Ottoman decay led to offices abroad stamps

May 3, 2021, 5 PM

By Rick Miller

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "extraterritoriality" as "exemption from the application or jurisdiction of local laws or tribunals."

Historically virtually all countries have initiated laws limiting the operation of the posts to their own government or postal system.

One type of extraterritoriality is when one country forces or coerces another country to cede the right to operate a postal system within the second country's borders.

This sometimes occurs because the local postal system is unreliable. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, having offices abroad was often considered one of the hallmarks of a great power.

The June 9 Refresher Course looked at the stamps of the foreign offices in China. This Refresher Course will discuss the offices abroad in the Ottoman Empire.

The Seljuk Turks arrived in Asia Minor from central Asia and began carving out an empire around the beginning of the 10th century.

The Osmanli Turks formed the Ottoman confederation and led another wave of immigration and conquest beginning circa 1380.

By 1683 the Ottoman Turks had conquered a great empire that stretched from the Crimea to North Africa and from Hungary to Persia, and they were laying siege to Vienna.

The Ottoman failure to take Vienna was the high-water mark of the empire, which by the beginning of the 19th century, was in serious decline.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was often referred to as "the Sick Man of Europe."

Burdened with a decentralized, corrupt and inefficient theocratic government, the empire persisted for as long as it did largely because Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia could not agree on how it should be divided up.

By the middle of the 19th century, the Ottomans had to concede extraterritorial rights, including postal operations, to the great powers as well as to some powers that were not so great.

Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, France, Italy, Romania and Poland issued stamps for their offices in the Ottoman Empire.

Stamps used on covers that were posted through these offices before specific offices abroad stamps were issued can sometimes be identified by numbered or specially designed cancellation marks.

Austria began to operate post offices in the Ottoman Empire as early as 1845.

Initially Austria used the stamps of Lombardy-Venetia in its offices in the Ottoman Empire. Lombardy-Venetia was a kingdom in northern Italy ruled by the Habsburgs prior to Italian unification.

Beginning in 1867 Austria began to issue separate stamps for use in its Ottoman offices.

Austrian stamps for use in offices in the Ottoman Empire often had the same designs as stamps for use in Austria, but they were denominated in different currencies.

Stamps issued from 1867 to 1888 were denominated in soldis and florins. Stamps issued from 1890 to 1908 were denominated in paras and piasters. Austrian stamps of the period are denominated in neu-kreuzer and gulden and later in heller and krone.

A cover mailed from Smyrna (Izmir) in western Anatolia to Genoa, Italy, on Sept. 9, 1874, is shown in Figure 1.

The cover is franked with three Austria-Offices in the Ottoman Empire stamps picturing Emperor Franz Josef: a 3-soldi green stamp, Scott 2, a 15-sld brown stamp, Scott 5 and a 5-sld red stamp, Scott 3.

After German unification in 1870, Germany began to seek the trappings of a great power: colonies, spheres of influence and offices abroad.

Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-1918) launched the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway, for which the Ottoman sultan granted German companies the right to construct railways through Ottoman territory. The railroad symbolized German economic and political penetration of the Ottoman Empire.

Germany issued stamps for its offices in the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1884 by overprinting and surcharging German stamps in paras and piasters.

A 10-para-on-5-pfennig green Germania stamp, Germany-Offices in the Ottoman Empire Scott 43, is shown in Figure 2. The stamp bears a nicely struck Smyrna (Izmir) bull's-eye cancel dated Nov. 10, 1910.

France began issuing stamps for its offices in the Levant in 1885. The Levant was that part of the Ottoman Empire comprising the modern nations of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Mediterranean parts of Egypt and Asia Minor.

In addition to stamps issued or overprinted for the Levant, France also issued stamps for offices in the Ottoman Empire at Cavalle (modern Kavalla, a port city in the Macedonian region of Greece), Dedeagh (modern Dede Agach in the Greek region of Thrace), Port Lagos (Porto Lagos, also in Grecian Thrace) and Vathy, a port city at the eastern end of the Greek island of Samos.

Some French Offices in the Ottoman Empire stamps were denominated in centimes and francs. Others were denominated in centimes, paras and piasters.

Stamps for the French Offices in the Ottoman Empire for the Levant, Cavalle, Dedeagh and Vathy are shown in Figure 3.

Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire signed a treaty in 1832 giving the British the right to operate a post office in Constantinople (Istanbul). At first it only handled diplomatic and military mail. In 1857 it was opened to the public. Eventually other British offices were opened in the Ottoman Empire.

At first non-overprinted stamps were used in British Offices in the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman currency fluctuations often meant that speculators could buy British stamps from the Ottoman Offices and sell them in Britain at a profit, so Britain began to surcharge British stamps for its offices in the Ottoman Empire in paras and piasters.

In addition to the stamps surcharged in Ottoman currency, in 1905 Britain also overprinted stamps denominated in British currency (pence and shillings) with "LEVANT," thereby effectively preventing their resale in Britain.

Two King George V British Offices Abroad-Ottoman Empire stamps, a 1d scarlet stamp overprinted "LEVANT," Scott 47, and a 5d yellow-brown stamp surcharged 7½ piasters, Scott 59, are shown in Figure 4.

Many of the peoples conquered and ruled by the Ottomans in the Balkan peninsula were Slavs or Orthodox Christians or both.

As fellow Slavs and co-religionists, the Russians saw themselves as the champions and protectors of the Ottoman Empire's Slavic and Orthodox Christian subjects.

The Russians were eager to free the Ottoman Empire's Balkan subjects and eager to add pieces of the decaying empire to their own holdings.

The Russian and Ottoman empires fought a number of wars in the 19th century. Often the Russians were victorious, but they were forced by Britain, France Austria-Hungary and Germany to return most of their gains in the peace settlements after the wars.

In the Crimean War in 1853-56, Britain, France and Sardinia went to war with Russia on behalf the Ottoman Empire.

Russia issued its first stamp for use in its offices in the Ottoman Empire in 1863. This

6-kopek blue Coat of Arms and Posthorns stamp, Scott 1, is shown in Figure 5.

Russian post offices in the Ottoman Empire were operated by both the Russian government and by the Russian chartered company "Russkoe Obshchestvo Parokhodstva i Torgovli," which translates as "Russian Steamship and Trade Company."

Stamps issued for use in offices operated by this company bear the Cyrillic-letter abbreviation "R.O.P.i.T."

The R.O.P.i.T. nondenominated (2k) rose and pale blue Ship and Imperial Eagle Crest stamp, shown in Figure 6, is Russia-Offices in the Ottoman Empire Scott 4.

In 1900, Russia began to overprint and surcharge Russian stamps in paras and piasters for its offices in the Ottoman Empire.

After the Russian Civil War (1918-20), Gen. Baron Piotr Wrangel, the last White army commander, evacuated his forces to Constantinople.

Wrangel organized a postal system for military and civilian White Russian refugees living in camps around Constantinople. Wrangel's refugee post used overprinted and surcharged stamps of Russia, Ukraine and South Russia.

A surcharged and overprinted 1,000-ruble-on-1-kopek orange-yellow stamp, Russia-Offices in the Ottoman Empire, Wrangel Issues Scott 236, is shown in Figure 7. The stamp pictured is an unlisted variety with a double overprint. The Scott catalog notes that reprints of these stamps abound and that catalog values are for reprints.

Romania, hardly a great power by any stretch of the imagination, began surcharging and overprinting stamps for use in its offices in the Turkish Empire in 1896.

At the end of World War I, Poland re-emerged as an independent country for the first time since the 18th century.

The Poles immediately sought to regain great power status by attempting to lay claim to the former German colonies in Africa and by opening offices in the Ottoman Empire. A 1-marka violet stamp with red "LEVANT" overprint, Poland-Offices in the Ottoman Empire Scott 2K8, is shown in Figure 8.

The Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1923 when Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk deposed the sultan, ended the caliphate and declared the Turkish Republic.

In July 1923, Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne with Great Britain, France, Greece and Italy, establishing the boundaries of Turkey. One of the provisions of the treaty abolished all foreign post offices in Turkey.

As you collect these stamps, remember: "No, you can't go back to Constantinople,

"Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople.

"Why did Constantinople get the works?

"That's nobody's business but the Turks!"