Featuring Research Volunteer Contributions

Pontificate of Paul VI (1963-1978)

refer to caption
200 lire Dormition of the Virgin single

Unlike his predecessor, who was something of an outsider to Vatican politics, Giovanni Cardinal Montini was a skilled administrator. Before his appointment as archbishop of Milan in 1954, Montini was a career diplomat in the Vatican's Secretariat of State under both Pius XII and John XXIII. When Pius XII died in 1958, Archbishop Montini was widely viewed as a possible successor but was passed over, perhaps because he was not yet a cardinal. He continued to serve John XXIII, who finally elevated him to the cardinalate, and was himself elected pope in 1963.

The postage stamps Vatican City changed dramatically during Paul VI's reign. The subjects commemorated became more internationalist in nature as opposed to focusing exclusively on church history and art. Multicolor printing techniques were more extensively used beginning in 1967, and watermarked paper was abandoned in 1972. Prior to 1970, all Vatican stamps had a limited period of validity (normally eighteen months for commemoratives and about five years for definitives). This practice ended in 1970, and all Vatican stamps issued since then have been valid for postage indefinitely. Near the end of the papacy, jumbo-size stamps and setenant issues began to appear with increasing regularity.

Daniel Piazza, National Postal Museum

refer to caption
25 lire Nativity single

Vatican City's commemorative stamp program changed radically between 1963 and 1978. Traditional subjects-birth and death anniversaries of famous saints, views of Vatican City-were joined by issues celebrating current events and the Church's presence in the world.

The first pope ever to fly in an airplane and the first to leave Italy in more than 150 years, Paul VI's historic voyages abroad were commemorated simultaneously with Vatican stamps: Jerusalem, New York, and Bombay (1964); Fatima (1967); Bogota (1968); Uganda (1969); and Australia and the Philippines (1970).

In 1964, the Holy See was accredited to the United Nations as a 'permanent observer.' This led to the Vatican's enthusiastic philatelic participation in various UN-led campaigns, including the Freedom from Hunger Campaign (1963), Save the Nubian Monuments appeal (1964), International Year Against Racism (1971), UNESCO Campaign to Save Venice (1972), International Year of the Book (1973, stamps issued 1972), International Year of the Woman (1975), and World Telecommunications Day (1978).

In 1965, the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri became the first individual other than a pope or saint honored with a Vatican stamp issue. This paved the way for later series for the architect Bramante (1972), the astronomer Copernicus (1973), and the artists Titian (1976) and Peter Paul Rubens (1977).

Unfortunately, the expanded program turned-off more collectors than it attracted. While some enjoyed the multiplicity of topics, others looked askance at the escalating quantities printed. The average print run for new issues under Pius XII had been 400,000 copies. This had doubled under John XXIII; now, under Paul VI, it quintupled to 2,000,000. The apex was reached in 1966, when 6,000,000 sets of the Millennium of Polish Christianity stamps were printed. The philatelic market for new issues was saturated, and on three occasions vast quantities of unsold remainders were burned by Poste Vaticane. The damage to Vatican City's popularity among stamp collectors was not repaired until the 1980s, when they returned to more conservative issuing policies.

refer to caption
10 lire Organist single

The last of Vatican City's 'classic' definitive series, issued in 1966, featured bas-reliefs by Rudelli from the pope's bronze chair in the Apostolic Palace's private chapel. (The classic definitive series are those that include a special delivery stamp plus the wartime "Small Medallions" and the 1930s surcharges.) The only other definitives of Paul VI's pontificate, a 1974 series marking the 1975 Holy Year, blurred the lines between definitive and commemorative stamps by mixing the larger size and pictorial nature of commemoratives with a higher print run and range of face values that is more typical of definitives. That trend continues to this day.

International Philately