Croatian Stamps

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Dr. David B. Ganse


    Dr. Ganse was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1928. As a grade and high school student during the World War II years he began collecting the stamps of the combatant powers. He grew particularly interested in the propaganda value of German issues and finally concentrated his collecting efforts in later years on the Third Reich. its Occupations, and the staunchly supportive state of NDH Croatia.
    When his professional career in the eyecare field, with attendant honors, crashed due to devastating combined illnesses, his hospice-like retirement was made tolerable only by his memberships in the Croatian Philatelic Society, the German Philatelic Society and Third Reich Study Group.
    Of course, none of this would have been at all possible without the understanding and love of a wonderful wife , two successful children, great friends on the internet, thoughtful neighbors and patients who still miss him.

by Dr. David B. Ganse

July 2002

The End of the Story?

    Having been a collector of Third Reich and Occupation issues since 1946, it took fifty years for a particular issue, briefly described in the Michel Catalog as "a post-war fantasy product", deserving only a footnote, to intrigue me. Thus was I led to a territory known as Alpenvorland - Adria. Little did I realize how convoluted the trail of this set would become, or how fiercely the differing viewpoints regarding this set might clash.
    Unable to obtain the set through any customary sources, I was forced to learn its history only through existing writings, notably those few mentioned in the back issues of the German Philatelic Specialist, and in communications with those few other collectors having trace knowledge of this issue.
    Eventually I was able to flesh out a chronology of this issue, which I then submitted to the German Postal Specialist under the title of "Alpenvorland - Adria Revisited". This article was published in the March 2000 issue of that journal. No sooner had I received my copy when a phone call from England brought a request to reprint the article in the affiliated journal of the British Philatelic Society, The Cinderella Collector, a very well designed quarterly, in its April 2000 issue. It seems that the A-A controversy was alive and disputative in Europe.
    The reception to my article has been quite heartening, and most particularly since I had managed to obtain this set, complete with corner tabs and stamped certification. I am encouraged to expand upon my observations of this ongoing controversy, since this imbroglio is far from over.
    Accordingly, I am now presenting further information gleaned from both sides of this fascinating story. Prior to doing this however, I believe that we must review what has been the stated opinion for decades in the journals.
    Bear with me, please, for we are about to be immersed in a really remarkable tale of philatelic adventure. (Whoever said that stamp collecting was a dull, boring hobby?)

The Balkan Military Adventure

    By the autumn of 1943 it was obvious that military operations by the Italian forces campaigning against an assorted bag of Balkan irregular forces was going quite poorly. Some initial Italian successes were soon stalemated or, in fact, reversed. Hard pressed all along the Dalmatian Coast, the islands of the Adriatic Sea, and even in a more securely-held Albania, the plight of the Italian military incapability became obvious to all. Thus it was that it became necessary for German forces to come to the rescue.
    With the German occupation of Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia and its surrounding area, now renamed Provinz Laibach, 1944 saw German overprinting of Italian stamps. Only in early 1945 did there appear a beautiful, rotogravured set of 16 values, from 5 cent. to 30 Lira, for civilian use. Panoramic landscape scenes around Laibach grace these colorful stamps, released as 14,900 complete sets, the product of the renowned State Printing Office in Vienna.
    These issues highlighted one of Europe's most scenic areas. The sweep of the Southern Alpine Tirol to the rolling terrain down toward the beaches and Adriatic coastline has long been considered a most desirable bit of real estate. Of course, this was all a part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, before being severed by the Versailles Treaty. Thus was it viewed by Adolf Hitler.
    For many collectors, this set and the last two crimson SS and SA issues of the Reich would seem to mark the end of the Third Reich's postal system. But was this really the end?

The Historic Setting

    In F. W. Deakin's book, "The Brutal Friendship", there is much information about Hitler's concept of "lebensraum" for a unified Greater German Reich. Although Axis partners, there was an undercurrent of inevitable disagreement between the Third Reich and Fascist Italy. Although Hitler admired Mussolini, he also knew that their days as allies were inevitably numbered. The Greater German Reich was envisioned as extending southward through the Austrian Alpenvorland and the Slovenian route to the Adriatic Sea, lands which were hereditarily part of the Austrian Empire. Hitler envisioned the lands on both sides of the Brenner Pass being firmly under German control. In striving to avoid an embarrassing confrontation with Mussolini, Hitler confidentially appointed two highly experienced Austrian officials to oversee the political administration of these two principal areas, Hofer from the Upper Tirol and Rainer from Carinthia. Both of these men believed that they were fulfilling a historic mission, to annex these regions to the Greater Reich.
    At the same time, Italian military misadventure in the Balkans led to numerous forces being cut off from supplies and homeland support. The Wehrmacht, backed by a changing policy and attitude toward some Slavic peoples, realised that such military forces as the Croatians were better comrades than the Italians. Facing a major communist partisan uprising, the Italians were compelled to accept the elimination of all their forces in the Balkans. The Germans vigorously suppressed the initial partisan surge, and then turned to the task of eliminating various Italian commands, disarming over 30 divisions believed unreliable, and sending most of them to Germany for labor purposes. Germany's pan-Slavic policies resulted in a wave of anticommunist sentiment, and Croatian claims in Dalmatia and the territories formerly annexed to Italy and Albania were supported by the precise orders of the Reich government, which found Croatia to be a reliable ally. German troops now occupied Zara, Fiume, Spalato and Cattaro. The Wehrmacht annexed the Italian provinces of Bolzano, Belluno and Trieste.
    As conceived in the plans for Greater Germany the southern flank would extend from France in the west to Croatia in the east. This required several operational zones to be created, principally the Lower Tirol and the Adriatic access. Slovenian Ljubljana became Provinz Laibach, for which a pictorial set of 16 stamps was printed by the State Printing Office in Vienna, intended for civilian usage. It was apparent from all of this that the military and civilian commands for both areas were still separate and distinct. Indeed the military serviced its mail through Dienstpost Alpenvorland and Dienstpost Adria, as separate entities. Covers abound with such stampings and legends. A factual basis for any supposed unification of the two areas does not seem to exist.

The Provenance

    In the early spring of 1945, during those last, terrible days of the European conflict, a period of chaos and confusion for the retreating forces of the Wehrmacht and its volunteer legions seeking to reach relative safety in Austria; a parcel of stamps, destined for civilian use in a combined Alpenvorland - Adria was nearly destroyed in an Allied air-raid on the Trieste railway station. Supposedly only a few thousand sets of these stamps were rescued. Conjecture has it that Yugoslav partisans seized the remaining sets which were then bartered for other tangible items; booze, broads, and booty.
    The stamps in question were a series of 16, a virtual twin set to the beautiful panoramic pictorial set designed for Provinz Laibach. The 16 values, in both instances, ranged in equal value from 5 cent. to 30 Lira. Color shades were matched. The only major difference appeared to be in the framing of the scenes, the Laibach set containing 6 vertical and 10 horizontal framings, while the Adria set had 8 vertical and 8 horizontal framings.
    The Laibach issue was available for civilian use around March to April 1945, and was issued as 14,900 complete sets. The Adria set was of undetermined issue but believed to consist of possibly as many as 3000+ sets having survived the chaos at the time. Both sets were supposed to have been printed by rotogravure at the State Printing Office in Vienna, the difference being that there has been no paper trail or documentation found to substantiate this in the case of the Adria issue. Both sets had linear perforations, 10 1/2 : 11 1/2 with some reversals in the case of the Laibach issue, and 11 1/2 for the Adria issue. The papers used lacked watermarking. Obviously there were no Adria stamps in used condition.


    Little was known of this Adria issue until 1955 when Bundesprufer Dr. Hermann Schultz, writing in the Michel-Rundschau, declared the Alpenvorland - Adria set to be one of the most interesting of German war issues, and declared that it should not be missing from any serious German collection because of its historical significance. His article went on to support the origin of this set as narrated, a copy of which often accompanied the sale of these sets.
    This story was quickly corroborated by others. One dealer claimed to have personal knowledge that the issue was indeed planned. Yet another dealer reported having seen this issue listed in government reports, unfortunately destroyed in the war. Another dealer asserted that he was in Trieste during the Allied bombing (April 30, 1945) and had fortunately departed from the railway station for purposes of seeking refreshment, according to notes he had recorded in his diary. Around this same time the noted Austrian expertizer, Dr. Ferdinand Wallner began to certify these sets as authentic by applying a small stamped mark to the gummed side, rather than using his usual penciled signature. This would later lead to his expulsion from the Association of Austrian Expertizers, for authenticating this issue the Association deemed to be fakes, particularly odious since these postally-unusable items were specifically designed to extort money from unsuspecting collectors, so they said.
    In 1956, according to Dr. Bohne, the first word of these being fakes came from Yugoslav expertizer Bar Julij. By 1962 the Association of Official German Expertizers issued a collective warning to collectors and dealers both that these were fakes. Additional denunciations were to follow.
    Meanwhile, the major Dusseldorf dealer, Wilhelm Bartels, offered this set in his catalog as "unissued" stamps at 190 marks, complete with his own personal guarantee of authenticity, enticing many collectors to purchase them. Some collectors did submit their purchases for expertization by the GPS Expertizing Service which issued numerous warnings that these were purious. The Committee's analysis was accepted by the Michel Catalog, which denounced these as a postwar fantasy product.

Under Scrutiny

    This issue and its seemingly plausible provenance did not fare well upon close examination:

    (1) The quality of paper was not available at this late stage of the war.
    (2) For these chaotic times the perforations appeared too perfect.
    (3) Each of these areas had separate military Dienstpost systems, as attested by the abundance of hand-stamped covers from both areas.
    (4) The former Gauleiter Anton Franz Hofer of the Tirol was the Reich's Defense Commissioner, and would have had to have known and to have approved of this civilian stamp issue. He stated that no such issue was contemplated.
    (5) No documentary evidence of any such plan existed, nor did the State Printing Office in Vienna have any such records of such a set being planned or executed.
    (6) Regardless of the one stamp dealer's diary notes, there was no Allied air-raid on Trieste as stated, nor was the railway yard bombed.
    (7) Were the parcel to have been damaged and later recovered by Yugoslav partisans, would recovery of complete sets be at all likely? Why have no partial or damaged sets made their appearance?
    (8) Would such a set, denoting the merging of two distinct areas to be incorporated into the Greater Reich be denominated in lira? In the face of such evidence Dr. Schultz recanted his prior endorsement and died shortly thereafter. The 3000 sets which dealer Bartels sought to have Dr. Schultz expertize went unsigned. This did not stop Bartels from attempting to have the late expert's son affix his father's expertization mark, or to sell his father's signature cut for a price.
    Bundesprufer Emil Ludin, in the December 1968 issue of Michel-Rundschau wrote a carefully documented paper exposing the set as a pure concoction. This seriously deflated the expectation of both dealers and collectors who saw their investment collapse, with an estimated loss of nearly a half million marks. Desperate measures were sought to counteract Ludin's analysis of this bogus issue. One Lubeck dealer, Martin Peschel, sued Ludin in 1971 in an effort to force him to retract his negative findings, and to further pay court costs and damages for the 16 sets Peschel owned. When Peschel was unable to produce his promised proof of actual authenticity, the Karlsruhe court ruled against him. The judge stated that these were not legally issued, were not reported in any legal documents, and did not constitute a planned postal issue during the final days of the war. Court costs were levied upon Peschel.
    Undaunted, a Hamburg dealer called upon Ludin and asked him to reconsider his findings, offering Ludin 5000 marks for "additional research". Ludin is reported to have amusedly rejected this bribe. The frustrated dealer next approached Bundesprufer Werner Pickenpack, who promptly rejected the same "additional research" offer. Dr. Damrau, the former head of the wartime Dienstpost Alpenvorland was offered a bribe to issue some sort of "clarification".
    A second court case with a bit of a twist was initiated by a Dusseldorf dealer, Armin Konig. He brought suit against Jurgen Ehrlich, the President of the German stamp dealers' association. The complaint charged that Ehrlich has listed the set for sale at 250 marks in the "Philex" catalog which he publishes. This case was decided in favor of the plaintiff. Once again the court ruled that these were a fraudulent issue, and the Philex catalog was discredited.
    Some dealers have attempted to market this set by including these in auction lots. The set is linked with a batch of Alpenvorland and Adria Dienstpost covers, in an attempt to sell all of this as one lot. The covers themselves are plentiful and of little financial value, yet the prices of such lots are quite inflated.
    Articles have appeared periodically warning of these forgeries. The GPS Bulletins of July 1973 and July 1984 take note of the fact that these sets reappear in almost cyclic fashion. The original GPS warning in 1963, and inclusion in the GPS Reference Manual of Forgeries in 1976 has not confined this set to oblivion. The honor of several prominent philatelic authorities has been stained.
    Dr. Schultz was able to reverse his opinion before his death. Dr. Wallner was ignominiously expelled from his society. Dealer Bartels was thoroughly discredited, as was dealer Peschel. Even Ehrlich saw his reputation sullied. And yet the legend lives on. As recently as 1994 a highly reputable American dealer offered the set in his catalog, authenticated by Wallner, with the apparent acceptance of the legend.
    The Italians, however, see things rather differently. In the 1999-2000 Catalogo Enciclopedico Italiano the set is listed in detail, as an unissued set prepared in Vienna for distribution when the dual region had been incorporated into the Reich. The suggested value is given as 850,000 Lira not hinged and 500,000 Lira imperforate. A reputable Milanese dealer has stated that there are actually 4 types, perforated and unperforated, on two colors of paper. He credits the story of Yugoslav partisan seizure as being factual.
    Opinions of other Italian authorities vary. In 1962 Enzo Diena found this set to be "without any philatelic interest" at all. Because Venezia Giulia was to become a part of Adria, this set was illustrated in color and discussed by Franco Filanci in his book, which was only published by the Italian Post Office in 1995. Filanci believes that this set was printed in Vienna, the unissued status due to massive German withdrawal from the area. He states that these sets had to have come from Vienna's State Printing Office since they were rotogravure printed; there having been no presses remaining in Italy possessing both machinery and skill necessary to produce stamps of this quality. He further believes that if such a press were to have existed, the cost of 16 values of such rotogravured stamps would have been extremely expensive.
    It is his belief that no forger would have financed such a scheme since a much shorter set would have been even more marketable and profitable. He concludes that these sets were stolen in Vienna, and that it is obvious that nobody would incriminate himself by admitting to the theft. Filanci's version of events is based solely on the assumption that these were printed in Vienna shortly before the end of the war.

The Forger

    In the GPS Bulletin for July, 1984, Dr. Bohne mentioned that Gauleiter Hofer, as the Reich's Defense Commissioner had never heard of this set, nor authorized it. Dr. Bohne then wrote the following: "Further research determined that the Alpenvorland - Adria fakes had no tie whatsoever with their supposed land of origin. They were printed long after the war in Milan, Italy, the work of Dr. Kosisa, a native of Croatia who died in Switzerland during the l960's."
    The design and format for 16 stamps is quite a task. While most forgers would have resorted to bogus overprints, this man chose scenic views, representative of one of the most attractive areas of Europe, matched the design, values and color shades of the Provinz Laibach set, and produced this set by rotogravure printing, well after the end of the war, possibly on a printing press which the Marshall Plan provided. This man succeeded in marketing this set to a number of supposedly honorable and experienced philatelic dealers. Given this measure of talent and determination, this man could have been an honorable success as a politician, lawyer, realtor, stockbroker, insurance agent or philatelic dealer.
    In the GPS Bulletin for July, 1973, Dr. Bohne briefly mentioned a similar concoction in Croatian philately, 500 Kuna stamps, as being complete forgeries. A picture accompanied this article together with his opinion that these and the Adria set were not worth the paper upon which they were printed. He likened their appearance to bearing a close resemblance to the Adria set.
    Dr. Helmut Rommerskirchen's Manual, the definitive word on WWII Croatian philately, offers a bit more information, together with a picture. It appears that this also is a post-war product from Italy; showing a panoramic view of Mostar under the famous bridge, with a purported value of 500 Kuna, masquerading as a high value in the famous "Croatian Landscape Series". These surfaced in 1952, both perforate and imperforate, in dark purple fakes and dark green colors. Given the strong similarities between the two sets, the pictorial scenes, the similar designs, and the suggested Italian origin, it does suggest that Dr. Kosisa may be the forger of both issues. Might the Croatian set have been a sort of practice run for him?
    Even here, however, the waters are muddied. Sr. Filanci mentions another Croat named Simic as the alleged forger, and then goes about demonstrating why Simic could not have been the forger. Filanci implies that Simic had little financial resources, no real operational connections, and seemingly lacked the necessary skills and knowledge to pull off this deception. Now we have two possible forgers, both Croats, with one supposedly being the forger, and the other being supposedly shown to have been unable to be the forger, even though being named as the suggested one!
    Sr. Filanci has impeccable credentials when dealing with the intricacy and major expense of the rotogravure process. He does not see any forger as being capable of mounting such a major operation as this, with an overwhelming need for great secrecy, while arranging for press, paper, perforation and intricate design skills to pull off the printing of 16 values. The counterfeiting of two or three stamps would have been far easier to manufacture and market in the post-war climate. Filanci has consistently treated this issue as one of wartime creation, while the German expertizers clearly date this as a post-war creation by a good ten years. The matter of the phantom air raid has not been addressed. He questions why Hofer's testimony was accepted but Rainer's views were not also sought. He casts no light on those repeated attempts by certain German dealers to finance "further research" into this set. It is in these areas that I find it difficult to accept Sr. Filanci's basic premise of authenticity.
    I do find myself rather sympathetic, however, to his point that the one reliable source for printing, during 1944-1945 and thereafter was the Vienna State Printing Office which produced Austria's beautiful, albeit typographed or lithographed, series of picturesque scenics in marvelously similar style in 1945. I also agree with him that a full and comprehensive investigation should have been initiated from the first time that this issue made its appearance.

The Writer's Opinion

    Frankly, I know of no other philatelic mystery, with a provenance so painstakingly detailed as this one. For this reason alone it would merit consideration as a possible fascinating finale to the philatelic history of the Third Reich's expansionist policy in the southern European area.
    Frauds, concoctions, fantasies, forgeries, imaginative creations, cinderellas, orphaned wartime impedimenta, or whatever these may be, there is no certain supportive evidence, other than anecdotal, to support any claim to legitimacy. The truth is that other wartime issues may similarly lack solid, supportive evidence also. Are all issues equally substantiated? Were these genuine, we would be forever regretful for having disowned them. Were these bogus, we would have to reluctantly acknowledge the near genius and sheer audacity of a master forger, albeit, which one?


    There is an old Arab proverb which seems appropriate here: "We have all drunk from wells we did not dig." In preparing this article I have borrowed, realigned, restructured and attempted to chronologize the various events as they occurred. Naturally, I must accept the blame for any major errors.
    I have drawn freely from the German Postal Specialist issues of July 1973 and July 1984, which carried pertinent articles by the late Dr. Werner M. Bohne, chairman of the GPS Expertizing committee for over 20 years. The GPS Manual of Forgeries is a tribute to his efforts to expose fraud in philately. Some historical facts have been extracted from F.W. Deakin's very fine book, "The Brutal Friendship". Although sparse, Dr. Helmut Rommerskirchen's "Manual of The Independent State of Croatia: Postal Issues 1941-1945" provided some information on the Croatian forgeries.
    A wealth of insights have been provided by numerous, generous correspondents to my informational search. Many supplied copies of scarce material, together with comments and suggestions. In no firm order (and hoping that I've overlooked nobody), I wish to thank: Savoy Horvath, Ekrem Spahich, Horst Dunke, Zoran Vlahovic, Luke Bartojay, Dr. Mark Schulzinger, M.C. Gilhousen, Paul Gault, Vincent De Luca, George Guzzio, R. Lo Giudice, A. P. v. Ooijen, Glenn Hoffman, George Bohn, Bob Jasek, et al.

In Conclusion

    Since the first appearance of my initial article in the March 2000 issue of the GPS Bulletin, responses received and requests to reprint have prompted me to revise and add to our available pool of knowledge. We have seen our work reprinted in the United States, England, Italy, Germany, Austria; invited to permit reprinting in Switzerland; now on the Croatian website:


    The Italian debacle: My philatelic diplomacy has failed. I must admit that the treacherous dealings of the Italian High Command with the Allied forces had a great deal to do with the Wehrmacht takeover of previously Italian-occupied areas. With Mussolini rescued by daring German paratroopers, the north of Italy again supported the Fascist cause.
    Gauleiters Hofer and Rainer: Although Dr. Bohne states that Hofer had no knowledge of any such issue, events of the day would lead us to believe that Hofer's thoughts were on far more than a set of stamps as Vienna was falling to the Russians. Hofer ended up in American hands, spent a brief period in custody, was released, moved to Muhlheim under a fictitious name, and was eventually so buried. Rainer was captured by British forces who nobly handed him over to Tito's partisans. Following a brief "show trial" in Ljubljana, Rainer was hung. Obviously he was not then available for questioning by Dr. Bohne after 1947.
    Date of Issue: With Schultz first reporting on this series in Michel-Rundschau in 1955, an early date for a bogus printing would be 1954 or before. Were it postwar, the horrific aftermath of rebuilding, recovery, and the onset of the "Cold War" just stretch credulity to the utmost as the time to attempt to concoct a complete set of 16 stamps by such an obviously expensive, and most elaborate means. Just imagine matching colors, shades, border trim, the "roofed A" type face, the paper quality, the match of perforation, the hard-to-find rotogravure press, the most necessary silence of so many different craftsmen, artists and engravers. Not 1 or 2 stamps; 16 of them! All different! No paper? Of course there was paper for the Provinz Laibach set!
    Separate Dienstpost Systems: Does this really prove much? All governments maintain systems which tend to overduplicate.
    Nonexistent Documents: With large quantities of documents destroyed, burned and watersoaked from firefighting, is this really surprising?
    The Railyard Bombing: It is well known that Allied pilots made a practice of disposing of any remaining bombs prior to returning to their fields of origin. This was a wise safety measure. Records would hardly indicate if a particular craft jettisoned a bomb or two in the vicinity of Trieste's rail head. After several brews, our philatelic dealer may have had his dates confused.
    Red Partisan Free Enterprise: The tale of Tito's scum trading anything, except with British forces, just is implausible. They merely took anything they desired at gunpoint.
    The Values: The values of both sets are identical, and in lira. Since some of the scenic panoramas depict sites in parts of Croatia, and Croatia being possibly Germany's staunchest ally, I would not be very pleased to see German designs on Croatian coastal areas. I must remember, however, that at this time Italy was considered to be the "owner" of Slovenia, Dalmatia, and Albania, not to mention the SudTirol.
    The Alleged Forgers: As for the suggested forgers, Kosisa and Simic, I find it rather ridiculous that not even a scintilla of evidence is proffered to link either of these men to this clandestine operation. As Tom Mikulic, an accredited graphic artist was so quick to point out to me, there are simply no common graphic elements to be found here between the Adria and Laibach sets and the Mostar Croatian issue. The Mostar stamps pretend to be extended high values of a scenic series, with no font development, coarse lines, simplistic, with deep colors lacking in the delicate sophistication and subtle shades employed in the other two sets. Tom believed, as I do, that any speculation of the same artist being the creator of the Mostar issue also is ludicrous.
    A Point We Must Not Neglect: I believe that the alarmed concern of a number of dealers who had invested in sets of this Adria issue may have prompted them to act in a fashion less than acceptable. Some carried this to the level of a comic opera. I do understand how they might have reacted to the heavy-handed actions of the more prominent expertizers of the day. This fact, however, does not, in and of itself, make the Adria issue fraudulent, (as any attorney would be quick to point out).
    Sensible Logistics: When a graphic artist assures me that the problems of mounting an operation such as this, in total secrecy, with so many aspects and limitations of the printing arts placed upon it in the period between 1945 and 1960, as well as the expenses involved, would have rendered this well nigh impossible; I choose to rely upon his expertise. The alternative conclusion would simply fly in the face of human nature.

What Are These, Anyway?

    To call these fakes or forgeries implies that these are illicit or deceptive or illegal copies of genuine existing items. These do not fall to that low standard. Ergo, we can not label these as fakes or forgeries. The very worst that we might call them would be bogus. However, even this does little justice to them. Under a microscope, these are every bit as fine, if not finer than the so-called "real thing". After much consideration of all the opinions, both pro and con, I really believe that we have a relatively small printing at the closing days of the war, spirited from the Vienna Printing Office, squirreled away by one or two employees, with nobody able to talk. In other words - unissued!

Dr. David B. Ganse

Pula, Croatia

PART 2 (2007) Entire Set Blocks of 4 Compare two sets Crostamps Home