Thursday, May 28, 2009

International Blue-per #1: Syria 106a

I thought it might be interesting to report periodically on bloopers in the "Blue" International as I come across them. By bloopers, I mean stamps that don't belong in the album because they fall outside its scope, stamps in the album but no longer in the Scott catalog, incorrect descriptions that don't match any stamps, and other curiosities that a collector will encounter.

I have found three bloopers so far but as I am still researching two of these, lets start with one already mentioned in this blog: Syria 106a, reputedly the scarcest stamp in volume 1. As I've already talked about why this stamp doesn't belong in the International (, I won't repeat these comments. But I would like to mention a few facts about the error and how it came to be. Most of the specialized information below is from Alexander Kaczmarczyk's book, The Postal Issues of Syria, Lebanon and the Alaouites 1919-1945.

As a younger collector, I found overprints and surcharges boring, but now recognize how often these additions are illustrative of interesting historical conditions. In the case of Syria, previous to 1918, this country used Turkish stamps. After World War 1, France assumed responsibility for the occupied territory and rather than create stamps specifically for Syria, instead overprinted existing French stamps. These overprints changed over time to reflect various revisions in the administration of Syria. For example:

  • The 1919 French stamps to be used in Syria were overprinted T.E.O. for "Occupied Enemy Territory."
  • In 1920, this changed to O.M.F. for "French Military Occupation."
  • For a few months in 1920/21, the Aleppo Province used Egyptian piastres rather than centimes, requiring the addition to the overprint of the word piastre and a "dingbat" rosette to cover up the original letter c following the denomination.
  • In 1923 following a mandate from the League of Nations to change from military to civilian administration, the O.M.F. overprint was replaced by "Syrie Grand Liban."

The First Civilian Mandate issues, valid between September 1923 and 15 February 1924, were overprinted on the then current French designs:
Scott 104/Yvert 88 10C overprinted on 2c violet French Blanc type: Liberty-Egality-Fraternity
Scott 105/Yvert 90 25C on 5c orange Sower
Scott 106/Yvert 91 50C on 10c green Sower
Scott 107/Yvert 92 75C on 15c olive-green Sower
Scott 108/Yvert 93 1P on 20c brown Sower
Scott 109/Yvert 93 1,25P on 25c blue Sower
Scott 110/Yvert 94 1,50P on 30c orange Sower
Scott 111/Yvert 95 1,50P on 30c red Sower
Scott 112/Yvert 96 2,50P on 50c blue/dark blue Sower

(In addition there were similar overprints on the Merson and Pasteur designs.)

There overprints offer collectors numerous varieties. You'll find examples where the overprint was double printed, printed off-center or inverted (sometimes just a single letter, in other cases the entire overprint). In other cases, there are noticeable variations in spacing (leading/kerning), e.g. Sy rie. There are overprints with missing commas (2 50 instead of 2,50) and, in at least one case, a missing denomination. There are misspellings (cnetiemes for centiemes). And there are a few "albino" lettering--i.e., outlines only. Here are some typical examples:
In addition, there are two examples of an overprint being applied to the wrong stamp. One is the 50C overprint which should be on the 10c green Sower but which was erroneously applied to the 5c orange. This error is listed in Kaczmarczyk but not found in the International album or Scott or Yvert catalogs. The other is the 25C overprint which should be on the 5c orange instead being erroneously applied to the 10c green. This is the infamous Scott 106a/Yvert 90a that somehow found its way into the Scott International Junior and subsequently into the "Blue" International.

One might reasonably wonder about the lack of quality control at the printers who applied these overprints but the reason for the inconsistencies is rather surprising. The overprinting was performed by the Imprimerie Jeanne-d'Arc press operated by Capuchin monks in Beruit. According to Kaczmarczyk, "a good portion of the press employees were orphans raised by the monks which may explain the number of varieties and errors that this press produced." (A picture post card survives of the press operations--see So I guess we should cut them some slack?

What else do we know via Kaczmarczyk about 106a? Approximately 630,000 10c greens with the correct 50C overprint were released beginning in October 1923 but we have no idea how many additional of these are the 25C error. The errors were applied to existing French stamps in sheets of 100 (four 5x5 panes) with a central gutter, "millésime" 3 in row 2. Here is an example of a "millésime": According to Kaczmarcyzk, "in the great majority of cases" the sheets "were overprinted in one operation by the use of 50-cliché printing plates." This suggests that at least fifty (one hundred?) of the errors were printed in 1923 and at least one stamp with the gutter and number "3" attached brought itself to the attention of a stamp collector. The stamp apparently exists in both unused and used condition. It would be interesting to learn if multiples of 106a have survived or if there are examples on cover. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know.

The 2009 Scott catalog values 106a at $170 in unused condition only, same as 2008 but up from $125 in 2007. Yvert & Tellier in 2008 valued 90a at 250 Euros in both unused and used condition. As indicated in another blog post, the error is not in Stanley Gibbons.

But regardless of how interesting, the bottom line is that this Syrian error is out of place in a volume that focuses on "the varieties ordinarily found in most collections...."

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