LOCATION: A group of 6,554 islands in the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden
GOVERNMENT: Province of Finland
POPULATION: 28,666 (est. 2013)
AREA: 590 square miles
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: 1 March 1984.
100 kopecks = 1 ruble (1809-1921)
100 pennia = 1 markka (1921-2002)
100 cents = 1 euro (2002-date)
The Åland Islands are an archipelago situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. It includes the main island of Fasta Åland on which 90% of the population resides and another 6,500 skerries and islands to its east. Fasta Åland is separated from the coast of Sweden by 38 kilometers (24 miles) of open water to the west. The main town is Mariehamn.
For centuries, the islands have been a key link in transportation between Finland and Sweden. The Mail Decree of 1636 is considered to be the birth of the Swedish postal system. Along with mail services established in Finland in 1638, regulations were adopted for the mail road between the two countries to cross the Åland Islands. Its first post office was soon established in the Kastelholm castle.
Sweden lost Finland and Åland following the war of 1808-1809. The islands were ceded to Russia under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809, becoming part of the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. The Russians completed construction on a huge customs and post office in the western outpost of Eckerö in 1838 and shortly thereafter began construction on the fortress of Bomarsund with workers coming from all over the Russian Empire. Bomarsund became a community where many different cultures and religions met. Bomarsund wasn’t completed before the Crimean War broke out in 1853.
During the Crimean War, Britain and France took sides with Turkey against Russia. Postal transportation between Sweden and Finland was stopped when the Åland Sea was blockaded by the British starting in May 1854. Bomarsund was attacked in August 1854 and the Russian forces were soon forced to surrender. After the war, it was decided during the peace negotiations in Paris that Åland should be a demilitarized zone which it remains today.
The First World War (1914–18) also had a significant impact on the Åland Islands with shipping the worst hit industry; several ships were sunk and Åland sailors killed. After the war, Åland was wracked with uncertainty and anxiety. Russian soldiers were present throughout the region, and there was heated tension between the Conservatives and the Communists. Sweden was perceived as safe, and a group of activists began discussing a reunion with the former motherland.
Finland’s declaration of independence in 1917 gave impetus to discussions on the issue of Åland’s reunion with in the newly-formed League of Nations. The League did not uphold the wishes of the Ålanders, ruling instead that Åland should belong to Finland. The islands were, however, granted broad autonomy and guaranteed demilitarization and Swedish as the official language. It became an autonomous province of Finland in 1921.
Autonomy means that Åland has its own parliament (Lagtinget, formerly the county council) and a government (provincial government, formerly the provincial authority). In 1954 the region got its own official flag. It also has its own police force and its residents speak Swedish.
Most of the post offices in Åland were founded at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The postal delivery routes came about in the 1920s. In 1917 the independent Finland took over the responsibility for the postal service in Åland. The postal service got incorporated with the telegraph service as Post och Telegrafverket in 1927. In 1981 the department changed its name to Post och Televerket. In 1990 the organizational form was changed into a business firm with independent economy under the name “Post- och tele”.
The post office network was re-organized in 1991, with one-third of the offices closed and one-third were to be run by representatives. The remaining post offices were combined with bank services. In the middle of 1991 the postal service in Finland was deregulated. Finland, along with Åland, became the first country in the world to open its postal market to competition.
Åland became an independent postal administration on 1 January 1993 through a change in the Åland Autonomy Act. The business is based upon the provincial law regarding Åland Post and is run as a business firm under the supervision of the Åland Government. It has issued its own stamps since 1 March 1984. There are a total of 16 communities in the islands, each with their own post office.
The first series of Åland Islands stamps in 1984 used the same currency of Finland — 1 markka = 100 pennia. This first series showed various subjects related to Åland, including a map of the area, the flag, buildings, scenery, and wildlife. Their stamps have always used their Swedish name rather than the Finnish Ahvenanmaa.
The Åland Islands postal authorities quickly began issuing items to appeal to the international stamp collectors’ market, with periodic souvenir sheets and maximum cards being among the interesting items available. The stamp designs from the Ålands tend to effectively reflect the pride that the locals have in their region, with a nice balance between “old” subjects that recall the islands’ history, and bold new designs for modern subjects. In 2002, Finland and the Åland Islands discontinued the markka in favor of the euro; all Åland Islands stamps from that point have been in euros.
Åland can be found in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue following the parcel post stamps of Finland in Volume 2. My 2009 edition lists issues up to the Christmas issue released on 9 October 2007. Between the first stamps issued in 1984 and the 2007 Christmas stamp, I count a total of 288 general issues (no air mail or other back-of-the-book releases). Most singles are valued in the US $1-$5 range with the most expensive stamp being Scott #257, priced at US $13.00 in both mint and used. Some issues are collected in booklet panes of and these are a bit more in cost.
Prior to moving to Thailand a decade ago, I had an almost collection of mint Åland housed in a hingeless Davo album along with quite extensive holdings in the islands’ postal history. That was sold along with my other pre-2004 collections and I currently have but thirteen Åland stamps – Scott #72, the Autonomous Postal Administration souvenir sheet plus singles of each of its four stamps; Scott 109-112, Cargo Vessels issue as a block of four (half a booklet pane); and Scott #122-125, Owls in a block of four (half a booklet pane).
The Åland representative in my A Stamp From Everywhere collection is Scott #72a the 1.90 markka lithographed in light blue and black, perforated 12½x13. This was part of a souvenir sheet of four issued 1 March 1993 commemorating the ninth anniversary of its first stamp issue. The two stamps in the center were engraved while the two on either side were printed by lithography.
This stamp portrays inscriptions found on an early stampless letter and features the rare cancellation of Kastelholm in Cyrillic. When Gustav Wilhelm Landau became head of the postal authorities for the Grand Duchy of Finland following its loss to Russia in 1809, he decided that every post office had to have Russian-speaking officials. The Finnish post offices received their first single-line Cyrillic postmark devices in 1812. Two of these offices were in Åland – Eckerö and Kastelholm. The latter operated until 1842 when the post office moved to Skarpans, the village outside the great fortress of Bomarsund.