Postage Stamps of Italian Colonies

by Tony Clayton


Ethiopia <<-- : -->> Jubaland

Main Index

From 1885 onwards the Italians made treaties with local sultans on the northern coast, followed by leasing of ports on the southern coast (known as Benadir or 'Landing Places') in 1892. Italy assumed direct rule after a treaty in 1905.

The currency used varied between the local besa (4 besa = 1 anna, 64 besa = 1 rupia, later 100 besa = 1 rupia) and the Italian lira (100 centesimi = 1 lira)

'Benadir' Issue, October 1903

Seven values were issued from 1 besa to 10 anna


1 besa brown and 5 anna orange-yellow
Sassone 1 and 6

First (Provisional) Overprint, 1905

Provisional overprinted in Italian currency in Zanzibar. There was a shortage of the commonly used values, and large stocks of the 5 and 10 anna due to restricted postal use. The 10 anna was overprinted Centesimi 40, and the 15c on 5 anna is an extremely rare stamp in mint condition.

15c Provisional

15c on 5 anna orange
This copy sold for 1800 in 2011.
Sassone 8
Image courtesy of the Italy & Colonies Study Circle.

40c Provisional

40c on 10 anna violet
Sassone 9
Image courtesy of the Italy & Colonies Study Circle.

Second Overprinted Issue, 1906-7

The seven Benadir values were overprinted in Italian currency. On a change of postal rate in 1916 a 20c on 2a replaced the 15c on 2a

Lire overprint

2c on 1 besa brown and 50c on 5 anna orange-yellow
Sassone 10 and 15

Third Overprinted Issue, 1916

To overcome shortages of lower values the 50c on 5 anna and 1 lire on 10 anna were overprinted 5c and 20c respectively in Mogadiscio.

5c over-overprint

5c on 50c on 5 anna orange-yellow
Sassone 17

Red Cross, 1916

The inverted overprint is said to be false by Stanley Gibbons. Sassone gives no prices, but the specialist CEI catalogue does, and does not make reference to possible fabrications (which it often does). A close look at the scans reveals no significant differences that I can observe. Interesting.

10c Red Cross

10c + 5c, normal and inverted overprints
Issued July 1916
Sassone 19 and 19a.

10c Red Cross

Close-up of the overprints
Normal at top, Inverted below

Fourth Overprinted Issue, February 1922

In 1922 the currency reverted to the Somali besa, with an Italian rupee equal to 100 besa and 60 besa to 1 Italian lira. Just 6 values were overprinted.

Besa overprints

3b on 5c on 2b green and 30b on 50c on 5 anna orange-yellow
Sassone 24 and 28

Victory Issue, April 1922

In common with all the overprinted Italian Victory issues, not just for Somalia but also Italy, Eritrea and Libya, the bulk were comb perforated by a comb which gave two distinct perforations on the sheet, perforation 14 and the slightly scarcer perforation 14x13¼. In addition some values are to be found which have been line perforated 13½; these are very much rarer and their acquisition requires careful hunting amongst dealers' stocks.

Furthermore, the paper used was intended for smaller definitive stamps, so stamps printed over the central gap either have no watermark or, in one case, a small cross instead of the usual crowns.


6b on 10c red
Left: Perf 14; Centre: Perf 14x13¼; Right: Line Perf 13½;
Sassone 31, 31f and 31e


6b on 10c red
Small cross watermark, seen halfway up on the right.
Sassone 31h

Fifth Overprinted Issue, February 1922

This time all reference to the Italian currency was obliterated with bars.

Barred overprints

5b on 50c on 5a yellow and 1r on 1l on 10 anna lilac
Sassone 37 and 44

Propaganda Fide Issue, October 1923

Prop Fide 13b

13 besa on 30c carmine and orange
Sassone 46.

March on Rome Issue, October 1923

This issue, with many fascist symbols, commemorates the first anniversary of Mussolini's march on Rome.

March on Rome 1

20 besa on 50c red and 30 besa on 1 lire blue
Sassone 51 and 52.

March on Rome 2

3 rupie on 5 lire blue and black
Sassone 54.

50th Anniversary of the Death of A.Manzoni, April 1924

One of the scarcest commemorative stamps of Italy or the Colonies is the 5 lire value of the 1924 Manzoni set. For Italian Somalia and the other colonies (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Eritrea) only 3,750 were printed for each, compared with 35,000 for Italy. However, demand is less, so these scarcer colonial stamps catalogue lower in value than that for Italy.

Manzoni 5 lire

Somalia 1924 Manzoni issue, 3 rupie on 5 lire
Sassone 60.

Holy Year, June 1925

Holy Year

Somalia 1925 Holy Year issue, 30 besa + 15 besa on 1 lire
Sassone 65.

Holy Year

Somalia 1925 Holy Year issue, 30 besa + 15 besa on 1 lire, used
Inverted Overprint
Unlisted in Sassone, CEI 72a.

Holy Year

Somalia 1925 Holy Year issue, 1 rupie 50 besa on 5 lire
Vertical line flaw (at left of the stamp)
Sassone 66c.

Royal Jubilee, 1925-6

The stamps of Italy commemorating the King's Jubilee in 1925 come with two perforations, Perf. 11 and Perf. 13½., and have three values: 60c and 1 lire issued in 1925, and 1.25 lire in 1926.

They were also issued with overprints for Cirenaica, Tripolitania, Eritrea, Oltre Giuba (Jubaland) and Somalia, but not all of the 6 types were overprinted for all countries, and indeed some combinations are very rare indeed.

A list of the known colonial varieties is as follows:

Those indicated as rare are valued at over a thousand euro, mint or used.

Perf 11

Somalia Perf 11
Sassone 67.

Perf 13½

Somalia Perf 13½
Sassone 70.

Sixth Overprinted Issue, March 1926

In 1925 the decision was made to go back to Italian currency. This time all reference to the old currency was obliterated with bars.

Barred overprints

5c on 2b green and 50c on 5 anna orange-yellow
Sassone 74 and 79

1926 Definitive Set

Starting in July 1926, Italian Somalia had a set of the standard Italian definitives issued with the overprint Italian Somalia in small capital letters (the change to Italian currency had taken place the previous year). The key stamp of the mint set is the 75 centesimi.


Somalia 1926 Definitive issue, 75 centesimi
Sassone 98.

National Defence (Milizia) Issues

In 1927, 1929 and 1930 there were three successive issues of what are known as the Milizia sets. The Colonies had some of the stamps printed in different colours to those of Italy before being overprinted. In all cases the third set is the most scarce, the top value scarcest, and properly used stamps from the colonies are harder to find than mint. A very few of the 1927 issue 1.25 lire and 5 lire exist with the overprint on stamps with the original Italy colours.

5l + 2l50

Somalia 1927 First Milizia issue, 5 lire + 2.50 lire in the original Italian issue colours
Sassone 108A. Courtesy of Italy & Colonies Study Circle

5l + 1l50

Somalia 1930 Third Milizia issue, 5 lire + 1.50 lire used
Sassone 143.

Pictorial Definitives,

These were first issued in 1932 with perforation 12, and were then reissued from 1935 with perforation 14. For the second set the 2.55 lire and 20 lire values are particularly scarce, with the 20 lire being catalogued at several thousand euros.

13 of the 18 values in this set are know with mixed perforations, either 12x14 or 14x12. The 50c and 1.25 lire are known with both.


20 centesimi red, Perf 12.
Sassone 171.


2.55 lire grey used, Perf 12.
Sassone 180.


50 centesimi bright violet, Perf 12.
The key stamp in the Perf 12 mint set
Sassone 180.


10 lire bright violet, Perf 12.
Sassone 183.


25 lire blue, Perf 12.
Sassone 184.


20 lire green, Perf 12.
Sassone 183.


2.55 lire grey used, Perf 14.
Sassone 226.
Courtesy of the Italy and Colonies Study Circle


25c green used, Perf 14x12.
The postmark of Balad is very scarce
Sassone 172a.

Royal Visit

In 1934 King Victor Emmanuel III visited Italian Somalia. The opportunity was taken on 1st January 1935 to issue a long set of 14 stamps all of the same design except for the top value, which is not only much larger but also had the high face value of 25 lire plus 2.75 lire surcharge. 10,000 sets were printed, with more of the lower values.

25l + 2l75

Somalia 1935 Royal Visit, 25 + 2.75 lire
Sassone 212.

Express Stamps

The first issue of 1923 used overprinted Italian stamps. Following the issue of the iconic 'Italia Turrita' design in Libya in 1923, Eritrea and Somalia follwed with a similar design in 1924. On conversion to Italian currency the designs were overprinted.


1923 issue, 60 besa on 1,20 lire
For International use
Sassone (express) 2.


1924 issue, 30 besa
For Italian Area internal use
Sassone (express) 3.

2.50 lire

1926 issue, 2.50 lire on 60b
Sassone (express) 6.

Postage Due (Segnatasse)

For all the colonies, acquiring the Postage Due and Parcel issues is a daunting task, as not only are these items rarely encountered (except for the low values), but they came out in various combinations and styles. For Somalia there are no less than 6 Postage Due sets.

First Issue, 1906

Overprinted 'Somalia Italiana Meridionale' (Southern Italian Somalia in English)

60c postage due

60 centesimi, mint
Sassone (segnatasse) 7.

Image courtesy of the Italy & Colonies Study Circle.
10l postage due

10 lire, mint
Sassone (segnatasse) 11.

Image courtesy of the Italy & Colonies Study Circle.

Third Issue, 1920

Overprinted 'Somalia Italiana' at the bottom (The Second Issue of 1909 has it at the top)

2l postage due

Somalia 1920 Postage Due issue, 2 lire, used
Sassone (segnatasse) 31.

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v14 28th March 2017
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