Thursday, 1 November 2012

Why Postal History Collectors Get Excited

Ebay Still Delivers Nice Finds

This postcard of a group of children from Assuan (Aswan), Egypt, posted in 1911, and addressed to Singapore was listed recently on Ebay Australia. 

The TPO (Travelling Post Office) postmark on the front of the card was reason enough for me to buy it

The message on the card is difficult to read, despite being in English, but appears to be quite mundane. Although the online picture was faint, I thought that the postmark on the stamp was from the Cataract Hotel, and that appears to be correct

The Cataract Hotel, a very famous venue in it's time, and still a very exclusive hotel ($455 per night according to Google!), is located in Aswan. The card was posted in Aswan on 18 February 1911 and carried to Ismailia (a distance of almost 1,000 kilometres) overnight, probably by train. On 19 February, the card was sent via Travelling Post Office from Ismailia to Port Taufiq (also known as Tewfik, now known as Taofik) at the mouth of the Suez canal, a distance of 94 kilometres.

The card was sent to Port Taufiq to "catch" a ship to Singapore. Although I'm unable to identify the ship at this stage, the very scarce postmark of the Penang-Singapore Marine Sorter, a paquebot marking, identifies the ship that delivered the postcard to Singapore.

The postmark is Proud D6 (rated 100 on cover), and the date of 10 March 1911 is the date of receipt into Singapore.  Proud's list in his Postal History of Malaya Part 1, shows that the P&O steamer "SS Devanha" sailed from Penang on 9 March and arrived in Singapore on 10 March 1911.

The Devanha is well documented online, and this image is courtesy of

If this basic Egyptian stamp had been removed from the postcard, none of this information would be available to us. As the postmark is faint, and the "ACT" of "Cataract" is on the postcard, we wouldn't know where it originated. We wouldn't know that it travelled from Aswan (somehow) to Ismailia and subsequently to Port Taufiq to catch a ship to Singapore. We certainly wouldn't know that Mrs. Stewart's postcard was delivered into Singapore by the SS Devanha!

This lovely card cost me less than $20. I'm now lucky to own a piece that fits comfortably into a number of my collections.

Patient searching of online auctions will still reward your diligence.


  1. Well "Holmes" excellent piece by piece detective-postal work.
    I like the way that you have put all that together. Almost like it was right
    out of a Sherlock mystery. I see why you like it so muck and
    why the cover is even more important if you have it and the stamp.
    Way to go. Fascinating trip in and down through the past.

  2. Glad you like it! Far more interesting than those boring stamps :)

  3. Here is a little extra on your ship - note Remembrance Day is coming up so it kind of nicely falls in place so I thought would send this one.,i:72&tx=163&ty=130&biw=1532&bih=626

  4. Glad I found your blog via twitter. Thanks for following me. I love postal history, usually for the USA but you show that global can be interesting. I do collect postcards from around the world, also covers.

  5. Hi Judy, thanks for taking the time to pass on those kind words. The research took less than a day, which is further proof that the internet has it's uses! Postal history brings stamps to life, and as I love social history, it's a natural fit.

    Thanks for coming across via Twitter. I use Twitter, Facebook (as Global Philately) and my blog, and I love to see the synergy between the three!

    Thanks again :)

  6. I liked the story even more because it crosses the other side into military history
    and I get double the pleasure from the hobby that way. So the Ship became a
    hospital ship during World War One and then a troopship after the war and then
    eventually was sold for scrap. (Sold for scrap - sad part of being a ship I guess). She
    served well and did proud.

  7. Travelling Post Offices are part of postal history studied by members of the Mobile Post Office Society. I have a link to their site at:

  8. Replies
    1. The Devanha you show was purchased in 1947. There must have been an earlier ship of the same name ( Shipping lines often reuse names to give continuity).I thought it looked a bit modern for 1911! The picture was on the P&O website, but further research should be able to produce another image of the correct ship.

    2. You're absolutely right, and thank you for pointing it out!

      I've now included the correct Devanha