Bolivia Postage Stamps

The Republic of Bolivia was established in 1825, and named for Simon Bolivar, the leader of the Spanish American wars of Independence. Located in central South America, the country became landlocked after losing the Port of Antofagasta to Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879-81). La Paz is the “de facto” highest capital in the world at 11,942 feet in elevation. The population was about 3.5 million in the 1940’s. Bolivianos are mostly descended from the indigenous native people, which greatly influences Bolivia’s cultural folk art and music. The major languages are Spanish(60%), Quechua (20%), and Aymara (15%).

A 50-centavo "Condor". One of the first stamps of Bolivia.
A 50-centavo “Condor”. One of the first stamps of Bolivia.
Bolivia was formerly known as Upper Peru and became an independent republic on 6 August 1825. It has produced its own postage stamps since 1867. Stamps from Bolivia are marked as Correos de Bolivia. Tensions between Chile and Bolivia have influenced both countries’ stamps and postal history.

During 1867-2017 Bolivia has issued more than 2270 postage stamps.

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Up to 1895 postal routes were composed mainly of the Oruro-Antofagasta railway, riders on horseback and river boats. Internal postal routes remained poor until the introduction of airmail in the 1920s.

The first stamps issued in Bolivia were issued as part of a concession granted by the government to a private company in 1863. This issue is disputed and referred to, but not listed, in the catalogs. The first government issue dates from 1867, a second from 1868. Both issues were printed from plates engraved by hand, each stamp on the plate being engraved separately. Thus many varieties exist – between 30 and 78 depending on the number of stamps on a plate for a specific denomination. Further varieties exist because the plates were retouched as they wore from printing. Also, in 1868, stamps printed by the American Bank Note Company in New York were issued. Bolivia has commissioned the printing of its stamps to a wide range of foreign printing houses. Bolivia joined the UPU in 1886. Until the present day Bolivia has issued stamps mainly with themes of national interest.

British stamps were used between 1865 and 1878 at the port of Cobija, which no longer exists, and they may be identified by the cancellation C39. Chilean stamps were used in occupied areas of Bolivia between 1 December 1881 and 11 October 1883.

A British office operated in Cobija, a city in the Antofagasta region, from 1863 to 1878. Local issues appeared in 1911 in Santa Cruz and Villa Bella – overprints with a new face value. A regional postal tax issue appeared in 1946 in the province of Beni.

Between 1972 and 1995, the Michel catalog lists a significant number of souvenir sheets issued – almost 200. These sheets – that would seem to be aimed at the thematic collectors market – were issued by the postal authorities on behalf of the Bolivian Philatelic Federation to raise funds for philatelic exhibitions in Bolivia. The other catalogs do not list these sheets.

Bolivia was one of the South American countries that made efforts to commemorate pre-Columbian times in the images used on the stamps. The “Gate of the sun” set of nineteen stamps was authorised in 1926 to commemorate Bolivia’s independence. The stamps were engraved and printed in Germany, and on learning that the stamps had been sold without permission in Europe, the authorities ordered the rest to be locked in a bank vault where they remained for thirty-five years. When eventually they were released in 1960, inflation had caused havoc to Bolivia’s currency and they needed to be surcharged, sometimes to 10,000 times their original denomination. The highest value five boliviano stamp was surcharged to become five thousand bolivianos.

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Bolivia Rare Stamp Error and Varieties

Overprints and surcharges of the classic period provide fertile ground, with many varieties and errors still within reach of most collectors.

In 1912, Bolivian postal authorities overprinted in red and surcharged a 1-centavo blue Justice transactions revenue stamp to 10c for use as a postage stamp (Scott 101). The 2016 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers lists this inverted overprint error as Scott 101a and values it at $25 in unused hinged condition.

An example sold for $77 after spirited bidding in a recent online auction. If you find this stamp offered at $50 or less, it would be a really excellent buy.

In addition to the inverted overprint error, the Scott Classic Specialized catalog lists six other errors and varieties of this stamp, providing great scope for interested collectors.

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Catalogues and Literature

Akerman, Clive and Hilchey, Albert W. (2010) The Revenue Stamps of Bolivia. 2nd edn.

Where to Buy – classic and modern stamps, a stamp dealer. – Bolivia postal service & philatelic bureau, modern issues only.