Middle Eastern Stamps — By Ghassan Riachi
Lebanon’s postage due stamps of 1925 capture the beauty of some of its iconic sites, including the Pine Forest in Beirut, Beaufort Castle, Dog River, Pigeons’ Grotto and the Roman temples at Baalbek. These places bring immense pride to the people of Lebanon.
On March 1, 1925, Lebanon issued this set of five postage due stamps (Scott J11-J15). The denominations range from ½ piaster to 5pi.
These were the first permanent postage due stamp issue of the country. Prior to this set, Lebanon’s postage due stamps were postage due stamps of France surcharged in either French or French and Arabic.
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In the 2018 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, a mint, never-hinged set is valued at $42.50. If you want a mint hinged set, the cost is going to be much less at $13.80. For those who collect used stamps, this set is valued at $7.75 in the catalog. No matter what you collect, make sure to obtain a set that is free from faults.
I challenge the postal history collector to assemble a collection of these postage due stamps on covers.
Helio-Vaugirard in France printed the stamps on colored, unwatermarked paper. They are horizontal in format and perforated gauge 13½.
J. de la Neziere designed the stamps, using a different central design for each denomination.
The table with this column gives the design color, paper color, name of the site pictured, and the quantity printed of each denomination.
Imperforates exist. They are rare. The quantity issued was limited to 100 sets.
Avoid buying imperforate single stamps; many of the single imperforates that I have seen have been perforated stamps with trimmed perforations. Buy imperforates in pairs or larger multiples to confirm their authenticity.
All the stamps share the same bilingual inscriptions. At top left is the name of the country “Greater Lebanon,” in Arabic. In the top center is the same in French. At top right is the word “posts,” written in Arabic.
At the bottom center is the French equivalent for “postage due.” This is flanked by the Arabic equivalent for “to be collected” at right and by the Arabic equivalent for “postage due stamp” at left.
To the right of the central design are the denomination and currency in Arabic. To the left is the French equivalent for “the amount on each stamp to be collected.”
In the margin below the design are the name of the designer at left, the site name in the center and the name of the printer at right, all in French.
The central design of the ½pi stamp depicts a bridge across the Dog River. Locally known as Nahr El-Kalb, the Dog River is 19 miles long. It originates from a spring near the Jeita Grotto, and it enters into the Mediterranean Sea.
Located at the estuary of the river are carved commemorative stelae, most of which tell the history of the foreign powers that once ruled this area. Among these rock reliefs and inscriptions are three Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, some cuneiform Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian, Greco-Roman, Islamic inscriptions and others.
More recent is a 1946 monument to Lebanon’s independence from France three years earlier (1943).
The 1pi stamp pictures Horsh Beirut, the huge urban park also known as Horsh El Snoubar or the Pine Forest.
The park has been decreasing in size. In 1696, it was a pine forest of about 310 acres. In 1967, the park’s area had shrunk to a little more than 200 acres, and today it is only around 75 acres.
Also, the park suffered tremendous damage during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). After the war ended, the government reconstructed the park and kept it closed for approximately 25 years, only allowing visits by permit.
Two gigantic rocks that protrude from the Mediterranean Sea are depicted on the 2pi stamp. This natural spectacular and picturesque landmark is referred to as the Pigeons’ Grotto.
The rocks are located off the coast of Raouche, and this Beirut neighborhood’s cliffside cafes are great places to watch and take photographs of the grotto at sunset.
A variety exists on the 2pi denomination. In Arabic, a dot represents zero. If the dot is placed to the right of the numeral, the dot adds a zero to it. In the case of the 2pi stamp, the dot at the right of the numeral “2” makes it read “20” instead of “2.” This variety occurred on stamp number 37 in the sheet.
A total of 835 stamps with this variety were made, but today the quantity remaining is much less.
The 3pi denomination displays the ruins of a castle in southern Lebanon. The Crusaders are believed to have constructed this fortress in the early 12th century, naming it Beaufort, the French equivalent for beautiful fortress.
The Arabic name for this castle is Qala’at al-Shaqif, which translates to Castle of the High Rock.
A friend who visited the castle told me that because it was built on top of a hill, it offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
The 5pi stamp features the temple of Venus in Baalbek. Situated in the northern Bekaa Valley, the town of Baalbek is approximately 53 miles northeast of Beirut.
Baalbek is the home of the magnificent Roman ruins that can be considered as part of the wonders of the ancient world.
Built in the third century, the temple of Venus was a dedication to the goddess of love and later became a church in honor of St. Barbara.
Because the ruins at Baalbek have immense tourism value, the Lebanese government takes great care maintaining them. These ruins are a must-see site if you ever visit Lebanon.
As someone who is originally from Lebanon, every time I look at these postage due stamps, I am reminded of the beautiful places back home. And, for those who have never been to Lebanon, you can visit these places by owning this stamp set.