Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Stamp Collection : TUNISIA

For centuries the focal point of interaction between North Africa and the wider Mediterranean basin, Tunisia by the early nineteenth century was in many ways the most "advanced" society in the Maghrib.  Under the leadership of the Husaynid Beys (technically regents for the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul but de facto independent rulers) commercial ties between Tunisia and the West were deepened, as Tunisia's economy began to focus on exports of goods to the West, particularly olive oil and grain.

The influence of "modernization" as implemented in Egypt under Muhammad Ali and his heirs also found resonance in Tunisia, and the Beys attempted similar legal, educational, military and economic reforms, often with the advice and financial assistance of European powers and banks.  Much like Egypt, though, problems of mismanagement would soon lead to massive debt, and the European powers began to interfere in Tunisian affairs.  The French in particular, sensitive to their possessions in Algeria, were greatly interesting in establishing their dominance in Tunis, and by the early 1880s deals with the British and the newly unified Italians allowed the French to establish its dominance, secured in 1888 with the proclamation of a French protectorate.  While technically the Beys would still reign with the help and advice of French advisors, in reality it would be the French who after 1888 would govern Tunisia.

After 1888 the French undetook a whole variety of reforms to "modernize" Tunisia.  To tap the rich agricultural potential of the country, the French encouraged European settlement, although the existence of the Beys and the native Tunisian legal system meant that Tunisian peasants would be spared the complete loss of control over their lands as happened in Algeria. To promote economic development the French invested in infrastructure, including very shortly after the creation of the Protectorate the introduction of a postal service and use of postage stamps.

By the early twentienth century a native Tunisian Western-educated elite began to agitate for greater Tunisian control over its administration. French refusal to give up the reins of power would soon spark a nationalist movements, with anti-French agitation beginning in 1907 and coming to full development in the 1930s under the leadership of Habib Bu Raqibat, who worked with the nascent Tunisian labor movement to launch a full-scale anti-French resistance that required direct French intervention and the internment and exile of the nationalist leadership.  The Beys, for their part, tended to try and play both sides of the card, accepting the reality of French dominance, but supporting efforts of nationalists to end French control, while preserving the authority of the Beys as the effective ruler of Tunisia.

Philatelically, the French era in Tunisia follows similar patterns to other French colonies. Long series of pictoral definitives highlighting Tunisia's Islamic and pre-Islamic past (with the Pre-Islamic element becoming a prop to continued French dominance as Muslim Tunisian nationalists gained strength in the 1930s).  World War I and its aftermath would bring a plethora of charity issues, while Tunisia's strategic location would encourage the early development of an airmail service.

Tunisia's strategic location would make it a focal point of the Mediterranean campaign during World War II.  The French remained loyal to Vichy, however Bu Raqibat was very pro-Allies.  The imminent collapse of the Italians in Libya would lead to Rommel's famous intervention with the Afrika Korps, and the Allied launching of Operation Torch failed to secure Tunisia for the Allies. The result was a long bloody campaign between the two armies that culminated in the surrender of German and Italian forces at Tunis in the spring of 1943.

After World War II the French would make an effort to hold on to Tunisia, fearing the granting of independence to Tunisia would exacerbate the nationalist movement in Algeria. In the end though, Bu Raqibat's nationalist movement would force the French to negotiate, and Tunisia became an independent state in 1956.  The Bey at the time attempted to use the nationalist movement to preserve his power, much as the Moroccan sultan Muhammad V was doing further to the West, but Bu Raqibat would soon outmaneuver the Bey, and in 1957 a republic was proclaimed.

Since independence, Tunisia's postage stamps have reflected the nature of nation-building in the country and the political struggles that have resuled.  A nationalist with a socialist tinge, Bu Raqibat would come to dominate Tunisian political life, and in emulation of another Muslim modernizer, Mustafa Kemal of Turkey, attempted to transform Tunisia into a secular, Westernized state. The process often met resistance, and the Bu Raqibat era would soon evolve into a one-party state with a strong cult of personality around the president.  Old age and increasingly erratic behavior would lead in 1987 to Bu Raqibat being eased out of office and into a retirement, and the new regime of Zayn al-`Abidin Bin Ali would largely continue Bu Raqibat's policies.

By the late 2000's increasing frustration with the often corrupt government, poor economic management and enforced cultural Westernization would lead to calls for Bin Ali to resign.  Mass protests would lead to repression in 2010 that only caused the protests to grow, and in January 2011 Bin Ali resigned.  The Arab Spring, born in Tunis, soon spread to other Arab and Muslim nations, with varying degrees of success.  Tunisia, for the most part, has been the one successful shift towards a more pluralistic, democratic society and while conflict between Islamists and Secularists remains a major political issue, to date Tunisia retains a degree of political freedom and openness that few other Arab nations enjoy.  Whether that is a legacy of the long history of interaction between Tunisia and the West, or the impact of the major social reforms undertaken by Bu Raqibat to "modernize" Tunisia after 1956, is difficult to say.

Less complex than Morocco, my Tunisia collection will be split into three parts, although for right now my collection stops around 1965.

Volume I : Tunisia under the French Protectorate (1888-1955)
Volume II : Tunisia since Independence I : the Bu Raqibat era (1956-1987)
Volume III : Tunisia since Independence II : from Bin Ali to the Arab Spring (since 1987)

My plan is to post each page, just as the image.  For those wanting to know the identity of the stamps, I will post a PDF file of the layout for the pages in my Tunisia albums in a few days.

Hope you enjoy the images and if you have suggestions please let me know.

Volume I : Tunisia under the French Protectorate (1888-1955)

Page 1 :  First Issue of 1888 with filled background behind arms (25 centime stamp has nice "GASFA" circular date stamp.)

Page 2 - No stamps

Page 3 - No Stamps

Page 4 :  Issue of 1901, Type of 1888 with Clear Background, new values and colors (35 centime stamp with "TOZEUR" circular date stamp), Postage Due Series of 1901 - Duval Type of France inscribed "Regence de Tunis"

Page 5 : Pictorial series of 1906, woman in front of Kayrawan Mosque, Peasants in Field, Aqueduct of Hadrian at Zaghwan, Carthaginian Galley. (75c has "MEDENINE" circular date stamp, 35c has date stamp, location not clear, dated 8 November 1918).

Page 6 : 1906 Parcel Post Issue (75c with CDS "RAS AL DJEBEL", 1F with CDS "TOZEUR", 2F with CDS "CARTHAGE" and 5F with CDS "FOUM (EL GHERZA??)), 1911 Surcharge, 1914 and 1915 Red Cross Charity Stamps for War Victims

Page 7 :  Issues of 1916-1920 : Series of 1906 with new colors, wartime printings on Grand Consomme paper, surcharges for new postal tariffs, charity issues for war victims, first Airmail overprint issues

Page 8 : Issues of 1921-1923 : Series of 1906 with new colors, new values, and surcharges, series of 1922 showing youth playing pan pipes in front of Roman ruins at Duqqat, 1923 Postage Due series featuring Carthaginian goddess

Page 9 : Charity issues of 1923 and 1925 for War Invalids and Children in need

Page 10 : Issues of 1925-1926 : Series of 1906-1922 with new values and colors, new pictoral series of 1926 depicting woman carrying water from well, the Zaytuna mosque in Tunis, the Sahib al-Taba' mosque in Tunis, and the Roman Amphitheater at Ijamm.

Page 11 : Issues of 1926 -1927 : Series of 1926 Precancels and Plate Varieties, 1926 Parcel Post series depicting Date Harvesting, 1927 Airmail overprints

Page 12 :  Issues of 1928 : Charity Issue depicting Sahara expedition from Qabis to Chad, Airmail overprints to reflect new tariffs, surcharges and new color/value varieties on Series of 1926

Page 13 : Issues of 1928-1931 : New Values to Postage Due series of 1922, Airmail overprints for new tariffs, low values of the Series of 1931, engraved versions of Series of 1926

Page 14 - No Stamps

Page 15 :  Issues of 1937-1940, surcharges and new values and colors to Series of 1926.

Page 16 : Issues of 1940-1942. Surcharges on series of 1926, Series of 1926 Overprinted for National Relief, Vichy Regime New values and Colors of Series of 1926 without the "RF" Monogram, War Effort 

Page 17 : Liberation of Tunisia, War Effort Charity issues, Wartime definitive series of 1944, Postage Due issues overprinted for customs use

Page 18 : Charity issue for war veterans, overprints on 1923 Postage Dues for customs duty payments, postwar charity issues of France overprinted "TUNISIE" 

Page 19 : Issues of 1945-1946 - new values and colors of series of 1926 definitives and 1923 Postage Dues, Charity issues of France overprinted "TUNISIE," charity issue for Tunisian soldiers fighting in Indochina.

Page 20 : Issues of 1946-1947 - new values and colors of series of 1926 definitives, charity issues of France overprinted "TUNISIE," series of 1947 pictorials depicting head of Neptune from Mosaic at ruins of Utica, 1947 Child Welfare.

Page 21 : Issues of 1948-1949 Series of 1948 pictorial depicting arabesque design from the Jami` al-Kabir in Qayrawan and new values in 1947 Series Mosaic Head of Neptune, Charity Stamps of France overprinted "TUNISIE" and charity issues for Child Welfare, Tuberculosis Victims and Social Work of the French Military in Tunisia. 

Page 22 : Issues of 1949-1951. UPU 75th Anniversary, Air Mail Pictorial Series of 1950 depicting Carthaginian Eagle, 1950 Pictorial Series of Berber Statue of Hermes, Charity Issues for French-Tunisian Cooperation and Child Welfare, Charity Issues of France overprinted "TUNISIE" for various causes, Series of 1951 depicting Carthaginian Relief of Horse.

Page 23 : Issues of 1952-1954. Additional Values to 1950 Carthaginian Horse, Charity Issues for Children's Summer Camps and Army Social Work, Charity Issues of France overprinted "TUNISIE" for various causes, 1953 Airmail Series Pictorials Hi-Values, 1953 Tunis International Fair, 1954 Pictorials of Bey Muhammad al-Amin.

Page 24 : Pictorial Series of 1954 Regular issues and airmails depicting various sites in Tunisia, 1955 Commemorative and Charity Issues, 1955 Muhammad al-Amin definitive, 1955 Handicrafts of Tunisia.

Page 25 : 50th Anniversary of Lions International.

Volume II : Tunisia since Independence I : the Bu Raqibat era (1956-1987)

Page 1 - No Stamps

Page 2 : Issues of 1956-1957 - Full Independence of Tunisia, First Anniversary of Independence, Agricultural Export Pictorials and Postage Due series of 1957 

Page 3 : 1958 including proclamation of the Republic and commemoratives for the World's Fair in Brussels, 1958 and new UNESCO heaquarters in Paris

Page 4 : Issues of 1958-1959 including first anniversary of the Republic, Personal Status Law of 1958, and Part 1 of Pictorial Series of 1959. 

Page 5 : Issues of 1959 - balance of 1959 Pictorial Issue including high values, commemoratives for the UN and National Bank, Charity issue for the Red Crescent.

Page 6 : Issues of 1960 - Postage Due series of 1957 redesigned, commemoratives for World Refugee Year, Stamp Day, UN Day, Arab Scout Jamboree and 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy.

Page 7 : Issues of 1960-1961 including commemoratives for Fifth Anniversary of Autonomy, Africa Day, Stamp Day and Memorial to UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold

Page 8 : Issues of 1962 - Coat of Arms Definitives, commemorative issues for Labor Day, Malaria Eradication Program, UN Day, Sixth Anniversary of Independence, and President Bu Raqibat.

Page 9 : Issues of 1962-1964 including commemoratives for UN Freedom From Hunger Campaign, Centenary of International Red Cross, Preservation of Nubia, Labor Organizer Muhammad al-Hammi and formation of the Organization of African Unity.

Page 10 :  Issues of 1964-1966 including commemoratives honoring National Day, Centenary of the International Telecommunications Union, International Cooperation Year and construction of new dormitories at the University of Tunis.

I do have one outlier set - the 1974 UPU Centenial commemoratives, but will add that page when I get more of the intervening years filled.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to ask!


  1. Very clean and nice pages Gene !! Lot's of work for the initial set-up - but very handy at the time for your next update. I like it.

    Cheers, Jon

    1. Thanks Jon! Yes its a lot of work but the results speak for themselves I think.

  2. Gene,
    I have been intending to write for a while… Gorgeous layout! I appreciate the stamps on the page as much as the blank spaces that betray the imperative of presenting each individual issue in an historical continuum. A question: will you leave a space for the 1c magenta and other pricey British Guiana stamps?

    1. Thanks Frank! Re British Guiana, I probably will, because one never knows there is always the chance to win one of the various lotteries we have.

  3. Gene
    The stamps are very nice, but what makes your blog outstanding Is the historical context you provide. A very enjoyable read.

    1. Thanks Jim. I was a grad student in history at Ohio State for many years (MA in 1996, started PhD but did not finish) specializing in modern (19th & 20th Century) Islamic history, and also taught World History at OSU for several years.

      My interest has always been the interplay between Western and non-Western societies and how the non-Western societies responded (and continue to respond) to the West and its dynamic, increasingly globalized, culture.

      Eventually left academia, but still have the historian's love of the past, and philately definitely helps fill much of that as artifacts of the regimes of the era that produced them. As "government paper" stamps are one of the best forms of "state propaganda" if you will, reflecting the values and ideas of those in power at the time, and as those regimes change, so does the "propaganda" depicted. Yesterday's anti-imperial rabble rouser (like Bu Raqibat in Tunisia) becomes today's national hero, and so forth.

  4. I like all your collections so much.Thank you for sharing this one.

  5. This is a great stamps collection.
    Thanks for sharing


  6. I can see the hardwork done by the blog owner.Keep Posting such great things again.Looking forward for your next post.