The Andorra-Stamp affaire

As I’ve just told in the preface, my second encounter with Plácido was in the context of my research on the modern history of the tiny Pyrenees state of Andorra. This affaire and a second one, I’ll tell in the following chapter, occur when our protagonist is already more than 40 years old. But the knowledge of the facts related and the evidence about his prowess and abilities will explain, why I could imagine that the few evidence known and published could rather be more than a small insight of what the Spaniard really had made. In order to explain what happened in Andorra, I’ll have to give a very short introduction in the political situation of the land at that time.

Andorra is a tiny state in the Eastern part of the chain of the Pyrenees-mountains that separate Spain from France. Before it became independent and got a modern and democratic constitution in 1993, guaranteed by his Northern and Southern neighbour, it was a territory with a very particular medieval shaped “constitution” under the co-sovereignty of the president of the French Republic and the bishop of the Spanish border-town of Urgel. To resolve internal and administrative problems, both sovereigns created the General Council, an entirely Andorran assembly.

Far away from great cities and means of communication, isolated by the snow more than six months a year from France, the only regular and stable communication of its 4000 inhabitants with the exterior was a narrow mule trade path along the Valira river that led to Urgel. The Spanish postal administration of Urgel maintained since the middle of the 18th century a postal service by mules.[1]

After the constitution of the Universal Postal Union Andorra was included in 1878 in its statutes as being served by Spain, because the country had no own postal administration and no own stamps. What other philatelists or stamp dealers like the German-American Nicholas Seebeck in Central America or the German Otto Bickel had made in Montenegro did or had done in other countries, Torres proposed the Andorran General Council in 1890 the creation of an own postal administration and service. The attempt, however, failed. A second one two years later was not successful either, but the Syndic General, the chief of the local administration, borrowed the idea and Torres was ordered to present proofs with an appropriate design of what should have been the country’s first own stamps.

[1] Historia postal (y filatélica) de Andorra, en Estudios postales II, EL ECO, Madrid 2017, p. 199-235. Andorra’s First Stamps – Bogus, Fakes or Cinderellas? Valira Torrent, nº 72, p. 26-27. Otto Bickel i la seva iniciativa postal de 1893, Papers de Reçerca Històrica 6, p. 8-10. Die Essays und nicht verausgabten Marken Andorras, ANDORRA-Philatelie nº 79, (2012), pag. 3009-3018.

 

Torres designed the requested proofs and presented them on thick carton paper with a gold thread embroidery. They were slightly redesigned, following the suggestions of the Andorran clients and finally a series of 12 values in different colours was printed.

In 1896 the Syndic General finally presented together with an Andorran lawyer the project with the prepared stamps to the national assembly where it was now unanimously accepted. The French President’s administration for Andorra, however, refused the project. So, the already printed stamps could not be issued. The French rejection converted them in what some experts call the Andorra-bogus.

Torres’ deal with the Andorrans had failed. There was no way to commercialize those items and they ended up in the drawer. Only in the early 1920’s, after the death of Torres, they appeared on the philatelic market. Some catalogues keep listing them erroneously as “Carlist stamps” issued in 1875, during the so-called Carlist War (1872-1876) in Spain. Others date them in 1890.

The watermarked stamps [RA, República de Andorra] exist gummed and un-gummed, perforated and imperforated, some sheets include odd and tête-bêche-samples, some others bizarre overprints like those in Spanish [SELLO DE SERVICO] with an “error” [SERVICO rather than SERVICIO] instead of “Segell de Servei” in Catalan, the official language of Andorra.

 

The rumors, Torres had used watermarked paper left over from his supposed forgeries of an early Argentine issue [RA = República Argentina], are fake.