Egypt has an unusually special place in the world owing to its magnificent ancient history, its prominence in modern history, and its geographical position astride the connection between two continents and the major thoroughfare between the eastern and western worlds. Although it is an African nation, it looks more to the Mediterranean for its commerce, and to Arabia for much of its culture. It is natural that the first railway in the African continent should have been built in Egypt; it was opened for traffic in 1854, antedating the railways of several European nations. The railway system developed into such an extensive and elaborate one that it is probably the largest in Africa. It gave rise to a network of travelling post offices that had a larger number of routes than all the other countries of Africa combined.
This study of the Travelling Post Office Service is largely derived from postal markings on covers and stamps, supplemented by information found in the Egyptian Postal Guide for some, but by no means all, relevant years. Other material from the government archives must certainly exist, but access to it is not feasible for persons not resident in Egypt, and much is said to have been lost by fire and other means. The most serious consequence of this situation is that the dates of opening and closing of TPO routes are very uncertain, especially in the case of those routes that handled only a small volume of mail.
The pioneer studies of Gabriel Boulad and L. Seymour Blomfield provided the basis on which the present study is built.
Although the trains were immediately put into use for carrying the mails in 1854 when the first rail line, from Cairo to Alexandria, was opened, facilities for sorting the mails en route were apparently not provided until twenty years later. The earliest known date stamps of a travelling post office in Egypt are those of the Alexandria-Cairo line, in 1875. It is therefore appropriate to look at the state of the railway system in 1876. It is shown in Fig.I The network has been much expanded since that time, but the lines of 1876 still are the heart of the Egyptian State Railways.
In addition to the State Railway, which is standard gauge and connects the cities, there is an extensive system of agricultural light railways in narrow gauge, built and operated by private companies. They are important to us, for nearly all the routes carried travelling post offices. Although these lines served some major cities, none of them terminated at either Alexandria or Cairo, and their primary purpose was to provide transportation of goods and communication to the great number of farm villages that otherwise had to depend on foot traffic or beasts of burden. The railway built and operated by the Suez Canal Company between Port Said and Ismailia was also built to narrow gauge, but was not part of the agricultural lines, and was later incorporated into the State Railways.
Another important feature of the railways of Egypt is the fact of a major division between the network north of Cairo (i.e., in the Delta), and the lines to the south. These two divisions were built as separate entities, without physical connection or interchange. At their closest juncture, Cairo, they were on opposite sides of the Nile; they were joined only in July, 1892, when a railway bridge was completed at Embabe. Even after that event, no TPO's ever passed through Cairo, but instead, terminated there.
Lastly, there are the waterways. The Nile is navigable for most of its length in Egypt, and many of the canals are also navigable. There has been service by postal steamers carrying TPO's on sections of the Nile, on at least two internal canals, and part of the Suez Canal.
These different types of lines will now be taken up in sections, beginning with the State Railways in the Delta. II
A. The Egyptian State Railways
The earliest date for the first TPO, the Alexandria-Cairo route, is February, 1875. This route remained the only one until the early 1880's. At the time of its inception, the Egyptian Post Office was largely operated by Italians, a legacy from the origin of the postal system as a private concern, called the Posta Europea. This concern was bought out by the government in 1865, and its head, Giacomo Muzzi, became the first Postmaster General. As a consequence, the early postal markings of Egypt were inscribed in Italian, which gave way to French and Arabic gradually between 1877 and 1884. The first TPO date stamp was thus inscribed AMBULANTE I ALES-CAIRO (or CAIRO-ALES). It is extremely rare, only a few examples being known as backstamps on covers, and fewer still as cancellations on stamps. The many different types of postal markings that followed this one are listed in section IV and illustrated in section V. The Alexandria-Cairo TPO continued to run at least into the 1950's, and may still be in existence.
New TPO routes were not added until the 1880's. The earliest I know of is DAMIETTE-TANTA, starting in 1882. At this point, it is good to remind ourselves that the only source of dates available is the philatelic evidence: recorded postal markings, and actual dates of operation of a TPO, may extend many years before or after the dates presented in this study. Even the historical date of opening of the corresponding railway line may not provide a reliable beginning, for some railway routes were antedated by river steamer routes.
It would appear that all the other stretches shown in Fig.I eventually acquired TPO's, although not all have been seen as early as the 1880's. Only the direct line from Cairo to Suez must be excepted, for it was abandoned shortly after the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), long before the inauguration of any TPO service. A Cairo-Suez TPO nevertheless existed. It ran via Zagazig and Ismailia, and its postmarks have been seen from 1889 to 1898. The following list shows the TPO's known to have run on the early network of Fig.I; the dates are those recorded as having been seen.
(Many spelling variations of the names in this list are to be found, as is explained in section IV.)
Expansion of the State Railway network in the Delta began in 1888. In Fig.III, which covers the same terrain as Fig.I on a larger scale, slightly truncated at left and right, is shown the full standard-gauge system, as far up to date as I have been able to determine. The missing area covers the lines around Alexandria and to the Western Desert (see Fig.II) and the Suez Canal/Sinai area (see Fig.V).
In considering the expansion and its effect on the TPO's, let us begin with the northernmost section, the east-west link from Kafr el Sheikh to Sherbin, which forges a rail connection between the two great branches of the Nile. This is known as the Barraris Line. Its western end from Kallin to Kafr el Sheikh had existed since 1875, and had its own TPO, as we have seen, but the next part to be built was at its eastern end, from Sherbin to Belkas, in 1888. A short-lived TPO was operated over this new stretch of only 16.5 km (1891 to 1895 dates seen). Eight years later, another short stretch was opened, at the western end, from Kafr el Sheikh to Morabein. This allowed the Kallin-Kafr el Sheikh TPO to be extended to become the Kallin-Morabein TPO (1898-1899 dates seen). At the same time, the eastern end was extended to Biala; although a Biala-Sherbin TPO was presumably created at that time, the earliest date I have seen for it is 1905 (latest, 1938).. The Barraris Line was completed with construction of the Biala-Morabein section in 1898, an event that allowed operation of the through TPO, Kallin-Sherbin (seen 1900-1939). A short run on this line, Biala-Kallin, also had a TPO (seen 1902-1913). Biala was a logical TPO terminus for a short run, for it is the junction with a north-south light railway (Baltim-Mahalla TPO, see section II B).
The next construction takes us to the southern end of the Delta, where a suburban line northeast from Cairo was extended in 1888 to Mataria, to Marg in 1890, and to Alag in 1892. Not until 1911 was the remaining 17 km. constructed to link up with the main line at Shibin el Qanater. The Cairo-Marg stretch carried a TPO (1895-1935 dates seen), as did the Marg-Shibin el Qanater stretch (1923-1931 seen). However, if a through TPO from Cairo to Shibin el Qanater existed, I am unaware of it.
The Cairo-Marg line actually began as the first part of the Cairo-Suez line that was abandoned in 1869-70. By 1930, the economics of such a route had changed, and the line to Suez was rebuilt, branching off to the east just short of Marg, and opened for traffic in 1932. I have not seen evidence of a TPO that can be identified with it.
On the west side of the Nile at Cairo, a line was built from Bulak el Dakrur along the Rosetta Branch of the Nile in 1875 to provide the first direct link-up of the Upper Egypt railway with those of the Delta, which it joined at Teh el Barud. The comprehensive and generally reliable work, L'Egypte et ses Chemins de Fer, states that this line was not built until the 1920's, but that is patently false, for guidebooks as early as 1878 (Baedeker) show the line, giving 1875 as the opening date, and a TPO between the termini above is known with dates in 1894-1895. The Cairo-Teh el Barud (or Ityai el Barud) TPO apparently succeeded it (seen 1898-1951). This rail line serves few communities (Wardan, Khatatbe, Kom Hamade, etc.), but relieves traffic on the heavily populated parallel route to the east of it through Tanta.
The many small links in the Delta network were filled in over many years. An alternative route from Cairo to Tanta was provided by construction of the Ashmun-Minuf section, opened in 1896. A Minuf-Tanta TPO is known with dates from 1892 to 1916, and obviously operated as a short run in the later years, for an Ashmun-Tanta TPO over the same route is known from 1898 to 1915. I have been unable to identify a Cairo-Tanta TPO with this alternative route, and probably there was none, for the route is longer and slower. The absence of an Ashmun-Cairo TPO, however, is curious, and perhaps evidence of it will eventually turn up.
The need for efficient connections between Alexandria and the Suez Canal area prompted construction of several link lines in the period before World War I. These were from Damanhur to Desuq, requiring only a bridge over the Nile in order to utilize the older Damanhur-Rahmaniya branch (for which a TPO datestamp is known with 1892 dates); from Mahallet Roh to Santa and Zifta (previously existing) prolonged by new track to Zagazig, where connection was made with the existing Zagazig-Ismailia line. The new construction was actually from Mit Ghamr, across the Nile from Zifta. This made possible the Mit Ghamr-Zagazig TPO (dates seen 1910-1930). A Mit Ghamr-Zifta-Tanta TPO is also known (1905 dates seen), which must have operated over the lines from Zifta via Santa and Mahallet Roh. A through TPO between Alexandria and Port Said is known (1904-1914 dates seen); it must have travelled over these links as far as Ismailia. It would have been important for achieving fast mail connection with ships passing through the Suez Canal without having touched at Alexandria. The Tanta-Zagazig TPO (seen 1914-1946) also used part of this route.
In the northwest part of the Delta, a branch was constructed from Buseili, on the Alexandria-Rosetta line, to the Nile at Edfina, and gave rise to the Alexandria-Edfina TPO (seen with dates 1908-1943). This line was dismantled during World War I in order to provide track for the military railway being built from the Suez Canal toward Palestine, but it was relaid in 1922. In the same general region, the light railway on the east bank of the Nile from Desuq to Fua was either relaid to or paralleled by standard gauge and eventually extended north to Mitubis, opposite the Nile from Edfina, where a bridge was built at some time after 1930. After World War II, construction was also begun eastwards from Mitubis for a projected line to Sidi Ghazi, where it would join the Barraris line at its northernmost salient. The line reached only part way, to El Qassabi Bahari. I have not heard of a TPO on it. A connection was also built northeast from Desuq to end at El Aseifar; I am not sure if this may not have been a light, narrow-gauge line. A TPO ran on it, and its date stamps have been seen from 1936 to 1939.
The lines of the Egyptian State Railways in the Delta that remain to be considered are two branches out of Benha, an important town and junction due north of Cairo. One goes along the Nile to Zifta, and the other goes westwards through Minuf and then along the Rosetta branch of the Nile to Kafr el Zayat on the Tanta-Alexandria main line. I have not been able to find out when these lines were completed, but they are known to have been open to traffic at least as early as 1932. I have seen a date stamp of the Kafr el Zayat-Minuf TPO dated in 1932, and for the full-length Benha-Minuf-Kafr el Zayat TPO dated 1940. Completion of the Benha-Zifta link actually required only the building of a line from Mit Bera to Zifta, and the through line was opened to traffic in 1930. The older Benha-Mit Bera section had a TPO as early as 1906. The completed line accommodated the Benha-Mit Bera-Mit Ghamr TPO, which extended just beyond Zifta by crossing the Nile to the town on the opposite shore. The three-place designation was necessary to distinguish it from another TPO linking the same termini, the Benha-Mit Ghamr TPO, which ran on the light railway along the other bank of the Nile. Dates seen for the Benha-Mit Bera-Mit Ghamr TPO run from 1929 to 1931, a fact that suggests that the line was actually in operation in the year before the official opening date. Date stamps reading "Zifta-Mit Bera" of normal TPO style are known for 1902, but these were not used on a TPO, but on letters collected on a Rural Service route (somewhat resembling the United States Rural Free Delivery routes) that operated long before the building of the railway.
In eastern Egypt, towards the Suez Canal, a spur line was constructed northwards from Fakus to Semana at a date earlier than 1932, but I am unaware of a TPO having run on it. Still further east, the line from Fakus to Salhia was extended for military reasons to the Suez Canal at Kantara during World War I, but no TPO is known to have run on it, and the extension was dismantled after the war. In the same period, a line was built eastwards from Kantara across the Sinai desert to Palestine to support the military campaign against Turkey. It was at first operated by the army, after which it was administered as part of the Palestine Railways for about twenty years before being joined to the Egyptian Railways. Two TPO's were operated over it by the Palestine Post Office: Kantara-Rafah and Haifa-Kantara; their cancellations are found on Palestine stamps, not Egyptian, and the date stamps were in the standard style for Palestine. The line remained in operation until it was destroyed in the Israeli-Egyptian wars.
Intersecting the foregoing lines at Kantara is the north-south Port Said-Suez railway line through Ismailia, where connection is made to the Delta network with a westward line to Zagazig. The Port Said-Ismailia section was originally built and operated by the Suez Canal Co. in 1892. It was built in narrow gauge (three-quarter meter). The Company ran passenger trains and carried mail, but it is uncertain if the trains carried a TPO. Although an Ismailia-Port Said TPO is in fact known (seen 1894-1911), the Annual Reports of the Egyptian Postal Service in that period mention the existence of a "postal steamer" route on the Suez Canal between those two places. It seems more likely for the TPO to have been associated with the steamer rather than the privately run train. However, the Egyptian State Railways later took over the line from the Company (1902 is the official date), and soon relaid it to standard gauge and integrated it into the main network for through traffic. The TPO may have been transferred to the railway at that time, but I have no evidence to substantiate the possibility. On the other hand, the Alexandria-Port Said TPO, mentioned previously, did travel over this line, as did the Cairo-Port Said TPO (seen 1900-1947). The latter TPO was presumably integral with the steamer TPO from Ismailia to Port Said in its earlier years. The southern section of this line carried the Ismailia-Suez TPO (seen 1904-1913) and the Ismailia-Port Taufiq TPO (seen 1907-1940). The latter is only a slight extension of the former, for Port Taufiq is the dock area at the mouth of the Suez Canal, just beyond the town of Suez. The Cairo-Suez TPO also made use of this part of the line (seen 1889-1905).
To complete the story of the railways of northern Egypt in standard gauge, we have still to take up the region about Alexandria and westwards along the coast. The principal line in this region is known the "Maryut Line", because it leaves Alexandria westwards across Lake Maryut. This line was built privately by the Khedive as a personal business venture, close to the turn of the century, and was not incorporated into the State Railways until 1914. It was at first built in standard gauge only as far as Daba'a, and narrow-gauge extension continued to near Fuka. This was relaid to standard gauge in 1928. An Alexandria-Daba'a TPO is known with dates from 1910 to 1913, and two short runs also carried TPO's: Alexandria-Maryut (dates uncertain), and Alexandria-Mex (seen 1911-1915). The latter is actually a suburban route, of much importance because of military camps. The Maryut Line eventually extended far into the Western Desert, and when World War II brought military action to North Africa, the line was extended past Mersa Matruh and Salum and across the border into Libya. I understand that it now terminates at Mersa Matruh or Salum. I have seen a postmark of the Alexandria-Mersa Matruh TPO dated 1960. The line is shown in Fig.II.
On the east side of Alexandria, a spur from the Alexandria-Rosetta line runs a short distance to Abu Qir (Aboukir), important for fishing and for neighboring military camps. An Alexandria-Abu Qir TPO is known with dates from 1910 to 1937. Paralleling this line for part of the way is the suburban tram line of the Alexandria and Ramleh Railway Co. Ltd., a double-track electric line that runs fascinating double-decker trams. It is actually a very old line, dating from the 1860's, first as an animal-hauled service, then steam-hauled. An Alexandria-Ramleh TPO is known (seen 1888-1909), but it was probably a short run on the State Railways line. Later, Ramleh was incorporated in the Alexandria postal zone, and it became a branch of the Alexandria post office. The postmarks of the branch office are easily confused with the TPO, for the wording is the same in the Latin-letter part, with just the two names, either one above the other or separated by a dash. The Arabic inscription, however, has the word "and" (resembling an oversized comma) between the names in the case of the TPO, or the word "to", whereas the branch office has the word "at" ("fi") between the names.
The last feature of the Egyptian State Railways for Lower Egypt needing discussion here is the suburban Heluan line, which runs south from Cairo on the east bank. It is actually a complex of branches, serving both residential and industrial areas. The only part of it of postal significance is the passenger line from Bab el Louk station, not far from the foreign embassy district of Garden City, to Heluan via Maadi, a little under 20 km. Parts of the line were built as early as 1873 by the state, but from 1888 to 1915 the line was turned over to private enterprise for expansion. It was then reappropriated to the State Railway system. Postmarks of the Cairo-Heluan TPO are known dated 1890 to 1936. As in the case of Ramleh near Alexandria, Heluan eventually became incorporated into the Cairo postal area, within which it became a branch post office. It is difficult to distinguish between the postmarks of the TPO and those of the branch office; the distinction shows in the Arabic inscription, as described for the Alexandria-Ramleh case. Much later, with the development of a steel industry at Heluan after the revolution, a long extension was built westwards across the Nile into the desert to bring raw material from the Bahariya Oasis, but I am not aware of passenger service on it, and I do not believe it carried a TPO.
This section comes to a close with consideration of an enigmatic group of datestamps that are inscribed "TPO" or "AMBULANT", but carry the name of only one office. They are known for Alexandria, Cairo, Fayum, Mansura, Port Taufiq, Suez, and Tanta (Baltim has also been reported, but I have not been able to verify it). All of these places are important rail termini, and the postmarks may be those of terminal sorting offices (they appear to have been used only as transit markings).
B. The Light Railways
The need for an efficient way to transport agricultural commodities in the rich farming regions of the Delta led to the establishment of an elaborate system of light railways modeled after the rural railways of Belgium. The Government granted concessions to private firms in 1895 and 1896 for the construction and operation of narrow-gauge lines in the region. According to L'Egypte et ses Chemins de Fer, actual construction began in 1897, but the existence of cancellations with dates as early as 1894 suggests that the foregoing dates may not be accurate. Expansion over the next three decades developed a complex network, as shown in Figs. IV and V. These lines frequently cross those of the State Railways with grade separation, and in places run parallel to them. The gauges are, of course, incompatible, and interchange of rolling stock is not possible.
The parts of the system that I have seen are built of light rail, laid virtually without ballast on the very flat terrain, where rain rarely falls. Speeds are necessarily quite low. Most lines carried passenger trains, which were for a long time the only alternative to walking or riding animals (donkeys and camels, principally). These trains stopped at all villages, and carried TPO's that provided the only postal facility for many of the places. At towns also served by the State Railways, the light railways commonly have different stations, often separated by a considerable distance.
Because of the complexity of the routes and the incomplete availability of data, it is not feasible to take up the development of the TPO's in parallel with the construction of the lines. Two firms were responsible for the light railways in the Delta: Delta Light Railways Co., using O.75-meter gauge, and Société des Chemins de Fer de la Basse-Egypte, using a gauge of 1 meter. The TPO routes that they carried are listed in section VI, "Comprehensive List of Routes", identified by "DLR" and "CFBE", respectively, following the name of the route. Because of the smallness of the localities and the nature of the population served, the postmarks of most of these routes are scarce to rare, and for many I know of no covers. The majority of the examples known are thus incomplete strikes on loose stamps, and dates are therefore in many cases indeterminate. Those given in section VI are those that could be read unequivocally. The types of postmarks used by the TPO's on the light railways are the same as those used by the routes on the State Railways, and it is only by the location of the route that one can connect it with one of the light railways. In a small number of cases, there may be ambiguity; in such cases, the postmark may include a third, intermediate, place name which serves to differentiate the routes.
There is a third light railway, which runs from Khatatbe on the State Railway between Cairo and Teh el Barud westwards across the desert to Bir Hooker. The Egyptian Postal Guide for 1914 states that it carried the mails to Bir Hooker, but it does not appear to have had a TPO.
C. Steamer Routes
The Port Said-Ismailia TPO has already been mentioned as a probable boat service in its earlier years. In Minufiya Province, directly north of Cairo, a steamer TPO was operated on the Bahr Chibin, a major canal, between Shibin el Kom and Delta Barrage (a dam near the junction of the two branches of the Nile). Its postmarks have been seen only in the period 1888 to 1898; presumably it was closed down after completion of the Cairo-Minuf-Tanta rail line, which ran over the Barrage and through Shibin el Kom. A short run on the canal, the Bir Shams-Qanater el Delta TPO, functioned later (dates seen are 1908-1909), presumably to serve localities away from the railway. ("Qanater" is the Arabic equivalent of "Barrage"). The location of the canal is shown in Fig.I
A steamer route operated on the Rosetta branch of the Nile between Edfina and Kafr el Zayat (TPO seen dated 1893) before the coming of the light railways to the principal towns on both banks of the Nile. A slightly shorter part of the route was operated as the Atfe-Kafr el Zayat TPO (seen 1881-l898).
A postal steamer also functioned on the Bahr Saghir, a major canal running eastwards from Mansura (Fig.I). It carried the Mansura-Manzaleh TPO (seen 1887-1898). When the light railway was built to Mataria by the Société des Chemins de Fer de la Basse-Egypte, paralleling the canal, the TPO was superseded by the Mansura-Mataria TPO. The Société also ran ferries from the end of track at Mataria and at Gheit el Nassara, near Damiata, to Port Said, but there is no evidence that they carried a TPO.
A. The Egyptian State Railways (including river steamers)
The State Railways extend south from Cairo as far as Shellal, just above the High Dam at Aswan, a distance of 841 km. The network has a very different shape from that of the Delta, for it is confined almost entirely to the narrow Nile Valley. Except for some oases, principally the Fayum, Upper Egypt is almost entirely unpopulated desert, outside of a narrow strip of irrigable land along the river. The railway was built in stages over a number of years, starting from the west bank of the Nile at Cairo. The route and the progress of the construction are shown in Fig.VI (the scale is only about a third as large as Fig.I).
By the time that TPO's were introduced, the railway extended as far south as Assiut, and the earliest TPO in Upper Egypt is thus the Cairo-Assiut route (seen dated 1883 to 1949). There were also some short-run TPO's on this stretch of the railway: Cairo-Minia (seen 1894 to 1947); Cairo-Wasta (seen 1895); Cairo-Beni Suef (seen 1900 to 1906 and 1943), and Cairo-Fayum (seen 1886 to 1940). The route to Fayum follows the river valley to Wasta before branching off to the oasis, as shown in Fig.VI. The Beni Suef-Cairo TPO was apparently used for the main sorting of letters collected from the offices in Upper Egypt, for its postmarks are fairly common as backstamps, but rare as cancellations on stamps.
Until track was extended south of Assiut, a steamer TPO operated on the Nile from Assiut to Aswan, the head of navigation (seen 1883 to 1892). When the railway was finally extended once more, reaching Girga in 1892, the steamer route was shortened to become the Girga-Aswan TPO (seen 1894 to 1898), and the rail TPO grew to become the Cairo-Girga TPO (seen 1893 to 1898). By 1897, rail had reached Luxor, and a Cairo-Luxor TPO became possible (seen 1899 to 1904).
Up to this point, all construction was standard gauge. However, in 1896 a full-scale military campaign was mounted to recapture the Sudan from the regime of the Mahdi, who had wrested the Sudan from Egypt and General Gordon in the 1880's. Out of military expediency, requiring rapid provision of transport for troops and supplies, it was decided to build a railway system to and within the Sudan in narrow gauge, and Luxor thus became the site of change of gauge. A line of gauge 3ft 6in was built to Aswan in one year, and opened to service in 1898. The Aswan-Luxor TPO is known with dates from 1894 to 1939. For the first four years, at least, it must have been a steamer TPO, but it may have remained a steamer route, in order to serve intervening communities on the opposite side of the Nile from the railway.
The railway actually extended somewhat beyond Aswan, to Shellal, a docking site upstream of the great cataracts that interrupt navigation at Aswan. An orphan line around the cataracts, from Aswan to Shellal, had actually been built in the 1880's, and presumably was the initial part of the Aswan-Wadi Haifa TPO, which shortly after became the Shellal-Wadi Haifa steamer TPO. When the line from Luxor reached Aswan, the gauges were matched and the lines were linked. A Cairo-Shellal TPO was still not possible, however, because of the change of gauge at Luxor, until 1926, when the Luxor-Shellal stretch was relaid to standard gauge. Even so, I know of no evidence for such a TPO route. It would have been a very long stint for the crew, for the train journey from Cairo requires about sixteen hours, and some of it is rather rough. It was apparently considered preferable to divide the journey at Assiut and Luxor for shorter runs. The Assiut-Luxor TPO is known with dates from 1906 to 1957, and Luxor-Shellal from 1900 to 1933.
Several short runs exist besides these: Assiut-Minia (seen 1893 to 1936); Cairo-Sohag (seen 1899 to 1905), and Assiut-Nag Hammadi. The last of these has been reported without description of date or type of postmark, and I have not seen it. Nag Hammadi would have been a logical terminus for a TPO, for it is at that point that the railway crosses the Nile to the east bank, and prolongation of the line must have been interrupted for a time while the bridge was being built (1897). There are three other short runs on the Upper Egypt line: Luxor-Minia (seen 1900-1905); Luxor-Sohag (seen 1902 to 1937), and Minia-Sohag (seen 1904 to 1942).
Shellal was a practical terminus for the Upper Egypt railway, because at that point the Nile again becomes a navigable river. Steamer service to Wadi Haifa, 241 miles south, had been in existence at least as early as 1887. The steamers were operated by Thomas Cook Ltd., the tourism entrepreneurs, and carried a TPO, which continued until the 1960's, and may be going still. Although this TPO was at first named Assuan-Wadi Halfa, it was soon changed to the Shellal-Wadi Haifa TPO (seen from 1889), eliminating the short stretch of rail from Assuan. The original plans for the railway were to build right through to the Sudan, but the line was never extended, although such plans were revived after the Aswan High Dam was built in the 1960's.
The Shellal-Wadi Haifa TPO, also called Shellal-Halfa, and sometimes using the French spelling Chellal, thus began as an entity of the Egyptian postal service. After the Sudan was constituted as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1897, with a separately administered Post Office, the TPO became two services, one Egyptian and one Sudanese (there may have been a period when only the Sudanese service operated in the early twentieth century). The Sudanese TPO functioned mainly as a sorting facility for mail leaving the Sudan, and it is a very common transit marking. Its postmarks can be distinguished from those of the Egyptian TPO by the style of the markings (see section VI). The parallel Egyptian TPO seems to have functioned primarily as a service to the towns and villages along the route, which, of course, had no railway service. In contrast to the Sudanese TPO, its postmarks are rather scarce and were used exclusively to cancel stamps, insofar as I am aware.
In addition to the main line of the State Railways discussed so far, there are some auxiliary lines in the upper Nile valley. These began as a private business venture to serve the sugar refineries and agricultural estates of the Khedive, and were incorporated into the Egyptian State Railways in 1906. They run parallel to the main line, a little farther from the Nile. Access to the main line is cut off for long distances by major canals, and the auxiliary lines, on the landward side of the canals, were better able to serve local needs. Passenger trains run (or ran) on some of them, and served the towns of Beni Suef, Lahun, Shater Zadeh, Matay, Magaga, Idara, Roda, Deirut, and also Esna and Armant on the orphan line south of Luxor. There may have been TPO's in conjunction with some of these routes, but I have never seen a postmark attributable to any.
The only important branch line is that to the Fayum oasis Fig.VII. The larger part of it was built from Wasta on the main line in 1869, and prolonged to Abuksa in 1870, with a branch to Sennuris added in 1899. The Fayum-Wasta TPO was the earliest route on this branch (seen 1885 to 1914), followed by the Abuksa-Wasta TPO (seen 1899 to 1940). The Sennuris branch had a short-run TPO, the Fayum-Sennuris (seen 1900 to 1927), as well as a through-run Sennuris-Wasta TPO (seen 1906 to 1914). The Cairo-Fayum TPO has already been mentioned.
B. Light Railways in the Fayum
The rich Fayum agricultural region was provided with narrow gauge light railways in exactly the same way as was the Delta region. The Fayum Light Railways Co. built a network of lines under a government concession, and opened it to use piecemeal between 1900 and 1902, as shown in Fig.VII. The original direct line to Roda was abandoned in 1917, and its function was taken over by a short extension of the line to Tamiya. The nine known TPO's on these lines are identified in the list in section VI by the abbreviation FLR. The line from Fayum to Agamiyin appears not to have carried a TPO, for no evidence of one is known.
C. The Kharga Oasis Line
The Kharga Oasis (Wahat el Kharga in Arabic) is situated far out in the Western Desert. A narrow gauge (0.75 meter) railway was built to it by the Corporation of Western Egypt, and opened to traffic in 1908. The line was sold to the Government in 1909. Junction with the State Railways was effected near Farshout, a little north of Nag Hammadi, but operations were centered at Qara, 7 km from the junction at the edge of the desert. The line was not well patronized, and lost money; only two passenger trains were operated per week. One TPO, Qara-Wahat el Kharga, is known for the line (seen 1908 to 1912). The 1966 timetable for the State Railways no longer lists the Kharga Oasis line; instead, bus service is offered from Assiut. This railway line originally extended about 25 km west of El Kharga, to El Ghurab, and it may at one time have been intended to build onward to the Dakhla and Farafra Oases.
THE MARITIME POST OFFICE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
From 1865 until 1881, the Egyptian Post Office had a group of extraterritorial offices in the Ottoman Empire. All were ports, and their existence was dependent on the Khedivial Mail Line, a steamship service in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, based on Alexandria, and owned by the government of Egypt. For part of the period, the ships plying between Alexandria and Constantinople carried a post office. Details of its operation are not known; knowledge of it is derived from its postmarks, which have been seen from February, 1875, to February, 1879, cancelling Egyptian stamps. Covers are very rare. It is known that the office was open en route, and when in the terminal ports, but it is not known if any sorting was done. The postmark has been seen as a transit mark on a cover from Chios.
The circular date-stamp used by this service is inscribed only in Italian, that being the language used by the Egyptian Post Office generally in its initial years. It reads POSTE EGIZIANE around the upper part of the circle, and UFFIZIO NATANTE ("floating office") around the bottom. In the center, in addition to the date, is a changeable slug reading either COSP. ("Costantinopoli") or ALES. ("Alessandria"). The former was used on southbound mail (i.e., mail leaving Constantinople), and the latter on northbound mail (see Fig.VIII).
THE MILITARY TPO'S
The construction of the railway from Kantara across the Sinai and into Palestine has already been mentioned. It began in March, 1916, and track reached the border at Rafah just a year later. It was built for military purposes, and was operated by and for the military during the war. Among the military needs was handling the large volume of soldiers' mail, a need that was met by operating travelling post offices on the line. The postmarks used were skeleton types, carrying only initials. The earliest, inscribed only TPO RAK (or KAR) is known from January to May, 1917, and is believed to have operated from Kantara to the railhead, which would have been near El Arish at the start, and in the Gaza strip of Palestine at the end. Slightly later, another TPO, designated KAL (or LAX) came into use. It is known as early as April, 1917, and as late as May, 1920. It is believed to have operated between Kantara and points from Rafah northeastwards as far as Haifa, depending on the date. Still another TPO on this route was designated DAL (or LAD); it is known with dates from April, 1918, to July, 1920, and is believed to have operated between Kantara and Lod or Haifa. Two other military TPO's used the same style of handstamp, but operated entirely within Palestine: BAR/RAB and JAP/PAJ. They do not fall in the scope of this monograph.
Four other military TPO's ran on the lines of the Egyptian State Railways. One of them, designated Z and W TPO, used the route of the civil Alexandria-Daba'a TPO. It is known from January, 1916, to February, 1917, and presumably was created to serve the troops engaged in the Senussi campaign in the Western Desert. The TAC/CAT TPO worked the Cairo-to-Port Said route, and is known from May, 1916, to November, 1917. The SAT/TAS TPO is believed to have worked the Suez-Port Said route; it is known between June and August, 1916. As the military front moved from the Sinai into Palestine and onwards, the need for these TPO's in Egypt evidently subsided.
The last of this group used handstamps inscribed UPPER EGYPT TPO, and is believed to have operated on the main line of the State Railways between Wasta and Aswan. It is known in April, 1919, and is thought to have been necessitated by the national strike that took place in Egypt, paralyzing the mails
The handstamps of all of these TPO's are rare, and information is rather scanty. Somewhat more detail can be found in Army and Field Post Offices of Egypt and the EEF by Michael M. Sacher, published by the Royal Philatelic Society of London in 1971.
COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF ROUTES
The following list includes all the TPO routes that have been identified. They are listed in alphabetical order of the termini earliest in the alphabet, regardless of the order in which they may appear in a postmark. Thus, ALEXANDRIA-CAIRO subsumes Cairo-Alexandria. This may seem simple enough, but there is a great problem in making a list in alphabetical order in English when one is dealing with Arabic names, for there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the Arabic and Latin alphabets. There are many different systems for transliterating Arabic names into the Latin alphabet, and not one but many of them have been used in Egyptian postmarks and documents.
One may distinguish four periods in the spelling of Egyptian place names in postmarks: Italian phonetics (before 1880); French phonetics (about 1880-1900); English phonetics (after 1900), and international phonetics (much of the twentieth century). The first affects us but little, since there were only two TPO termini in the Italian period, "Alessandria" and "Cairo". French and English phonetics are fairly similar, and there is only one major difference affecting alphabetical order: French "ch" = English "sh". In such cases, the French spelling determines the position in the list, because it antedates the English. The town "Sheen" will thus be found in the list as "Chine", for example.
Another problem is that Arabic contains several consonants that are not phonemic to English or French. The letter "qaf", for example, stands for a guttural "k"; although it is most properly transliterated as "q", it has also been transliterated as "k" or "g". Thus Qaliub, Kaliub, and Galiub are the same place. I have tried to be consistent in using the earliest letter in the alphabet in determining the position in the list. Fortunately, most other situations like this do not make a difference within the context of this list. Arabic vowels are not always clearly defined in relation to French or English ones, and that fact may affect alphabetic position. The town Dalangat may also be spelled Dilingat, and Damyat may be Dumyat, for example, and Idwa is the same place as Edwa.
As if the foregoing problems were not enough, many of the major towns in Egypt have Europeanized names that differ markedly from the Arabic, such as "Rosetta"("Rashid" in Arabic), "Damietta" ("Damyat" in Arabic), and "Teh el Barud" ("Ityai el Barud" in Arabic). In the nineteenth century, it was customary to use the Europeanized names in postmarks, but in later years, a transition to the Arabic forms occurred. Where confusion might arise, I have included cross references. Incidentally, both "Alexandria" and "Cairo" are Europeanized names (they are "Al Iskanderiya" and "Al Qahera" in Arabic).
Now that we have all the rules in hand, we might develop a little confidence in identifying Egyptian postmarks, but that would be premature, because the people who made the postmarking devices did not always follow the ru1es. They sometimes made silly, but obvious, mistakes, such as "Carie" for "Caire" (Cairo), but in other cases they simply made up their own spellings. All this will frustrate you so much that you will never want to see another Egyptian postmark, or it will become an intriguing challenge that adds zest to your collecting.
There is an obvious alternative to all this fuss over spellings: use the original Arabic inscriptions, since nearly all the postmarks are bilingual. For those who would like just a taste, I have prepared a glossary of all the TPO terminal offices with their Arabic equivalents. This list can be useful when one is trying to identify an incomplete strike of a postmark. Since Arabic is written from right to left, if one has only a vertical half of a postmark, usually both termini of the TPO can be read, one in Latin letters, one in Arabic.
SCARCITY. For each TPO route, I have indicated the scarcity on a scale of I to VI. These ratings are based on what I have encountered in my own and two other major collections, and are of course only approximate. Furthermore, they are for the route only, and there may be great variations within a given route from one postmark type to another. In a few cases, such variations are noted in section VII. For those routes given a rating of I, I have seen fifty or more examples, whereas for those rated VI, I have seen no more than two. The rarest routes are found among the TPO's on the light railways.
HANDSTAMP TYPES. The indications of the postmark types that have been seen for each route refer to the designations illustrated in section VI. Others may of course exist, unknown to me.
RANGE OF DATES. The year spans shown in the list are only the result of observations of the dates in postmarks in collections, and are not from official records. For the commonest routes; these ranges are probably fairly reliable, but for the rarest ones, the range of dates may easily be longer by decades. The earliest dates are obviously limited by the construction of the railways, as delineated in sections II and III.
RURAL SERVICE ROUTES. The Rural Service in Egypt somewhat resembles the Rural Free Delivery service in the United States. It is a service by a postman on foot or mounted on a beast of burden, and its routes are not travelling post offices in the sense of this monograph. However, some of the Rural Service postmarks are easily mistaken for TPO postmarks, since many of the routes were designated by the termini. If the words "Rural Service" cannot be made out, one can be misled. The postmark types are mostly quite different from those of the TPO's, but in at least two instances, a Rural Service route was issued a postmark in the identical style to those of the TPO's. Those that I am aware of are noted in the list of TPO's. In some situations, a Rural Service route was replaced by a TPO when a railway was constructed along it.
"BARRAGE" and "QANATER", etc.: "Barrage", an English word meaning a low dam, was used as the name of the terminus of a TPO route. Its full name is "Delta Barrage", or there are other barrages in Egypt. The Arabic for barrage is "qanater", and the word "Delta" has been translated into Arabic as either "delta" or "khairia". The names BARRAGE, DELTA BARRAGE, QANATER EL DELTA, and QANATER EL KHAIRIA refer to the same place, and all have been used in TPO postmarks at one time or another.
RECORD OR PROOF IMPRESSIONS.: Pages from record books bearing impressions of a large number of TPO postmarks are known, but it is uncertain whether they represent proof impressions made before the devices were issued, or record impressions made upon their retirement (their generally blurred state suggests the latter). Although the dates are not a reliable indication of the period of operation of the TPO, they are shown in the list in parentheses where they fall outside the range of dates seen on covers or stamps.
Company: DLR = Delta Light Railways; FLR = Fayum Light Railways; CFBE = Chemins de Fer de la Basse-Egypte.
|Military Travelling Post Offices: All of these TPOs postmarks are of the skeleton type. The scarcity of all these TPOs is IV to V|
|Possible Unrecorded Routes:
Besides the foregoing list, a number of "lines" are referred to in the 1914 Egyptian Postal Guide. It is not clear whether TPO lines or merely railway lines are meant, but in nearly every instance, the route indicated is covered by a recorded TPO of slightly different terminal designation. For example, ABU QIR-SIDI GABR is virtually the same as the known ABU QIR-ALEXANDRIA; Sidi Gabr is a suburb of Alexandria, and is the point where the line to Abu Qir branches off from the main line to Tanta. The list below is presented for the record, in case examples may turn up.
LINES CITED IN THE POSTAL GUIDE, 1914
GLOSSARY OF ARABIC SPELLINGS
VII 3 THE HANDSTAMPS USED
In this section, the known types of handstamps used on Egypt TPO’s are classified and given type numbers. However, when the general classification of all Egyptian postal markings was begun by R. Seymour Blomfield before World War II, the size of the task could not be properly envisaged, and the system that seemed entirely adequate at that time became gradually strained as the complexity of the subject unfolded, especially with respect to the TPO’s. In this monograph, it is supplanted with a revised set of type numbers, based on the original principles. The old numbers are given for reference, for they have been used in various prior publications.
First Digit: indicates how the service is indicated.
1. AMBULANTE (Italian)
2. AMBULANT (French)
3. abbreviations: AMB.; AMBT.,
4. AMBULANT + V.V. (Vice Versa)
6. TPO + V.V.
7. & V.V.
8. no explicit indication; names of termini only.
Second symbol - a capital letter: indicates variations in the service indicator, such as the type of abbreviation, the pres¬ence of auxiliary symbols, etc.
Third symbol - a digit to represent significant variations in geometry, including frame lines and ornaments, and style of date band.
Fourth symbol - a digit following a decimal point, representing: significant variations in language; variations in relative positions of the parts of the inscriptions; presence of a train number; variations in the number of town names.
Fifth symbol - a digit to account for minor varieties, such as changes in the Arabic inscription; whether the termini are on one line or two; whether they are straight-line or curved. In addition, a letter or asterisk may follow for quite small variants.
For each type, every route known for it is listed, together with the span of dates recorded. The dates are, of course, sub¬ject to major expansion in many cases. The spellings of the place names are given exactly as they appear; where only incomplete strikes have been seen, the letters actually seen are underlined. Dates in parentheses are from proof impressions, and may not cor¬respond to actual dates of use. Sizes may vary from the illus¬trations, and some routes had more than one die, in different sizes. In some cases this is noted, but the absence of a note should not be taken to mean that only one size exists.
In the Arabic inscriptions, the equivalent terms are:
L'Egypte et ses Chemins de Fer, by L. Wiener, Brussels, 1932.
The Postal Markings of Egypt, a Study entrusted to R. Seymour Blomfield, The Egypt Study Circle, 1950-1976.
Time Table of Passenger Trains, Egyptian Railways, 1966.
L"Obliteration "Ambulant", by Gabriel Boulad, L'Orient Philatelique, Vol. 4, No. 50 (April, 1945), p. 257.
Note au Sujet de 1'Obliteration "Ambulant", by Gabriel Boulad, L'Orient Philatelique, Vol. 4, No. 53 (January, 1946), p. 411.
Egyptian Postal Guides, 1892-1914. Cook's Handbook for Egypt and the Sudan, by E. A. W. Budge,
Thomas Cook & Son, Ltd., London, 1906.
Baedeker's Egypt, various editions, but especially 1898.
A Handbook for Travellers in Egypt, John Murray, London, 1875.
Universelle, Berne, 1968.
Army and Field Post Offices of Egypt and the EEF, by M. M. Sacher, The Royal Philatelic Society, London, 1970.
Gazzeteer No. 45, Egypt and Gaza Strip, 1959, Office of Geography, United States Department of the Interior.
Maps: Egypt, 1 : 1,000,000. George Philip & Son Ltd., London, 1952. Directorate of Military Survey maps: Egypt, North Coast Series, GSGS 4086, 1939-1941.
Survey Department of Egypt, 1 : 1,000,000 maps of 1909, 1945, 1947, 1949.
Most of the tracings of cancellations were made by R. Seymour Blomfield, Anthony S. Schmidt, Gabriel Boulad, and Edmund Hall. They deserve the gratitude of all the users of this work for their arduous labor, which constitutes a central part of this study.
The large amount of detail on the types of handstamps and their dates of use obviously required the cooperation of a large number of collectors. Some were able to contribute only one small detail, whereas others, with large collections were able to con- tribute a lot, but it is all important, and without this widespread cooperation, the study would not have been possible. It is a pleasure to acknowledge this help, which is so characteristic of the Egypt Study Circle.