Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A stamp created under a siege, the Jerusalem siege

We learned from a previous post Jerusalem is under siege that from December 1947, Jewish Jerusalem
was under a de-facto siege. At this time there were about 100,000 Jews and about 65,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem, but the vast majority of those Arabs lived in the old city. (Jerusalem is the small red blob on the middle right edge of the stamp).

Transportation to the city from the Jewish area was limited to the only road in existence, and that road was under constant attack. Supplies were in short supply.

The British had enough problems. They had had enough. It was just three short years after the end of World War II; India had their independence and they were already out of there and the Palestine mandate was drawing to an end, so why would they want to get involved and help Jews; despite their requirement under the mandate.

The British had announced that they were closing down their postal services in Jerusalem as of May 5th. However on April 20th, Arabs ambushed a huge 350-strong vehicle convoy on its way to Jerusalem. Many soldiers and passengers were killed. What was the British answer? To close the postal services! As of April 25th there were no more postal services to and from Jerusalem.

Now from other posts in this blog we know that the Jewish community created their own postal system. Read here. This was supposed to take effect as of May 2nd. Houston we have a problem, there is no way to get the stamps to Jerusalem, the roads are closed!

There was heavy fighting between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and it wasn't exactly safe to get to a post office anyway. May 8th the Jewish forces seemed to overcome the Arab forces in the Jerusalem area and a semblance of peace evolved. So what do we do now? Let's call our family and let them know/ Problem is that this is 1948 and there were very few phone lines and the only method was writing.

Now there is a new problem, they had no stamps as supplies were not coming through. There were also no JNF stamps on hand to use and overprint. So what were they to do?

You know the Partition Plan JNF labels? Well the printer of those stamps, Haoman Press, still had the printing plates. Problem solved, let us add the word Postage and the face value of the stamp. OK then, they decided to issue three values, a 5mil for the printed letter rate, a 10mil for the regular rate and 25 mil for registered.

So Haoman Press printed the stamps and to speed up the process, they had Lipshitz Press add the overprint. This went on sale on May 9th. Amazing, from idea to store within 24 hours! Looks like they really wanted to send mail.

There were long queues of people who wanted to buy these stamps, many of them as souvenirs, and supplies ran out within a few hours. But as it turns out, Haomnan was still printing sheets, but this time they were adding the overprints themselves, in the same process. However they added the overprints in a different way. In the first issue, the word Postage was added at the top and in this issue, they were added at the bottom. This issue was put on sale on May 10th. Collectors know these as First Issue and Second Issue, I wonder why.

May 14th Israeli statehood was declared and on May 16th the Doar Ivri stamps went on sale, except in Jerusalem. A war? A siege? Both.

Pressure was on to open the main post office in Jerusalem and because they were running out of the 5mil stamp, they ordered a reprint. The post office was opened on May 21st and the new overprints were delivered on May 24th. Problem was that the 5 of the 5mils was slightly different. So what name do we give this issue? Third Issue, right? Actually the also became known as Jerusalem Locals I, II and III to differentiate them from the Palestine Mandate overprints.

The history of Jerusalem is always exciting, but the study of stamps in the framework of the struggle makes it more enjoyable.

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

My new YouTube Channel

This is my first attempt. I hope you like it.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

What do toilet paper and facemasks have in common?

Today I have another surprise for you. Another very good friend has volunteered to write something for us. So thank you Jean Wang for joining us.

For collectors of medical philately, the pandemic has provided lots of fodder, with so far over 100 official stamp issues, slogan machine cancels and meter marks, pictorial postmarks and postal stationery, among others. The stamp issues have covered a wide variety of pandemic-related themes, including thanking essential workers, promoting public health measures, spreading messages of solidarity and support, and more recently promoting vaccination. Among these, two issues from Austria stand out: a semi-postal souvenir sheet issued in October 2020 and a stamp issued in September 2021.

Both of these COVID-19 issues are made of unusual material, something for which Austria Post has developed a reputation. They have previously issued stamps made of porcelain, leather, glass, fabric, plastic, wood, and an aluminum plastic composite (ski tip), as well as stamps with crystals, seeds, pearls, or rock dust affixed.

Austria toilet paper souvenir sheet
Their first COVID-19 stamp issue, a souvenir sheet titled “Distance that brings us together”, promotes social distancing and depicts a baby elephant (printed in silver foil) as a way to help people judge a distance of 1 meter. To provide perspective, the sheet also illustrates a small insect (1 mm), a fly (1 cm), and a mouse (1 dm - a decimeter is 10cm) (note – objects are not to scale!). Why a baby elephant, you ask? During the first wave of the pandemic, Austria encouraged (and later legally required) people to stay ‘a baby elephant apart’. This symbol of social responsibility was quite popular – in fact, ‘baby elephant’ (or ‘Babyelefant’ as it is commonly written in German) was named Austria’s word of the year for 2020.

What makes the souvenir sheet truly unique, however – and a mandatory item for collectors of unusual stamps – is the material on which it is printed. Austria Post has a somewhat irreverent sense of humor (see, for example, their Brexit stamp on the left, which poked fun at the delayed withdrawal of the UK from the European Union). As a nod to the panic buying of toilet paper that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic by people worried about the impact of lockdowns on their personal hygiene, this souvenir sheet is printed on actual 3-ply toilet paper. The postal agency teamed up with a toilet paper manufacturer to plan and test the production process over many months. To overcome the obvious problems of the material’s fragility and its assured destruction upon getting wet, a self-adhesive film was laminated onto the back; just peel and stick, no licking necessary. 

Toilet paper strips. Photo credit: Leonhard Foeger (Reuters)
The souvenir sheets, each one the size of a single sheet of toilet paper, were issued in strips of three, with the perforations resembling those of toilet paper rolls. Not uncommonly, the perforations separating the souvenir sheets do not line up perfectly with the perforations separating the sheets of toilet paper, so meticulous collectors can find ‘varieties’ of the souvenir sheet with an extra line of perforations. To balance the cheekiness of the material chosen, Austria Post added a surcharge to support charitable causes.

Austria’s second pandemic-related stamp is also manufactured from unusual material and promotes another public health measure: the use of facemasks, which have become a mainstay in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in indoor spaces. In January 2021, in the midst of their third lockdown and in response to increasing numbers of cases caused by the more contagious variants of the coronavirus, Austria mandated the use of medical-grade FFP2 (Filtering Face Piece) masks, which are more protective than cloth or surgical masks, on public transport and in shops, businesses and hospitals. 

As a light-hearted reminder of how easily we can protect ourselves from infection, Austria Post last month issued a facemask-shaped stamp made from the same material used to make FFP2 masks in Europe. Each stamp is composed of two layers of fleece embroidered in the shape of an FFP2 mask and cut out with laser technology, with embroidered ear loops attached on both sides. A red coronavirus is embroidered on the stamp along with details such as the folds and nose clip. Like the toilet paper souvenir sheet, the facemask stamp has a self-adhesive backing for easy application.
While some collectors might consider such non-traditional stamp issues frivolous and unbecoming of a global health crisis that is now approaching its second anniversary, these two issues from Austria do serve to highlight important public health measures and will likely reach a broader audience due to their unusual qualities. Humor helps us cope with stress, and as the pandemic drags on, Austria Post’s efforts to make us smile can make the world feel a little less gloomy, one stamp at a time.

Dr Jean Wang is a hematologist and leukemia researcher in Toronto, Canada with an interest in medical philately

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

QDC May the Lord be with you

Some religious people say to you, "May the Lord be with you" or "Go with God", which is pretty nice but if you are a Star Wars fan, you probably say "May the Schwartz be with you". But this is a blog about philately and so we will leave the Force and the Schwartz alone.

Some of us who collect prephilately, whether it is our main topic or just because it fills our thematic collection, have often noticed some letters or abbreviations on mail, often on maritime mail. It is bad enough trying to decipher the address itself but then you get letters that you scratch your head wondering what they are.

What is of interest to us today are the letters Q.D.C. Now before I continue let me explain what this is. From approximately the end of the 17th century until the beginning of the 19th century, maritime mail used marks such as Q.D.C. or Que Dieu Conduise which means "May God Guide". This, added together with the name of the ship and the captain showed that the fee for the mail was paid for although it was quite often free. They were then distributed locally free of charge in the port. It seemed to be acceptable practice that the marks + the name of the ship + the name of the captain meant that postage had been paid, either free or not, so no further fee was charged. This is as seen on French maritime mail as the item above.

According to one source similar markings exist on maritime mail from other countries such as "Which God Protect" (WGP) (English), "Che Dio Guardia" (Italian), or "Que Deus Guia" (Portuguese). I must admit that I have never seen any of these.

One other marking is seen, but not as often, DLC or "Dieux Le Conduit” which basically means “God leads”.

Getting back to the item shown above. It was sent in 1818 from Alexandria to Marseille and is endorsed 'par Cap. Bertrand ou Q.D.C.' with chisel slits for disinfection. From 1787, ships from suspect areas bound for France were sent to a quarantine office at the foot of Fort St. Jean, in Marseille harbour, where they were slit for fumigation and dipped in vinegar.

The letter was addressed to a Mr. Balthalon and there is a bit of a story here. Pierre Balthalon mainly, but also others in his family, such as his brother, were the receiving point in Marseille for Bernardino Drovetti, the French council in Alexandria, to trade antiquities. Mr. Drovetti used others as receiving points as well, although to a lesser extent, and Balthalon had other connections to trade in Alexandria (the trading house there existed before and after Drovetti, established by Pierre's father and survived until their bankruptcy later in the 19th century.

For more information see:
  • "The Parodi Archive" ~ AMERICAN PHILATELIST Vol 101 April 1987

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Cito cito cito

Today we look at a letter and quite often we don't give a thought to how the letter arrived, if we are luck enough for it to arrive. Very often our main mode of communication is WhatsApp or something similar or even an email, although sometimes our mail goes into a spam folder.

But this was not always the case. Are any of you marathon runners? Have you ever given any thought to its origin, and no it is not because of the Olympics; that only started in 1896 at the first Olympics. Well way back before then, there were no computers or smartphones and very often no writing paper or people who could read or write, so what happens if you need to bring news to Athens of an important victory over an invading army of Persians? Well the legend says that in 490BC, an ancient Greek messenger raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers and hence the marathon was born. Personally I don't even feel like driving 40km but I am not a Greek messenger. Apparently after giving the message, the poor exhausted messenger simply collapsed and died.

Legend or not, it shows how important a message is and hence our story of the day. We will fast forward almost 2000 years to the Republic of Venice. The Republic of Venice realized early on that they also need to transfer messages to other cities, in Italy and elsewhere and they allowed for a courier service. Venetians were merchants and traded all over Europe. News regarding prices, goods, merchants and others was very important to get the best deals. The earlier the news arrived, the better the result. This is actually not much different from day, but the Venetian Courier service filled a void!

The service started off as a private service but in the 14th Century, the Great Council decreed that all couriers operating in Venice were subject to the control of their supervisors and also on rates. So the service became an official postal service. I actually have not found any information on the rates but if someone knows, I would be happy to update this post.

So now you employ the service to take a message from Venice to somewhere else, say Verona and you want it to get there quickly, so you pay extra and a notation of "cito" or "haste" is added to your letter. A horse was almost always used in mail but if the mail has the notation of cito, it means the horse must run. I have no idea how long it took the Greek messenger to run 40 km before he died, but Venice to Verona is about 120km, meaning treble the amount and a trot or a run can take ages. So you can pay extra by adding "cito cito cito" would mean fast, fast, fast, in essence no resting and top speed. There is little documentation about this service only in the age of customer service did people realize that you need to document a service so that people can ignore it.

Let's be real, even a horse would not be able to run the 120km at top speed. So if you are in a real hurry, you can can pay for the change of a horse along the way. The drawing of a stirrup on the letter, as on the image on the right, indicates that you are entitled to a change of horse along the way. So you pay for as many changes of horses that you want. An image of three stirrups indicates a change of three other horses along the way.

Now we have couriers carrying important messages throughout Europe and who are the messages of interest to? Your rivals, meaning other merchants. So you need some security, some insurance, right? A hangman's gallows was added to the letter threatening death by hanging to anyone interfering with the mission. I have seen two gallows on a letter, not sure what that would mean, you can't exactly kill someone twice, can you?

The item shown below was sent from the Rectors of Verona (yes, it also worked in the reverse direction) to the Chief of Venice, the Head of the Council of Ten (one of the major governing bodies of the Republic of Venice) in July 1506. The three citos shows maximum speed and the stirrup grants him a horse change alone the way.

For more information see:
  • "Post and Courier Service of Early Modern Italy" ~ Postal History Journal No 055
  • "The Cito Mark Part I" ~ American Philatelist Vol 069 No 06, March 1956
  • "The Cito Mark Part II" ~ American Philatelist Vol 069 No 07, April 1956

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Jerusalem is under siege

Today I have a surprise for you. A very good friend has volunteered to write something for us. So thank you Yoram Lubianiker for joining us.

On November 29th 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution (#181) for the termination of the British mandate. Palestine was to be divided into a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem as a Special International Regime. The resolution was accepted by the Jewish side with great enthusiasm.

One of the manifestations of this reaction was a label issued by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), entitled “The Jewish State” which shows the map of the partition plan. The Jerusalem area is marked in red, and is completely surrounded by Arab territory. 

A full sheet of the JNF label

While the Jewish side rejoiced the upcoming Jewish state, the Arabs completely rejected the partition plan, both before and after the UN resolution. In fact, Arab riots began on November 30th, the day after the UN resolution was reached, and those riots gradually escalated into war.

Alexander Lustig
A prominent feature of the Arab war plan was to target Jewish settlements whose supply lines were under Arab control. One example was Gush Etzion – a group of four Jewish settlements which were located a few kilometers south of Jerusalem. On January 16th a platoon of 35 Jewish soldiers who were sent by foot to reinforce Gush Etzion was attacked by superior Arab forces. All the members of the platoon were killed and their bodies were viciously mutilated. Among them was 24 years old Alexander Lustig, a holocaust survivor who worked as a graphic designer for the JNF. As a JNF employee, Lustig was exempt from military service, but he felt the need to take part in the battle for an independent Jewish state and volunteered to serve. Just before he was drafted Lustig completed the design of the JNF label shown above.

Jerusalem was a city with a large Jewish population, located in an Arab dominated vicinity, as the map above shows. From December 1947, Jewish Jerusalem was under a de-facto siege. Transportation to the city from the west (i.e., from the Jewish area) was limited to the only road in existence, and that road was under constant attack. Therefore supplies were brought in by convoys, many of which were unable to break through. Things went from bad to worse as the British mandate came to an end.

On May 2nd, 1948 the Mandate postal services were terminated. Throughout the country, the Jewish population started operating its own mail service, using JNF labels that were converted into postage stamps using the overprint “דאר” (Doar = post), see the post When is a label not a label. These overprints were produced in Tel Aviv and in Haifa, and exist on numerous different JNF labels. Since Jerusalem was under siege, the overprinted stamps could be delivered to Jerusalem. Instead, “The Jewish State” labels were overprinted locally in Jerusalem for intracity postal usage, as well as for a handful of letters that were flown from the city to Tel Aviv.

On May 16th, after the State of Israel was founded, the Israeli post issued its first stamps, a set of stamps  known as “Doar Ivri”. Of course they could not be delivered to Jerusalem due to the siege, so the usage of the overprinted JNF labels of “The Jewish State” continued there for a while.

The letter seen below was sent from besieged Jerusalem to Ra’anana via Tel Aviv. It is franked with JNF “The Jewish State” labels overprinted with the word “דאר” and a face value of 10 mils – the postal rate for letters within the country at the time. There were 3 different overprints, and the one shown here belongs to the second issue.

 At that point in time, there were no regular postal connections between Jerusalem and the rest of the country, and letters submitted to the post offices in Jerusalem were held in the post office until the siege was partially lifted (the so-called first and second convoys of the ceasefire). The sender of this letter either had some postage privileges due to his position or (which is more likely) knew someone who was in a position to help. Therefore, this letter was one of the very few that were taken by the very few airplanes that flew between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The letter thus arrived at Army Post Office “Base A” in Tel Aviv, where it was cancelled on June 9th. It was subsequently forwarded to its destination in Ra’anana, either by courier or by the Israeli post.

Despite toning that developed over the years in different places this is a very rare cover, that commemorates the siege imposed by the Arabs on Jerusalem.

Monday, September 13, 2021

This war is a Jewsh War

Throughout history Jews have always been the scapegoats for everything. Hitler found it easy to gain support by blaming the Jews. The anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer often wrote, "The Jews Are Our Misfortune." So why not blame the Jews for Hitler's mistakes and failures during WW2?

Remember the cute story of Operation Cornflakes? If not, you can get a reminder here. However this was not the first Allied propaganda attempt. In 1943, parodies of the 6-pfennig Hitler stamps appeared instead a portrait of Heinrich Himmler. Who was Himmler, you ask? In brief he was a leading member of the Nazi Party of Germany a main architect of the Holocaust. I could go on and on about him but maybe another time.

The Gestapo collected the parodies and forwarded them to Himmler. When he saw the stamp, he was personally insulted and wanted to his own back. How to get back at those insolent Brits? Hmmm, good question. Better question, how to also blame the Jews?

So Himmler meets with Hitler who was complaining that their overseas propaganda was a dismal failure. Himmler apparently replied that he remembered a report entitled showing that there were over ten million stamp collectors throughout the world! But here was an opportunity, fight fire with fire or fight parodies with parodies.

The German Propaganda Ministry jumped on the chance to lower British morale. They wanted to sell to the British that they would gain nothing by the war. They selected the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp near Berlin for the project and elected S.S. Major Bernhard Kruger to head the team. Kruger was already running Operation Bernhard out of the camp where a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon Smolianoff, was already producing counterfeit pounds which were difficult to detect. The aim was to put billions of pounds on the British markets to weaken the UK economy and create inflation.

Kruger already had a team of Jewish prisoners of the concentration camp working on Operation Bernard and set them to work on the new project. They were selected because they had skills in composing, engraving and printing. They were separated from other inmates and were given special privileges. Clean uniforms, decent food, anything to keep morale high otherwise how would they produce good counterfeits? I suppose threats would also have worked.

Their guidelines were that genuine British postage stamps must be used and and the basic design and color must be retained. Jewish and Communist symbols must be also be incorporated into the design. The intent was to imply that Britain was under the influence of both Judaism and the Soviet Union. This was not the first time that the Nazis tries to connect Judaism with Communism.

The first project, my own favorite, was the parody of the 1/2d. Silver Jubilee issue of 1935 where they replaced the profile of King George V with that of Joseph Stalin. Two Star of Davids were added in the top corners. Instead of Silver Jubilee, it read: “This is a Jewsh War” (a missing I). Was this sabotage by the Sachsenhausen inmates? I doubt it as they would have been killed. Bear in mind that the S.S. had quality control over the propaganda parodies and somehow this slipped through. This parody was an attempt to blame the Jews for the war. 

Another cute parody was of the Coronation issue of 1937. Here Queen Elizabeth was removed and replaced with Joseph Stalin. There is a direct connection to the tripartite Teheran Conference with the text “Teheran - 28.11. 1943”.

What else did they do? They made a parody of the King George VI series of 1937. They added a Star of David in place of the Cross on the King's crown, a Hammer and Sickle in place of the pence symbol and other places. Some of these were so subtle that I didn't see them myself until someone pointed the changes out to me. The most visible one, intentionally or not, is the Star of David in the crown.

Strangely there are also overprints on the King George VI parodies. We have World Bolshevism, World Capitalism, World Judaism. There is also a series of overprints are called "Liquidation of Empire'. They added many British held territories such as Singapore, St. Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Bermuda, Hong Kong and others. Apparently all the parodies were produced without gum.
Now the question arises, how to distribute the parodies among the enemy? One idea was to drop them over British cities, just like Operation Cornflakes (which was not yet operational) but the Luftwaffe claimed that their bombers had no space.

Himmler had hoped to impress everyone with his stamps, he actually believed that the sales to philatelists would bring wealth to the Reich. He was unable to sell them because his agents did not want to act as salesmen and get caught. But when they were given the items free, distribution started. They actually sold them to Swiss and Swedish stamp dealers because both countries were presumably neutral.

After the war the stamps, forged currency and others were dumped into Lake Toplitz, in Austria. Who is coming with me to look for some?

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