Report of the Meeting, January 5 2013
Philately of the Suez Canal area
PRESENT: Fourteen members and one guest attended. Apologies for absence were received from six members.

In the absence of the Chairman (just about to touch down at Heathrow) and the Deputy Chairman (not well; we all wish Stanley Horesh a speedy recovery), the meeting was opened by the President, who wished everyone a Happy New Year, but had to pass immediately to more tragic matters in reporting the death just before Christmas of Peter Feltus (ESC 114) at home in California. Members stood for a minute's silence in memory of a man who provided acres of information and months of pleasure to those who knew him. Obituary here.

The Secretary reported a speedy and wide-ranging reaction from members to his note on the green sheet accompanying the December QC telling how Britain's rise in postal rates was affecting QC costs, with a potential effect on subscription rates. As the AGM is so close, however, it was decided that the matter should be discussed fully in the intervening period and a firm proposal on future economic plans be put to the 2014 AGM in time to take effect for 2015. Please do not hesitate to respond to the note: all views will be taken into account.

An appeal was made for lots to be sold at the Live Auction at the AGM on February 23: all lists and illustrations should be with the Secretary by January 20. Another appeal was made to find a Publicity Officer for next year; and one new member was elected to membership - welcome, Guy Dutau of France. The Secretary reported that two former members had rejoined; and four others had chosen to resign; and offered up special thanks to Marc Van Daele (ESC 648) and Andre Navari (ESC 534) for their help with postage.

After that members were regaled with an outstanding display by Peter Grech (ESC 266) on the philately of the Suez Canal area, ranging from the stamps and postal history of the Suez Canal Company - including a full "reprint" pane of the 40 centimes value printed from the original stone by the Paris dealer Saatjian; and a remarkable cover in which every element is forged - 40c stamp, 5129 canceller, French Port Said postmark of October 28, 1868 - right through to the inauguration of Port Fouad in 1926.

Bringing his typical penchant for historical accuracy to bear, Peter was careful to explain the background, both political and geographical, to his display, which was full of fascinating asides, including relations with the Posta Europea and tracing the development of the railways relating to postal services and even to the whereabouts of De Lesseps' statue blown off its pedestal at the entrance to the Canal in 1956.

This brief report cannot cover the full panoply of the display of philatelic material, augmented by postcards, official notices, newspaper cuttings and so on, but concentrating mainly on the postal history of the French offices of Port Said (1867-1931) and Suez (1862-88), opening with an 1868 cover that travelled Port Said-Suez-Alexandria and on to France.

Among the highlights of a wide-ranging display of stamps and postal history, Peter explained the ups and downs of surcharges on French office stamps, and how the official printing always seemed to arrive just too late from France, necessitating the production of local surcharges and similar devices.

Most of those present were unaware that the French had sent a military force to Suez during the First World War to counter Lawrence's influence with the Arabs. Eventually they were told they were not required, but not before a rare postmark Mission B-Base de Suez had come into use.

Such military requirements provided much of the variety, and moving slightly off "Suez Canal" topic, one of the most fascinating areas was explanation of some of the rarest "used abroad" postmarks known on these issues, covering several areas around the turn of the century.

These included the French in-vasion of Madagascar in 1895 in a campaign lasting from March to September. Peter showed two very scarce covers with the Corps Exdpre de Madagascar / Port-Said double-ring CDS, one dated 19 Avril 95, the other mistakenly dated a year late, on 18 Avril 96.

19 Avril 1895: From a Madagascar-bound soldier on the steamship California, leased for troops transport. Letter deposited at Port-Said (Corps Exp.) then taken to France by a ship of Ligne T (Corr.d’Arm).

Almost as far afield is usage of French Port-Said stamps at Dire-Dawa in Ethiopia. A French dis-tribution office was opened there in 1906, and was made dependent on the Port-Said receiving office since distribution offices had to depend on a receiving office, and Port Said was the closest. Mail was routed via Djibouti and Port-Said. Dire-Dawa used Levant stamps until these ran out, and then those of French Port-Said until Ethiopia joined the UPU in 1908.
Similarly, Port Said was the "head office" for French usage on the Ile de Rouad, off Latakia, Syria, from March 1916, when a military post office was upgraded using overprinted stamps of the Levant. Mail was sent via Port Said, and Port-Said stamps were used on the tiny island when Levant stamps were in short supply. Peter showed Ile Rouad overprint stamps used at Port Said in 1921 during its own stamp shortage.

Dirre-Daoua cover to Djibouti 15 II 07. French PO opened in 1906, depended from Port-Said French PO. Used Levant stamps and those of Port Said (here 5c and 1f) when those ran out

In April 1921 Port-Said stamps were surcharged in mills, but no dues had arrived from Paris. The UPU letter rate from France went up for the first time in over 40 years from 25c to 50c. This cover taxed at Port Said with a 15m definitive and provisional purple cachet "Taxe a percevoir pour insuffisance d'affranchissement". Genuine use: most covers are by "complaisance"

And in 1925 the French consulate at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia also used Port-Said stamps, the mail authorised by the consulate's stamp but the adhesives on the registered letter only cancelled upon arrival in Port Said.
Peter's display was augmented by that of Jon Aitchison (ESC 661), giving his first display. He provided a large number of Canal Company "reprint/forgery" blocks of all values, and wondered why these stamps - in use at the most for 40 days in 1868 - were probably the world's most popular forgeries. He reckons there might be as many as 46 different types.

The second half of his display was to do with the stamps of the Great Bitter Lakes Association - those 14 vessels trapped in the Canal during the Six-Day War of 1967. Though ill viewed by many collectors, these home-made issues, fabricated by the stranded crews, were accepted by the world's postal authorities, both incoming and outgoing.

He noted that no covers "escaped" via Israel, but those via Egypt neither required Egyptian stamps for forwarding nor attracted postage dues, and forecast that, though clearly in the "Cinderella" class, these covers would grow in interest over the years.

The President, closing the meeting, thanked Peter Grech for a display "as erudite and expert as usual"; and congratulated Jon Aitchison for his "great aptitude", suggesting that he might be called on again. Members showed their appreciation in the usual manner.

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