The Mexican Revolution is a defining period in Mexican history that started in 1910. Historians differ in their views on when the Mexican Revolution ends – 1917, 1920 or 1929. My choice, for the purpose of this profile, is 1917. When looking at the stamps listed in the world wide catalogs, one will find that the last regular Mexican issue dates from 1910. What follows is a confusing number of listings between 1913 and 1916. Provisionals and definitives, stamps inscribed not only ‘Mexico’, but also ‘Baja California’, ‘Oaxaca’ and ‘Sonora’. The catalogs offer little to understand the context of these issues. I have been confused for years. In the following I will try to provide some insight into the why and how of these issues.
Political history Mexican Revolution
Fraudulent elections spark the Mexican Revolution
To understand the postal history of the Mexican Revolution, one has to understand the political history in more detail. The Mexican Revolution probably has its roots in the long dictatorship of Profirio Díaz. Díaz assumed power in 1876 and ruled Mexico until 1911. Díaz provided political stability and economic growth, but at a high social cost. In the first decade of the 20th century, opposition against Díaz grew and became organized. Notable opposition leaders were Francisco – ‘Pancho’ – Villa in northern Mexico and Emiliano Zapata in southern Mexico. In 1910 presidential elections were held. Díaz was opposed by Francisco Madero, who promised political and social reforms. The 1910, elections were won by Díaz, but were fraudulent. Madero refused to accept defeat and took up arms, the different factions of the opposition rallying behind him – the start of the Mexican Revolution. Madero was successful. In 1911, Díaz was forced to resign and, after new elections, Madero assumed the presidency. As president, Madero was less successful. What reforms he implemented were criticized from the right for being too drastic – and from left for not being drastic enough. The country moved towards political chaos. In February 1913 Madero was deposed through a military coup.
Federalists versus Constitutionalists
Victoriano Huerta now assumed power. The opposition was quick to respond. In February 1913, the state of Coahuila revolted against the Federalist government of Huerta. The revolt was led by Venustiano Carranza, the governor of the state. In March 1913, the neighboring state of Sonora followed suit. Next was the state of Chihuahua – in which Francisco Villa had his base of power. In April 1913, the three states appointed Carranza as First Chief of the revolt and Supreme Commander of the army. A government was formed, known as the Constitutionalist government – thus named, because the revolt was aimed at restoring the 1857 constitution that had been abrogated by Huerta. In the south Zapata joined the ranks of the Constitutionalists. The Constitutionalists rapidly gained support and soon marched on Mexico City – Carranza with two armies from the north and Zapata with an army from the south. In July 1914, Huerta was forced to resign and Carranza assumed the presidency.
Constitutionalists versus Conventionalists
Although they had been unified in their opposition against Huerta, the Constitutionalists soon faced conflicts between different factions. In October 1914, a convention was held to settle the conflicts. The outcome was the opposite – the convention required Carranza to step down and to make room for an elected president. Carranza refused and the Mexican Revolution entered its next phase. The Constitutionalists, led by Carranza, now faced an armed conflict with the Conventionalists, led by Villa and Zapata. The Conventionalists were thus named because they upheld the decree of the convention requiring Carranza to transfer power. The war showed shifting fortunes. Mexico City changed hands several times between November 1914 and August 1915. In April 1915, the battle of Celaya turned the tide in favor of the Constitutionalists and Villa was beaten decisively. Carranza next moved on Mexico City, which he took from Villa in July 1915. Zapata shortly regained Mexico City for the Conventionalists, but, in August 1915, Carranza beat Zapata and gained lasting control of the capital. Villa retreated to the north, Zapata to the south. Both, on a regional level, remained forces to be reckoned with. On the national level Carranza was in control. A provisional government was formed and a new constitution was prepared. In 1917, the new constitution was adopted. In subsequent elections Carranza was elected as president.
The end of the Mexican Revolution
The adoption of the constitution and the return to a constitutional presidency marks the end of the Mexican Revolution, although, as stated in the introduction, some historians consider the Mexican Revolution to have continued until 1920 – when the Carranza presidency ended – or 1929 when the National Revolutionary Party, that would rule Mexico for the next seven decades, came to power.
Postal history Mexican Revolution
In political history, the Mexican Revolution is defined as the period from 1910 to 1917. In philately, the ‘Mexican Revolution issues’ are the stamps issued in the period from 1913 to 1916. In the major catalogs these issues are listed somewhat randomly. They are not grouped by issuing entity, nor are they listed in chronological order. Thus, the listings provide a confusing picture. In the following I will present the issues of the Mexican Revolution grouped by issuing entity. First, though, a few general observations are in order:
- The listings in the catalogs are, what one could call, the ‘major issues’ of the Mexican Revolution. In addition, many local issues appeared that will be discussed separately at the end of this section.
- Many of the major issues of the Mexican Revolution exist in a large number of varieties – well beyond the scope of this profile. The ultimate guide to these varieties is Nicholas Follansbee’s book ‘The Mexican Revolution issues 1913-1916’.
- Furthermore, the issues of the Mexican Revolution have been widely forged. For some issues the number of forgeries available on the market is far larger than the number of genuine items. Caution is in place when buying the issues. Again, the ultimate guide through this quagmire is Nicholas Follansbee’s book.
- Finally, postal use of many of the stamps issued during the Mexican Revolution is disputed. Many stamps would seem to have been produced primarily with the collectors market in mind. One might think that during a civil war people have other priorities than stamp collecting, but the revenues generated apparently were large enough to issue more stamps than strictly required for postal use.
The Mexican Revolution issues grouped by issuing entity
The Sonora state issues. Stamps were issued by the state of Sonora as follows:
- The state of Sonora was one of the first states to revolt against the Federalist government and join the ranks of the Constitutionalists in March 1913. To supersede the Federalist issues, Sonora first issued stamps in June 1913, the Sonora ‘White’ issue – so called to distinguish it from the next issue, the Sonora ‘Green Seal’ issue that appeared in July 1913. The state specific issues of Sonora were superseded by the general issues of the Constitutionalists in October 1913.
- After the defeat of the Federalists, when the Mexican Revolution entered the phase of the civil war between the Constitutionalists and the Conventionists, the state of Sonora joined the ranks of the Conventionists. Again stamps were issued, now to supersede the Constitutionalist issues. The first stamps to appear were of the ‘Green Seal’ design that was re-issued in September 1914. Then followed the ‘Coach Seal’ and the ‘Anvil Seal’ issues in October 1914 and October 1915 respectively. The ‘Anvil’ issue appeared with the seal overprint only and with the additional overprint of the word ‘Plata’ for use against the silver instead of the paper currency.
- Baja California state issues. For the state of Baja California – the neighboring state of Sonora – stamps were issued in March 1915. These stamps were of a design similar to the ‘Coach Seal’ issue of Sonora and are hence called the Baja California ‘Coach Seal’ issue.
- Oaxaca state issues. Oaxaca was a state that assumed a position of neutrality in the conflict between the Constitutionalists and the Conventionalists. Neutrality, however, was not an option in this stage of the Mexican Revolution. The Constitutionalists marched on the state and a siege followed. Oaxaca, during the siege, issued stamps in July 1915. The stamps would be used until March 1916, when Oaxaca City was the last city in the state to fall into the hands of the Constitutionalists.
- Constitutionalist issues. The Constitutionalists issued stamps for general use in the areas they controlled as follows:
- The first issue to appear was the ‘Ejercito’ issue in October 1913. The ‘Ejercito'‘Army’ issue was a provisional issue: revenue stamps used as postage stamps.
- The ‘Ejercito’ issue was followed by the first definitive issue, the ‘Transitorio’ issue, in January 1914. A slightly altered version of the ‘Transitorio’ issue appeared in July 1914 to supplement the stock of 5 centavo stamps – 5 centavo being the denomination for standard letters and thus most used.
- The next definitive issue was the ‘Denver’ issue from July 1914. It is called the Denver issue, because it was printed by Smith-Brooks Printing Company in Denver, Colorado. Revenue stamps of a similar design were issued in June 1914 and have, in limited numbers, been used postally.
- Provisionals were issued as follows: the ‘Large GCM Monogram’ overprint issue, the ‘Dollar Sign’ overprint issue and the ‘Script GCM Monogram’ overprint issue.
- The ‘Large GCM Monogram’ – ‘GCM’ stands for ‘Gobierno Constitucionalista de Mexico'‘Constitutionalist Government of Mexico’ was first issued in May 1914 in Hermosillo and re-issued in December 1914 in Vera Cruz. It is called the ‘Large GCM Monogram’ issue to distinguish it from later overprints with smaller GCM monograms.
- The ‘Dollar Sign’ issue is thus called, because in the overprint there is the $ sign between the words Gobierno and Constitutionalista. The ‘Dollar Sign’ issue appeared in September 1914.
- The ‘Script GCM Monogram’ issue appeared in January 1915. The issue is also called the ‘Carranza’ issue vis a vis the ‘Villa’ issue as discussed below.
- A commemorative issue, called the ‘Torreon’ issue, appeared on April 3, 1914, on the occasion of the victory in the battle of Torreon the day before. The issue is an overprint reading ‘Victoria de Torreon Abril 2-1914’ and was on sale only on April 3, 1914, in northern Mexico – exactly in which cities is disputed.
- Conventionalist issues. From October 1914, the Mexican Revolution had entered the phase of the civil war between the Constitutionalists and the Conventionalists. The Conventionalists issued stamps for use in the areas they controlled in December 1914. The issue is called the ‘Gothic GCM Monogram’ issue and is also known as the ‘Villa’ issue. ‘GCM’ now stands for ‘Gobierno Convencionalista Mexicano’.
- Provisional Government issues. In August 1915, Carranza had taken lasting possession of Mexico City and gained control of Mexico on the national level. The Conventionists – Villa and Zapata – had retreated to the north and the south respectively. A provisional government was installed and issued stamps as follows:
- The first set issued was the ‘Famous Men & Pictorials’ issue, issued to replace all previous issues. The ‘Famous Men’ issue first appeared in September 1915, printed by the American Book & Printing Company in Mexico City. In January 1916, the set was reprinted and three pictorial stamps were added to the set. The January 1916 print was produced by El Lapiz del Aguila printers in Mexico City and is of inferior quality when compared to the September print. The ‘Famous Men’ issue was also overprinted ‘Official’ for official use.
- Provisionals were issued in March 1916 and June 1916 – on both counts due to a change in currency. The first issue is called the ‘G.P. de M. Corbata’ issue. ‘G.P. de M.’ stands for ‘Gobierno Provisional de Mexico’. ‘Corbata’ translates to ‘Bowtie’ – used to distinguish the issue from the subsequent ‘G.P. de M. Barril’ issue that appeared in June 1916. ‘Barril’ translates to ‘Barrel’. The ‘Corbata’ issue was overprinted ‘Official’ for official use.
- A commemorative issue appeared in June 1916 to commemorate the conquest of Mexico City by Carranza – the ‘Carranza Commemorative’ issue.
- Further issues are a single stamp in a design similar to the Denver issue, the ‘Eagle’ issue and the last issue from the provisional government, the ‘GPM $ 2.50’ issue, issued because of a change in the postal rates.
Note: Dates of issue are based on Follansbee’s ‘The Mexican Revolution issues 1913-1916’. They differ from the dates found in Michel.
Many of the overprinted issues used the 1910 issue, the last regular issue before the Mexican Revolution. This issue was printed in large numbers and was readily available. For a different approach to the issues of the Mexican Revolution, that focuses on how the 1910 issue was overprinted in the various Mexican Revolution issues, please refer to the Mexico page on the Big Blue 1840-1940 blog.
Local Constitutionalist issues
The general issues of the Constitutionalists were often not available to all postmasters throughout the country – while stamps of previous issues were. The postmasters were allowed to sell these stamps, provided they would apply an overprint, that would identify the stamps as being authorized by the Constitutionalist government. These overprints were designed and applied locally. Thus, a great number of different overprints is found.The local issues as listed in the Quick Reference section above are the issues listed in the Michel catalog. The other world wide catalogs have no listing for the local issues. Specialized catalogs and other resources may have different listings. The overprints were applied both on the state and the city level.Michel does not always indicate whether the stamps listed were issued at a state or a city level. Resources used differ on the subject. The Scott Stamp Atlas mainly lists issues at city level. The Stamp Atlas by Wellsted, Rossiter and Flower, on the other hand, lists many issues on state level. In drawing the map, I have followed the Stamp Atlas by Wellsted, Rossiter and Flower. The most commonly used stamps were the 1910 issue.