Mexico Eagles 1864 - 1866

On May 15, 1864 the first stamps issued by Emperor Maximilian's government were officially released. However, the stamps had been sent to various districts as early as May 8, and some were used as of that day.

Mexico 3 centavos.
Consignment 55-1866
Courtesy Martin Spufford.

These stamps, known as the Eagle issue, depicts an Eagle eating a snake. This symbol is taken from an old Aztec legend. The Aztecs were guided by Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war, to seek a place where an eagle had landed on a prickly-pear cactus, eating a snake. After searching for years they found the sign on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco. They named their new home Tenochtitlan, meaning "Place of the Prickly Pear Cactus". In 1325 they built a city on the site of the island in the lake. This is today the center of Mexico City. It was, and still is, Mexico's coat of arms.

Five denominations were issued at first: ½ (medio), 1 (un), 2 (dos), 4 (cuatro) and 8 (ocho) reales. Later, on May 1, 1865, a 3 centavos stamp was added to the series, for use in Mexico City.

Medio (½) real. Un (1) real. Dos (2) reales. Cuatro (4) reales. Ocho (8) reales.

What makes this series of stamps particularly interesting is the practise of overprinting the stamps with a district name, as was done on earlier issues. However, beginning after only a few months of use, the invoice (or consignment) number and year issued was added to the overprint. There are therefore thousands of possible combinations, especially when you also consider the further overprinting in some districts with additional sub-consignment numbers and sometimes year. A few of these consignments are plentiful, and will not be hard to find. Many are a bit difficult to track down, since most consignments consisted of only a few thousand stamps. And then there are the truly scarce and rare stamps, often from consignments of only a few hundred stamps. There were even consignments containing as little as one single stamp of a particular denomination!

Considering that a survival rate of about 3% is commonly believed to be a good rule of thumb, it's easy to see that even with 1,000 stamps sent, only about 30 copies would be expected to exist today. Yet the current market price for these stamps is remarkably low, especially when compared to the stamps of other more popular countries. It is not surprising, in view of these numbers, that Mexican stamps, and the Eagle issue in particular, is considered to be "collecting rarities on a budget".