Costa Rica Guanacaste Overprint Scott 23

Costa Rica Stamps The Guanacaste Overprints

I’m publishing the transcription of the booklet with base knowledge of the Guanacaste overprints, better know as the Guanacaste stamps. It was written in 1985 by Ricardo Alvarez, great philatelist and researcher. Author of many high-quality-philatelic-publications, considered a fundamental player in Costa Rica’s philately.

guanacaste overprints

Costa Rica – The Guanacaste Overprints

by Ricardo Alvarez P.

Member of the Association Internationale des Experts Philatéliques (A.I.E.P.)

Many countries have a philatelic “era” or period during which the stamps, because of chance, become rarities. The urgent need of the 1847 Mauritius; the Anglo-French occupation of Togo in the first world war, or the German take-over of the Zara in the second, the Ponce and Coamo provisionals of Puerto Rico, the Aichach of Bavaria, the Port of Prince issue of Cuba; the “Aero Correo” first issue airs of Honduras; and many more, that are not rarities of a regular issue, but provisionals needed to fullfil a specific need, fortuitous due to unforeseen circumstances.

Generally, these issues, as you would suppose, were made on the spur of the moment in small quantities -at least some of the values- limited in number, thus now rare and expensive.

One of these fortuitous events occurred in Costa Rica and the Guanacaste overprints became the gems of Costa Rica philately. Their history and distinctive characteristics are subject of this brief resumé.

At the onset of the XIX century, Costa Rica comprised the province of the same name, with Cartago as the capital and the “Partido” or district of Nicoya, that had for two centuries maintained total independence from both Costa Rica and Nicaragua as an “Alcaldía Mayor” (or district). Nicoya then became a “Corregimiento” by royal decree under a magistrate and it´s jurisdiction was extended into a small area in Nicaragua, but more so into Costa Rica. This major move towards Costa Rica started the political trend that culminated in total integration years later – let us see how.

When France invaded Spain, in 1808, Napoleon, an unscrupulous man, practically kidnapped the Spanish king Fernando VII, holding him confined to quarters in Bavonne. France, until he had obtained the concessions and privileges claimed, without doubt, at the expense of the Spanish people. The Spanish patriots, in open rebellion against the invader, name a “Junta” and established the constitutional government, rejecting the absolute monarchy.



The first “Cortes” or Congress, under the new system, met in Cadiz in 1810. The kingdom of Guatemala was represented in this Congress by various deputies, among those the presbyter Florencio del Castillo, in the year 1812.

The Cortes of Cadiz made great liberal reforms one being a constitution, but the defeat f Napoleon in 1814, and the return of Fernando VII to the Spanish throne, resulted in abolishment of all done by the Congress and reinstatement of the absolute monarchy. Nevertheless, after a bloody battle, the patriots commanded by Rafael del Riego in the year of 1820 forced the king to reestablish the 1812 constitution and invoke que Congress.

The Constitution required that a province, to be eligible for an election of a deputy, to have at least 60.000 inhabitants. Costa Rica had only 53.000 at this time, so it was decided to incorporate, by popular consensus, but provisionally, the “Partido” or county of Nicoya and the towns od Santa Cruz and Guanacaste; this last one is now the city of Liberia, Costa Rica.

With this conventional union, the province of Costa Rica elected Jose María Zamora, from the city of Cartago, to the Spanish congress in November of 1820.

The independence of Central America came in 1821. From this moment on the district of Nicoya snd outlying towns, initiated s strong movement to separate themselves from Nicaragua, to become a permanent part of Costa Rica. Finally, in 1824, a plesbiscite was held, the result being a majority vote for the unions with Costa Rica, and in 1825, when the Central American states formed a federal republic, the congress of this federation decreed that the district of Nicoya should be separated from Nicaragua, and join Costa Rica until definite state boundaries were established.

This is how the “Partido de Nicoya” and sorrounding towns became the seventh province of Costa Rica, called from then on Guanacaste, possibly because of the abundance of trees of that name that exist in the region (species “Enterolobium cyclocarpum”).

Costa Rica began to organize a state mail system startin in 1839, and the first postage stamps, the 1/2 real and 2 reales, were issued in April of 1863. During the colonial period and post independence, there was almost no private mails and that emanating from the tobacco monopoly at Villa Nueva (San José), and the other governmental offices in the main populatin centres, provides us with the scarce, interesting pre-adhesive postal markings, many of which help in the study of our postal history. When the regular post was stablished, another problem arose, specially in the outlying provinces, the lack of roads and, why not mention it, the lack of correspondence.

The few letters sent and the lack of adequate transport dictated the employment of private merchants to sell both postage stamps and fiscal paper in lieu of having government run post offices, a practice still prevalent in Costa Rica. But if we consider the small mark up permitted by the government on the sale of stamps (8%) you will understand why this business was of little interest to the businessmen of the area.

However, the government understood the problem, and on the 14th of August, 1885, issued the following decree. DECREE No. CIX 14 August, 1885: National Palace, San Jose. Owing to the difficulties presented in trying to establish sales agencies for fiscal stamps in the province of Guanacaste, S.E. (His Excelency) the General-President of the Republic decrees: concede 6% discount on assistance vouchers, and 15% on the purchase of stamped paper, revenue and postage stamps, on the condition that these stamps and fiscal paper, once marked with a special counter-mark, be used only in that province. This decree takes effect the 1st of September, 1885.

This decree it seemed, solved the problem; it almost doubled the discount on the sale of stamps for the residents of Guanacaste. At the same time, however, it left open the possibility of fraud seeing that anyone could buy the stamps at the new discount and even with the Guanacaste overprint, nothing really stopped them from being used in the rest of the country. To avoid this possible fraud, the government issued, on the 3rd of September, 1885 a new decree No. CXIX stating that the fiscal paper and the stamps sold for use in the province of Guanacaste, cannot be used anywhere else to the detriment of the treasury because of the greater discount given in that province. The decree states: stamped paper, postage and revenue stamps and other fiscal paper overprinted with the word Guanacaste can only be used in that province, and if used everywhere else, they will have no value, effect or consequence.


In this way the Government created an obstacle to fiscal fraud, without suspecting it fixed a philatelic norm: that the used Guanacaste overprints are only authentic if cancelled with a postmark from the cities or towns of that province. Later on, I will indicate the postmarks i have seen, including some of those that were used during the first few years of validity from the “Jefaturas Políticas” (Government Offices) that acted as provisional post offices.

We have now explained the raison d’etre for the Guanacaste overprints. Let us now run quickly through the distinguishing characteristics of these stamps that circulated, and were valid, for use in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica from September, 1885, until November, 1891, that is six years and “why” the rarity and high value given to some of these stamps.

The Guanacaste overprints were applied only in complete series on the postage stamp issues of 1883, 1888 and 1889, and on the “Timbres Proporcionales” (revenue stamps) of 1884-1888. See basic stamps Figures 1 and 2.

Guanacaste overprints
Figure 1
Guanacaste overprints
Figure 2

Any other stamp that appears overprinted Guanacaste is an absolute forgery. There exist 13 types of overprints (Figure 3) distributed over 8 plates, all authentic, and one more plate, not identified, called type G8, status still in dispute all these years. The difference between types and plates is because in those “golden” years the Costa Rican National Printing Office lacked sufficient type of the same kind to prepare a plate of 50 identical subjects! And so we have plate 1, the only one with vertical overprints and it has five different types as can be seen in Figure 4 and 5.

Guanacaste Overprints
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

I would like to clarify here that this G1, G2, G3, etc classification was established in Costa Rica to facilitate the study of the different types in each plate.

So the 13 known types, authentic and doubtful (G8) are identified from G1 to G13. The quantities of each type printed are unknown. But the reduced postal usage, already mentioned, and the difficulty one encounters trying to find genuine stamps mint or used, indicates that the printings were few, and the reason the stamps have a higher market value than the estimated by the major catalogues. Precisely due to this scarcity, some of the constant varieties (Figure 6) are very rare in certain types, almost impossible to locate, and reach very high prices internationally.

guanacaste overprint
Figure 6

Among the plates, there are two, IV and VI, that are the most important because they have two printing types in each one; the first types G1 and G3 (see Figure 7); and in the second the G11 and G10 types in this order (see Figure 8).

Figure 7
Figure 8

In both these plates, in addition to the printing errors: eg double and, offset overprints, letter type displacements, etc. we find some interesting and attractive combinations, such as vertical pairs se-ténant with both letter types including double overprints. And in plate VI, besides the vertical pairs se-ténant there is a peculiar case of two different letter types side by side in the center of the plate which give us the unique possibility for an horizontal se-ténant pair. It is easy to understand then why such a piece is so scarce and eagerly sought after, and subsequently missing in most collections.

We continue with plate VII, type G11 (Scott Guanacaste 55 to 63). These stamps are not too difficult to locate, but there were two printings; one in London -Waterlow & Sons and the other in Costa Rica -Imprenta Nacional. The first has no varieties of any significance, but the second, done in Costa Rica, has a spelling error that appears in four values: 50 cts, 1, 2 and 5 pesos. The error os a substitution of the letter “N” with a “G” which makes the overprint to read Guagacaste. A difficult piece to acquire, and the four errors are now valued at a few thousand dollars. Also the local printing has a second error on stamp number 22; the overprint Guagacaste is double! Until now only one stamp has been recorded (see Figure 9).

guanacaste overprints
Figure 9

In plate VIII, we had know four minor varieties and a fifth very important: the second “A” exists without a bar in the 1, 5 and 10 cts valuesin which we have found three more varieties, and one for the 2 cts value only. This 2 cts plate has 14 varieties, some of major importance.

And finally plate IX (Scott Guanacaste 39, 40, 41) type G8 vertical, is a mystery, because nothing concrete is known about this type. Mint copies of this are unknown as are multiples. The four values (four exist even though Scott mentions only three) are really rare. The appear always used, with unidentified postmarks. in Costa Rica, stamps from this plate are classified as “not identified” and permanently quarantined.

Nevertheless, they command high prices, and the 1 and 10 cts values are very scarce and expensive.


It is impossible to give all the details relative to the Guanacaste overprints in only one article, necessarily condensed. I should like nevertheless to detail, using the Scott numbers the scarcest of the 67 regular values/types listed in the catalogue.

  • No. 13 very rare.
  • No. 19 rarest of all, only six known.
  • No. 20 rare.
  • No. 27 very rare.
  • No. 31 very rare.
  • No. 32 rare.
  • No. 33 very rare.
  • No. 35 rare.
  • No. 37 rare.

There are also fiscal stamps known as “Timbres Proporcionales” overprinted Guanacaste that were used to frank correspondence during times of postage stamps shortages. These are rare specially the type G3. Many counterfeit overprints exist, and does with the entire Guanacaste issue, and one should acquire only those that have been expertised by a recognized expert un this specific field.

Complementing the foregoing please look carefully at Figure 9 that shows six of the major printing errors of this issue. Some of these pieces are unique, of irreplaceable value.

Lastly, a comment about the most difficult of all: Guanacaste overprints used on cover. I was very fortunate, after forty long years of continued search, to find one in 1981, only four years ago. Much to my surprise, I received word that a genuine cover was coming up for auction. I even left the hospital, where I was waiting for a minor heart surgery, and travelled with my wife, in mid-winter, all the way to the Canadian border to participate in the sale and obtain it. You can imagine the joy when i held it finally in my hands, oblivious of the high price paid and pains that reminded me i should be in the hospital’s operating room.

The cover is almost perfect, with a pair of Guanacaste Scott No. 66 mailed at Liberia, Costa Rica, February 15, 1890, arrived Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 7th, same year. Circular postmarks of origin, New York transit, and arrival back stamps all well executed and in order.

No one knows exactly how many Guanacaste covers exist; the last I heard, there were eight including the one described. If we could really compare this type of thing given the philatelic importante of one area over another, it is a fact that there are more Mauritius “Post Office” covers known than those overprinted for use in our small province in Costa Rica.

Why should not one be so happy to locate one!

I will close here with this brief explanation about the overprints issued for the Guanacaste province (1885-1891) in which I described briefly those plates that are of most importance for collectors. it is sincerely hoped that this modest work, and above all the illustrations will help my colleagues better understand these overprints and why here in Costa Rica we consider them gems of our philately.

guanacaste overprints
Figure 10

Thanks to the Costa Rican Philatelic Association for allowing me to reproduce the major part of the illustrations that enrich the text.

Finally, the stamps, multiple pieces, cover and cancellations that are illustrated in this article, are part of the collection of the distinguished Costa Rican philatelist Mr. Estanislao Scriba G.

This booklet is published with his permission.

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