|Report of Meeting July 1, 2006|
Report of the Meetings, July 1 2006
Peter Andrews, our new Chairman, opened proceedings by welcoming a very respectable turnout of members in spite of alternative televisual attractions (England playing in the World Cup football finals), and introduced the question of the possibility of restoring a New Issues service for members; it was agreed to investigate further. He then opened the Extraordinary General Meeting, called of necessity to deal with the discrepancy spotted in the Accounts at the Annual Meeting on May 8. The Treasurer explained that an entry reflecting a transfer from the Auction Account to the General Account had found its way on to the wrong line, but that the overall picture was precisely as shown at the AGM: the newly presented Accounts were approved. The Treasurer proposed a vote of thanks to our Accountant, Steven Bunce, who as usual performed his duties without charge: it was greeted with acclaim. The Extraordinary meeting was closed.
The Chairman expressed sincere thanks to our American Agent, Dick Wilson, for his initiative in organising the ESC meeting at the well-attended Washington international exhibition, and for his work in achieving affiliation with the American Philatelic Society, which we hope might further international philatelic relations as well as aiding in recruiting a flow of new members (those present were shown the APS affiliation document, mounted in frame). Our six members who won Gold medals in Washington were offered members' sincere congratulations.
Members wishing to attend the joint meeting in Bradford on August 19 with the Sudan Study group were urged to let Richard Wheatley know as soon as possible. Details of the forthcoming visit to Egypt were discussed at length and it appears that we might have as many as 15 members attending: a deadline of August 5 was set for participation.
The Secretary put forward a remarkable eight membership applications, half of which stemmed from the internet, but also lamented the fact that almost 80 - about two fifths of the membership - had not deigned to completed the Data/Survey report, putting in jeopardy the publication of a full list of members' details. He urged those who had not done so to complete the forms quickly.
The President noted the success of Auction 41, thanks largely to the sale of two expensive items, and it was agreed to continue the successful experiment of allowing free illustrations of lots on paper and on the website. The deadline for lists of lots to be submitted is August 15. The Deputy Chairman showed examples of postal stationery with the vignette printed on the inside of the envelope similar to those queried in QC 217, and Member 165, a former printer, provided a considered explanation of how it had happened: this will appear in a forthcoming QC.
For the meeting proper, our Member 266 gave a masterly exposition on the subject of Port Said, mixing and melding the historic and the philatelic in a unique range of material ranging from before the founding of the city with the turning of the first spade of earth for the Suez Canal by Ferdinand de Lesseps on April 25, 1859, to French refusal to accept an Egyptian stamp marking "victory" in the October battles of 1956, and even beyond. With display frames filled with covers, stamps, postcards, ephemera in the form of ancient newspapers and modern telegrams, and so on, it was a magisterial exposition of how philately can form - in the right hands - a crucial adjunct in telling the history of a region or a city, and how postal services played their part in the formation of that area.
Port Said and the Canal were one and the same, he said: without the Canal the city would not have existed; without the city the Canal would have had no grand entrée, for the area was marsh and swamp, the early metres dug out by hand by the pressed men of the corvée, living in thatched huts while the Europeans under their tents planned the foundations of what was to become one of the great ports of the world. Later prefabricated wooden houses would arrive from France.
The history of the Canal is inextricably intertwined with that of the Canal Company's postal services, and he showed a precursor cover from 1865 to Port-Said - after agreement with the Posta Europea for carriage of mails beyond the "state" post offices in Zagazig, Suez and Damietta - addressed to Borel & Lavalley, the company that supplied the heavy digging machinery.
In that year the Egyptian Government bought out the Posta Europea, decided that postal service in the Canal area would be uneconomic, and left it in the hands of the Canal Company. A French consular post office was opened at Port Said in 1867 and survived until 1931. A cover of 1868 shows five days in transit on camel and on small boat from Port Said to Suez along the embryonic canal, and then, via Government post, overland to Alexandria and Europe.
With the 20,000 native labourers of the early years being steadily replaced by machinery and a growing European work-force, however, the mail volume was becoming considerable in fact, and the Canal Company decided in 1868 to print its own stamps, which it ordered from France, to provide a local service. Almost immediately they were withdrawn again, victim of the necessity in effect to pay double rates, once for postage within the Canal area, and then again to the Government for onward postage throughout Egypt.
That short life led to myriad forgeries, and we were shown an exceptional cover with forged printed heading, forged Canal stamp, and forged French PO 5129 lozenge postmark. Member 266 also displayed, however, a remarkable full sheet of 120 stamps from the original printing stone of the 40c value, which was sold at auction in 1906 to Satjan, a Paris dealer, who used it at the time for privately reproduced lithographic reprints. Not forgeries, but reprints from the genuine stone.
The Egyptian Post Offices on the Canal were finally opened in 1868, the year before the inauguration, with full panoply and the presence of Empress Eugenie, of the Canal itself. He noted the rarity of early covers (ie 1870s) franked with Egyptian stamps only; almost as scarce as mixed franking with French issues. The various types of datestamps used by the Egyptian post into the 1900s were next illustrated.
TPO postmarks came with the upgrading of the railway line from the Canal Company's Ismailia-Port Said narrow-gauge line to standard gauge in 1902, by which time the city had developed from second-class to one of the world's largest coaling deposits as maritime transport flocked through the Canal. We were shown a pair of postcards address to Ismailia from France, one of which arrived via Alexandria, the other via Port Said, reflecting the extension of services and merely on which ship it happened to be carried.
Before that, however, the Arabi Revolt brought British intervention in Egypt, and in 1899 the inauguration of the de Lesseps statue on the Port Said breakwater led to a plethora of souvenir covers, and to the necessity for locally produced Port Said overprints on French definitives,. For long regarded as extremely rare, these Port Said overprints (sans-serif) lost much of their value when the market was flooded recently. In 1931, after the closure of the French office, André Navarre, the last postmaster, was allowed to keep all remaining stock - including many multiples of the "rare" overprints; these arrived in the hands of Paris dealers in 1996. A cover shown with a vertical pair addressed to the Russian consul in Alexandria remains a favourite, however.
Postal stationery was also overprinted, and eventually the city name Port Said was incorporated into the design of the stamps sold at the French PO. Another favourite is a cover from France with a RETOUR A L'ENVOYEUR/ PORT-SAID (return to Sender) cachet. Only four such covers have been recorded. This one also bears the cachets of four different French paquebots in its futile quest to locate the addressee. This led to a brief outline of the evolution of both Egyptian and French Port-Said Paquebot markings.
In 1921 there was further complication for the French PO with the necessity to surcharge stamps in millièmes because France's franc collapsed in value after the war; this led to more locally produced overprints, which are uncommon on cover - we were shown a Paris surcharge stamp on a cover in combination with centime-value stamps after the change to millièmes; and an insured (CHARGÉ) letter of 1927 with the high-value 60-millième surcharged stamp.
Postage due stamps followed the same pattern of overprints and surcharges, locally and Paris-produced, and he showed, on a 1921 cover, a remarkable provisional four-line purple local overprint on a 15mill/50c stamp (Taxe a Percevoir pour Insuffisance d'Affranchissement) indicating that it was to be considered a Postage Due because of a shortage of those stamps. He also displayed an unusual Due usage on a cover forwarded from Djibouti to Port Said: normally there would be nothing to pay for forwarding, but the Djibouti address was "Poste Restante", qualifying the item for a surcharge.
The afternoon passed by in a whirl of Simon Arzt, the various Hotels, the founding of Port Fouad and its stamp notoriety, how the shoreline is moving north, and even a rare example on a cover to Ismailia of a Boy King 2m stamp with boxed-T, used as a Due at the time (July 1940) of the local-rate increase from 5m to 6m.
The display provided an astonishingly wide-ranging presentation of an array of material clearly sought out to help to illustrate the history of Port Said the city as well as Port Said and its Post Offices - he pointed out the three versions and many different CDSs of the second Egyptian post office in the Arab Quarter; and the astonishing dearth of examples of Port Fouad (without the Cash) postmarks - at once fascinating and illuminating.
The Chairman thanked Member 266 for an extremely fascinating afternoon's display, covering the whole gamut of Port Said life and postal affairs; his words were drowned out by the thunder of applause.