Specialized Collections of El Salvador

Finding Guide
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The 1892 cover from San Salvador paid the single letter rate to UPU countries if the item traveled via Panama. The 11c rate was in effect from 1879 till mid-1894. The break-down of the rate was 10c per 15 grams plus 1c for via Panama. The 1c was an authorized UPU surcharge. The pen cancels were a somewhat common device used to prevent postal employees or others from removing stamps from covers for their own use. (Hamilton Collection)

Prepared by Thomas Lera, Winton M. Blount Research Chair and Joe Hahn, El Salvador Philatelic Society.


El Salvador: A Short History

The Republic of El Salvador, not “Salvador” as called in almost all philatelic literature and certainly neither the Brazilian city nor the Bahamian island of San Salvador where Christopher Columbus landed during his first journey, is the smallest country in continental America with an area of 21,041 km². Known in the late Pre-Columbian period by its Pipil name Cuzcatlán, El Salvador was discovered by Andres Niño in 1523 and conquered a few years later by Pedro de Alvarado, one of Hernan Cortez's principal lieutenants.

Originally the area of El Salvador belonged administratively to the Captaincy General of Guatemala, part of the province of New Spain (Mexico). In 1821 Central America declared its independence from Spain and was immediately annexed to Mexico, a situation that lasted until 1823 when the Central American provinces shed their ties to Mexico and formed their own Federal Republic. The Federation broke down between 1838 & 1841, when El Salvador became the last Central American state to declare its autonomy.

In much of Latin America, the 19th century was marked by political instability that slowed economic development. Between 1843 and the end of the century there were 12 presidents, two of whom were elected for more than one term, five of whom were ousted by coups or revolutions and two who were executed. Several attempts to revive the Central American Federation were made, but all of them failed.

The early years of the 20th century brought a period of economic progress and social improvement. However, in 1931 violent unrest, due primarily to the economic depression and the fall of coffee prices, led to the coup d'état of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who ruled for 13 years and started a line of military governments that ended in 1979 with the start of the Civil War. The war lasted until 1992, and since then the country has made tremendous advances towards a fully democratic society and better economic conditions.

The earliest known postal piece for El Salvador has been dated around 1780 and bears a pre-philatelic postmark from Santa Ana. The first stamps of El Salvador were issued in 1867, printed by the American Bank Note Company. For several decades, the designs of El Salvador stamps had a clear North American influence as the majority of issues were supplied by American Bank Note Company, Hamilton Bank Note Company and Wright Bank Note Company among others. From the 1950s onwards, the country started to commission stamps in Europe and also to produce them locally. In recent years, the printing has been mostly done by the “Direccion General de Servicios Graficos” (the government printing house in San Salvador) and the subjects depict a combination of events of world-wide importance with local personalities or commemorations.