Learn from the valuable lessons your stamps can teach you

Oct 24, 2011, 11 AM

By Janet Klug

One way to expand both your stamp collection and your knowledge of worldwide stamps is to acquire a small collection of a country you do not normally collect.

Figure 1 shows a remainder collection of Egypt that I recently purchased.

A remainder collection is one that has been stripped of its better items, which have been sold separately. The leftovers are generally stamps that have lower catalog values and are kept together and sold as a lot to maximize the return for the seller.

It is fun putting stamps in an album, but it is even more fun to try to learn something from them.

Every stamp has a story. What stories were the stamps trying to tell me?

The first thing I noticed was that some of the stamps were inscribed "Egypt" or "Egypte." Some were inscribed "Roi d'Egypte et du Soudan," while others bore the initials "U.A.R." Were all of these stamps Egyptian?

Some of the stamps from the mid-1950s had a strong military appearance. What was going on then? There were some amazing stamps relating to ancient Egypt. It would take a long time to unravel all of the stories, but stamps are patient. They sit quietly and wait until you have time for them.

The logical first place for a stamp collector to turn is the Scott catalog. The introduction to the Egypt section states that modern Egypt was a part of Turkey until World War I, when Egypt became a British protectorate.

In 1922, the British protectorate ended and Egypt became a monarchy that lasted until it became a republic in 1953. In 1958, Egypt merged with Syria to become the United Arab Republic, accounting for the U.A.R. stamps I found.

Syria opted out in 1961, and in 1971 Egypt styled itself as the Arab Republic of Egypt.

That's a lot of change to track with stamps.

Vol. 2 of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue begins listing stamps for Egypt in 1866 under a title of "Turkish Suzerainty." A suzerainty is a synonym for sovereignty, so this 1866 period was a time when the Ottoman Empire had sovereign power over Egypt.

My new collection had no stamps from the first surcharges issued in 1866. In 1867, new stamps illustrating a pyramid and sphinx were released for the Turkish Suzerainty.

The Turkish emblem of a half-crescent and star flank each corner around the central design on some of these stamps, and the face values printed on the stamps are in the Turkish currency of paras and piasters, as shown on the 1875 stamp in Figure 2 (Scott 26).

The collection I purchased actually begins with a few Pyramid and Sphinx stamps from 1888. These are inscribed in French, "Postes Egyptiennes."

In 1914, Egypt issued a handsome pictorial regular-issue set illustrating Egyptian themes such as the Colossi of Thebes (Scott 55). By 1915, Egypt had become a British protectorate and the stamps, such as the Statue of Ramses II issue in Figure 3 (Scott 70), switched to inscriptions in English reading "Egypt Postage."

The protectorate status ended and Egypt became an independent kingdom. A portrait of King Faud appeared on the first stamps from the kingdom, as shown in Figure 4 (Scott 103).

In 1936, Faud's 16-year old son Farouk became king. He is featured on the 1938 stamp in Figure 5, which celebrated the royal wedding of 18-year old King Farouk to his first wife, Farida (Scott 223).

Farouk was a compulsive coin and stamp collector with a taste for both quality and quantity. The bulk of his extensive stamp collection was sold in Cairo by H.R. Harmer of London in 1954, two years after Farouk abdicated.

In 1953, Egypt became a republic. The stamps took on a military appearance as tensions grew in the region, leading to the 1956 Suez Crisis.

The strategic importance of the Suez Canal cannot be overstated. Egypt's stamps reflected its claim on the canal with the Nationalization of the Suez Canal stamp (Scott 386) in Figure 6. The stamp was issued Sept. 26, 1956.

The Egyptian government had taken control of the canal in July 1956, and Israeli forces moved into Egypt in late October. Troops from Great Britain and France followed days later.

The canal was closed. The United States and the United Nations put pressure on the combatants, and a cease fire was issued Nov. 6, 1956. Forces were withdrawn by Dec. 22, and United Nations peacekeeping forces were engaged to police the area. An overprint on a stamp issued Jan. 14, 1957 (Scott 389) noted that British and French troops evacuated Port Said.

Even though events in Egypt and the Middle East continue to make headlines regularly, it is nice to be able to thumb through a stamp album and gain some insight into how events of history have helped shape the region. It is also enjoyable to be able to tour a country and regard its ancient history from the comfort of a stamp album.

Stamps teach. With a bit of curiosity, you can learn a lot about the world through your stamps.

The American Philatelic Society is beginning a free pilot program to get stamps into more classrooms. If you are a third-grade through fifth-grade schoolteacher — or know one — and would like to participate, contact the APS Education Department, 100 Match Factory Pl., Bellefonte, PA 16823 or e-mail Gretchen Moody at