Lebanon – The French military post agent on the Beirut’s Marina

This article is inspired by observation of the great interest regarding an envelope as lot 41, starting at 700 Euro and sold for 1’100 Euros by Cedarstamps auction house in the 23 November 2019 sale (fig 1).

fig 1

It is an envelope most probably written and sent by an officer of the French navy embarked on the Dunkerque Aviso*. The consignor had the magnificent idea of attaching a cinderella stamp on the front of the envelope depicting the small warship and his crew on the ship’s deck. At the bottom of the stamp on the left is the inscription “International Express, La Seyne-sur-mer” which certainly refers to the publishing and printing house. Unfortunately I can’t say more about this cinderella. We now come to the means by which the envelope was routed, first in the military and then in the civilian postal system which the former used for transport the mail in “special military sack” in peacetime. I specify that this was due for normal correspondence between military and relatives/friends and not for the service releases for which radio encryption secure means was normally used.

The envelope was then written in the military port of Beirut, called at the time “Beyrouth Marina” and the stamp cinderella amicably canceled with the regulatory administrative stamp in violet “MARINE FRANCAISE – SERVICE A LA MER” which was used to authorize the free of charge shipment of mail for military who had the right.

In the military port of Beirut I have always assumed that there was a military relay service used to transport mail from the port (A) to the “Serrail” (B), imaginable through the indications on the map of the port of Beirut that I show (fig 2).

*adopted by the French and Portuguese navies to classify their medium-sized warships.

fig 2 – Port of Beirut, detail from a 1945 map drawn by the Free French Forces.

I have been able to observe various postal objects send with seals inscription “BEYROUTH MARINE”, they were affixed by the military relay to indicate their origin once they arrived at the military post office (figs 3 and 4). It is no coincidence that the envelope in figure 4 has the seal covered by the stamps: its presence was no longer needed since the envelope was consigned to the civil post office and regular franked with stamps used to pay the full free. Why to the Serrail? Because from the latest information in my possession that was the place where the French military post office was installed, indicated as “Sector Postal 600” which served the military based in Beirut and the surrounding areas.

fig 3 – Cover sent to France free of charge, forwarded on 18/10/1928 by Marina military relay to the P.A.A. 600 based in the Serrail.

fig 4 – Cover sent by air to Greece, originated from Beirut port and forwarded by the Marina military relay to the civilian post office

Then our envelope arrives in the French military post office which provided on 16/8/1932 to affix the regulatory cancellation “Postes Aux Armees 600” and a rectangular advertising seal praising the speed of mail sent by air. I also show an envelope sent by the civilian postal agency located near the military base that used a bilingual seal “AVENUE DES FRANCAIS BEYROUTH”, is very rare (fig 5).

fig 5 – Cover sent to Transjordan on 27/11/1935, originated from “AVENUE DES FRANCAIS BEYROUTH” post agency near the port area

I end by showing, by way of complement, an illustrated postcard of the port of Beirut (fig 6 and 7) sent on 2/7/1974 by the post office of “BEYROUTH PORT” probably established in the late 1950s, the final landing point for all mail sent from the port area of ​​Beirut.

fig 6 – The photo side Post card with image taken from the roof of one of the buildings in point “A” in fig 2. In the foreground a small Lebanese warship

fig 7 – The back side Post card sent to Italy with stamp of 40 Piastres cancelled by the bilingual postmark “BEYROUTH PORT” on 2/July/1974

Bernardo Longo

The use of Aleppo Rosette on commercial mail

by Bernardo Longo

 

The purpose of this article is to show the postage use of so-called “Flueron d’Alep” stamps. For the complete philatelic description of this stamps issue I leave the task to some other brave collector.

 

A series consisting of nine French stamps overprinted by second Gedeon type “O.M.F. Syrie” and new value, further surcharged with a small floral seal hence also named “Rosette” (fig 1). The nine values, from 0.25ct of Piastre to 100 Piastres, i.e. 0.25ct, 0.50ct 1P, 2P, 5P, 10P, 25P, 50P and 100P, were surcharged with the Rosette, first in black and then in red (fig 2).

 

fig 1

fig 2

Here I do not want and cannot talk about values highest than 2 Piastres stamps because I have never seen these on genuine commercial envelopes. All high values stamps were subject to speculation and consequently hoarded to be resold at prices significantly higher than their face value. Let’s try to understand what motivations led the French occupying forces to order the issue of stamps with this unusual surcharge.

On 24 July 1920, after the French victory on the hill of Maysalun over the weak armed forces of the Kingdom of Syria, General Gouraud subjected the regions of Damascus and Aleppo to a military occupation as it had already done for the coastal region (fig 3). This lasted until 31 August, after which the following day the states of Greater Lebanon, Damascus and Aleppo were unilaterally proclaimed by French, the same old story “to divide to win and rule easy”. The rich caravan city of Aleppo was the financial hub of the Kingdom of Syria and as such was much more sensitive to economic aspects than to political ones, like we’ll see a prerogative of Damascus city. So, when the French, following their “political marketing of the image”, wanted to adopt their O.M.F. stamps already in use on the coastal area (from Alexandretta to Tyre passing through Beirut and Mont Lebanon), the Aleppian public opinion did not oppose except to induce the French administration to use nominal value to be given to these stamps: the Egyptian Gold Piastre.

fig 3 – General Gouraud before the battle of Maysalun

The postage stamps of the former Kingdom of Syria were also expressed in the Egyptian gold Piastre, it was worth about three times the Syrian Piastre value applied on the stamps used on the coastal area since 1 May 1920. It was the British military government that issued a decree on 18 November 1918 to imposing Egyptian currency establishing the exchange rates between Turkish Lira, the Damascus Piastre and the Egyptian Piastre. As can be seen from the attached document (fig 4), the Egyptian Piastre was the privileged currency reference between the three currencies. It was therefore decided by adopting the OMF stamps to give them the value in Egyptian Piastre only for the “intramuros” city of Aleppo. So the postage stamps that on the coast had a value of about 1/3 of an Egyptian Piastre are found almost three times overvalued in our Syrian city. So far nothing too complicated, in fact there was no territorial contiguity between the city of Aleppo and the coastal territories where these stamps were common used and therefore theoretically no risk of “fraudulent infiltration”. But I would like to return to the concept of “history written by the winners” in fact a macroscopic inconsistency exists in the catalogs and especially in the Maury one where it is written “Overprint on purpose for monetary reasons: …..” and it is right but if you observe that which took place in the contiguous state of Damascus will certainly be perplexed. In fact, in the former capital of the Kingdom of Syria the stamps in Egyptian currency were still used.

fig 4 – On the left a copy of the decree and its translation on the right.

This lasted until 31 May 1921, in fact only from 1 June the same stamps of the K.o.S. overprinted “O.M.F. Syrie” with new monetary values in Syrian currency were issued (fig 5). In conclusion, I am led to affirm that not an economic motivation led to adopt Rosetta surcharge seal in Aleppo, but rather a compromise between the French, wanted to display their “national symbolic icons” show by stamps (semiology enters into this context) and the local population, flexible towards the will of the occupant but sensitive to economic aspects. To refute this statement, it is sufficient to observe what happened in Damascus, a city more prone and sensitive to ideological-cultural aspects and where French occupying authority considered it wiser to keep in use stamps of former Kingdom of Syria, always in Egyptian currency, in order not to hurt a public opinion that had experienced what can certainly be referred to as the first example of a self-proclaimed Arab Democratic State.

fig 5 – 1/6/1921, first day of issue of the K.o.S values overprinted “O.M.F.”

Having removed this pebble from my shoe, I can move on to what I believe is an interesting chapter in Syrian postal history.

In Aleppo for the whole month of September the K.o.S. stamps were still used (fig 6), only towards the end of the month we can see some sporadic use of the “O.M.F. Syrie” stamps (fig 7).

fig 6 – 1 Piastre KoS stamp used in Aleppo on 2/9/1920

 

fig 7 – Two 50ct O.M.F. without Rosetta to fulfill 1 Egyptian Piastre rate used in Aleppo on 30/9/1920

The 1 October 1920 Rosettes were issued and I know only two envelopes sent on the first day of use, one is the one shown here (fig 8). Do not forget also the use of old E.E.F. stamps still valid in mixed franked with Rosette, these are to be counted as rare (fig 9). The postal rate for letter up to 20 grams continued to be established by postal authorities of Kingdom of Syria in June 1920: 1 Piastre indiscriminately for domestic and abroad destinations. For letters of greater weight, the postage was increased by 1 Piastre for each 20 grams more.

fig 8 – 1 Piastre O.M.F. stamp overprinted Rosetta used in Aleppo on 1/10/1920 First Day of Use

fig 9 – Mixed franking using 2P E.E.F. and 1P Rosetta on double rate Registered cover

Insufficiently franked letters were taxed instead (fig 10). One natural conversion was used for postal rate of postcards with more than five words (fig 11) or for unsealed envelope with message inside equated to post card rate that was 5 mills or ½ Piastre equivalent to 50ct. If the 50ct postage stamp are perfectly suited to the postcard rate, as far as the “printed matters” rate the 25ct stamp was used rounding reduced from 3 mills to 2½ mills or ¼ of Piastre equivalent precisely at the 25ct stamp issued (fig 12).

fig 10 – Insufficiently franked cover taxed in Granz, Austria on 2/11/1920

fig 11 – 50ct Rosetta used to pay unsealed envelope rate

fig 12 – 25ct Rosetta used to pay wrapper for printed matter

The postcards sent in this period are scarce to find, the printed matter are very rare. I don’t know “samples without value” franked by Rosette stamps. The registered letters even if scarce are known; normally franked with 2 Piastres (fig 13), those with upper franking (fig 14) are rare.

fig 13 – Registered letter using 2P Rosetta stamp on 2/3/1921

fig 14 – Registered double letter rate from Aleppo on 1/1/1921 to Beirut

It should also not be forgotten that the value in Syrian currency had to be multiplied by three for which the highest I know is the one franked for 5 Egyptian Piastres (fig 15) equivalent to 15 Syrian Piastres. For this envelope I am still shedding tears of pain since I deprived myself of it in a moment of madness. The last date of use on cover that I know is 14 March 1921 (fig 16), I do not think it is the last ever and you can find rosettes used until the end of March.

fig 15 – Registered quadruple letter rate from Aleppo on 24/11/1920

fig 16 – Cover from Aleppo on 14/3/1921 showing last day of use recorded

In any case in April you should no longer find, the use of “O.M.F.” with High Commissioner overprint, used as a tax due stamp on the envelope from Egypt proves this (fig 17). The cover was insufficiently franked only with 10 mill Egyptian stamps equivalent to 15ct instead of 25ct gold franc or 15 mill. The tax equivalent to the double of deficiency (20ct gold franc) equivalent to 2.40 Syrian Piastres was instead valued at 1 Piastra. Concluding with tariff issues, I add that in the short period from the end of March to 15 May 1921 in Aleppo was used system of multiplying by three the rate value expressed in Egyptian Piastre, like the registered envelope of 3 May 1921 (fig 18) franked for 6 Syrian Piastres (3P for letter up 20gr and 3P for registered service).

fig 17 – Taxed cover in Aleppo on 13/4/1921 using O.M.F. stamps.

fig 18 – Registered cover using O.M.F. stamps from Aleppo on 3/5/1921 at 6 Piastres rate.

An envelope of the same weight sent from Beirut (fig 19) or from another coastal location at the same period paid 4P (2P + 2P). Only from 15 May 1921, issuing new tariff, French administration standardize rates throughout all Lebanon and Syria territory and in Aleppo they noticed nothing as the above rate was increased to just 6 Syrian Piastres.

fig 19 – Registered cover using O.M.F. stamps from Beirut on 5/5/1921 at 4 Piastres rate.

 

All images are taken from the Cedarstamps auction catalog
or belong to my collection.

Bernardo Longo