The Rape of Europa - CEPT (Spain, 1966)

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The Rape of Europa - CEPT (Spain, 1966)



One of the stamps that has caught my attention since childhood is the Spanish issue of the ‘Europa-CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations)’ stamp from 1966.


Each member country annually issued a stamp or a set of stamps using a shared illustrative theme that promoted the idea of uniting the peoples of the Old Continent and the dissemination of their culture and history through the stamps (Estefanía, 2004: 30-31). The issuing of stamps with a common theme and design elements in Europe began in 1956 when the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) issued a series of this kind. But it was not until 1960, a year after the CEPT was founded, that the first ‘Europa-CEPT’ series was released. The shared motif of this series was the word ‘EUROPA’ where the letter ‘O’ was replaced by a 19-spoke wheel – one spoke for each of the CEPT member countries that year.


The common theme and design continued to appear on the ‘Europa-CEPT’ stamps of CEPT constituent countries until 1974, when the CEPT itself decided to propose a common theme that each postal administration would illustrate in a way that reflected its particular idiosyncrasies. The only exception was made for the 1984 issue, which returned to the common design to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CEPT. In 1993, when CEPT decided to focus on telecommunications, the ‘Europe’ postage stamps issues became the responsibility of ‘PostEurop’, the public postal services association of 49 countries.


The motifs that illustrated the common theme through allegorical images tended to highlight progress, development, and teamwork and to extol the beneficial fruits of cooperation and the idea that unity makes strength. The use of white doves, leafy or fruit-laden trees, flowers, endless chains, interwoven threads of a fabric, lines indicating synergistic movements or, even, cogwheels attests to the interest taken by CEPT in creating images representing the aforementioned motifs.


Although the postal administrations attached to the CEPT were willing to use a common theme, occasionally between 1960 and 1973 countries illustrated their issues of ‘Europe-CEPT’ stamps with motifs reflecting their own cultural or ideological characteristics, particularly those they considered most convenient at the time, thus moving away from the common theme. This is the case, for example, of the Spanish issues under General Franco in the 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1973.


Some of these issues had a marked religious component, while others made recognizable cultural references, as in the case of the aforementioned 1966 Spanish issue (fig. 1). This stamp showed a representation of The Rape of Europa in which the bull, instead of being white and peaceful as it approached her, as tradition describes it (Grimal, 1991: 147), is very similar in colour and physique to a fighting bull.


 When I discovered this postage stamp and paid close attention to it, this ‘apparent’ incoherence led me to wonder why such a well-known motif had been represented in such a different way. I think that it was at that precise moment that my interest in the iconological study of postage stamps began.


The main conclusion that can be reached is that, regardless of CEPT’s intentions to create a series of stamps with which to reinforce the idea of a united Europe, some countries – in particular, Spain during General Franco's dictatorship – tried to reinforce their identity particularities (traditions, religion, etc.) by issuing several stamps that moved away from the proposed common design. In some cases, iconic images were intentionally modified –as in the present case– in order to adapt them to a state's own ideological ends. In this Spanish stamp we can see how the idea of European unity disappears and, in its place, emerges a “Europe” abducted by an unequivocally Spanish fighting bull and, therefore, by “Spain” itself.



Spanish 1966 Europa-CEPT 5 ptas. postage stamp. Correos/FNMT (National Coin and Stamp Factory). Image courtesy of the Royal Mint House Museum, Madrid.



Estefanía, Y. (2004). ‘Los sellos que unen Europa’. Abrecartas, 24 (October), pp. 30-31.

Grimal, P. (Author)/ Kershaw, S. (Ed.) (1991). Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Translated by A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. London: Penguin Books.

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