Choosing a stamp for today’s entry was tough as I have nearly one hundred issues from the French colonial period of Algeria — Africa’s largest country, situated in the northern part of the continent on the Mediterranean coast — and many of these are quite pleasing to the eye. The country was named after the capital city of Algiers, deriving from the Arabic الجزائر (al-Jazā’ir, “the islands”). Today, the official language is Arabic, although about 40% speaks Berber and French is widely understood, being the language of choice for business and university-level education.
Algeria has had a long history with remnants of hominid occupation dating to 200,000 BC. Phoenician and Carthaginian settlements were established along the coast beginning around 600 BC but Berber power grew following the destruction of the city of Carthage in 146 BC. The Romans ruled the region of Algeria for several centuries; it was one of the breadbaskets of the empire, exporting cereals and other agricultural products. The Arabs conquered Algeria in the mid-seventh century. In the early 16th century, Spain constructed fortified outposts called presidios in the coastal regions of Algeria. The Ottoman Empire conquered the whole area between Constantine and Oran in 1518; the city of Oran remained in Spanish hands until 1791. The Ottomans ruled Algeria for the next five centuries.
In 1830, the French invaded and captured Algiers followed by a conquest which lasted until 1848 and resulted in considerable bloodshed. Regular postal services were introduced by France in 1830 when the military postal organization Tresor et Postes was established in Algiers. This was opened to civilians in 1835. The service expanded into the interior as French control spread. Stamps of France were used for mail in Algeria starting on 16 January 1849. On 8 May 1924, French stamps and postal stationery overprinted with ALGÉRIE were issued for the country. The first stamps inscribed with the country’s name appeared in 1926, consisting of four typographed designs showing local scenes. Algeria’s first commemorative stamp marked the centenary of French control and depicted the Bay of Algiers on a 10-franc value.
The use of Algerian-imprinted stamps ceased during the Algerian War and French stamps were used from 22 July 1958 until 27 June 1962. The war lasted until a cease-fire on 18 March 1962. By referendum Algeria became independent on 3 July 1962. Locally-applied overprints reading “EA” on stocks of French stamps in a wide variety of colors and typefaces were used from 4 July 1962 until 31 October 1962. These were replaced the following day by a set of five designs showing local scenes and inscribed REPUBLIQUE ALGERIENNE in both French and Arabic which was the first appearance of Arabic on Algerian stamps.
Scott #81 is one in a thirty-one stamp pictorial issue released between 1936 and 1941. The design features the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus built in approximately AD 193 at Lambaesis (Lambèse in colonial French), among the most interesting Roman ruins in northern Africa. This design appeared on three different stamps of this initial series, a variety in 1939 featuring the numerals on a colorless background and a surcharged semi-postal stamp in 1942. I believe the 3 centime value, engraved in dark blue green and perforated 13, to be the most beautiful of these. I find the entire output of French Algeria to be quite interesting to collect. It’s an inexpensive country to collect as well with most stamps cataloging at under US $1.00 and the most expensive stamp valued at under US $60 (Scott #66, issued in 1927).