The Internment Stamps of 1916.

by Hans Kremer

The cover shown, sent September 14, 1916 from "Legerplaats bij Zeist' to an address in Switzerland has a purple cancel with four rows of text:

PORTVRIJ

FRANC DE PORT.

Militaires étrangers

internés dans les Pays-Bas.



This was the cover of a letter sent by a Belgian soldier interned in the Netherlands during World War I. The Netherlands was neutral during that war, Belgium however, was occupied by the Germans.

In the "Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor postzegelkunde" dated March 1916, page 35 is the following announcement: The military authorities have the intention to issue "labels", to be used for the correspondence between internees in the Netherlands and people in the parts of Belgium, occupied by Germany.
                              The labels will have the text:

Aug.1914

Koninkrijk der Nederlanden.

Interneringskampen.










In addition to this stamp, the envelope should have the above mentioned purple cancel.

Notice that the date mentioned is Aug. 1914, the start of WW I and not Feb. 1916, the date of issue, as we will see later.

In the April 1916 issue of the same magazine there is another reference to these interned soldiers. On page 53 it says that the Belgian interned military men are allowed, by using special double cards, one of which is to be used as return answer card, to correspond with persons living in the parts of Belgium occupied by Germany, with the exclusion of West- and East Flanders towns.

The October 1916 (page 120) issue gives details about the labeling of a two-part postal cards. All instructions are in three languages: German, Dutch and French, from top to bottom. Much of the space on these cards was taken up by the instructions, only 11 lines remained for actual writing by the sender.

A total of 20,000 cards were handed out, this roughly equaled the number of internees. It amounted to one card per internee. Every month new cards were to be handed out. This limited the number of postal cards to be sent and subsequently the amount of mail the Germans had to handle through their central distribution office in Aachen.

It is not until the July-Aug. 1917 issue that we see an illustration of one of the stamps(labels); it is the green one showing the Dutch virgin and a standing lion. There is no denomination on this stamp. Although I use the word stamp, it was not issued by the the Dutch postal authorities, and should be more properly called "sticker". The stickers were issued by the Dutch government at the request of the German postal authorities.

A strange thing happened to the letters stamped with these stickers. They were returned by the Germans, with an additional cancel, "unzulässig zurück", or "Zurück weil unzulässig", which means: "Return, not permitted". Why this happened (the Germans asked the Dutch government to issue these stickers) is not quite clear.




















Covers courtesy Burt Miller.

There is one theory that believes that the size of the stamp had something to do with it. The stamps, although somewhat different in size, were roughly 1.1 by 1.6 inches. The Germans were afraid that the internees would pass messages on the back of the stamp.
In any case, the second stamp, although printed, was never distributed to the internees and as such exists only in mint (un-cancelled) condition.
An additional piece of information says that these stickers were handed in twos to the Belgians, they had to pay one cent for the pair.
The stickers were issued Febr. 1, 1916, and could only be used that month. It meant that the Belgians only could write home twice a month!
According to this article there were 23,252 stickers of the green type issued. We will see later that this statement was incorrect.

Following the sequence of events in the "Tijdschrift" one might get the impression that the postal cards were issued first, the stamps later. However, this is not the case. In a thorough set of articles by K.E. Konig in the "Nederlandsch Maandblad voor Philatelie", 1951, the proper sequence is spelled out.
The stamps were indeed issued Feb. 1, 1916. Of these, 23,252 were sent to "Legerplaats Zeist-Amersfoort", which might have accounted for the total mentioned in the 1916 "Tijdschrift" articles. There were, however,other internee-camps, like Assen, Zwolle, Harderwijk, Leeuwarden and Oldebroek. The total of the first issue amounted to 65,000 stamps, 1000 sheets of 65 (5*13) stamps each.

At the same time 65,000 copies of the second stamp (brown and yellow), were handed over to the Dutch authorities for use during March, 1916. This second stamp also showed the Dutch virgin with a lion (laying down); in addition part of an internment-camp was shown on the stamp. It came in sheets of 72 (9*8).

Mr. Konig has tracked down the designer and printer of the stamps. The designer was A.P.W van Starrenburg, a graphic designer, who was employed by the J. van Boekhoven Printing Company in Utrecht. This company got the contract from the Dutch Government to produce the stamps. J. van Boekhoven however sub-contracted to J.R. van den Berg, Amsterdam printers, and they are the Printers of record.

These stickers have held a certain mystique over the years, heightened by the offering of 3800 (!) complete sets in 1949 from a dealer in Belgium. Although there were a lot of doubts about the authenticity of these stamps, detailed paper analysis and interviews with people involved showed that these indeed were real. The stamps that were not handed out should have been returned to the "Interneringsdienst" in The Hague. Some might have made it back there, others however were just taken by who ever got his hands on them in the camps.

One might conclude that these stickers are not as rare os originally thought, however they are pricy in the 2004 NVPH catalogue. (160 Euro's for the green one and 105 Euro's for the brown/yellow one).

Bibliography:
Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor Postzegelkunde
1916, pages 35, 42, 101, 120.
1917, pages 91-92
1918, pages 20-21
These are short notices by various authors.

Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor Philatelie -1951, pages 108, 126-128, 151-153, 175-177, 199-201, 225-226. De Nederlandse Interneringszegels, by K.E. Konig