Mariana Islands

Marianas - Spanish colony

Spanish colony

Marianen -German colony

German colony





Quick reference

General issues: Spanish colony 1899, German colony, district of German New Guinea 1899-1919

Country name on general issues: Marianas, Marianen

Currency: 1 Peso = 100 Centavos 1899, 1 Mark = 100 Pfennig 1899-1919

Population:  3 000 in 1905

Political history Mariana Islands


Please click on the image to enlarge

Please click on the image to enlarge

The Mariana Islands are located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. Geographically the Mariana Islands include a chain of islands ranging from Farallon de Pajaros in the north to Guam in the south. The native population are the Chamorro, a Micronesian people. The first European to explore the Mariana Islands was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the service of Spain in 1521, when circumventing the world. The Spanish formally claimed the islands in 1565 and actively colonized the Mariana Islands from 1668, first administering the islands from Mexico and, from 1817, from the Philippines.

Spanish rule came to an end in the late 19th century. As an outcome of the 1898 Spanish-American war – initiated in the Caribbean and extended to the Pacific – the United States annexed Guam, the southernmost of the Mariana Islands. Guam became a United States territory, which it is until today. At the same time, the Spanish also lost the Philippines to the United States – as this was their most important possession, the Spanish decided to completely withdraw from the Pacific. In 1899, the Spanish possessions – including the Mariana Islands – were sold to Germany. The Germans, subsequently, administered the Mariana Islands as a district of the German colony of German New Guinea.

German rule was short lived. In 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, the Mariana Islands were occupied by Japan. Germany formally ceded the Mariana Islands in 1919 by way of the Treaty of Versailles. Subsequently, in 1920, the Mariana Islands were included in the League of Nations mandated territory of the South Pacific administered by Japan. In 1936, Japan left the League of Nations and annexed the Mariana Islands as an integral part of the Japanese Empire.

Georg Fritz was the district commissioner of the German Mariana Islands between 1899 and 1907.

Georg Fritz was the district commissioner of the German Mariana Islands between 1899 and 1907.

During WWII, Allied forces captured the Mariana Islands from the Japanese in 1944. The islands were of strategic importance as they allowed the Allies to execute round trip bombing raids on Japan. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were flown from Tinian.  In 1947, the Mariana Islands became part of the United Nations trust territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States. By way of a referendum, in 1975 the Northern Mariana Islands voted for association with the United States as the United States commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. This status of a commonwealth was effected in steps. The first was the implementation of a new constitution in 1978 and the last was the United Nations to formally end the trusteeship in 1990. The Northern Mariana Islands are a United States commonwealth until today.

Economically, the Marianas, under Spanish rule, depended on subsistence agriculture. Spanish interest was focused on Guam as a stopover on the route of the galleons sailing between Mexico and the Philippines. The Germans developed coconut plantations for the production of copra. The Japanese developed sugar cane plantations. Currently, tourism is the mainstay of the economy. The native population greatly decreased during Spanish rule. In the 19th century the population became multi ethnic through immigration from different Asian and Pacific countries, in particular from the Philippines. Of the population, 90% resides on Saipan.

Postal history Mariana Islands

Postal history Mariana Islands

1901 – German colony, ‘Hohenzollern’ design.

The first stamps used in the Mariana Islands were those of the Philippines – at the time a Spanish possession also. In 1899, the first stamps were issued for specific use in the Mariana Islands. While still a Spanish possession stamps of the Philippines were overprinted locally with a hand stamp reading ‘Marianas Españolas’. Apparently these were used only for one shipment of mail from Saipan to Manila in the Philippines. The stamps of this issue are all in the high to very high catalog value ranges. The Germans issued stamps from 1899. The first stamps issued were stamps of the German Empire overprinted ‘Marianen’. In 1901, definitives appeared – the ‘Hohenzollern’ design common to the German colonies. Stamps were issued until 1919 – well after the Japanese occupation of the Mariana Islands. In all of the Mariana Islands there was one post office in Garapan, the main village on the island of Saipan. The issues, since 1914, were sold at the philatelic desk in Berlin only. Since 1914, Japanese stamps have been use and, since 1944, those of the United States.

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4 Responses to Mariana Islands

  1. William Smith

    In Postal history Marianas “Manilla” should be “Manila”.

    On map, there should be no city designated “Saipan” as the island of “SAIPAN” is a single municipality and the whole island can be considered the capital. If a more specific administrative center is desirable to indicate it would be “Capitol Hill” per Wikipedia

    • Gerben


      I understand that the situation as described in the Wikipedia is the current situation – Capitol Hill being established in 1962. The profile is about the colonial era. So, I think, I will leave things as they are.

  2. William Smith

    My point is that there is no city of Saipan on the island (and never was) as map implies, the entire island is a municipality. I would delete the city name “Saipan” from the map as it is redundant and otherwise leave things as is.

    • Gerben


      Thanks for not letting off so easy ;-) I looked into it a little deeper and, in the German ‘Grosses Lexikon der Philatelie’, found that during the German period one post office was operated in the village of Garapan on Saipan. I updated the profile and the map accordingly.

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