he Basel Cantonal Issue

Basel was the third and last of the Swiss Cantons to issue its own stamps.

In 1843, Johannes Bernoulli, the city’s Postmaster General, put before the State Council a recommendation that the six letter boxes be increased to sixteen, and further proposed that the opportunity should be taken to issue a stamp for the city of Basel.

Although the Council gave approval to Bernoulli’s proposal in January 1844, it was not until the 1st July 1845 that the stamp was issued.
At the time, the monetary unit for the Canton was the Batzen. A Batzen was equal to 10 Rappen. 2½ Rappen was worth 3½ centimes of the recently adopted new currency (the Basel Rappen should not be confused with the Zürich Rappen, which was based on the Heller and Schilling)

A local rate of 2½ Rappen was introduced for letters weighing up to 1 lot (15½ grammes) and carried within the city of Basel, while a cantonal rate of 5 Rappen applied to mail posted outside the city limits.

Basel Dove

Basel Dove

The stamp, designed by the architect Melchior Berri, features a white dove embossed on a field of red and carrying a letter in its beak. A Bishop’s crosier (Basel Coat of Arms) is shown top centre. Basel was once the seat of a Bishopric.

Melchior Berri was an important architect, influencing the late classical period of Swiss architecture in the first half of the nineteenth century. Among his many enterprises, Berri designed decorative letterboxes for the city, six of which are still in use, notably the one located at the Spalentor (Spalen Gate).

Letterbox at the Basel Spalentor

Letterbox at the Basel Spalentor

Engraved and printed by H.B. Krebs of Frankfurt on thick yellowish-white wove paper in sheets of 40 (5 rows of 8 stamps), the stamps were sold to the public in half-sheets of 20 for 5 Batzen (50 Rappen). The “Basel Dove”, as it became known, printed in black, crimson and blue, became the world’s first multi-coloured stamp, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful stamps ever produced.

As with the other Cantonal stamps, the Basel Dove failed to catch the imagination of the public and was withdrawn from use in December 1848. When the Federal Postal Administration came into operation in June 1849, the Cantons of Zürich and Geneva continued to print their own stamps for a short period (the Transitional Issues) until the first Federal stamps appeared in May 1850. Basel, however, did not follow suit.

For many years it was not known how many stamps Krebs had printed, how many were received by the Basel Post Office, nor how many were actually sold to the public. In the early 1930s, an article appeared in the Swiss philatelic press stating the total issued was 20,880. More recent information, provided by expert collectors researching the archives of the Basel Postal Administration and the records of the designer Berri, suggests the total printed was 41,480.

Remainders were used up during the period December 1848 to April 1850, and there are examples of use late into 1850. The Basel Dove can also be found on covers in combination with the light-blue Rayon I, issued in March 1851.