20th November 2018 Foreign PO’s in Smyrna – A Port in the Ottoman Empire – Mike Fulford

On Tuesday 20th November Mike Fulford visited the society with his collection of material from the city of Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire, modern day Izmir in Turkey.  The city developed from a small port in the early 1600’s to a major trading point in the Mediterranean. Mike’s earliest letter was from 1637 from Smyrna to Marseille and was annotated at the time to show that it had been disinfected – common with most mail from that region and a practice which continued up to the late 1800’s.  Early letters such as this were carried on a private basis by the ship’s captain but by the mid-19th Century regular postal services were available throughout Europe.  Despite the fact that the Ottoman Empire had its own postal service, from the 18th Century on a number of European countries set up their own postal service in the major cities of the Ottoman Empire and Smyrna was one of these.  In all, eight civilian post offices were set up in Smyrna – Austria, France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Germany, Greece and even Egypt.  The last was surprising as Egypt was still officially part of the Ottoman Empire.  Mike had a range of stamps and covers from all eight countries; one of the more unusual was a circular label used on boxes of trade samples of dates and raisins sent from Turkey across Europe in order to generate business.


All of the services used the postage stamps of the country operating the service and this lead to problems when the different currencies changed value at different rates as it became possible to speculate with postage stamps.  To stop this, stamps were overprinted for local use and in the local currency – British stamps overprinted ‘Levant’ were used in Smyrna.  As the services were for mail going out of Turkey, mail that ended up in the Turkish postal system with ‘foreign’ stamps was treated as underpaid and charged postage due – there were a number of examples of this.


The various services ran for different periods with occasional breaks.  For example, when Greece occupied part of Turkey in 1881 and closed Turkish post offices, Turkey closed the Greek post offices in Turkey.  The biggest upheaval came with the Great War after which Greece occupied Smyrna.  This ended in disaster for the city when it burned to the ground in 1923 following further conflict between Turkey and Greece.


The next meeting will be on Tusday 4th December at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre when Mervyn Benford will talk about ‘Hungarian Postal History 1920-1930’. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.