5¢ Flag of Austria
Overrun Countries Series
Issue Date: November 23, 1943
City: Washington, D.C.
Printed by: American Bank Note Company
Printing Method: Flat-Plate
Color: Blue violet, red, and black
U.S. #919 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 Austria, which features two red horizontal bands with a white band in between. It is one of the oldest national flag designs in the world. According to legend, Duke Leopold V invented the flag design during the Crusades. Following a battle, his white clothes were drenched in blood, but when he removed his belt the white cloth underneath was still clean.
Austria has been inhabited since prehistoric times, originally settled by the Celts. Later it was invaded regularly, first by the Romans, then by Vandals, Goths, Huns and others. The Austro-Hungarian Empire lasted from 1867 until it was destroyed during World War I.
The final invasion was Hitler in 1938. (The Rogers and Hammerstein hit musical “The Sound of Music” takes place in the Austrian Alps during Hitler’s Anschluss.) The Allied Forces liberated Austria in 1945. Full independence was re-established in 1955.
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. #919. Introduced to stamp collecting at a young age by his mother, Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned to his collection throughout his life to relax and unwind.
Elected President four times, Roosevelt served in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive – 12 years. During those 12 years, Roosevelt shared his love of stamps with the nation, personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. He suggested topics, rejected others, and even designed some himself. It was his aim to use stamps not just to send mail but also to educate Americans about our history. And as he reluctantly entered America into World War II, he saw these stamps as an outlet to raise spirits and bring hope.