General issues: German protectorate 1897-1919, United States trust territory/Self government 1984-1986, Republic 1986-Present
Country name on general issues: Marschall Inseln, Marshall Inseln, Marshall Islands
Currency: 1 Mark = 100 Pfennig 1897-1919, 1 Dollar = 100 Cents 1984-Present
Population: 13 600 in 1904, 37 000 in 1984, 72 200 in 2015
Political history Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands are located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The native population – the Marshallese – are of Micronesian descent. The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore the islands in the 16th century, but the Spanish did not claim the islands until 1874. Although claimed by Spain, the Germans were the first to establish a permanent presence on the islands. Germany negotiated the transfer of the islands with Spain in 1884 and, in 1885, a German protectorate was proclaimed over the islands. Nauru – an island lying to the south of the Marshall Islands and a German protectorate since 1886 – was annexed to the administration of the Marshall Islands in 1888. Between 1888 and 1906, the administration of the islands was contracted out to the Jaluit Company – a chartered company that set up coconut plantations for the production of copra. After questions were raised about the humanitarian aspects of the Jaluit Company administration, the Germans decided to annex the islands as a district to the German colony of German New Guinea in 1906.
German rule came to an end at the outbreak of WWI, when, in 1914, Japan occupied the Marshall Islands. Also, in 1914, Australian forces occupied Nauru. The Marshall Islands were formally ceded by Germany in 1919 by way of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1920, the islands were made part of the League of Nations mandated territory of the South Pacific administered by Japan. When Japan left the League of Nations in 1936, the islands were annexed to the Japanese Empire.
During WWII, United States forces conquered the Marshall Islands in 1944, and in 1947 the islands became part of the United Nations trust territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States. In the 1970’s the Marshall Islands started to move towards independence. Self government was gained in 1979 as the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which achieved independence in free association with the United States in 1986. The United States remained responsible for, among other things, the defense of the islands. The United Nations formally ended the trusteeship in 1990. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States used the Marshall Islands for nuclear testing – the effects being felt until today. Currently, the United States has a significant presence in the form of a missile testing range on the atoll of Kwajalein.
Economically, the native population traditionally depended on subsistence agriculture. The coconut plantations developed by the Germans, until today, provide one of the major cash crops – the other major cash crop being breadfruit. Currently, the country largely depends on the lease paid by the United States for the use of the missile testing range and on United States subsidies. The population is in vast majority – 92% – Marshallese and is concentrated on the atolls of Majuro and Kwajalein.
Postal history Marshall Islands
The Germans opened the first post office in the islands in 1888. The first stamps were introduced in 1889 – the general issues of the German Empire that are recognized by the cancels. Stamps for specific use in the Marshall Islands were issued in 1897 – general issues of the German Empire overprinted ‘Marschall Inseln’. In 1899, overprinted stamps were again issued – now with the correct designation of the Marshall Inseln. The first definitives of the Hohenzollern type – common to the German colonies – appeared in 1901. Stamps were issued until 1919 – well after the occupation of the Marshall Islands by Japan. Issues from 1914 were sold only at the philatelic desk in Berlin.
Stamps of the Marshall Islands were overprinted ‘G.R.I.'G.R.I. stands for ‘George Rex Imperator’ or ‘George King & Emperor’. in 1914. These provisionals were printed in German New Guinea by the occupying forces from Australia and were used only in German New Guinea, not in the Marshall Islands themselves.
From 1914 until 1944, stamps from Japan were used and, from 1944, stamps of the United States. As part of the route towards independence, the Marshall Islands, as a self governing nation, first issued stamps in 1984. The issues of the Marshall Islands, until today, are a blend of issues with themes of national interest and – a significant number – of issues with themes aimed at the thematic collectors market.
For an overview of the political and postal developments in the form of a diagram, please refer to the country diagram of the North West Pacific.