for independence.

Over the course of the war, more than half of Latvia experienced war damages – over 87,000 buildings were destroyed and a quarter of the land ruined. A million people fled the country and never returned.

The war officially ended on November 11, 1918, and a week later, on November 18, Latvia declared its independence. During the war, Latvia used overprinted German stamps. As a new nation, Latvia needed to create its own postage stamps, but the war had caused a severe paper shortage. However, there was one source of top-quality paper – Latvia’s industrious government printed its first stamps on military maps left behind by Germany’s Imperial Army! According to their records, they used 79 different German maps of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as well as 62 different maps of southern Latvia and northern Lithuania.

Just one month after declaring its independence, Latvia issued its first postage stamps on December 18, 1918. To save precious paper, stamps were printed in 12 rows of 19 stamps each for a total of 228 stamps per sheet. The back of these stamps have detailed German military maps showing sections of Latvia, complete with name, scale and map grid position.

Item #MA1386 – Full sheet of Latvia map stamps.

A total of only 11,956 sheets were printed. And of those, only about 4,900 were perforated. Of those sheets printed, only 4,750 were delivered to Latvia’s government in the period between 1918 and 1919. The shipment included imperforate gummed sheets (Latvia #1), and perforated gummed sheets (Latvia #2).

Latvian painter and graphic artist Ansis Cirulis designed the first stamps. The stamps’ designs were based on the Latvian coat of arms. This design used a sun symbolizing statehood, with 17 rays representing the 17 Latvian districts. The design also includes three ears of grain and three stars, representing the three historic districts of the new nation.

Item #M4244 – Collection of 43 Latvia stamps.

After the Latvia Post began operations, the Bolsheviks invaded the capital city of Riga. An unknown quantity of Latvia map stamps survived the destruction – precious postal souvenirs of this turbulent period in European history. Latvia was embroiled in a war of independence until 1920, and was once again invaded during World War II. During this time, Latvia used Soviet and then German stamps. The country remained under Soviet control until 1991, when Russia finally recognized its independence. And Latvia resumed issuing its own postage stamps.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
5/5 - (7 votes)
Share this Article


  1. And now there is worry in Latvia that Vladimir Putin may have Russian eyes again on Latvia. Too often, history keeps repeating itself. Even though I am a U.S. stamp collector, I appreciate your giving us some stamp stories from elsewhere.

  2. Postal services in Latvia began in 13th century with inclusion of Archbishopric of Riga in postal services. In 1580, Hanseatic League issued first known regulations on courier(postal) service work and payroll. From 1581 to 1710, postal services were used only for governmental purposes, clerics, universities, merchants etc. In 1632, King of Sweden appointed John Baker as 1st Post Master General of Prussia and Livonia( present day Latvia).In 1940, series of 13 stamps was issued showing Soviet Latvia. Nazi Germany occupied Latvia in 1941 and overprinted Russian stamps LATVIJA//1941 in October 1941. Latvia regained independence in 1991, Immediately, in 1992, Latvia collaborated with Estonia, Lithuania and Sweden to release JOINT ISSUES on Nature Conservation of Baltic sea (2 x 4 stamps booklet ). Latvia has collaborated for joint issue of stamps with many countries. In 2006 with Kazakhstan (for costume jewelery stamps) and in 2007 with Germany to issue joint stamps on World Heritage Sites at Riga . Thank you MYSTIC for information on little known postal history of Latvia . It is not known whether Latvia has ever issued joint stamps with United States of America .

  3. I love the idea of printing stamps on map paper due to a shortage of regular paper.
    I do have some envelopes made from map paper which is a bit different as well.
    Excellent history lesson, Mystic.

  4. Thank you for the history of the first Latvian stamps using the backs of unused German invader maps. My mothers family immigrated from war torn Latvia to Baltimore around that time in history.

  5. An amazing story! This just show how determination can overcome overwhelming odds! – I will put this on my list to buy later this year. THANKS FOR A GREAT ARTICLE!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *