Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 2, p2-6 (Nov 1975)
At the turn of the century Andorra still maintained its traditional isolation and continued to be governed largely in accordance with the suggestions contained in the Manual Digest of 1748, one of the maxims in which counselled that the routes through the frontier passes should never be put into good condition but left rough and in bad state so as to avoid their use by troops in times of war between France and Spain. From such considerations the traditionalist section of the General Council, which was usually in the majority, had always opposed the building of roads across the country, although the lack of good communications with the neighbouring states hindered any major developments within Andorra such as the exploitation of the thermal springs and other natural resources to attract visitors and trade. The local textile industry, which although small had been of some importance as it afforded a little home employment to the womenfolk, had become almost extinct owing to the more modern methods introduced elsewhere, and for this same reason the last of the forges, which had operated from at least the middle-ages, had now been closed. (Some idea of the diminutive size of this industry in the late 19th century is to be gleaned from an old accounts book of the Areny forge at Ordino, which records that in the year l872 it produced 97 tons of iron). The community thus remained essentially an agricultural one, and by no means self-supporting, only some 4% of the land being cultivable and the growing of tobacco preferred to that of grains and vegetables.
The need to dispense with some of the old traditions and to connect the country with its neighbours was apparent, and in the year 1899 the Andorrans made a road from Soldeu towards the French frontier, expecting the French to build a road on their side of the border from l'Hospitalet to Pas de la Casa where the two would be linked. However, the French road was for a long time delayed and it was not until the autumn of 1910 that it was finally completed by which time the Andorrans' road had been largely destroyed by violent storms and the ravages of the Pyrenean winters, no maintenance work ever having been carried out owing to its lack of use pending the long awaited French section. In the summer of the following year, 1911, the Andorrans re-made their section and on Sunday 13th August much excitement was caused in the tranquil hamlet of Soldeu by the arrival of the first motor-car, driven by Dr. Gomma of Ax les Thermes.
In the meantime, the Bishop of Urgel Juan Laguarda (l902-l905) had successfully approached the Spanish Government for the construction of a road from La Seo de Urgel to Andorra's southern frontier, and his successor, Bishop Benlloch - who is featured on the peseta values of the l929 stamp issue - was later able to have the road extended right up to the Andorran capital, this being finished in l913. The end of Andorra's age-old isolation appeared to be swiftly approaching, but was yet still to be delayed for another two decades by the first world war and the general recession which followed, and it was not until l933 that the road linking the two frontiers was eventually completed by the hydro-electric company, F.H.A.S.A., in return for a concession to build power-generating stations in the country.
Having moved ahead in time during this digression concerning Andorra's roadways, we now return to the beginning of the century to take up again the recording of the references to the postal services.
The first date we have been able to find occurs in a Spanish work published some years ago, which states:-
"We know that in the year 1909 the Spanish State was paying for the postman who carried on the service from Seo de Urgel to Andorra, who was paid by the postal administration of Lerida." (1)
This coincides with Mr. Baro's statement, recorded earlier, that Spain paid for the delivery of the mail to Sant Julia de Loria, the nearest town to the Spanish frontier.
When making his historic trip by motor car to Soldeu on 13th August 1911, Dr. Gomma had a brief and rather amusing encounter with the mail carrier employed by the French Postal Service. He writes:-
"In the neighbourhood of the summit we met the old carrier who daily conveys the mails to Porté, perched on a superbly harnessed mule. One could scarcely believe ones eyes! It appears that on the hot days in summer the poor old man likes, in order to travel more at his ease and more happily, to tuck his trousers into his letter-sack, and he does not put them on again until he nears the village. How he must have cursed us. In future he will be obliged to be more correct." (2)
Another reference to the French courier service at about the same period is found in the book "Travels in the Pyrenees" dealing with a journey made in 1912:
"We presently came upon the solitary postman, flattened against the wet hillside to let us pass. Nearly every day of his life, through the driving snow, the white mists, and the bright sunshine of summerdays, this faithful servant crosses from Andorra into France, and from France into Andorra. What a singular life, and what bodily efficiency it demands! It has its perils also, for more than once a postman of Andorra has lost his life in a snow-storm upon high mountain passes."
About 1913, during another visit to Andorra, Dr. Gomma made some enquiries concerning the post on behalf of a stamp collector friend of his, and during the course of these made an interesting discovery - that there existed a hitherto unrecorded postal cachet, the origin of which remains obscure. This consists of a double circle, with the inscription "CORREUS ANDORRA" between the two rings, and has the arms of Andorra in the centre. Dr. Gomma's letter to his collector friend was published in "Le Collectionneur de Timbres Poste" No. 391 of May l9l3, and tells of his discovery as follows:-
"One morning, during the course of an excursion with my friend Bailles, a photographer from Ax, we sought out the local postal official at Andorra la Vella. This high official proved to be a shoemaker who, having explained that mail was despatched to France via Porté franked with a French stamp, and to Spain via La Farga de Moles and Seo de Urgel franked with a Spanish stamp, placidly went to resume his task of piercing an upper with his awl. We would not let him off with so little information, and when he at last understood what we were asking he unearthed from a drawer littered with cobblers wax, leather cuttings and bootnails, a postmarking cachet, a metal chop. Very kindly he gave us permission to strike it on our postcards, but when we attempted to avail ourselves of this authorisation we found that the inking pad was dried out! We moistened it with a little water, then with some black ink, and postmarked our cards. The postman then told us that the cachet should have been used regularly on the inter-Andorran correspondence, from parish to parish, but that it was hardly ever used."
The statement that the cachet was for use on the internal mail is very definitely open to question seeing that it was not a date-stamp and no purpose whatever would have been served by applying it to such correspondence.
Further reference to this Catalan cachet was made by another correspondent of "Le Collectionneur de Timbres-Poste" in the issue for September 1919 No. 45
"In the interior of Andorra the conveyance of letters is free of charge. Abroad, the Andorrans can use either the French office (in this case the mail is carried by the postman to the office at Porté after French stamps have been affixed) or the Spanish office (Seo de Urgel, Spanish stamps). According to regulations, - and I would add that it is almost never done - the mail for despatch should be endorsed with the "CORREUS ANDORRA" mark to establish its origin; this mark must be struck in such a way as not to touch the stamps, which have to be cancelled at Porté or Seo de Urgel. This cachet is to be found in an inn at Andorra la Vella where the post is centralised and stamps are on sale. I would add that because these formalities are not carried out this cachet is very rare. In order to obtain it I had to insist personally that it be struck on the correspondence which I sent from Andorra."
In view of the fact that the cachet is inscribed in Catalan, it is unlikely to have been supplied by the French postal authorities to indicate the origin of mail conveyed by their unofficial courier service; nor does it seem feasible that it would have been provided by the postal administration of Spain. When it was provided, by whom, and for how many years it had laid around unused remain a mystery. Senor Francisco Carreras y Candi, from whose articles we have quoted on a number of occasions, suggests that the cachet dates from about 1896 and that it was supplied to an agent in Andorra by the Barcelona stamp dealer, Don Plácido Ramón de Torres, who was responsible for the production of an apocryphal series of stamps for Andorra some years previously. We have, however, been unable to find any evidence that such "stamps" were ever available (as "souvenirs") in Andorra itself, and the very few cancelled copies which we have seen bear a totally different type of "postmark". The cachet is to be found on circulated covers as late as 1928 and also philatelically applied to stamps of both France and Spain affixed to uncirculated envelopes and portions thereof.
In l926 a British postal employee visiting Andorra found the postal arrangements almost unchanged, with the French courier service still operating between Soldeu and Porté exactly as it had done in the l890s. He writes:
"The postal arrangements in Andorra, the smallest republic in the world (on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees), are probably unique. There are no railways. The "roads" are mostly mule tracks, difficult even for pedestrians. Letters are carried by rural postmen. Inland letters are conveyed free of charge! Foreign letters bearing French postage stamps are despatched through France; those bearing Spanish postage stamps reach their destination through Spain. For this service two rural postmen are recruited from the inhabitants of Andorra by the French Post Office. One is paid from funds provided by the French Post Office and the other from funds granted by the Spanish Administration. The former has the harder task. He makes the journey from the Andorran village of Soldeu through the pass known as the Port d'Embalire (2,460 metres) and over the Col de Puymorens (1,9l8 metres), the second highest main road pass in the Pyrenees, to Porté on the French side of the Andorran frontier, weather permitting. He starts at 4a.m. Today he did not perform the arduous task owing to a snow-storm in the early morning. We left Porté at 7.30a.m. and found the tail end of the storm at the Col de Puymorens very trying. At 9.30a.m. the sky cleared and a scorching sun beat down upon us. It softened the deep snow drifts on the Port d'Embalire and we sank up to the thighs at every step. From Porté the mails for France are conveyed by road to the town of Bourg-Madame, thence by electric railway to Perpignan on the main line to Barcelona from Marseilles and Toulouse... Mails for Spain are conveyed by rural postmen to the capital, Andorra la Vella. Thence by motor coach to Seo de Urgel, crossing the Andorran frontier near Sant Julia de Loria." (3)
The statement here that the second of two postmen appointed by the French Post Office was paid from funds provided by the Spanish Administration must be based on some misunderstanding, as apart from the obvious unlikelihood of Spain paying a French recruit the implication is that this postman did not even go in the direction of Spain seeing that the mail was now sent to Seo de Urgel by motor coach; he would, therefore, appear to have been the courier operating between Andorra la Vella and Soldeu, in the French courier service.
The book "Along the Pyrenees", published in 1925, also indicates that there were no Spanish postmen operating into Andorra at this period. Describing a delivery of mail the author writes:
"At Sant Julia de Loria the coach driver handed all the letters in his pocket, some twenty or twenty five, to a businesslike boy of eleven, in a dirty linen smock, standing by the wheel. The boy looked them over, retained those presumably addressed to Sant Julians, and handed back the others. He was at once surrounded by an eager little group and on the spot he delivered everything, except one postcard which at once, in all its details, engaged the boy and all those who had been disappointed in receiving mail themselves."
That Spain contributed nothing at all towards the cost of the Andorran postal service is categorically stated in an article published soon afterwards in l'Echo de la Timbrologie" No. 761 of September l927, which again mentions the delivery charge on mail arriving from Spain, first referred to by Mr. Baro as having been levied in the 1890s.
"In the most important villages a postman is encharged with the sale of French and Spanish stamps. He is paid by the General Council of the Valleys and by France. As Spain does not pay anything he collects 5 centimos from the addressee of each letter coming from Spain. These postmen are not provided with any postmarking devices. There exist, besides, four French telegraph offices in the four most important parishes. These offices have a cachet." (i.e. date-stamp)
Two covers forwarded to him by his informant are then described by this correspondent, and we give the details considering that they may be of interest in view of the scarcity of such items:
"The first is franked with a 50 centimes French stamp obliterated with a double circle postmark "PORTE - PYRENNES ORLES. - 24 Avril 27." On this envelope is the telegraph office mark "SOLDEU - ANDORRE 23.4.27." and the Spanish (i.e. Catalan) cachet "CORREUS ANDORRA" with the arms in the centre. These two marks have, without doubt, been put on the cover for my sake and are curiosities. The second cover is franked with two Spanish 20 centimos stamps and bears the obliteration "SEO DE URGEL - LERIDA" with an illegible date, plus a small round mark, certainly applied by favour, "ANDORRE LA VIEILLE - VALLE D'ANDORRE .. Juin 27." (This the mark of the French telegraph office in the Andorran capital; the franking of 40 centimos was the Spanish foreign rate, for a letter sent from Andorra to France via Spain.)
The application of the telegraph office marks to these and similar covers tends to suggest that the telegraph offices may have been used as depositaries for the mail.
Reference to the delivery charge on mail from Spain occurs in one other article, which was submitted to the U.P.U. magazine by the Spanish Postal Directorate in Madrid, and can therefore be regarded as being of an official character. Dealing in general with the postal arrangements prior to l928 this article states:-
"Until the year l928, when Spain established the postal Service in Andorra, the Principality had no post offices and the least postal organisation. All that existed there was a postman, or messenger, who used to go from Andorra la Vella to Seo de Urgel to collect the mail from Spain. At the same time he collected in the capital of Andorra and the villages along his route the letters addressed to Spain. In return this messenger only received the 5 centimos delivery fee for each letter, a fee which it was customary for postmen in Spain to receive at that time. The same agent used also to collect the letters for France and the rest of Europe, excluding Portugal and Spain, and deliver them to the post office at l'Hospitalet (*) (France), from which the mail addressed to Andorra was collected. In payment this postman received a small sum from the French vegueria. (**) There was also a second postal agent, appointed by the General Council of Andorra, to collect and deliver letters in the localities and hamlets which were not situated on the route of the postman from Andorra la Vella to Seo de Urgel and l'Hospitalet. (*)" (4)
(*) "l'Hospitalet" should, in fact, be "Porté".
(**) "vegueria" - the office of the French representative, or "Viguier".
It is noteworthy that in this article submitted by the Spanish Postal Directorate no claim is anywhere made that Spain had contributed towards the cost of the postal service in Andorra prior to l928, while it is acknowledged that both France and the General Council supported the service then existing. If Spain had helped to finance the arrangements also then mention of the fact would almost certainly have been made, and we are thus left to conclude that Spain played no part in the Andorran postal service prior to 1928, beyond delivering the mail to Sant Julia de Loria.
Before dealing with the circumstances leading to the establishment of the Spanish Postal Service in Andorra, a final word regarding the French courier service which, despite the natural obstacles, had so faithfully served the inhabitants for nearly half a century. This continued to function until the present French Postal Service was created in 1931, by which time it was no longer necessary for the mail carriers to make the hazardous crossing of the mountains in wintertime in view of the Hispano-French agreement, effective from 1st August 1930, by which the mail for France would be routed via Spain when direct communication between Andorra and France presented difficulties. There was, however, a temporary return to something reminiscent of the old service during the winters of 1936-39 when, because of the Spanish Civil War, the French did not route their mails via Spain but had them conveyed direct between Porté and Andorra by skiers of the French army. (5)
(1) "Instituciones Politicas y Sociales de Andorra".
(2) "The Passes of the Pyrenees", by C. L. Freeston, pp.l80-181
(3) "Philatelic Journal of Great Britain", August 1926.
(4) "Andorra, or the realisation of an ideal post". "Union Postale", Berne, Feb. 1960.
(5) "Union Postale", Vol. 70, No. 7. Berne, July 1945.
Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4
A more recent account of Andorran postal history up to and including 1931 is available in "Les Services de la Poste Francaise ... a Partir de 16.6.1931" published by CIFA. Available from W. A. Jacques
Articles index | Home Page