By Peter G. Gleason

The German military forces occupied the Estonian university town of Tartu (Dorpat, in German) in February 1918. The German civilian postal system did not extend there, and there was only a military mail service (feldpost) between Tartu and Riga (in occupied Latvia). The German military commander in Tartu authorised the local Baltic German civilians to overprint some leftover Russian stamps and post cards and established a postal system for civilian mail. Mail destined for Germany and occupied places in between was carried by the military postal system to Riga where it entered the "Ob. Ost" civilian mail.

The German postmaster in Riga was reportedly upset about Russian stamps being valid in the German postal system even though the stamps were overprinted in German. Nevertheless, an agreement was soon reached between Riga and Tartu German postal authorities. It was decided the Dorpat (Tartu) overprinted stamps were valid for carrying letters from Tartu to Riga, but that "Ob. Ost" German postage must be added (and cancelled) in Riga in order for the mail to be forwarded. This is the reason for the mixed franking seen on such mail during that period. Of course, local Tartu mail required no such "Ob. Ost" franking being outside the system.

The values overprinted on the stamps were 20 pfennig for post cards and 40 pfennig for letters, close to 30.000 each. There were also 25.000 post cards overprinted at 20 pfennig. The stamps and cards were valid March 5 - March 22, 1918, and were locally cancelled with a large rubber straight-line canceller "DORPAT". The shape of this canceller usually varies a little due to the softness of the rubber and the "D" is always tilted a little downward. In fact, if the "D" is not tilted, a forgery may be suspected. Shortly after the issue became invalid for postage, the remainders (nearly three-fourths of the issue) were sold to collectors and others.

Dorpat stamps appear on covers dated a few days after the stamps became invalid, but there are, in conjunction with the "Ob. Ost", stamps that became available and which were required in Tartu at that time. Such post-valid stamps may also be cancelled with old Russian circular town date cancels, most often a "dumb" cancel (no town indicated).

Forged overprints are fairly abundant, but they are easily detected when one has genuine overprints for comparison. Genuine covers of purely philatelic origin are abundant, the most common being those made with Russian Red Cross envelopes, some of which are unaddressed.


Cutouts from Russian Wrappers of 1891 (2 kop) and of 1913 (1 kop) with black overprint, used as stamps.
Typographed overprint by Margerete Levmann in Rakvere.

The overprint was made on uncut wrappers which were later cut. There are a few uncut wrappers in existence. The issue was not approved in advance by the General Postal Organization but its use was quietly tolerated. An official invalidation was not declared. Latest known cancellation is from November 27, 1918. The Rakvere stamps are extremely rare. They can be found only in a very few collections.

The total number of stamps issued was 738. Forgeries are known. Expertization is a mandatory.


Various Soviet stamps were overprinted with a two-line rubber hand stamped "Eesti Post". The overprinting was done by the Postmaster of Elva with the approval of the local Militia commander. The hand stamp used was compiled of loose rubber-stamp letters and shows many variations. Most of these varieties; the length of overprint, damaged letters etc., were caused by wear and tear. However, the hand stamp was taken apart several times for cleaning purposes and re-assembled. As a result two distinct types of overprint can be distinguished: the letters "t" were interchanged. The exact date of this re-assembly is not known.

From left to right: Type I, Type II early overprint, Type II later overprint.

One additional distinct re-assembly has been reported. The cancellations are known only from a time period where the stamps of the Tartu Issue already had been distributed and there were no postal need for additional stamps. The so called type III overprint must consequently be considered as entirely philatelic.

Both crude and excellent forged overprints are in existence. Expertizing by a knowledgeable Estonian expertizer is mandatory.


With the permission of the local Estonian Home Guard commander, a small number of various Soviet stamps and the 3 s. Estonian Carrier Pigeon stamps were surcharged or overprinted. The issue was mainly sold in Mõisaküla and Abja. A small number of stamps were placed on sale at the Sub Post Office in Uue-Kariste. Cancellations are known from Mõisaküla, Uue-Kariste and Pärnu. The issue used German tariffs and were valid August 4 - 16, 1941. The following linoleum handstamps were used:

1. Unframed single line "VABA EESTI"
2. Framed double line (10 x 18 mm)"VABA EESTI 1.20"
3. Framed double line (18 x 32 mm)"VABA EESTI 2.40"
Prints of the three different handstamps are known as proofs on yellowish paper.

The Mõisaküla stamps are very rare. The total number of stamps issued was 2705. Some of them was probably lost for ever in the war. Forgeries of excellent quality are known. Expertization is a mandatory. The genuine canceller of Abja has been used on some forgeries after the war.


The Otepää stamps was a charity issue in values of 20+20 and 30+30 kopek, typhographed by the Otepää Printing Works in sheets of 20. Each stamps was printed individually with the blue part first. This explains the presence of many printing irregularities and also the unnatural pairs that are in existence. Two cliches were needed, one for each color. The black cliche consisted of types, metal lines and a linoleum shield. The original shield was soon damaged and repaired. After a while it became completely unusable and was replaced by a metal shield. Based on the appearence of the shield four different types can be distinguished:

Type 1. Pointed symetrical shield used for the 30+30 value only.
Type 2. Round shield used for both values.
Type 3. Unsymetrical pointed shield used for the 30+30 value only.
Type 4. Round shield with heavy border used for both values.

The first 30+30 stamp was issued July 22, 1941. The dates of issues of the other stamps are not known. The issue was invalidated from August 15, 1941. Various forgeries are known.


The Reconstruction Fund stamps was a charity issue for the benefit of a fund for reconstruction of the country at a surcharge equal to six different face values (15, 20, 30, 50, 60 and 100). The stamps was printed by "Ilutrükk" in Tartu and valid until April 30, 1942.

The denominations 15+15, 20+20 and 30+30 had two printings which are easy to distinguish from each other by paper, gum and the protective network. A thick white, hard paper was used for the first printing. The second printing was on a greyish paper. Smaller printing errors (white or colored dots or lines) can often be found. The first printing has a lilac-grey protective network, the second a yellowish-brown. The 30+30 value of the second printing can be found with the lilac-grey network.

The perforating machine at the printers was not especially suitable for stamps. The sizes of the stamps can vary vertically or horizontally. Rough perforation can be found.

By order of the German authorities an imperforated issue of 15000 sets of the first printing was prepared. The whole imperforated issue was handed over to the General Postal Organization who arranged over the counter sale in all Post Offices of the country. A few hundred sets were distributed through two existing philatelic organizations. The imperforated issue had full franking value and must be considered as an official issue.

Important notice:
The imperforated issue of these stamps is not to be mistaken for the imperforate stamps of the second printing.

The Nõo Issue (1941), The Pärnu I and II issue (1941) and The Tartu issue (1941).

The "Estonia Philately & Postal History Handbook" by Vambola Hurt and Elmar Ojaste (in English and German) gives additional information about the Local Issues of Estonia.