Melita Issue of Malta Stamps: 1922-26

The Milner Constitution of 1921 granted Malta a two-chamber government, with certain “reserved matters”, which included defence and public order coming under the direct responsibility of the Governor. As part of preparations for this great event, the government decided to mark this occasion by issuing a special set of postage stamps.

In May 1921 Malta was granted Self Government and it was decided that a new definitive set of postage stamps would be issued to commemorate the event. As a result of a competition announced on the 17th June 1921, the design suggested by E.Caruana Dingli was adopted for the ¼d to 6d and £1 values and that by G.Vella for the 1/- to 10/- values.

The design used for pence and £1 values depicted a helmeted emblematic figure representing Malta supporting a rudder with its right hand, and a seascape background containing the rock of St Elmo and a Gozo boat. The other design consisted of emblematic figures representing (male) Great Britain, supporting a Union Jack shield with his left hand, embracing (female) Malta who holds an olive branch in her right hand; the date 1921 (in Roman numerals) occupies the lefthand corner of the central design which is surrounded on three sides by a frame of tiny Maltese Crosses.

Although the Maltese were eager to have these stamps ready for the inauguration of the new parliament on November 1, the Crown Agents in London, who catered for all works and acquisitions for British colonies, informed the Malta Post Office that they could not deliver the new stamps in time, mostly because of the delicate process of engaving the presented designs. The large workload at the De La Rue Company, which was to print the stamps, was another reason for the delay.

The Malta postal authorities had no other choice but to resort to a temporary measure and mark the occasion by overprinting SELF-GOVERNMENT on the current King George V stamps issued in 1919 and 1920. This emergency device had already been used before in 1902, when the two-and-half-penny stamp of Queen Victoriawas overprinted ‘One Penny’ owing to the very great demand for the lower value.

The overprint in 1921 was printed diagonally from bottom left to top right in black ink on all values except the two and 10 shillings value which were printed in red. All overprinting was done at the Government Printing Press at the Palace, Valletta. The complete set consisted of 17 stamps released on five different dates between January 12 and April 29, 1922.

The Self-Government definitive set known as the Melita Set was also issued in parts. The five lower values (half-penny, one penny, sixpence, one shilling and two shillings) were made available on August 1, 1922. The complete set, which was the first commemorative one to be issued, had a long lifespan, lasting till 1926.New rates of postage and registration and the depletion of stocks created the need for new values in different colours. But there was criticism in local papers about some details in these stamps.


On June 17, 1921, the Malta Post Office invited Edward Caruana Dingli and Gianni Vella, two leading artists, to design a set of stamps to mark the grant of responsible government. This was to be the first Maltese commemorative stamp set.

The Caruana Dingli designs featured an allegorical figure wearing an ornamental helmet, holding a rudder with her right hand. A seascape was used as background, with the Fort St Elmo lighthouse on the left and a Gozo boat on the right. Two shields, one showing the Union Jack and the other the eight-pointed cross on the Maltese red and white flag were included in the lower corners.

The Vella design was to be used for the shillings value (one, two and 10) showing two symbolic figures, a man representing Britain, holding a shield with the Union Jack with his left hand resting on a young lady (representing Malta) holding an olive branch. The design highlighted the care, protection and friendly relations between the two countries. The Maltese coat-of-arms was included in the lower left corner while a series of small Maltese crosses formed the outer frame. The date 1921 in Roman numerals (MCMXXI) was included in the upper segment of the central design.

On August 4, 1922, the designer, Edward Caruana Dingli, expressed his dissatisfaction in the daily Il Popolo di Malta on the execution of his design.

He wrote: “After correcting the first proofs and suggesting certain artistic retouching, I regret to say, that the result still fell short of my expectations. My original was copied by hand and alter-ations were introduced resulting in a totally different effect from that originally intended.”

He also mentioned how the flowing part of the mantle behind the figure was suppressed and the bright sun lost much of its intensity.

However, the strongest criticism was about the way the St Elmo lighthouse was remodelled to make it look more like a bee-hive or a “Mosta dome” by the seaside.

Caruana Dingli also complained that he was never consulted about the colours used.

To justify his criticism, he exhibited an enlargement of his original design at the Public Library in Valletta.

Paper and Watermark

All values were printed by De La Rue & Co by the Typographic process on chalk surfaced paper (except £1), watermarked mult, script CA (sideways for pence values; upright for l/- values; sideways and upright for £1 value).

The ¼d to 6d stamps were apparently printed in sheets of 160 (two panes of 8 rows of 10 stamps) as the Malta National Museum possesses, but does not exhibit, low value printing plates with two panes of 80 mounted on mahogany boards. In view of this and the fact that there has been no information to the contrary it seems that those references which state that these values were printed in sheets of 120 are incorrect. The l/- values were printed in sheets of 80 (one pane of 8 rows of 10). The £1 value was printed in sheets of 40 (one pane of 4 rows of 10 stamps).

Jubilee Lines

Two extensive rules (the inner one being on the key plate, the outer one on the duty plate) surround each pane in the colours of the key and duty plates (but see 2/- and 2/6 values), the rules are 2mm from the stamps and, where applicable, are up to 1mm apart. Examination of the inner Jubilee Lines shows differences between plates 1,2 and 3 on the lower values. The lines are made up to two standard lengths 22mm and 19mm with odd lengths, to complete a pane surround, usually found in the bottom right hand corner - 12, 12½, 13, 13½, 14, 17, i7½mm. Examination of the outer Jubilee Lines shows differences between the denominations and they could be used as a check to see whether a second duty plate existed for any denomination. The lengths of line are similar - 23 and 19mm as standard and odd lengths - 22½, 18, 17½mm.


On the single colour stamps the key and duty plates may be found in different shades, which indicates the printing of all values was a double operation.


Examination of the perforation suggests that both the low and high values of the stamps printed from Plates 1,2 and 3 were perforated by the same single comb working from right to left perforating all margins except the right hand one. The comb had 17 perforation intervals (14.2 gauge) on the horizontal and 21 perforation intervals (14 gauge) on the vertical intervals. The £1 value looks as though it has been 'line' perforated but closer inspection reveals that the length of the horizontal row is slightly too long in so much as when the comb moved from right to left, the last hole on the left of the horizontal row practically touches the vertical row of the next strike of the perforating comb.

Malta, 1925 Melita Issue, Allegory, £1 black & bright carmine, SG 140. This never hinged corner margin block of 4 was sold at Harmers Auction SA in 2012 for 360 CHF plus buyer's premium.


  1. Melita 1922-26. Malta Stydy Circle, Study paper 24, 1972.
  2. "Stamps marking Malta’s constitutional development" by Carmel Bonavia, The Sunday Times, Malta, December 4, 2011.