125 Years of Registration Labels

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  1. Introduction of Registration Labels in Vienna in 1885
  2. Extension of Registration Labels to all State Post Offices of the Austrian Empire
  3. Dual-language labels from the Empire
  4. Vienna after 1892
  5. A wide variety of other covers and labels can be found..
  6. First Republic
  7. The period 1939-45
  8. Emergency measures after WWII's end
  9. The first Austrian provisional issue of 1945
  10. The definitive issue of the 2nd Republic
  11. The Postcoded issue
  12. Barcodes and similar innovations
  13. Literature references

Note that this article does not include some post-2000 changes to the registration system.

A table of Austrian Registered Post Rates can be found here.

Introduction of Registration Labels in Vienna in 1885

Registered Post itself is more than 300 years old. The first mention of registered shipments is in a Postal Directive of the elector Johann Georg II of Saxony for 24 September 1677. In Austria they were first mentioned in a Postal Directive of Leopold I for 16 April 1695. The labelling of registered shipments was originally done with a (mostly very ornate) 'Nb' sign (meaning 'Nota Bene'). From 1824 special registration cancellers were gradually introduced (see for example 'Combined Town & Registration Cancels of Vienna', Austria 129 pp27-33).

The Paris UPU treaty made the use of a large Latin R obligatory for all member countries, and starting from 23 Jan 1883 the majority of the post offices were issued with suitable registration cancellers. By this time, however, registration labels had long been in use in the German empire, from 1870 for Alsace. So on 15 March 1885 Registration Labels were experimentally introduced for 34 Viennese post offices within the Gurtel, ie today's districts 1 to 9 and 20 plus Favoriten, which had all been incorporated into the city in 1874. All other post offices including Vienna's suburbs continued to use Registration Cancels.

Thus, the k. k. Department of Commerce issued an ordinance in the 'Post- und Telegraphen-Verordnungsblatt für das Verwaltungsgebiet des k. k. Handels-ministeriums' of 12 March 1885: Introduction of Klebezettel for registered letters. The k. k. Department of Commerce has decided to allow the application of Klebezettel for registered letters, only at the Viennese post offices, as an experiment. These Klebezettel, which are to be affixed upon issue on the address side of the registered letter, are manufactured from yellow paper, are perforated, and contain besides the designation R the name of the issuing post office, then the number of the registered letter in black. Vienna, 2 March 1885. Although the ordinance itself is dated 2 March, it was only published on the 12th, which might be the reason why the earliest known registered letters with Registration Labels are dated 21st March 1885. Presumably the post offices had not been issued with Registration Labels on the 15th when the ordinance took effect.

A commemmorative stamp (ANK1837) showing a registration label of this first design was issued in 1985.

The new Registration Labels were printed in oblong format 39x14 mm on harsh, thick, yellow paper, which shows on examination a light gridded appearance (maschige struktur), with on the left in a box an elongated high and thin R. The remainder is divided horizontally with a line into two parts; in the lower the sign 'No' and the item number are displayed. The slips of paper were printed in two half sheets (1-50 and 51-100), whereby the outside edges remained imperforated. The upper box contained the post office name, usually with 'Wien' in somewhat larger type in the first line and in the second line the designation (for example Alsergrund, Landskrongasse, Minoritenplatz) in a very narrow, high font. Various perforations are found.

Vienna to Berlin on 2 August 1889
The example above was posted from Vienna to Berlin on 2nd August 1889.

Vienna to Chaux
This was posted from Vienna to Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland.
Vienna to Chaux back
On the reverse is a delivery mark and a resplendent seal.

Extension of Registration Labels to all State Post Offices of the Austrian Empire from 1 Oct 1886.

The trial of Registration Labels was evidently successful, as 1½ years later a second Verordnungsblatt dated 21st September 1886 announced the introduction of Registration Labels to all 190 State (ärarischen) Post Offices of the Austrian Empire from 1st October 1886. Although the ordinance says "in the identical manner", the appearance was changed considerably: different typefaces and a thinner, harder and translucent paper, corresponding to the simultaneous revenue stamp issues. The fragile paper is also the reason why flawless Registration Labels are rather rare.

The 'nichtärarischen' (ie postmaster operated) offices continued to use Registration cancellers. On 1st September 1889, Registration Labels were introduced also to these post offices, but to preserve a distinction were imperforate. In the course of the gradual change of the postmaster offices into state post offices, the imperforate Registration Labels were replaced; however the initial distribution was frequently so extensive that some small post offices were still using the very first Registration Labels in First Republic times.

Koenigsaal in Bohemia to Prag, 28.8.1891
This is an official letter posted on 28 August 1891 from Königsaal in Bohemia to Prag.

This label has a spelling error: the town name has only one 's' (as on the cancel). Herr Hermann Sanbach, a member of 1.österr.Rekozettel Sammlerverein Wien, has kindly sent me illustrations of four different correct labels:

Koenigsaal in Bohemia label 1 Koenigsaal in Bohemia label 2
Koenigsaal in Bohemia label 3 Koenigsaal in Bohemia label 4

This imperforate label is from Karapcziu in Bukowina to Braunschweig, posted in April 1897.

Dual-language labels from the Empire

From 1897, under the Badenischen Sprachverordnung, Bohemia, Moravia and Dalmatia were issued with bilingual labels, with not only the place-name but also the sign for 'No.' changed (while it was used).

Mnichowitz to Prague
From Mnichovice / Mnichowitz to Prague, 29.1.1898. So thin that the envelope's printing shows through! Dual language label, with the German name first.

A close-up of the label.

Bruenn to Huddersfield, 6.8.1907 front
From a bank in Brünn to Huddersfield, 6.8.1907. Another thin label. Dual language; the Brno has been scored out with a blue crayon.

Bruenn to Huddersfield, 6.8.1907 back
1910-ish: 35 Heller stamp on the back.

Express from Gewitsch / Jevicko to Malenowitz / Malenovice, 22.9.1917..

with 70 Heller on the back!

Vienna after 1892

While the Viennese post offices had been previously named after streets, places or buildings, after the further incorporation of Viennese suburbs into the City on 1st January 1892 each office was allocated a serial number. A somewhat larger Registration Label was issued (43x18 mm), which as well as the R, WIEN, the post office number, and the item number prefixed with 'No.', also had the postal zone number in a narrow vertical box on the right. The Registration Labels were used in this design to 1938, with only minor changes in detail.

wien 3.10.1908
This was on a motheaten letter posted to Oregon, USA, on 3.10.1908

Vienna to Basel 28.6.1915
Vienna to Basel in Switzerland, 28.6.1915. The label has been folded over.
the reverse thereof
The reverse has censor and 'Schwarz-Gelbes Kreuz' propaganda labels.

A wide variety of other covers and labels can be found

Innsbruck to Prague, 23.10.1906
Innsbruck to Prague, 23.10.1906

Bohemia to London
This is on an extremely tatty letter from Bohemia to London, posted in 1906.

Klagenfurt to Berlin
Klagenfurt to Berlin, 5.12.1917.
Violet censor mark 'Zenzuriert / K.u.k. Zenzurstelle / Klagenfurt 1'.

to Vienna
Posted to Vienna in early 1918

First Republic

All issues originally displayed a 'No' before the item number, but this had been left out from about 1911, leaving the registration number offset to the right; occasionally one sees remainders of the 'No.'. Also the paper underwent numerous changes in these years. The thin, yellow, so-called Pelure paper of the monarchy underwent many changes in the last years of the monarchy and the first of the First Republic. The dark, yellow thin paper changed to a light yellow, almost white thin paper; later the quality became worse, the papers became thick, harsh and in shades between grey and light brown. At one stage in 1919 a hard, thin, dark brown paper was used: evidently someone wanted a clear colour difference to document his dislike of the imperial colors black/yellow.

zz       zz
Posted in 1919   Posted to Holland on 21 June 1919.

This is one of the dark brown labels; posted in 1919.

This Austrian label was used in March 1921 on a letter from Czernowitz (which was formerly in Bukowina but by that date was in Romania) addressed to die lobl. Verwaltung der Wöllersdorfer Werk (ehemalige Munitionsfabrik) in Wöllersdorf, Deutsch Österreich.

Posted on 28.9.1925 to Bavaria.

By 1924 two papers prevailed, which were used side by side to 1938: a hard, light yellow and a gleaming, white paper. The dark brown paper occurs in Vienna much more frequently than in the other federal states. The postal zone (Postbezirksangabe), which when required is placed vertically on the right in its own box, occurs with the district number alone or with a subnumber; occasionally Roman numerals were used (eg P.B.1, P.B.3/2, or P.B.XX).


The cover above was sent by a Dr Geyer in Vienna on 20.6.1923 to his wife in Zinkenbach [now called Abersee] opposite St Wolfgang in the Salzkammergut; handwritten messages on the back about Vera and a parcel contrasts with the resplendent seals of the Österreichisches Staatsamt für Volksernährung! The rates are correct for a registered 20 gram letter.

Wien 1 Abt 4
Wien 1 Abt 4, on the yellow paper; 1926. 'Abt. 4' may have been the philatelic or personal-callers counter.

WIPA1933, on pale yellow paper.

Lenzing to Salzburg
Lenzing to Salzburg, 2.7.1937

Judenburg to Villach
Judenburg to Villach, 7.5.1938, with mixed Austrian and German franking.

Vienna (19.1.1933)

Bregenz (21.12.1933)

Innsbruck (22.2.1936).
There are 'currency control' labels on the back.

The period 1939-45

After the invasion of Austria by German troops, the Austrian Registration Labels, just like the stamps, continued on sale. The post offices had both white and yellow paper available, since both had been issued simultaneously.

This Mixed Franking from Judenberg is dated 7.5.1938 and has a medium yellow label

While this Mixed Franking from Graz is dated 25.9.1938 and has a pale lemon yellow label

Soon the Registration Labels of the German Reichspost were introduced, normally red with black inscription. Initially some places still had the designation Österreich, which was however very quickly replaced by Oberdonau. For the first time in Austria, they were printed in rolls of 1000 pieces. From 1940 the perforation was changed from L11 to L12½, and from 1942 the fonts were changed. In 1944 the Reichspost Postleitgebietszahlen (for Austria 12a and 12b) were introduced.

1941 Vienna local letter. German red label, crossed out in blue ink.

Towards the end of the war the quality of the paper worsened, and became more gray and porous. A large number of temporary arrangements were required, usually inserting the place-name either by means of cancellers or in writing on Blankozettel (these were preprinted blank labels, with a circle for the Postleitgebietszahl).

Beside the Registration Labels in rolls, the German Reichspost brought two other novelties: the 'counter letters' ie small letters in the lower corner, with which the different counters or functions of a post office can be identified (still used), and the V-labels for value letters on thin dark red paper (not used today).

Emergency measures after WWII's end

The total breakdown at the war's end in 1945, followed by the invasion of the country by the four allied forces, also of course affected the postal system. Letter traffic recommenced on 2nd May 1945 in the Russian zone, followed by other zones soon after that. On 1st October 1945 letter traffic expanded to cover the whole territory of the federal republic; from 2nd January 1946 a limited overseas letter traffic was possible, and at the end of 1946 the last restrictions were removed. Registered Post was sometimes introduced along with normal post, sometimes later, depending on the administrative and political considerations: for a detailed account see Reference 9.

The Allies instructed the new postal administration that as soon as possible new printing plates for stamps, Registration Labels etc should be prepared. Meanwhile, all signs of National Socialism or the Anschluß were to be removed or made unrecognizable. Very often changes of the text occur on former German Registration Labels, mostly overprints made to obscure the Postleitgebiets-number. If the remaining text was not permissible, it had to be made unrecognizable. Proof of the use of unchanged German Registration Labels after May 1945 is almost always possible only on letters, or in a few cases by the use of stamps which were first issued after the end of the war.

Solbad Hall

The example above shows an unaltered German label still in use on 8.4.1946 on a letter from Solbad Hall (alias Hall in Tirol) to Wien (backstamp 9.4.46). The Posthorn stamp was valid until 31.5.46; the Landscape was issued on 24.11.45. The label should have been replaced by a provisional or definitive issue 12 months before its date of use! The rate is correct for an inland non-local 20-gram letter: 12 Groschen postage plus 30 Groschen registration. [Had the letter been philatelic it would no doubt have carried the 42 Groschen stamp issued that day!] For a full explanation of the 1945-46 rates see Dr C Kainz's article in Wurth's yearbook volume 7.

Koeflach to Holland
The above cover, from Köflach to Holland on 31 December 1946, has a nice Zivilzensur in der Britischen Zone mark as well as a Third Reich label!

Kitzbuehel to Wien
This one, again with an unaltered German label, was sent from Kitzbühel to Wien on 18.2.1947 (backstamp Wien 20.2.47). The rate is correct for a 20-gram letter in the period 1.1.47 - 31.8.47.

These Porto bar bezalt labels were privately produced, but recognised by the Post Office. See Michel (1998 edn) pp92-3 or APS Library item 272 "Spezialkatalog Notmaßnahmen in Österreich 1945-1948" pp77-77

Here Taxe Percue 2.40 and a signature indicates that the postage was paid in cash.

Beside German Registration Labels, remaining stocks of First Republic labels could be used. This possibility is however much rarer than the first, for such Registration Labels had to have been preserved in the post office throughout the war, and to have outlasted all orders for their destruction despite the considerable risk for the officials concerned. Proof of such use in the Second Republic is possible only on letters, and exceptionally on loose pieces. On this undated cover, 1.40 is written in the top left corner (enhanced from the faint pencil original) and boxed in red to indicate that the postage was paid in cash.

If neither German nor early Austrian Registration Labels could be used, the individual Post Office had to create provisional Registration Labels for itself. Most wrote the Registration Labels directly on the letter, and added the place-name with a canceller, or by hand. Also Registration cancellers were (re)used. The cover below was posted airmail from Klagenfurt to Rhode Island, USA, on 14 Aug 1947.

Beside that, many post offices produced their own adhesive Registration Labels, with which all possible variations occur: Langstempel with written number and R, even simple duplicating processes and perforations were used. These provisional measures extended over several years and ended with the supply of new Registration Labels, which sometimes took a very long time.

The first Austrian provisional issue of 1945

As stated above, it was not immediately possible to deliver the first Austrian provisional issue on time, and the post offices had to cope as best they could. The design of the new Registration Labels reached back to one which had already been used in the monarchy and the First Republic for the Railway Post, and as a provisional design for Burgenland before the appearance of the final Registration Labels. It used rectangular slips of paper in the format 54x18 mm, with crude perforations or bad rouletting, which show only the R and a two- or three-digit item number. The left part is left empty for the addition of the post office name. At the point of use the missing hundreds digit and counter letter were sometimes added. There are seven main types of these labels. See Reference 1 for fuller details.

This label is a pale yellow-buff, about 54x19mm, perforated all round (the top and bottom are particularly ragged!). It is pre-printed R98 and cancelled with the same canceller as the stamps, on 6.7.1945.

The next is similar, & dated 5.7.1945, but the name has been added by using a "WIEN 62" rectangular canceller with slightly rounded corners (on the original it is fainter). The name on the stamp's cancel is unreadable.

This is a thick grey postcard, sent from Gmünden to Vienna on 22 Mar 1946. Although the rightmost stamp (ANK716, face value 5 pfennig) was invalidated on 21.12.1945, it continued in use as an imprint on postcards at a value of 5 groschen. The franking is thus correct for the postage date, ie 6gr for an inland postcard and 30gr for inland registration.

Wels Scharding TPO reg label 1966

This same style of label is still in use on the diminishing number of Austrian TPOs - this example was cancelled on the Wels-Schärding run, TPO 470, on 11 October 1966.

The definitive issue of the 2nd Republic

The official records have disappeared, but it is clear that the new definitive issue appeared only very slowly from the end of 1945. The provisional issue was still sporadically used for many years. Of course the early editions could not be manufactured with today's level of care! The R and the paper quality were improved repeatedly, and the text brought into line with the actual post office designations. Different types and subspecies can be distinguished: 2 paper types, 3 box- and R-types, 8 fonts, 2 figure types. As previously, Blankozettel were manufactured, ie Registration Labels with no place designation, in which the place-name could be inserted in writing or by means of a canceller.

Cancelled 25.10.1945. This 'Homecoming' stamp was issued 10.9.1945 & invalidated 11.11.1945.

Cancelled 24.11.1945. The 5pf/gr stamp is pre-printed; the 50gr and 60gr were issued on 24.11.1945 so it is indeed their First Day. Letter post was 36gr; registration fee 30gr; total 66 so it's rather overfranked! The Postage Due of 10gr was the Postlagernd fee, presumably cancelled when the item was (not surprisingly) returned as uncollected.

This letter has the improbable cancellation date of 39.10.1946! The ring-type canceller 5b must have been miss-set, as the receipt used canceller 7a (bridge-type) and is dated 30.10.1946.

Vienna, 18.9.1946

Vienna, 26.9.1946 - special First Day cancel

From Straßhof an der Nordbahn to Czechoslovakia, 25.8.1947

This cover, dated 8.10.1947, is from a Viennese philatelist to another in Switzerland. There is a faint line ruled on the cover, to help him align the stamps! The enclosed letter makes interesting reading: "Unfortunately the crops are also very bad with us, and we again approach an unpleasant winter. Little coal, little light, little gas, food always still in insufficient amount, and government employees like me are unfortunately not in the financial situation to be able to buy additional food on the black market." It's surprising the censor passed it; the letter itself has the same censor mark as the cover.

This is a FDC for the '100 years of Austrian stamps' stamp, dated 20.5.1950

This label is on a cover from Salzburg to Muhlbach i. Pinzgau, dated 5.2.1951, and franked with sixteen 10-groschen stamps (10 on the front, 6 on the back) to make up the rate of 160 groschen!

This, from Graz on 21.11.1964, has an intriguing address…

The postcoded issue

Post codes were introduced in Austria with effect from 1st January 1966. A new printing plate was created, with the vertical and horizontal lines left out, and a new R used, so that the whole appearance became essentially modern. During the transition the old forms could be used and the new code added by means of a canceller or in writing. Three paper types are known: dark yellow paper, striped paper, and light yellow paper (warning: it changes color very easily when soaked off). Very many Registration Labels occur on all three paper types. This first example is a FDC for both the stamp and the label. The reason the reproduction of the label looks fuzzy is that the original label is fuzzy!

As for the preceding issues, counter letters occur, sometimes also double letters or combinations of lower and upper-case letters. Relatively often one finds these letters added subsequently, sometimes with cancellers, sometimes in writing. As for earlier issues Blankozetteln were prepared, to be used when no printed Registration Labels were available. Occasionally Registration Labels of other post offices were used, or earlier issues were temporarily used. A variety of examples follow.

An Official Post Office Letter to Lübeck, dated 13.12.1968.

This is a Blankozettel, with '3660 Kleinpöchlarn' added in a faint violet stamp.

w1010d w1010e For Wien 1010, here are examples from the late 1980s of Registration Labels with different 'counter letters'. In no case does the 'counter letter' on the label match that on the cancel (for labels e, f, g & t the cancels were 2bo, 2bs, 2bq & 2as). On 27 May 2000, canceller 2as was in use at the first counter on the left: large though Wien 1010 may be it does not have 50 counters! These letters must be simply a serial letter for the roll of labels.
w1010f w1010g

Here is a paler label with a different style of counter letter d from 1975

St Johan label
From some unreadable date in the 1980s.. St Johann im Pongau.

This registration label from WIPA1981 is actually printed on the envelope! Presumably the 254 was added separately. The R is a slightly different shape from those on 'normal' labels.

And a couple from Kleinwalsertal..

Commercially used on 26.2.1986: rate 5 postage + 17 registered = 22 schillings.

Philatelic letter of 19.9.1986 - rate still 22, paid by 5.60 + 0.40 + 16.

Bar coded Registration Labels


Around the beginning of 1996, a new type of Registration Label was introduced, printed on self-adhesive white paper instead of on gummed yellow paper. The size was 74x26 mm, noticeably larger than the previous issue; the corners are well-rounded. The most striking feature is the 51x11 mm bar-code, which was a new feature for Austria although already in use in for example Switzerland.. On the left above the bar-code is a large letter "R". Beside that is a line of numbers and letters. This line begins with the letter "RR" indicating a registered letter, followed by the four-figure post code (in the example 1015), a six-figure serial number (in the example 505424), a check digit, and distinction letters. At the top of the label is the office designation and post code in a somewhat smaller font (in the example 1015 Wien). These new adhesive Registration Label were introduced as soon as the stocks of yellow labels were exhausted, so in theory yellow Registration Label will by now have disappeared at all post offices. In practice it could be different... For the Registration Label collector the new Registration Label needs a sharp knife, as you cannot soak off adhesive slips of paper!

One unusual feature of the system is that it is possible to register a non-priority item of mail. These are most commonly found on post-cards connected with the renewal of insurance policies. The example below carries 31.5 Schillings postage, not the usual 32.


An interesting example of the use of a 'Blankozettel', ie a registration label with the office name omitted, arose when the Austrian contingent to the IFOR operation was set up. Initially the postcode, 1502, had to be written by hand on a yellow label; when the system caught up, barcoded labels were used.

IFOR temp

IFOR normal

This was cancelled on the first day of the use of a barcoded label at Riezlern, on 1 Aug 1996.


The most recent innovation is the RIPOSTE system by Opal, which prints a registration label on special adhesive paper with a background of yellow posthorns. The same system is used to print postage paid labels. The "circular date stamp" is actually oval - it's 28mm wide by 30mm high.



  1. 'Kleine Typenkunde der österreichischen Registration Labels', Prof. Richard Zimmerl: reprinted from die Briefmarke 1982 & 1996. APS Library item 223.

  2. 'Einschreib-Post', Pettenbach-Wels, verschiedene Nummern 1949-1954

  3. 'Mitteilungsblatt des Ersten Österreichischen Registration Labels-Sammler-Vereins Wien', various issues from 1955 to 1974

  4. Erhard Görig, Postämterverzeichnis der Republik Österreich, Wien 1962 [unpublished] APS Library item 387.

  5. Prof. Richard Zimmerl, Historisches Postämterverzeichnis Österreichs, Wien 1975

  6. Otto Krause, Katalog der Registration Labels Österreichs von 1885-1938, Wien 1974

  7. VÖPh Festschrift '125 Jahre österreichische Briefmarke': 90 Jahre Registration Labels in Österreich, Prof Richard Zimmerl. APS Library item 100.

  8. [100 years of] Registration Labels, Austria No 72 (1985) p36.

  9. Auslandseinschreibbriefe: 'Rekommandirt' in der 2. Republik Österreich 1945-2000 - Dr Helmut Seebald, WIPA2000 Festschrift pp180-189

  10. Die österreichischen Briefpostgebühren 1945/46, Dr C Kainz, Österreichische Postgeschichte vol VII (1985): APS Library item 232/7.

  11. See the APS library list for further reading on the subject!

  12. And of course 'Die Briefmarke', most issues.

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