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The 'Country Series' of Turkish Stamps

(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 surplus stocks.

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 Turkey’s 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 Turkey’s pro-vincial cities, the stamps were printed in Switzerland by Courvoisier S.A. on semi-matte paper containing silk fibre by the photogravure technique.


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 Turkey’s eighty provinces, I have never recaptured the magic of those journeys conjured up by those tiny pictures on stamps.
by Tunca Varıs