5¢ Flag of Greece
Overrun Countries Series
Issue Date: October 12, 1943
City: Washington, D.C.
Printed by: American Bank Note Company
Printing Method: Flat-Plate
Color: Blue violet, pale blue, greenish blue, and black
U.S. #916 is part of the Overrun Countries Series, which honors each of the nations invaded by Axis powers during World War II. It pictures the flag of Greece, which features blue and white horizontal bars with a white cross on a blue field as the canton. The cross is a symbol of the Greek Orthodoxy, which is the religion of the people of Greece. Several theories exist explaining the number of stripes. For instance, one states that the nine stripes represent the letters of the Greek word for freedom. The flag was officially adopted in 1822.
Early History of Greece
Archaeologists have determined that an ancient culture, related to the people of Northern Africa, existed in the Southern Aegean about 4,000 B.C. Around 2,500 years ago, Greek civilization was highly advanced. Interestingly, despite the fact that the people shared a common language, culture, and similar spiritual beliefs, they didn’t unite into one nation. Instead, the Greeks organized themselves into city-states, consisting of a city, surrounding villages, and farmland. The city-states were very independent; sometimes they even fought each other. Athens and Sparta were the largest and most influential of these city-states. Due to their small size and strong sense of patriotism, participation in government affairs was encouraged.
Greece During World War II
On October 28, 1940, Italy demanded that Greece surrender, but they refused. The Greco-Italian War followed during which Greece pushed the Italian forces back into Albania, the Allies’ first victory on land. However, the ensuing Battle of Greece saw the country fall to German forces. Following World War II, Greece went through a civil war between communist and anticommunist forces, leading to economic devastation and social tension for 30 years.
These Stamps Brought Hope to Overrun Countries of WW II
After receiving several designs from artists who felt the current U.S. postage stamps were unattractive, President Franklin Roosevelt began to consider the types of stamps he wanted to issue. He sought to show the world that America was in this war to achieve world peace, not military dominance. With this in mind, the President suggested the U.S. issue a series of stamps picturing the flags of all the overrun nations in Europe.
In the border surrounding each flag, Roosevelt suggested picturing the Phoenix – an ancient symbol of rebirth. He believed “It might tell those suffering victims in Europe that we are struggling for their own regeneration.” The other side of each flag pictured a kneeling woman “breaking the shackles of oppression.”
When the time came to print the stamps, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was unable to print the multiple colors needed for each flag, so the American Bank Note Company received a special contract for this series.
Additionally, a 5¢ denomination – the foreign rate for first class postage – was chosen so the stamps could be used on overseas mail. The stamps were printed in relatively small quantities and were in high demand as soon as they were issued, with stocks across the country running out almost as soon as they were released.
FDR – The Stamp-Collecting President
President Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the design and issuance of U.S. #916. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother introduced the future President to stamp collecting at a young age. Throughout his life, he turned to his collection to relax and unwind.
Roosevelt was elected President four times, serving in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive – 12 years. During those 12 years, Roosevelt promoted the importance of stamps by personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. This included suggesting topics, rejecting others, and even designing some of the stamps himself. He used U.S. postage stamps to educate Americans about their heritage, to buoy war-weary spirits during World War II, and to send a message of peace and hope as Europe faced the overwhelming task of rebuilding.