Report of the Visit to Cairo, September 8-15, 2019

The ESC delegation to Cairo with their guardian angels: from left, Vince and Lisa Centonze,
Menna and Haidy, Mike Murphy, Sarah and Brian Sedgley, Shameera and Jon Aitchison

As some members may know, the venue for the 90th Anniversary Exhibition of the Philatelic Society of Cairo had to be changed at the very last minute – because catering was no longer available at the Cairo Exhibition Grounds – to the Gezira Sporting Club just up the road. Dr Sherif Samra, President of the PSE, and his willing team worked literally through the night to prepare an outstanding exhibition, and the ESC visiting group was greeted with an immaculate layout of 200 frames. As it transpires, the change of venue seems to have suited everyone, with tranquil and shady grounds, an adequate exhibition area, plenty of food and drink facilities, a beautiful terrace at the back overlooking the sporting grounds – and plenty of space to meet old friends and make new ones. Let’s hope more of us make it to the next one!

The ESC group – comprising Jon and Shameera Aitchison, Brian and Sarah Sedgley, Vince and Lisa Centonze (on their first visit to Cairo; see letter following), and Mike Murphy, with flying visits from Neil Hitchens and Ronny van Pellecom - was treated royally, just as were a host of participants and visitors from overseas including Spain, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Bahrain and Morocco, with excellent material on display and a wide range of off-site visits available for those new (and not so new) to Cairo.

The exhibition itself was marked by a surprise entry selected by the international judges as winner of the top medal. Peter Chadwick, of Stockton-on-Tees, a member of the Royal Philatelic Society of London but not of the ESC, chose to help to celebrate the Royal’s 125th Anniversary by entering eight delightful frames of Rates, Routes and Charge Marks of British Mail before 1940. To no-one’s surprise, he took a Large Gold with Grand Prix and a mark of 97. A great shame that he could not be there to collect his awards.

alternative textNicos Rangos of Cyprus and Hatim al-Attar of Oman were among the international jurors

A full list of all the ESC members’ exhibits is set alongside, but particular mention should be made of Khaled Mostafa, Secretary of the PSE, for his Large Gold on eight frames of outstanding Egypt Postal Stationery with comprehensive illustration of proofs and essays.

John Davis took Gold for eight frames of Early and Classic Egypt, including a seal that had Mahmoud Ramadan, king of the intaglios, astonished – the first time he had seen an example – while Jon Aitchison, who won Gold for eight frames of Egyptian Officially Sealed Mail, stunned with five Interpostals on cover (three of them from the wreck of the Cairo). There was also a deserved Gold for Samir Nabih, who chose as his topic Helwan, Haven for Healing, and surprised the judges with his knowledge of the short-live healing spa. Mention should also be made of the excellent displays by Mamdouh Mosley, a former member, who showed four Russian Office covers in his Large Gold, which took the ESC’s Special Prize – a beautiful Wedgwood vase.

The early part of the exhibition was highlighted by the launch of the official PSE 90th Anniversary stamp and its FDC, the stamp design competition deservedly won by Miss Basant Yassin Abd El Basset, a student of the Faculty of Applied Arts at Helwan University. She celebrated with fellow students at the exhibition opening, and on receiving their prizes at the Palmares dinner.

The exhibition was served by two local dealers, who proved very popular, together with stalls manned by Egypt Post, a major supporter on the financial side, and the PSE itself. All seemed to do good business.

Basant Abd el Bassett with her winning anniversary stamp design, Dr Samra and Mohammed Omar; the three new issues of the L’OP; and Mike Murphy and Amr el-Etreby, proving that editors come in all shapes and sizes

Another highlight of the event was the resurrection, thanks to the financial support of Egypt Post and the hard work of two ESC members, Dr Sherif el-Kerdani and Dr Amr el-Etreby, of the L’Orient Philatélique magazine. Because of Egypt Post’s printing schedule, we were lucky enough to be provided with three issues – Nos. 143-5 of Volume X. Each is of 40 pages, bilingual in English and Arabic, and packed with fascinating material, including a very useful series explaining the rules and regulations for international competition entries. We have been here before, of course, and it is fervently to be hoped that economic support can be found to continue publication. The production teams is confident that there is material aplenty to be published.

Besides the official philately-related events – which included goodwill messages from the Royal Philatelic Society and the Federation of European Philatelic Associations to Dr Samra and the PSE at the closing-night dinner, when about a million photographs were taken(!) – the week was highlighted by an excellent series of off-site visits intended specifically for “the visiting ladies” but in fact enjoyed thoroughly by many of the visiting philatelists as well.

alternative textJon Aitchison receiving his Gold medal from Khaled Mostafa, left, and Hany Salam of the PSE

Despite the distance, one major delight was an all-day visit to Rosetta (Rashid), where we saw the actual spot in which the famous Rosetta Stone was discovered and walked through the streets to discover the distinctive Mameluke architecture of the town still wonderfully preserved. The Museum was a true delight, and so was the fish lunch at the estuary where the Nile flows into the Mediterranean. Another museum visit was in Ismailia, where we were all impressed by the passion and knowledge displayed by the curator. Another fish luncheon followed: we could get used to this!

Other days were devoted to visits to the Coptic Museum and Old Cairo, with its outstandingly preserved ancient churches, to the Citadel and Khan el-Khalili bazaar, to the Pyramids (even venturing inside!) and Solar Boat, to the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, and to the vast site of Egypt’s new capital, gradually taking place in the desert 30 miles east of Cairo. At the moment it is a desolate desert of roads and occasional blocks of flats, but clearly much much more is to come, including more mosques like the fabulously beautiful al-Fattah al-Aleem, which we visited, and the Cathedral of the Nativity.

During these visits it would be remiss not to pay enormous tribute to two students from Mansura who attend the British University in Egypt, Haidy and Menna, who were selected by Dr Samra to mentor his visitors and give all help where needed. These two young ladies were outstanding. Always on time, always willing to translate, never fazed by anything that might go amiss, always smiling and eager to explain, they could not have been more friendly or helpful, even to the extent of a late-night shopping trip. We are beholden to them for all their hard work.

Enormously grateful thanks too, to those senior members of the PSE whose hospitality we enjoyed so thoroughly. Dr Ibrahim Shoukry, Hany and Lada Salam, Vahe and Ermine Varjabedian all deserve our special thanks for opening their homes to us, and for providing food, drink and delightful entertainment well beyond our imaginations but truly typical of our Egyptian friends. Thank you so much, all of you!

The one regret of we visitors? That we were so few. There will be other visits to Cairo. We ALWAYS enjoy them thoroughly. Please make it more next time.

Medals won by ESC members

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Letter to the Editor – from Vince Centonze (ESC 571)

To the Egypt Study Circle:

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I have been a member of the Egypt Study Circle for over 15 years… I still have my welcome letter from Mike Murphy. I even know my ESC membership number by heart, which certainly makes me a philatelic nerd. Yet, after all those years I wouldn't exactly refer to myself as an active member; I have attended only two meetings of the Circle, both of which were held at major stamp shows in the U.S., and contributed perhaps one or two articles to the Circle's fine publication, the Quarterly Circular. However, after having attended the Philatelic Society of Egypt's 90th Anniversary Celebrations in Cairo in September as part of the ESC delegation, I regret not having been a more active participant in the past and accompanied the Circle on previous trips. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ESC for organizing this trip and providing for an unforgettable experience.

From a philatelic standpoint, even though I have been collecting Egypt for many years, albeit as a generalist, I learned a tremendous amount through interactions with members of the UK delegation, as well as from our friends in Cairo. After all these years, it was nice to finally be able to put faces to all the names I've encountered in the QC. The exhibits were also top notch, and it was sometimes difficult for my wife to pull me away for sightseeing – for the sake of marital bliss, I kept my priorities in line. After having engaged with other members throughout the week, I feel much more motivated to take an active role in the Circle and contribute material to the journal. With retirement looming around the corner, I also look forward to periodically attending some meetings in the UK.

On a personal level, my wife Lisa and I have not previously travelled with a more amiable group of people. Even though we knew no one, Circle members were extremely warm and welcoming. Our friends in the PSE also treated us like VIPs literally from the moment we arrived at the airport until our departure. Again, I'd like to thank the Circle for arranging the trip, providing the opportunity to make wonderful new friends, and for motivating me to take a more active role in the Circle. And you can surely count me in on future trips.

Sincerely, Vince Centonze

Vince engrossed by one of the exhibits (above), but then enjoying a little down time at the Coptic Museum with Lisa, Menna and Haidy; and there’s more time to relax on the Gezira Sporting Club terrace – Lisa, Mike Murphy, Sarah and Brian Sedgley and Neil Hitchens

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