(See also: Philately in Turkey and Atatürk on Stamps)
|Being first is wonderful and being top is a source of pride.
Human beings have an instinctive love of challenge and above all breaking records, which
is why the Guinesss Book of Records is one of the highest selling books in the world. Some
records are broken by individuals, some by groups, and others by institutions. And there
are some records that even the record breakers themselves do not know about. Years later
someone realises that it was a record, and while most of the time it is not of any vital
importance, the fact is nevertheless interesting.
One of those unsung records was broken by the Turkish Post Office at the end of the 1950s,
with its Country Series of 134 stamps. When I did some research into stamps, I learnt about
the existence of a Turkish series even longer than the Country Series, this time dating
from the Ottoman period. Issued in 1917, the Post Series bears a surcharge stamp. In the
philatelic jargon of stamp collectors, this is called the ox-head series due to the
shape of the surcharge mark, and consists of 146 stamps. How-ever, this is not a true
series, but a collection of diverse stamps issued with a surcharge mark in order to use up
True stamp series are usually devoted to a specific theme, as is the case with the Country
Series, which consists of two stamps for each of Turkeys 67 provincial capitals (today
risen to 80). One has a value of 5 kuruş, which at the time was the cheap rate for cards
and unsealed letters, and the other of 20 kuruş, the ordinary letter rate. Both values
bear the same scene although their colours vary very slightly.
The second half of the 1950s was a time stamp collectors describe as the stamp
inflation period, when stamp issues suddenly jumped from hundreds of thousands to
millions, a development deplored by serious stamp collectors. It was around this time that
the Post office began to issue the Country Series, so it is by no means rare but
nevertheless interesting. Between 5 Janu-ary 1858 and 4 July 1960 the series was issued in
seven lots of 10, 6, 6, 12, 10, 10 and 13 pairs of stamps for each city.Designed to
acquaint the public with Turkeys pro-vincial cities, the stamps were printed in
Switzerland by Courvoisier S.A. on semi-matte paper containing silk fibre by the
This was the most advanced printing technology at
the time, indicating the importance attached to this series. Tones of a single colour were
used to print the stamps for each provincial capital, and each stamp bears the name of the
city and its picture.The pictures were based on photographs which had been retouched so
that they often appear to have been drawn by hand. They depict the cities themselves
rather than sights of historic or scenic interest, and as such are documentary in
character. When I examined these stamps forty years after they had first been issued, I
saw that most were panoramic urban views with very few people or signs of life to be
seen.Some of the cities have completely empty streets, particularly the large cities such
as Muğla, Çorum, Edirne, Bursa, and Ankara. Cars are only visible in the streets of a
few cities like Mardin, Samsun and Malatya, although of course we must remember that in
those days there was far less traffic everywhere.
I also noted how rarely the pictures showed commemorative monuments, the
only examples being the Atatürk Monument on the Kastamonu and Muğla stamps, and the War
Memorial on Alâaddin Hill on the Konya stamps.
In my childhood, when these stamps were being issued, they were a window onto the country
for me. At that time I had seen only a few cities, and when I looked at the stamps
belonging to those, I re-member feeling drawn into the picture as if reliving my visits.
Those depicting places I had not seen fired my imagination. The journeys I made through
the medium of stamps as a child became reality when I grew up and began to work in the
tourism sector. But although I have visited all of Turkeys eighty provinces, I have
never recaptured the magic of those journeys conjured up by those tiny pictures on stamps.
by Tunca Varıs