In its purist form, a “dead country” is a nation or political entity which no longer exists. My definition of a “dead country” is essentially any political, colonial, military or revolutionary entity which has issued at least one stamp used for postage and/or a unit of paper money accepted as legal currency. For my collection, I limit the “countries included” to those that ceased to exist as a defined entity before 1960. Primarily because I wanted to limit my personal collection to older stamps.

Deciding what constitutes the end of a country is important in defining exactly what is a “dead country”. As I continue to study each area and its history, these definitions will continue to be refined as I develop a workable set of criteria for when a country “ends” and when another starts. My definition of the “end” doesn’t necessarily begin (or even end) the name of the country involved. For instance, the occupation of Belgium by German forces in World War 1 did not start, nor end the nation of Belgium. But the occupation period is a “dead country” when control by Germany was exerted, and postage stamps or currency was issued for that period. The same could be said about a failed revolution. The following are some of the criteria for when a country becomes “dead”:

    • Overthrow of a absolute monarchy style government (not merely a dynasty)
    • Overthrow or withdrawal of colonial rule
    • Annexation of a country into a larger country
    • The start or end of a “transitional government”
    • Joining of two or more political entities
    • Change of political control of an outside entity
    • Occupation by an external entity
    • Defeat or withdrawal of occupational forces


    CITY STATE (Cit) – An autonomous city, which existed as a sovereign nation (e.g. Danzig, Hamburg, or Bremen)
    COLONY (Col) – A territory separated, but subject to a distant ruling power (e.g. Obock, Kiauchau, or Cape of Good Hope)
    EMPIRE (Emp) – A political unit having an extensive territory, or comprising a number of territories or semi-autonomous nations ruled by a single supreme authority (e.g. Imperial Russia, Imperial China, the Austro-Hungary Empire, the German Empire or the Ottoman Empire)
    MANDATE (Man) – A commission given by the League of Nations or the United Nations to a nation to administer the government and affairs of a former Turkish territory or German colony. (e.g. Palestine, Hatay, or the Territory of New Guinea)
    NATION (Nat) – An independent, self governed sovereign nation (e.g. Hawaii, Hejaz or Orange Free State)
    OCCUPATIONAL GOVERNMENT/ARMY (Occ) – A nation or territory occupied by a foreign army during times of war (e.g. Burshire, Japanese Occupation of Malaya, Allied Occupation of Baden or Central Lithuania)
    POST OFFICES ON FOREIGN SOIL OF A DEAD COUNTRY (PO) – In the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, a number of countries maintained post offices in foreign countries. (e.g. Chinese Treaty Ports, French offices in the Ottoman Empire or Italian offices in Crete)
    PUPPET STATE (Pup) – A nominal sovereign state which is, in reality, controlled by a foreign power. (e.g. Manchukuo, Italian Social Republic and Bohemia and Moravia)
    RESURRECTED COUNTRY (Res) – A country which ceased to exist for at least 50 years but returned to existence after break-up of a larger country or through other political means (e.g. Lithuania, Eritrea or Armenia).
    REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT/ARMY (Rev) – Governments, Armies or Groups who through revolution attempted (whether successful or not) to set up a new government or break off from an existing country. (e.g. Confederate States of America, Don Cossack Government or Yucatan).
    SEMI-AUTONOMOUS STATE (Sta) – A semi-independent government under the control of an empire or larger country. (e.g. India Princely States, Grand Duchy of Finland or Buenos Aries)
    OTHER SPECIAL ISSUES (Oth) – There are some special situations which do not fit the above criteria such as plebiscites, annexations, etc. (e.g. Upper Silesia, Marienwerder or Allenstein)


    NAME CHANGE – Countries where only the name changed without a substantial change in government are not included (e.g. Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Persia to Iran and Siam to Thailand)
    PRIVATE ISSUERS – Private, non governmental or military issuers are not included (Baena, Danube Steam Navigation Company or Niklasdorf). Special note: private banks which issued currency legal in that country are included
    POSTMARKS – To be included, the entity must have issued at least one unique stamp or banknote. The rationale is that I am interested in country history, not necessarily postal history.
    PROVISIONAL ISSUES – Entities issuing stamps as a stop-gap due to interruption of postal services without any higher aspirations are not included (e.g. Canary Islands, Kilis, Mafeking siege issues or Carupano).

As I continue to examine my definitions, I welcome comments and suggestions of how to make them more consistent and accurate.

6 Responses to Definitions

  1. Tom Barner says:

    I enjoyed reading through your website. Our stamp club is having a contest in Feb to see who can find the most back of the book stamps from dead countries. Your list was very useful. Will be back to read more when I have more time.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Tom, I am glad you have enjoyed the site. Also I wish you luck on your “contest” as for dead countries, this is your place.


  2. David Olson says:

    Hi Michael,

    You have an extremely nice web site. Thank you for sharing.

    This is more of a question than a comment.
    I have recently found an “up side down” watermark (140) on a stamp of Italy, Aegean Islands, Rhodes Scott #2, overprinted “Rodi” on Italy #94, 5 centesimi green, Scott illustration A48. It is the first one I have found, although, in truth, I have not watermarked very many.

    Have you encountered any stamps like this? Or seen any literature about them? Do you know if there are many stamps like this?

    David Olson

    • Michael says:

      Hi David, welcome to DCStamps. I am glad you like the site. I am not an expert on these, but I would not be surprised if watermarks in different directions is pretty common. I am away for a few more days, but I would search on the net for Italian stamps of this era to find out. Good luck.

  3. Esposito, Vittorio says:

    I think it’ll be very nice to explore these catalogues in order to improve our philatelic aknowledges.

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