The "Europa" stamps, symbols of a bright future for European unity after the end of World War II, are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.

The Europas are the issues of the Conference of European Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT), which was established in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1959 to resolve common problems and to further the concept of European unity through the issuance of stamps of like design annually by the CEPT countries.

CEPT, a politically and economically independent organization, has been a success in its primary objectives -- to tie the member postal administrations into close cooperation and to coordinate and improve their administrative and technical activity. This embodies such areas as electronic sorting of mail, layout of postal buildings, air mail rates and constant efforts to simplify and improve postal services. It operates through working parties and study groups to be an advisory body to its members. The CEPT is the European branch of the Universal Postal Union, which is one of the world's oldest intergovernmental organizations and has more members than the United Nations.

The Europas constitute probably the most prized annual omnibus series. They vary in number from year to year, but tend to be fewer than 70 annually. Anyone who began collecting sets of mint, unhinged single stamps and souvenir sheets from the start has seen the collection's worth increase hundredfolds, reckoning on the basis of current retail prices against original cost.

For their anniversary, the member nations went back to their original custom of a symbolic design to be used by all. The Latin word for the continent, "Europa," has always been present. It is used to obviate the problem of expressing Europe in many different languages. Also present is the CEPT symbol of four post horns, with a letter set in the mouth of each horn.

An international competition was held to find a design for the quarter-century commemorative, with each postal administration allowed to submit two designs. Jacky Larriviere, a Parisian engraver, was the victor in the competition, in which 20 designs were submitted.

His design uses a bridge to symbolize the CEPT communication links. The water below symbolizes the flow of a quarter century of European cooperation in the postal/telecommunications field. Surmounting the bridge is the inscription "EUROPA," with the "O" replaced by the CEPT's post horns device.

There were already Europa stamps, heralding the unity ideal, even before the CEPT came into being. These were the stamps put out by postal administrations of the six founding nations of the European Coal and Steel Community, a pioneering effort to bring the nations of Western Europe closer together and a forerunner of the European Economic Community. It consisted of France, West Germany and Italy and the Benelux trio of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

For four years these six countries put out issues, with the word "Europa" a key part of the design, before becoming part of the larger organization's stamp-issuing activities. The six countries set a pattern of a common theme and a common design.

Founding members of the CEPT, in addition to the six in the Coal and Steel Community, were Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey.

All 19 nations participated in 1960 in the initial CEPT Europa issue, adhering to the pattern of a common design -- a wagon wheel with 19 spokes that formed a big "O" in a big "Europa." This bit of design was echoed in the 1984 issue, showing that history does repeat, and in stamps is likely to repeat and repeat and repeat.

The issues of 1960 through 1973 also carried a common design. Going chronologically from 1961, they were doves in flight forming one big dove, a young tree with 19 leaves, stylized links, a symbolic daisy, a branch with leaves and fruit, a symbolic sailboat, cogwheels, a golden key with the CEPT symbol, "CEPT" and "EUROPA" forming the columns of a classic building, a ball of interwoven threads, links in a chain, diamond-shaped sparkles to suggest communication and a stylized post horn of arrows.

In the meantime, the number of members went from 19 to 26, with the addition of Monaco, Cyprus, the Vatican, San Marino, Malta, Liechtenstein and Yugoslavia, the only East European country.