Clarifying the Scott Catalogue Listings for Pre-1923 Turkey

Clarifying the Scott Catalogue Listings for Pre-1923 Turkey

In working on this week's lots I found Turkey to be incredibly confusing and time consuming, largely because I had trouble finding the stamps in the catalogue. I figured that I can't be the only one who found these listings confusing. After about 4 hours the penny dropped, and I figured them out. So, I thought it would be valuable to provide some clarification as to how best to approach the listings to avoid getting confused.

The first thing to understand about the issues from 1865 to 1923 is that the postage dues of the country utilize the same designs, in most cases as the regular issues. So, if you have trouble finding a value for an unoverprinted stamp in the regular issue listings, chances are it is a postage due stamp. 

A second thing to understand is that most of the issues exist with several overprints for then regular postage issues, and then again for the newspaper stamps. Trying to identify these becomes very laborious and confusing for reasons I will explain in a minute. 

One of the main reasons for this confusion is that Scott does not repeat illustrations throughout the listings, but will instead say things like "same overprint on stamps of 1913." Thus, it is essential to gain a basic familiarity first for the various stamp designs of the main stamp issues, so that you don't have to keep looking them up over and over when reviewing the listings for the overprints. 

There are nine principal stamp issues that came out between 1892 and 1918 which were overprinted in many ways to produce many of the issues of this period that will require identification:

  1. The issues of 1892-98 - These are large, almost square stamps that contain the Arms of El Gazi, and a very ornate ornamental background that covers the whole stamp.
  2. The issues of 1901 - The 1901 issues and the 1905 issues are always found on very thin pelure paper. The 1901 issues come with two main designs, one for foreign postage, and one for internal postage. Both feature the Tughra enclosed in a circle or oval, which is centered towards the top of the design, rather than being in the centre.
  3. The issues of 1905 - These designs contain an arched inscription at the top of the design and the Tughra is centered, but is enclosed by a fancy curved window, rather than a simple circle. 
  4. The issues of 1906 - These are as 1905, but with a carmine "large discount" overprint in carmine. This is a wide u-shaped curved line with a dot underneath. This is the only basic postage issue that is itself an overprinted issue that is later overprinted again in producing some of the subsequent issues. 
  5. The issues of 1908 - These are on normal wove and are the most commonly found early Turkish stamps that one sees in packets and collections. They have a fairly busy and intricate design like the earlier 1892-98 issues, but they are rectangular vertical stamps. The central focal point of the design is the Tughra, enclosed in a circular medallion with the star and crescent above this. Below the Tughra in the medallion is Arabic text. On the 1908 designs there is no space between this text and the bottom of the medallion. They can also be found with small discount overprints, and these were not used to produce the subsequent issues, so you need to remember this. 
  6. The issues of 1909 - These are like the 1908 designs, except that the text below the Tughra in the medallion is more centered within the medallion, resulting in a white space between the bottom of the text and the bottom of the medallion. Again, these exist with small discount overprints. 
  7. The issues of 1913 - These are also common in collections and packets, and are the rectangular horizontal stamps showing the General Post office of Constantinople. The Tughra in circle appears above the central vignette. Like the previous issues these exist with small discount overprints. 
  8. The definitives of 1914 and 1920 - these were the very intricately engraved stamps that at look very similar in paper and workmanship to early engraved Austrian stamps. Many are bicoloured, and they range from 2 paras to 200 piastres. All values above 6 paras are engraved. The 1920 issues are the same designs, but in different colours. So, if you have a stamp of the same design as the 1914 issue but can't find it, check further along in 1920, and you should find it there. 
  9. The definitives of 1916-1918. These are mostly typographed, with the high values over 10 piastres being engraved. Most all values below this, other than the 20 paras and 1 piastre are typographed. 

 So, once you are familiar with the designs, you will know which stamps Scott is talking about in the later listings, where it has a heading like "On stamps of 1913", or some such headline. 

There are six main overprints in the regular postage section that make up the rest of the issues to 1923, two for the semi-postal issues, two for the postage dues, and then seven for newspaper stamps. As you look at the back of the book issues you will see that the overprint types mirror those in the regular postage section. So, we can summarize these overprints as follows:


  1. The 1911 Monastir, Pristina, Salonique and Uskub overprints - These are found on the 1901 issues. The same overprints are found on the newspaper stamps of 1901, which in turn are made by overprinting the regular 1901 issue with the newspaper overprint, which consists of a mass of Arabic text in an oval pattern, in black, near the top of the stamp. Scott does not show both overprints on top of one another in its illustrations, so your stamps won't likely match what is shown, since your stamps, if genuine will have both overprints. 
  2. The 1915 star and crescent overprints. These overprints feature a six pointed start above the crescent. On the regular postage issues and newspaper stamps the crescent contains four characters. On the semi-postals it will contain Arabic text that will fill the crescent. Once again, remember that the newspaper stamps are generally just the regular issues with an Arabic text overprint in black or red. Again, Scott doesn't show this, but only shows the overprint, so most collectors will be looking for one overprint, when the correct stamp will have two.
  3. The 1916 star and crescent overprints. These overprints are as the 1915's but instead of a six pointed star, it is 5 points. The comments about the newspaper stamps and the semi-postals applies to these also. 
  4. The 1917 overprints - these look almost like a bull's head, with the heart shape being the face, and the discount symbol being the horns. They are not found on the semi-postals, but they are found on the newspaper stamps. 
  5. The black Tughra overprints of 1919 - These contain a black and white negative Tughra design, two lines of text and an ornate design to block out whatever face value was on the surcharged stamps. These were used only on the 1916-1918 designs. These are not found on any back-of the-book issues.
  6. The black surcharges without Tughra. These are similar to (5) above, but with no Tughra and what look like dates in the first line of Arabic text. Again, these are found on the 1916-1918 designs. These are not found on any back-of the-book issues.

Under each of these overprints in Scott, there will be a series of headings detailing the issues that the overprint was applied to. What gets confusing is that Scott will illustrate the small and large discount overprints on the 1906-1908 issues in such a way that it first appears to apply to all listings below it, when, in fact it only applies to a few stamps. They do clarify this in writing next to the picture. But within the context of the catalogue layout it is generally understood that an illustration applies to all listings below it until the next issue is reached. Thus, I was often looking for discount overprints on issues like, say the 1913 issues which don't normally have them. They didn't really need to illustrate them again for the 1906 issues, but they do need to for the 1908 issues. Their illustrations are actually good, because they do show both overprints on the stamp. However, what would have been more useful, I think is an explanatory paragraph, showing and explaining what multiple overprints on these stamps would look like. 

So, hopefully this will provide some clarification to enable you to quickly sort the overprinted stamps that you have and help you determine where in the catalogue you should be looking to find them. 

Back to blog

1 comment

A very helpful summary, Chris. This is a main collecting interest of mine. Years ago I gave up on Scott for the Ottoman Turkish stamps and bought a Pulhan: Türk Pullari Kataloğu. It was in Turkish only, but I did a lot of translating – no small task as this was before the internet and Google Translate. I happily now use the Isfila Catalogues which are in Turkish and English.

As for the 1917 overprints, – the ones that look like a bull’s head, it is actually three letters – P.T.T. – which stands for Posta ve Telgraf Teşkilatı, literally the “Post and Telegraph Agency”. Also, unlike the Arabic “b” letter, which indicated a discount (Béhié), this is in the Ottoman Turkish script. Standard Arabic does not have a letter for the “P” sound. The overprint is stylized though. You can see the sweep of what looks like the Arabic “b”, but look closely, and you will see three dots under the sweep, rather than on top of it. This is the Ottoman Turkish “P”. The two “T’s” are actually turned on their side and face each other. “T” in Turkish is a “sweep” with 2 dots.

These overprints were applied due to a shortage in paper during the First World War. They dug up stamps from as early as 1865. I can only assume that it was important to overprint the stamp with something so that the public would understand that although the stamps were old, that they were still valid. In keeping with the Liberal Constitution and the more modern and reformist attitudes of the ruling ‘Three Pashas’, it was probably thought best to have an overprint more institutional, than monarchical. Keeping in mind that the Sultan Abdülhamid, was now a Constitutional Monarch, and that Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Ahmed Cemal Pasha and Ismail Enver Pasha ran a one-party dictatorship under the name of the Union and Progress Party.

It is interesting to note that Mehmed Talaat, being the Grand Vizier and Minister of the Interior began his working life in 1890 as a Postal Clerk in Adrianople. He was arrested in 1893 for “tampering with the official telegraph”.

Brad Fallon

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.