General issues: Italian colony 1893-1938
Country name on general issues: Eritrea
Special issues: British military administration 1948-1950, British civil administration 1950-1952
Currency: 1 Lira = 100 Centesimi
Population: 279 000 in 1906, 621 000 in 1932
Political history Italian Eritrea
Italian Eritrea is located in eastern Africa. The population consists of Afro-Asiatic peoples – the Tigray and Tigre being the largest population groups. In the mid 19th century, parts of the future Eritrea are under nominal control of Egypt and Ethiopia, and parts are under the control of smaller polities, such as the sultanate Raheita. In 1869, an Italian company purchases the town of Assab from the sultan of Raheita – who has, in 1862, also sold neighboring Obock to the French – Obock later becomes part of the French Somali Coast. The goal of the Italians is the same as that of the French: to establish a coaling station on the new shipping routes through the Suez Canal.
The Italian presence is extended from 1880. In 1882, the Italian government takes over Assab. Egypt withdraws from Eritrea in 1885 and the Italians subsequently take over the town of MassauaCurrently called Massawa. . In 1888, an Italian protectorate is proclaimed over Assab, Massaua and part of the hinterland. Ethiopia, in 1889, acknowledges Italian sovereignty over Eritrea. In 1890, Eritrea is formally proclaimed to be the colony of Italian Eritrea. The borders with Sudan, Ethiopia and the French Somali Coast are defined through treaties signed between 1899 and 1902. Italian Eritrea is administered as a settlement colony – the Italians investing in infrastructure and the development of agriculture. The number of Italian settlers grew from 4 000 in the early 20th century to 100 000 in 1940.
In 1936, Italian Eritrea is made part of Italian East Africa, together with Italian Somaliland and Italian Ethiopia – annexed by Italy in 1936 only just before the formation of Italian East Africa. As Italy in WWII has joined the Axis powers, Italian East Africa is invaded by the British in 1940 in the East Africa Campaign. A successful campaign: the Italian administration capitulates in 1941. Eritrea subsequently comes under British military administration. In 1947, Italy formally cedes its colonial possession by way of the peace treaty signed following the end of WWII.
While under British administration, different options for the future of Eritrea are discussed. In 1950, it is decided in the United Nations that Eritrea will be federated with Ethiopia. The process that will be managed by the British – now establishing civil administration – under United Nations supervision. The federation with Ethiopia is effectuated in 1952.
Eritrea will, in 1962, be fully annexed and integrated into Ethiopia. This sparks armed opposition – a war of independence ensues that, after three decades, in 1991 leads to a de facto independent Eritrea – de jure independence is recognized in 1993.
Postal history Italian Eritrea
The first postal service in Italian Eritrea is established by Egypt that operates an office abroad in Massaua from 1869 until 1885 using Egyptian stamps. The Italians, prior to annexing Eritrea, set up post offices in Assab and Massaua using stamps for Italian offices abroad until 1884, and from 1884 the general issues for Italy. The first stamps for Italian Eritrea are issued in 1893. The first issues for Italian Eritrea are overprints on stamps of Italy – the overprint reading ‘Eritrea’. The first definitives are issued in 1910. Later issues may be overprints on stamps of Italy, stamps with designs shared with other Italian colonies and designs specific for Italian Eritrea. The stamps of Italian Eritrea have come to be used widely in Italian Ethiopia after the annexation of Ethiopia by Italy in 1936. The stamps of Italian Eritrea are superseded by those of Italian East Africa from 1938.
As Italian Eritrea is occupied by the British, from 1941 stamps are issued by the British administration. The first stamps to come into use are the issues for the Middle East Forces – stamps of Great Britain overprinted ‘M.E.F’. From 1948 stamps are issued specifically for Eritrea – stamps of Great Britain overprinted ‘B.M.A. Eritrea'‘British Military Administration Eritrea’ . The change to civil administration in 1950 is reflected in that, from 1950, the stamps are overprinted ‘B.A. Eritrea'‘British Administration Eritrea’ .
The issues of the British administration are, from 1952, superseded by the issues of Ethiopia and, from 1991, by the issues of independent Eritrea.