Egypt: Suez Canal by Postcard

When Egypt became a Republic in 1952, understandably its government wanted to regain control of the Suez Canal and secure the associated financial benefits. In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser revoked concessions granted to the predominantly French and British controlled Suez Canal Company – an act that led to conflict and the subsequent nationalisation of the Canal that was the subject of an earlier blog.

The Suez Canal Company’s headquarters from which the canal was managed prior to 1956 was a building at Port Said alongside the canal itself. That building with its iconic features is shown in a painting produced by the Orient Line as a postcard (featured image). Port Said is at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, in the far south east corner of the Mediterranean. There was a vast number of vessels that passed through the waters close to this port resulting in a demand for good communication by mail and telegraph particularly to Europe. The French and British Post Offices were pivotal in providing these services.

Postcard of a 'Paquebot' entering the Suez Canal
A ‘Paquebot’ entering the Suez Canal

The passage of ships through the Suez Canal attracted a fee that was administered by the Suez Canal Company – then principally owned by the French and Egyptians. Initially the volume of traffic was well below what was expected when the canal opened in 1869 and, with a degree of mismanagement, the company became bankrupt. Great Britain recognised the advantage of maintaining the waterway as it provided a short cut to a significant number of its colonies such as India, the Far East and Australia rather than using the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. With this interest in mind, Britain bought a significant share in the Suez Canal Company in 1875, buying out the Egyptian shares.

Postcard of liners, battleship, ferry and numerous small boats at the entrance to the Suez Canal

Liners, battleship, ferry and numerous small boats at the entrance to the Suez Canal

As part of the purchase the British demanded a significant role in the management and security of the canal with the result that Egypt effectively became a Protectorate of the United Kingdom. The Suez Canal proved a particular advantage in controlling shipping during two World Wars in the 20th Century. Even in the 21st century, it remains a major trade route linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and ultimately the Indian Ocean, although its significance is no longer what it once was.

To view postal issues of the Egypt, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

British Virgin Islands: Restoration of Legislative Council

The featured postage stamp is one of a set of four issued in 1951 to commemorate the restoration of the Legislative Council of the British Virgin Islands – an event that had taken place as a result of the re-introduction of democracy in 1950.

The British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory (self-governing with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign relations) in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. Together with the US Virgin Islands, they form part of the Virgin Islands archipelago located in the Leeward Islands. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 after the legend of Saint Ursula and comprise more than 50 islands of which 16 are inhabited including Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.

The political history of the British Virgin Islands can be roughly divided into two eras: the British colonial legislatures of the 18th and 19th centuries and the modern democratic legislature of 1950. The colonial legislatures ended in 1871 upon the creation of a single federal colony for the Leeward Islands under which the British Virgin Islands were denied a seat at the assembly – noting that the islands ‘had nothing of any real importance … to legislate about’. The 1950 Constitution Act introduced democracy to the British Virgin Islands with elections for four seats to a Legislative Council. In 2007, constitutional reforms led to the creation of the House of Assembly made up of 13 elected members, the Speaker and the Attorney General.

The four stamps were issued on 2 April 1951 to commemorate the restoration of the Legislative Council and were denominated 6c, 12c, 24c and $1.20 British West Indies Dollars. The stamps were printed on paper with Multiple Script CA watermark, 14½ x 14 perforation and all featured the same image of the islands and portrait of King George VI. Today, the executive authority in the British Virgin Islands remains vested in the UK monarch, King Charles III, and is exercised on his behalf by the Governor who is appointed by the King.

In 1975, four commemorative stamps were issued on the 25th anniversary of the restoration including images of St. George’s parish School (the first meeting place of the Legislative Council in 1950), the new Legislative Council building, the mace and gavel of the Legislative Council, and the commemorative scroll. The 50th anniversary of the restoration was commemorated with the issue of seven stamps in 2000, featuring the portraits of leading members of the Legislative Council.

To view postal issues of British Virgin Islands, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Yugoslavia: Postal Firsts

Who was the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp? For many, the name that first jumps to mind is Rowland Hill who is widely credited with being the originator of the reformed postal service that led to the first adhesive stamp being introduced to Great Britain in 1840 – the Penny Black. Some might even mention the Scottish inventor, James Chalmers, who is outlined formal proposals for adhesive postage stamps and a cancelling method in 1838.

The featured image introduces another name to the frame; that of Lovrenc Košir. In 1835, five years before the first stamps were issued in Great Britain, Košir proposed the use of adhesive tax postmarks (Brieftaxstempel) to the Austrian Department of Commerce in Vienna. The postmarks were called gepresste Papieroblate, translated as ‘pressed paper wafers’ or ‘stamps’. His proposals were rejected and the rest, as they say, is history. What’s interesting is that it is known that Košir had contacts with the reformers in Great Britain – it has been suggested that he may have conceived his ideas from James Chalmers who had experimented with stamp designs as early as 1834 and that Rowland Hill may have based his postal reforms on proposals submitted by Košir.

The featured stamp was issued by Yugoslavia in 1948 to commemorate the 80th death anniversary of Košir where he is recognised as the idealogical creator of the first postage stamp. The stamp is one of five that feature in the set. Four of the stamps denominated in 3d, 5d, 10d and 12d values depict the profile of Košir. The featured 15d airmail stamp also depicts his birth house in Spodnja Luša, Slovenia, and an aeroplane. The stamp is accompanied by an allonge inscribed in Serbo-Croatian and in French citing Košir’s contribution to the invention of the postage stamp. Košir’s contribution is further commemorated in postal issues for Austria (1979) and Slovenia (2004).

To view postal issues of the Yugoslavia, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Egypt: 1921 French Overprint Variations

In an earlier blog, we introduced the French issues of the Egyptian Ports of Alexandria and Port Said. The blog explored the postal issues of the British and French Post Offices and in particular, considered the French key plate designs of ‘Blanc’, Mouchon’ and ‘Merson’. The French continued to use French currency on these stamps until 1921 when the Egyptian currency in milliemes was overprinted. The overprints for Port Said were applied over two lines comprising figures and words – some applied in Paris and others at Port Said itself. An interesting point of note for the philatelist is that it’s possible to distinguish between the two.

The 1921 Port Said stamp issue carry overprints in two distinct type-faces. The usual overprint type-face with the figures and letters carrying flourishes and curvature were applied to the stamps in Paris.

Overprints applied to the stamps locally at Port Said used a type-face that was a thicker block format for the numbers and a thinner type-face for the word ‘Millememes’.

These variations applied to all the designs in the 1921 issue, that is on ‘Blanc” Mouchon’ and ‘Merson’ designs, with the result that a total of approximately 28 stamps make up the complete set registered in most catalogues with values stretching from the modest to several £100 for both mint and used. Stamps with the local overprints tend to command the higher catalogue values. A further modification occurred on the 1925 issues for both Alexandria and Port Said with an overprint of three bars through the French currency.

To view postal issues of the Egypt, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Netherlands Antilles: Bolívar’s Exile

The featured stamp was issued by the Netherlands Antilles in 1987 and clearly features portraits of three gentlemen, perhaps most recognisable being that of Simón Bolívar whose image appears on the stamps of many South American countries. The stamp is one of four in an issue commemorating the 175th anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s exile and the 50th anniversary of the Bolivarian Society. However, what may not be immediately evident in the significance of the other gentlemen or indeed, the link between Bolívar and the Netherlands Antilles.

1987 60c stamp, Octogon, Curaçao
1987 60c, Octogon, Curaçao

Simón Bolívar is credited with leading Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia to independence from the Spanish Empire – Bolivia even taking its name after the Venezuelan military and political leader. Bolívar was born into a wealthy family in 1783 but lost both of his parents to tuberculosis before the age of ten. Bolívar was educated abroad, conducted a grand tour of Europe and lived in Spain for much of his young adult life. In 1807, Bolívar returned to Venezuela vowing to end Spanish rule in the Americas.

1987 70c stamp, Bolivian Society headquarters in Willemstad, Curaçao
1987 70c, Bolivian Society headquarters in Willemstad, Curaçao

Exploiting a Spain weakened by the Napoleonic wars in Europe, Bolívar began his military career in the Venezuelan War of Independence. Venezuela declared independence on July 1811 but the resulting republic was weak and by July the following year, Bolívar was forced to hide from arrest in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. He sought the help of a family friend to escape from Venezuela and on 27 August 1812, he sailed into exile on the island of Curaçao, one of the islands comprising the Netherlands Antilles.

1987 80c stamp, Room at the Octogon, Curaçao
1987 80c, Room at the Octogon, Curaçao

The postal issue of 1987 commemorates that event and include four denominated stamps:

  • 60c: Octagon, Curaçao
  • 70c: Bolivian Society headquarters in Willemstad, Curaçao
  • 80c: Room at the Octagon, Curaçao
  • 90c: Portraits of Manuel Carlos Piar, Simón Bolívar and Pedro Luis Brion

Notably, the Octagon building that features in two of the stamps is the house where Bolívar spent time before he set out to assemble the forces that eventually put an end to Spanish colonial rule in South America – today the Octagon is a Museum in memory of Curaçao’s connection to Simón Bolívar. Manuel Carlos Piar whose portrait appears on the left of the 90c stamp, was a Dutch mulatta native of Curaçao who joined Simón Bolívar in Haiti and collaborated in the wars of independence. Sadly, Piar chose to challenge Bolívar’s leadership and in 1817, Bolívar had Piar arrested, tried and executed for desertion, insubordination and conspiring against the government. It is said that Bolívar heard the firing squad from his nearby office, and tearfully exclaimed “He derramado mi sangre” (I have spilled my blood). The portrait on the right is that of Pedro Luis Brion, also a native of Curaçao and who fought in the Venezuelan War of Independence and rose the the rank of admiral in the navies of both Venezuela and the old Republic of Colombia.

To view postal issues of the Netherlands Antilles, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Crete: Protecting French Trade

Protecting trade across the Mediterranean has been a common interest of imperial states for thousands of years. The Mediterranean has supported direct trade routes between Europe, Middle East and Africa as well as opening routes to Asia and the Far East. This continuing well into the 20th century and can be evidenced through the establishment of remote Post Offices by imperial powers such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Postal stamps issued by these countries are often identified by key type designs and overprints.

Following repeated uprisings against the Ottomans in Crete (the fifth largest of the Mediterranean islands) that threatened to destabilise the region, France, Britain, Italy and Russia garrisoned troops on the island in 1897. France established Post Offices in Crete in July of the same year at locations including Canea, Rethymnon, Candia, San Nicolo, Sitia and Hierapetra. Initially ‘Peace & Commerce’ stamps of France were used as well as stamps from French Post Offices in the Turkish Empire. In 1902, the French ‘Blanc, Mouchon & Merson’ stamps were issued with ‘CRETE’ clearly marked on the key type design. The issue comprised 15 stamps in total (5 stamps of each design), all denominated in French currency from 1c to 5f.

1902 4c Blanc key type design Crete stamp
1902 4c Blanc key type design
1902 25c Mouchon key type design Crete stamp
1902 25c Mouchon key type design

In 1903, a five stamp issue was released comprising just two of the designs (one Mouchon and four of the Merson design). These were surcharged with local currency from 1 to 20 piastres reflecting the continued regional influence of the Ottoman Empire. For the collector, the higher values in the 1903 issue are relatively rare.

1903 25c Mouchon key type design surcharged 1pi Crete stamp
1903 25c Mouchon key type design surcharged 1pi

Crete, an island to the south of mainland Greece and east of Turkey, proved a valuable asset to numerous empires including Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman. Crete has always had strong ties with mainland Europe and in December 1913 became an administrative state within Greece and adopted the same postal services as the Greek mainland. The French Post Offices in Crete were gradually closed down between 1899 and 1914.

To view postal issues of Crete, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Germany: Holy Land

The featured stamp commemorates the 50th anniversary of the cession of Heligoland to Germany. The significance of this anniversary is indicated by the date of issue 1940 and the inscription ‘Deutsches Reich’ – an issue of the German national state during World War II. The stamp is an historical example of postage stamp propaganda and celebrates the strategic significance of these small and otherwise relatively insignificant islands.

Heligoland is a small archipelago comprising two islands in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea lying almost 70km off the coast of Germany. The derivation of the islands name is believed to be from High German language Heiligland, meaning Holy Land. The two islands were once one and were separated by a great storm in 1720. They were occupied in turn by Denmark and various German coalitions for several hundred years until they were conquered without resistance by Britain in 1807 – an action that was taken to protect trading links when Denmark allied itself with Napoleon. The islands inevitably became an important centre for smuggling and espionage against Napoleon’s forces in continental Europe.

1875 Heligoland stamp featuring Queen Victoria and British / German denomination
1875 Heligoland featuring Queen Victoria and British / German denomination

After the Napoleonic Wars, the islands lost their strategic significance, British soldiers left in 1821 and trading activity almost stopped entirely. However, postage stamps were eventually issued in 1867 featuring the embossed head of Queen Victoria and the two prominent colours that became a feature of the islands stamps; Green, representing the land and Red, representing the characteristic brown-red sandstone cliffs accentuated in the featured image. Stamps were issued in British currency until 1875 when they were also denominated in German currency, reflecting the rapprochement with the German mainland.

1952 Germany stamp commemoration of the rehabilitation of Heligoland (image courtesy of Wiki Common)
1952 Germany commemoration of the rehabilitation of Heligoland

In 1890, Britain offered Heligoland to Germany in exchange for the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa. The Germans agreed and immediately simplified the name to Helgoland. During the unsettled history of the early 20th century, Germany established a naval base at the islands and they achieved great strategic military significance during both First and Second World Wars. This significance was exploited by Hitler with the issue of the featured 6pf + 64pf stamp, the additional denomination funding Hilter’s Culture Fund. Ironically, towards the end of World War II, the islands were bombed to oblivion by British air raids and the landscape became virtually lifeless. The islands were reclaimed by the British after the war and then returned to Germany in 1952. Today, Heligoland is part of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, a holiday resort that enjoys tax-exempt status.

To view postal issues of Germany, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

United States: Postal Issues of an Unincorporated Territory

The Panama Canal Zone, also known simply as the Canal Zone, was a Central American territory bordering the Panama Canal. The zone was leased to the United States of America in 1903 by a treaty with Panama, which had gained independence from Colombia just five days earlier. Initially, the Panamanian government took control of the area’s postal services and the first distinctive stamps were insured in June 1904.

Plans for the construction of a canal joining the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, as well as dividing North America from South America, had been considered some time earlier. Survey work had been conducted in 1881 by the celebrated French Engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps (who had built the Suez Canal) under a concession by the Colombians who controlled the area at the time. However, the French company commissioned to build the canal accumulated vast debts and went into liquidation in 1889. De Lesseps was accused of bribery, corruption and fraud, and imprisoned in France. He was later exonerated but never fully recovered from the ill-fated events.

1909 2c stamp of Panama overprinted ‘CANAL ZONE’
1909 2c stamp of Panama overprinted ‘CANAL ZONE’
1909 5c stamp of Panama overprinted ‘CANAL ZONE’
1909 5c stamp of Panama overprinted ‘CANAL ZONE’

Following the 1903 Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, the US assumed responsibility for the Canal’s construction and it was formally declared complete in 1925. The Panama Canal Zone, an area generally extending five miles (8km) either side of the canal, became an unincorporated territory of the US. It’s capital was Balboa and remained in existence until 1979. The first stamps for the territory issued in 1904, were contemporary stamps of Panama, overprinted ‘CANAL ZONE’ and low value US stamps overprinted ‘PANAMA CANAL ZONE’. Panama’s stamps were overprinted for use in the zone until 1924, when overprinted US stamps were again used.

1928 1c stamp featuring General Gorgas, inscribed ‘CANAL ZONE’
1928 1c General Gorgas, inscribed ‘CANAL ZONE’

Between 1928 and 1940, distinctive definitives inscribed ‘CANAL ZONE’ were issued at intervals. These generally depicted scenes of the canal’s construction or personalities associated with government or the Canal Zone Company. This included General Gorgas who appeared on the 1c denominated stamp of 1928 and is best known for his work in abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria during the construction of the Panama Canal. Subsequently, stamps were issued commemorating a wide variety of topics including the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Canal Biological Area, Boy Scouts’ Golden Jubilee, centenary of the California Gold Rush and centenary of the Panama Railway. The Canal Zone was abolished in 1979 in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977. The canal remained under joint US / Panamanian control until it was fully returned to Panama in 1999.

To view postal issues of the United States, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Puerto Rico: Spanish Definitives

Puerto Rico is today recognised officially as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. As such, it adopts the US federal stamps for postal services. However, between 1873 and 1900, Puerto Rico issued distinctive stamps unique to the island.

Puerto Rico is the most easterly of the islands in the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean. The island was discovered by Columbus in 1493 but was not settled and explored until 1508 when Ponce de Leon was appointed Governor by the Spanish. He gave the island its name, meaning ‘Rich Port’ and the island remained part of the Spanish empire for nearly 400 years.

Interestingly, the first postal agencies to exist in Puerto Rico were British and an office was established in the capital, San Juan, in 1844. The first adhesive stamps were introduced at the British agencies in 1865 and can be identified by specific numeral obliterators. The British agencies were closed in 1877 when the Spanish authorities assumed control of all the island’s postal services. The Spanish postal services had been established in Puerto Rico a few years after the British agencies and adhesive stamps portraying Queen Isabella were introduced in 1855. Until 1871, the same stamps were issued in both Cuba and Puerto Rico, inscribed ‘CORREOS’ (post) or ‘ULTRAMAR’ (overseas).

1875 25c ‘ULTRAMAR’ stamp overprinted with paraph
1875 25c ‘ULTRAMAR’ overprinted with paraph

The first distinctive stamps were issued in 1873 and featured the portrait of King Amadeo. The stamps were overprinted with a paraph (a unique signature) to distinguish them from Cuban stamps. The paraph was used until 1877 when a series bearing the portrait of King Alfonso XII was released bearing the inscription ‘PTO RICO’. Three years later the stamps were re-issued with the full name, ‘PUERTO RICO’. These stamps were re-issued annually, bearing the year and introducing new colours, until 1881.

1882 1c Alfonso XII stamp
1882 1c Alfonso XII
1890 ½m Alfonso XIII stamp
1890 ½m Alfonso XIII

The last definitive series was the 1898 ‘Curly Head’ design featuring the young King Alfonso XIII. Following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, the series was overprinted ‘HABILITADO PARA 1898 Y 1899’ (valid between 1898 and 1899). Others were overprinted ‘IMPUESTO DE GUERRA’ (war tax) and in some cases, additionally surcharged to raise funds for the war effort.

1898 2m Alfonso XIII stamp overprinted with validity
1898 2m Alfonso XIII overprinted with validity dates
1898 2m Alfonso XIII stamp overprinted ‘war tax’
1898 1m Alfonso XIII overprinted ‘war tax’

Spain officially ceded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines and Guam, to the US under the Treaty of Paris on 11 April 1899. The first stamp to be issued under the US occupation appeared in August 1898 with a crudely typeset inscription. This issue was closely followed by contemporary US stamps overprinted ‘PORTO RICO’. Ordinary US stamps with no distinctive overprinting were introduced in 1900 when a civil government was instituted to replace military administration.

To view postal issues of the Puerto Rico, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Netherlands: Commemorating a Dutch Naval Hero

The featured stamp is one of a set of three to be issued by the Netherlands on 23 March 1907. These three stamps of identical design were the first dutch stamps to include the portrait of an individual other than a King (King Wilhelm III, 1849-1890) or Queen (Queen Wilhelmina, 1890-1948). The portrait on this issue is of the Dutch naval hero, Admiral Michiel Adriaenzoon De Ruyter and were released to commemorate his birth tercentenary.

Michiel De Ruyter was born on 24 March 1607 in Vlissingen, in what was then known as the Spanish Netherlands, a collection of states in the low countries that were part of the Holy Roman Empire and ruled by the Spanish Habsburgs. In the early years of his career he worked in the Dutch merchant fleet, joined whaling expeditions and by 1651 had become wealthy on the back of successful trading voyages to Morocco, Brazil and the West Indies. However, it was during the Anglo-Dutch Wars against the English (mid-17th to late 18th centuries) that he came to prominence and achieved the reputation as a Dutch folk hero.

1907 Birth Tercentenary of Admiral De Ruyter, ½c stamp
1907 Birth Tercentenary of Admiral De Ruyter, ½c
1907 Birth Tercentenary of Admiral De Ruyter, 1c stamp
1907 Birth Tercentenary of Admiral De Ruyter, 1c

The Raid on the Medway during the second Anglo-Dutch War in June 1667 was perhaps his most famous victory. The English fleet were anchored on the River Medway off Chatham Dockyard in the county of Kent. The Dutch sailed up the Thames estuary and into the River Medway to Chatham where they bombarded fortifications burned ships and towed away many others including the English flagship,  HMS Royal Charles. The raid was a significant embarrassment to King Charles II of England and led to a quick end to the second Anglo-Dutch War with favourable terms granted to the Dutch. De Ruyter died in 1676 following the mediterranean Battle of Augusta during the Franco-Dutch War. The Dutch ships had suffered severe losses during the battle and De Ruyter proceeded to disengage his squadron from the fighting. During the withdrawal, De Ruyter was fatally wounded when a cannonball struck him in the leg – he died a week later at Syracuse on the island of Sicily.

The 1907 commemorative issue comprises three stamps of denominations ½c (Blue), 1c (Claret) and 2½c (Vermilion). In the top left are the tercentenary years of his birth in 1607 and postal issue, 1907. Below this his portrait belied to be based on a painting of 1667 by Ferdinand Bol which is now held in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. To the right is an image (somewhat difficult to decipher) of a naval battle scene. Above this is clearly marked the denomination and county of issue, ‘NEDERLAND’. At the bottom on the stamp is the legend ‘M. A. DE RUYTER’.

1907 Postage Due ,Overprinted 6½c on 2½c stamp
1907 Postage Due, Overprinted 6½c on 2½c
1907 Postage Due, Overprinted50c on ½c stamp
1907 Postage Due, Overprinted50c on ½c

The 1907 issue was closely following in November 1907 with a substantial release of postage due stamps using the same stamp design overprinted with ‘PORTZEGEL’ and the denomination. These were all overprinted on the same ½c (Blue), 1c (Claret) and 2½c (Vermilion) stamps but comprised thirteen overprinted denominations from ½c to 1g. For the avid philatelist, five of these overprints were issued with a slightly different overprint design.

Michiel De Ruyter has been commemorated on many Dutch stamps since 1907 including the 1943-44 issue of Dutch naval heroes (7½c), the 1957 issue to commemorate his 350th birth anniversary (10c and 30c) and the 1976 issue to commemorate his 300th death anniversary (55c).

To view postal issues of Netherlands, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.