There is something exciting about really small countries. They are frequently referred to as micro states and there are quite a few throughout the world. Mostly they are small island communities. Places like Niue, Tokelau and many other miniscule nations in the Pacific come to mind in this connection.

San Marino is the world’s oldest republic and the nation has been governed in very much the same way for at least 800 years. Among the members of the local parliament two persons are selected as capitani regenti (or reigning captains in English) for a period of six months after which they are replaced by others. Thus most members of parliament stand a chance of becoming head of state if only for a very limited period of time.

The republic’s known history goes back to the 4th century after Christ. The Roman emperor Diocletian had initiated severe persecution of the Christian minority. A group of Christians under the leadership of a man called Marinus sought refuge in a mountainous area located in the north-eastern comer of the Apennine Peninsula (i.e. today’s Italy).

The republic owes its name to this saint and thanks to its isolated and inaccessible location it has been able to survive as an independent state throughout the centuries. Saint Marinus is shown here on a 1944 stamp.

Being embedded in Italy the republic has always had to adapt to the reigning situation in its huge neighbour. Thus San Marino had a period of fascism in the 1930s as reflected on many of the postage stamps of the period.

San Marino has a total land area of 61 square kilometres and a population of some 30.000 people. I suppose it equals the size of an Aussie town.

The republic’s terrain is extremely mountainous. Almost the entire country is composed of the Ticino Mountain. The highest peak – Monte Titano – reaches 756 metres above sea level. Mount Ticino has three pronounced peaks on each of which there is an old fortress. The three fortresses have become the symbol of the republic. The first stamps were issued in 1877 and they of course depict the three peaks. The same basic design but in another version was released on a very long set of definitive stamps printed from 1903 until 1925.

All in all this extensive set has 37 different denominations and colours (not counting the overprints). This is my own favourite San Marino stamp set but I still lack seven values. It is doubtful if I will ever be able to complete the set as the 2 lire violet is something of a rarity. However, it is the chase of all those elusive stamps which makes this hobby so exciting. It should also be added that it is hard to find these stamps well centred.

In the 1950s and 60s San Marino released loads of beautiful pictorials. The sets frequently had more than ten denominations most of which were very low. Thus these pictorials often found their way into most children’s collections of the day.

The denominations were so low that they did not really fill any postal needs. Postcards mailed from San Marino in the 1960s had to be plastered with stamps to reach the required postage.

The stamps were of course intended for the thriving packet trade; some 50 years ago most department stores still had large sections of philatelic material. Also many were sold by dealers specializing in inexpensive approvals. Whenever you look at a typical boyhood collection from the early 1960s you will find dozens of low-value San Marino pictorials.

Admittedly most of the stamp issues from the 1950s and 60s had appealing designs. They depict exciting topics like hunting, sports, dogs, famous detectives, mountaineering and almost everything else. Even today half a century later these sets are very inexpensive.

Many countries have featured Disney characters on their postage stamps. Did you know that San Marino was one of the very first nations to issue Disney stamps? In 1970 there was a long set of stamps depicting some of Walt Disney’s most cherished cartoon creations.

Many collectors probably believe that the Republic of San Marino solely exists as an excuse to sell stamps to collectors. There certainly was some truth in this belief 50 years ago but today the republic’s philatelic programme is devoid of excesses and certainly of very limited importance to the nation’s economy.

San Marino is an affluent country with a diversified economy. There is some industrial production but most people work in the service sector. Tourism is of major importance and thousands visit each year.

On the Adriatic Coast due east of San Marino, we find the city of Rimini which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy. During the summer season Rimini attracts huge crowds of vacationers many of whom go on day trips to the Republic of San Marino. During their visit they most certainly send home picture postcards featuring the three mountain tops and franked with San Marino stamps.

Today San Marino does not issue any long sets with useless denominations. It is rather the opposite. However, there still is the occasional issue with popular themes aimed at the stamp collecting community (in fact, a policy maintained by most other postal administrations today).

Since 1877 San Marino has released far more than 2,000 different postage stamps which makes it quite an extensive collecting area. Not everything is inexpensive as there are some early 20th century issues which have impressive catalogue valuations. I suppose the best advice here is to collect only the stamps which appeal to your fancy.

For those collectors who specialize in thematic stamps San Marino provides a rich source of material as any stamp catalogue will reveal.

San Marino is Europe’s smallest republic but can boast of being a pioneer with its form of democratic government.

[Published by kind permission of the Editor of Stamp News Australasia.]