Samoa - German colony

German colony

Samoa - New Zealand administration

New Zealand administration

Samoa - Republic






Quick reference

General issues: German colony 1900-1919, New Zealand occupation 1914-1920, Western Samoa/New Zealand mandated territory 1920-1946, Western Samoa/New Zealand trust territory 1946-1962, Western Samoa/Republic 1962-1997, Samoa/Republic 1997-Present

Country name on general issues: Samoa, Western Samoa, Samoa i Sisifo

Special issues: Private issues W.E. Agar 1877-1881, J. Davis 1886-1899

Currency: 1 Mark = 100 Pfennig 1900-1919, 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1914-1967, 1 Tala = 100 Sene 1967-Present

Population: 33 000 in 1900, 197 700 in 2015

Political history Samoa


Postal history Samoa

Please click on the image to enlarge

Samoa is located in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Samoan islands comprise the Savai’i, Upolu and Tutuila Islands, the Manau Islands and a number of smaller adjacent islands. The population is Polynesian with distinct Samoan ethnic characteristics. Native Samoan society was organized in chiefdoms. These were alternately engaged in conflicts, that would at times escalate into war, or be united under one paramount chief. Europeans first explored the islands in the 18th century. The first Europeans to settle on the islands were missionaries in the 1830’s.

Complex developments of the late 19th century

In the mid 19th century, the Americans, British and Germans developed a political and commercial interest in Samoa – appointing consuls in 1853, 1847 and 1861 respectively. At the time, the chiefdoms were engaged in conflict over the appointment of the paramount chief with several chiefs assuming the title. Native and international politics intertwined when the foreign powers chose to support different chiefs. Tensions escalated in the late 1880’s, leading to the 1889 conference of Berlin. In Berlin, the powers agreed to recognize an independent Samoa, appointing one of the chiefs – Malietoa Laupepa, who had held the position at a number of intervals since 1875  – as paramount chief, styled ‘king’ in the European fashion. The consuls were given advisory powers making Samoa a de facto protectorate. Malietoa Laupepa, however, was not recognized by all Samoan chiefs and thus the conflict continued. As tensions escalated again in 1899, the foreign powers imposed a provisional government and, subsequently, by way of the 1899 Tripartite Treaty, divided the Samoan islands. Germany was awarded the western Savai’i and Upolu Islands. The eastern Tutuila Island and the Manau Islands were awarded to the United States and became a United States territory, which they are until today. The territory is called American Samoa since 1911. Great Britain was compensated elsewhere in the world.

From German colony to independence

Raising the New Zealand flag in Western Samoa under New Zealand administration in the 1930's.

Raising the New Zealand flag in Western Samoa in the 1930’s when it was under New Zealand administration.

Germany annexed the western half of Samoa as the colony of German Samoa in 1900. German rule was short lived. In 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, New Zealand forces occupied German Samoa and established a military administration. Germany formally ceded Samoa at the treaty of Versailles signed in 1919. In 1920, Samoa became a League of Nations mandated territory administered by New Zealand – the official designation became Western Samoa. Civil administration was subsequently  restored. Although both Germany and New Zealand established a form of dual administration, leaving room for the native chiefs, foreign rule was greatly resented and major uprisings occurred, first in 1908 and again in 1928. In 1947, Samoa became a United Nations trust territory with New Zealand as trustee. Since 1947, Western Samoa gained increasing self government, and in 1962 Western Samoa became independent as a republic. Head of state are the former chiefs – first by appointment and now by election. Western Samoa joined the British Commonwealth in 1970. The name of the country was changed to Samoa in 1997.

Economics and demographics

Economically, Samoa has a tradition of subsistence agriculture and fishing. The Germans developed coconut and cocoa plantations in the 19th century. Later rubber was introduced, but, with falling rubber prices, rubber was replaced by bananas. Today, agriculture employs two thirds of the population and accounts for 90% of the exports. In the second half of the 20th century services have developed to become the major contributor to the GDP – tourism is developing as a more and more important sub sector. Samoa is qualified as a developing country.

The population in majority is Samoan – 92%. Small minorities are of mixed Samoan and European descent or full European descent. Half of the Samoans live abroad, mainly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Remittances from these expatriots contribute significantly to the GDP.

Postal history Samoa

Private issues W.E. Agar

The first stamps were issued in Samoa by a newspaper company, the Samoa Times. The Samoa Times was set up by G.L. Griffiths, who had previously set up the Fiji Times. The local agent in Samoa was W.E. Agar, who set up a postal service for which – as in Fiji – stamps were issued from 1877. The stamps were inscribed ‘Samoa Express’ and are hence commonly known as the Samoa Express issues. The initiative could not be made profitable and the service ended in 1881. The Samoa Express issues have been widely reprinted and forged – many more reprints and forgeries exist than genuine items. For an excellent, more detailed discussion of these reprints and forgeries, please refer to the ‘Samoa 1877-1899 and forgeries’ post on the BigBlue 1840-1940 blog.

Private issues J. Davis

Postal history Samoa

1886-1899 – First issue J. Davis – Coconut palms

In 1886, Germany opened a post office in Samoa using the stamps of the German Empire. The same year, with New Zealand support, a competing postal service was set up by J. Davis – servicing mainly American and British interests. The service set up by Davis was essentially a private service, albeit, apparently, with a concession granted by the then paramount chief of Samoa, Malietoa Laupepa. Davis issued stamps between 1886 and 1899 with the designation ‘Samoa Postage’. The first set shows coconut palms and a subsequent set shows the portrait of Malietoa Laupepa. The stamps were essentially valid for domestic mail only – although they were accepted on mail to, for example, Australia and New Zealand. Other countries – such as the United States – required additional franking. The last issues, in 1899, were overprinted ‘Provisional Govt’ to reflect the political context of the time. The stamps were withdrawn when Germany annexed Samoa.[1]Scott and Stanley Gibbons list the issues of Agar and Davis under the heading ‘Kingdom of Samoa’. Michel and Yvert & Tellier list the issues as private or local issues. As other resources would seem to confirm the interpretation of the latter, I follow this interpretation in this profile.

General issues

Postal history Samoa

1939 – Traditional dance – Issued at the 25th anniversary of New Zealand administration of Samoa.

The first issues for German Samoa were general issues of the German Empire overprinted ‘Samoa’ and appeared in 1900. Later the same year, the first definitives appeared in the common ‘Hohenzollern’ design, used in many of the German colonies. Stamps for German Samoa were issued until 1919 – well after New Zealand had occupied German Samoa. The last issues were sold at the philatelic desk in Berlin only.

Having occupied Samoa in 1914, New Zealand first used available stocks of German stamps for provisionals with an overprint reading ‘G.R.I.'[2]G.R.I. stands for ‘George Rex Imperator’ or ‘George King & Emperor’. and a new face value. As these were printed in small numbers, the catalog values rank in the mid to very high ranges. Almost at the same time, New Zealand stamps overprinted ‘Samoa’ were issued. The first definitives were issued in 1921 with the designation ‘Samoa’ – by then civil administration had been established in what had become the mandated territory of Western Samoa.  The designation ‘Western Samoa’, however was first used in 1935 only.

Postal history Samoa

1988 – Traditional fishing, a stamp from a set issued for the conservation of national culture and the environment.

The issues of the New Zealand administration were superseded by those of independent Samoa in 1962. The designation was ‘Samoa i Sisifo’ or Western Samoa. The designation ‘Samoa’ first appears in 1981 – well before the the name of the country officially changed to Samoa in 1997. The stamps issued by independent Samoa are a blend of issues with themes of national interest and issues with themes aimed at the thematic collectors market.

In American Samoa United States stamps are used from 1899 until today.



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2 Responses to Samoa

  1. William Smith

    Per Wikipedia: “In July 1997 the government amended the constitution to change the country’s name from Western Samoa to Samoa. American Samoa protested against the move, asserting that the change diminished its own identity.”

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