Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Oops, Spain made a boo boo

In 2020 America lost it. A rogue cop killed a known criminal with whom he had a history with. The murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer sparked riots across the United States and around the world, including in Spain, where activists joined the global movement in seeking to raise awareness about discrimination and racism.

During one of the biggest such rallies in Spain, thousands marched in Madrid in June, making their way to the capital’s Puerta del Sol square, a popular spot for rallies and protests.

In May 2021, Spain’s postal service, Correos, decided to jump on the anti-racism and on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, issued a set of four stamps with images of skin-tone stamps, the lightest being the most valuable.
“The darker the stamp, the less value it will have. Therefore, when making a shipment, it will be necessary to use more black stamps than white ones. That way, each letter and each shipment will become a reflection of the inequality created by racism.” Correos said in a news release announcing the launch.

This prompted criticism worldwide as the issue itself was considered racist. People criticized the campaign upon its launch, calling it tone-deaf or "accidentally racist."  "Correos is an anti-racist company," said the Correos spokesman, but the damage was done!

The issue was withdrawn after three days. A new rarity? My only question is why are there not protests worldwide when Jews are killed? How often does it reach the headlines?

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sending mail to forbidden countries

So I am browsing the net, looking for a certain item and I find it. I go through the purchase process and get to shipping and find, what? That Israel is one of the few countries that they don’t ship to. Why is that? Could it be for ideological reasons or could it be that Israeli post has a bad reputation? Doesn’t make a difference, they don’t ship to Israel, yet it is an item I want, be it a cover or an item of clothing. So?

Well today there are services in place, via a third party. You pay for a service which provides you a post box number in, say America, and have them ship there. That same service then collects your parcel from that postbox and forwards it to you for an exorbitant fee and you are happy.

What has that good to do with philately? Good question, thank you for asking. In 1967 Israel took over control of what is known as the West Bank and Gaza and I am intentionally leaving politics out of it here. However, all of a sudden, we have a few millions new inhabitants who are closed off from their family. They can’t use email as it hasn’t been invented yet and they can’t send letters as no postal relations exist between Israel and many of those countries, many who are still in a state of war with Israel.

So what can they do? The answer my friend is not blowing in the wind, it is in the first paragraph. A third part!

The first obvious system was the Red Cross. With the Red Cross you could send a message to anyone via the Red Cross, however these were brief messages and anyone can read them. If you don’t like what is written there, somehow it will not be delivered.

Along comes a bright spark and says, let us send mail via the London Post Master and they did. How did it work? A letter was sent from Israel to the Post Master of King Edwards Street in London. Enclosed in that letter was another letter intended for a third country, say Iraq, and an International Reply Coupon. This coupon was intended for use by the London Post Master to pay for the service. One advantage was that the chances of the mail being read was minimal and you could write whatever you want and how much you want. Actually there was a second address in London and an address in Cyprus.

Ingenious, right? Well it was modelled after the famous World War 2 Thomas Cook service in which someone from Nazi occupied areas could send mail to family or friends living in Great Britain or Palestine, for that matter, to an undercover address of POB 506, Lisbon, Portugal. The Thomas Cook office in Lisbon would then forward the mail to Great Britain or other countries.

From Qatar to London and thanking them for the service

In the hopes for peace, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided upon an Open Bridges policy, so that people could cross from Jordan to Israel, hopefully for trade or to visit or whatever. Now we have an open bridge and people crossing and what did they do? Well some people took letters for others. They folded them in their pockets and in essence were supposed to go to the Allenby Bridge Post Office, buy stamps and post them, but many didn’t. They were scared of being caught and just shoved the letters in the post box without stamps. Of course the recipient was then forced to pay the postage cost, but also the fine. This method was better than the London idea because it was much quicker.

So we now have a border crossing and people who want to visit, but what is missing? Tourism! After all some of the holiest Christian sites are in what is known as the West Bank. So some tourist companies jumped on the band wagon and purchased Israeli stamps. “If you don’t know anyone crossing the border, send it to us, we will send it”. They obviously charged a nice fee because why do it for nothing. You can see that the fee was paid either by the application of a label or the company’s special cancel.

Label of the Amman Halabi Touring Company. Folded as they probably didn't have stamps yet
This practice is sometimes known as undercover mail.

Some of these are in use today. There are people in cities such as Jaffa who buy items locally and send them to countries with no relations or that they don’t want to actively buy from us.

I have outlined some of the methods that our Arab brothers communicate with others, maybe next time I will write about methods that Jews in Arab countries, those that are still left, communicate with Israel.

For more information see "Mail Contacts Between Israel and Arab Countries - a Summary" by Lawrence Fisher, H.L.P.H. Journal VI #109-110, pages 333-353, 2008. 

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Spotlight - My WOW item - an item from the Spanish Inquisition

As exhibitors and collectors we are always after that WOW item, the item that you have been looking for, or the item that you saw and think wow, why didn’t I think of that before. As collectors, it is nice if others look at the item and also say, wow. It is not even a case of money since not every wow item is expensive. For me, I had not really found an item like that in some time.

While in Verona in November 2019, at the ECTP 2019 exhibition, in which I won the Champion of Champion class (hey if I don't blow my own trumpet, who will), I saw an exhibit on Columbus. I discussed with a friend to and we decided to see how the exhibitor approached the issue of Queen Isabella of Spain. I wanted to improve my page about Jews not being wanted.

We thought that there may be covers of some kind, sent by Queen Isabella, and then we saw it, the WOW item. It was a cover sent to Friar Diego Pineda of Toledo in 1582. Friar Diego Pineda was an official consultant to the Santo Oficio a San Cristóbal or the Holy Office of the Inquisition. We never even considered this direction.

We will not go into the history of the Inquisition as many of us already know it; the history is not new to us. Just to make it short, the Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdom and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control.

Basically they said "its our way or the highway" meaning either convert, be killed or leave.

The full name of the Inquisition was Santo Oficio de la Romana y Universal Inquisicion or “Holy Work of the Roman and Universal Inquisition". Santo Oficio means “Holy Job or Work”. Since the name was actually Holy Work of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, it was shortened to el Santo Oficio which was a far more used name for the institution than Inquisition, which was the preferred term of Anglophile countries, most likely because for Protestants, Holy Work sounds too good for the evil abhorrent Catholic tribunal.

The tribunal in Toledo was established in 1485 and the Inquisitor General there presided over the court in the Church of San Cristobal. As yet I have not been able to find information about the consultant just that his full name was Friar Diego Pineda.

The story of the inquisition fits my story perfectly. Now I really needed an item of my own. I approached the exhibitor who put me in touch with a site. I did a search there and found the cover he originally purchased and amazingly found a second item which I immediately purchased.

The cover eventually arrived and it is quite similar. It was also sent from Madrid to Toledo, again to Friar Pineda. Sent 8th March, 1575, and postage paid was ½Real.

Let us get a tad boring for a moment while I explain something. Up until 1580, the mail service within Spain was for the service of kings and nobility. Sending a letter or official documents at this time was very expensive because you had to pay the service of the postman, the benefit of the postmaster, the accommodation and the maintenance of the mail during the route, the food for the horse and others. If the king sent a letter from Madrid to Toledo, the postage rate was 100 Reals. Some private individuals also gave the postman their private correspondence and only paid a token amount of ½ Real, which is what my letter was charged. By doing this, the courier could not ask Friar Diego to pay up.

Now according to exhibiting rules, the name of the recipient does not enable us to use an item, unless the recipient had special postal privileges, in this case the full postage was paid. Does this make it illegitimate? According to the new SREV for thematic, this is considered borderline. It is legitimate because it is the best item to use to display the thematic point, the inquisition.

I now have a WOW item in my exhibit.

Note: This article was previously published in the Israeli Thematic Bulletin and the British THematic bulletin

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