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Cuban Stamp Issues 1855 to 19021

Introductory Note

During this period, the stamps used in Cuba were almost exclusively 'definitives' along the lines of those used in Spain. It follows that the flow of this article is largely determined by the reigns of the monarchs: Isabel II, Alfonso XII and Alfonso XIII. There was a short period between 1870 and 1874 when alternative governmental solutions were tried and failed: Provisional Government, the brief monarchy of Amadeo I and the 1st Republic. On the Cuban side, the period under review saw two major upheavals. The first of these was the Ten Years War (1868-78) and the Spanish-American-Cuban war of 1895-98. The period closes with U.S. military occupation between 1899 and 1902. All of these periods are reflected in stamps.

Reign of Isabel II

The first colonial Cuban stamp was issued on the 24th April, 1855, with the same design as the 2 cuartos green with similar design which was issued on the first of that month on the Peninsula. This was the ½ real blue-green with the monarch's head facing right (1).

(1) (2)

This design, with minor alterations in colour, featured on a number of issues up to 1862, when the second Isabel II design used in Cuba came out, with the design of the Peninsular 4 cuartos orange on green (2) of 1860-61, but in black. These are much harder to come by. The third design of the reign of Isabel II came in 1864:

(3) (4) (5) (6)

There were two variations on this design, one with the date, in this case '1866', the other with 'RL PLATA F.' Again this followed the design already issued on the Peninsula. The same design was used in 1867. Isabel II abdicated in 1868 but, even so, 1869 saw the appearance of a fourth design which, if I am correct, is the first stamp of colonial Cuba to have a design that is not the same as a Peninsular one. Here I rely on EDIFIL2 :


It is worth dwelling on this stamp for a moment. The real is gone and the values are in céntimos de escudo with the following values: 5c, 10c, 20c and 40c. Another point to note is the appearance of the legend 'ULTRAMAR'.


With the abdication of Isabel II in 1868, Spain entered into a period of instability. The years up to 1874 fall into three broad parts: the Provisional Government of 1870, with an allegorical effigy of Spain (8), the short reign of Amadeo I in 1872 (9) and the 1st Republic between 1872 and 1873, with another allegorical representation of Spain (10)3 . Each of these periods saw a specific design, in all cases seen also on issues used in Cuba.

(8) (9) (10)

The design of the Provisional Government stamp (6) is identical to the Spanish one. The 20c chestnut appeared only in Cuba. Subsequent issues during the interregnum show 'ULTRAMAR' in the banner (9,10 above).

1874 was an interesting year on both sides of the Atlantic. In Spain Correo Carlista came briefly into force. In Cuba challenges to Spanish rule had come into existence as early as 1823, with the Sol y Rayos de Simón Bolívar. In the period up to 1868 there were a number of local conspiracies that were quickly extirpated by the Spanish Captains-General, often by way of severe oppression. The first attempt at a landing on Cuba came in 1850 when Narciso López made an abortive attempt to challenge the Spanish forces. Coinciding with the abdication of Isabel II in 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a plantation owner in Yara, near Bayamo in the east of the island, freed his slaves and quickly raised an relatively large army of insurrection. This was the famous Grito de Yara and it heralded the start of the Ten Years War (1868-78). In 1874, there was a single issue by the Correo Insurrecto or Insurgente, with the object of publicising the war effort and raising funds. These stamps are rare, especially used examples, for the reason that correspondence was often destroyed to avoid the eagle eye of the Spanish authorities. According to EDIFIL, there is no cover in existence with this stamp on it.


As we can see the independence theme is clear, with 'República de Cuba' over the flag of Cuba. These stamps, issued by the Gobierno de la República en Armas (Government of the Republic in Arms) were 100, 000 in number and were printed in the United States by the American Bank Note Company4 . There were no further 'independent' Cuban stamp issues prior to 1896, during the period of rebel ascendancy in the Spanish-American-Cuban War of 1895-98, when the same design re-appears.

Alfonso XII

On the 29th December 1874, General Martínez-Campos, who had seen active service in Cuba during the Ten Years War, headed a military coup that brought the short-lived 1st Republic to an end. The same day, the new king was proclaimed. This was Alfonso XII. During 1875, the ‘ULTRAMAR 1875’ issue with the Arms of Spain (values 12½c, 25c, 50c, 1 peseta) was used:


This was the first of three designs used during the reign of Alfonso XII. The second of these is in the style of the Spanish issue of 1st August 1875 and was used between 1876 and 1879:

(13) (14) (15) (16)

Notice how the logo 'ULTRAMAR' (literally 'countries beyond the seas') gives way in 1877 to 'CUBA'5 . Values are generally from 5c to 1 peso. The 12½c value is a particular feature of these stamps. Certain colours - especially green, grey, ultramarine, black and pink - characterise the issues.

Between 1880 and 1888, we find a design that is particular to Cuba:

(17) (18)

There is a story attached to the red surcharge on the issue of 1882: “Surcharges on stamps of 5, 10 and 20 centavos of the issue of 1882, were occasioned by the removal of stamps of these denominations. There was an attempt to hide this by way of a fire, apparently started on purpose, during the night of 9th to 10th of April 1883, in the Post Office. The designs used for this surcharge were typographical figures used by the Government in the production of lottery tickets.”6

(19) (20) (21) (22)

As we can see from the banner, Plate 15 shows an issue of 1880. Continuing in 1883, I have grouped four stamps together (19-22), since they demonstrate key points about the stamps in use between that year and 1890. The banner becomes ‘CUBA – IMPRESOS’. There is a new currency (1 peso = 100 centavos = 1000 milésimas). Postage stamps range in value from ½m to 20ct. Values in milésimas were ½m, 1m, 2m, 3m, 4m and 8m and in any year the stamps of these values were in the same colour. Centavo values started at 2½m and went up to 20ct (0.2 of a peso) and there was a different colour for each value. This currency remained in force until the 1898, though there was a degree of inflation over the period of fifteen years, with the highest value going up from 20ct to 2 pesos, a ten-fold increase.

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XII had married his second wife, María Cristina of Austria, in 1879. This lady was to assume great importance in the history of Spain during the next few years. When Alfonso died in November 1885 at the early age of 28, there were three heirs, of whom only the third concerns us here. This was Alfonso XIII, born after the death of his father. During the infancy of the king, María Cristina acted as Regent. By the time Alfonso XIII had come of age in 1902, Cuba was no longer a colony of Spain.

Nonetheless the period of the Regency is of considerable interest in the stamps of both Spain and Cuba. Between 1890 and 1898 we see the famous tipo pelón or ‘babyhead’. As in the case with the later issues of the reign of Alfonso XII, the milésima values are of the same colour. In 1894, they were printed in a striking pink:

(23) (24)

It is my experience that used stamps are relatively rare during the period 1875 to 1898. It looks as though remainders found their way into the hands of dealers and collectors on a large scale.

The Spanish-Cuban-American War

During 1896 the rebels made substantial progress in their march on Western Cuba and at one point looked likely to take Havana. During this year, there was an insurrectionist stamp along the lines of the one of 1874 (11). I also have to hand a Spanish official of 1896, ornate as official and revenue stamps often are:


The last Spanish colonial issue in Cuba came in 1898, with the tipo cadete (cadet):

(26) (27)

At this time, Alfonso XIII was twelve years old. As the Regency drew to a close, Cuba was slipping from Spain’s grasp.


1. This article first appeared in The Official Journal of the Spanish Study Circle, February, 2014.

2. All comparisons with stamps issued on the Peninsula are based on Catálogo Unificado EDIFIL de Sellos de España, 2012. Additional information I have taken from the Catálogo Especializado de Sellos de Cuba (1997), Primera Edición, Edifil S.A. The great majority of the stamps are from my own collection. These are shown in colour. There are a few very rare stamps of which a photograph is given, in black and white only. These are from the Catálogo Especializado. Spanish catalogue definitions of colour are translated into English.

3. EDIFIL list an issue of the 1st Republic in Cuba in 1871, not found in Spain.

4. Catálogo Especializado, p41. It does not appear that these stamps were actually used. They are very rare. To aid clarity, the original has been amplified slightly.

5. This was not the first time that 'ULTRAMAR' figured on a Cuban colonial stamp. Remember the Isabel II issue of 1869.

6. EDIFIL, 32 (My translation).

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This page was last modified on 28th February 2017.