Collecting Worldwide, Stamp Issuers

The Stamp Issuers: Algeria

Algeria COAAlgeria Flag

Algeria (1924-1958; 1962-Date)

LOCATION:  North Africa
AREA:  919,595 sq. mi. (2,381,741 sq. km)
Population:  39,500,000 (2015 est.)
GOVERNMENT:  Republic
CAPITAL:  Algiers

FIRST STAMPS:  France from 1849
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: 
8 May 1924

CURRENCY:
100 Centimes = 1 Franc (1924-1964)
100 Centimes = 1 Dinar (1964-date)

Algeria is the largest country in Africa, situated in the northern part of the continent on the Mediterranean coast.  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.Map of AlgeriaRemnants of hominid occupation dating to 200,000 BC have been found in the Ain Hanech region in Saïda Province and Neanderthal tool makers produced hand axes in styles similar to those found in the Levant dating to 43,000 BC.  Neolithic civilizations marked by animal domestication and agriculture developed in the Saharan and coastal regions between 11,000 and 2000 BC.  The various Northern African peoples eventually coalesced into a distinct indigenous population that came to be called the Berbers.  

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.  Two Berber kingdoms were established in Numidia by the second century BC and were annexed by the Roman Empire in 24 AD.  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.

Ruins at Djemila, Algeria

In the early 16th century, Spain constructed fortified outposts called presidios in the coastal regions of Algeria, taking control of several coastal towns.  Spain built a fort on one of the rocky islets in the harbor at Algiers in 1510.  Turkish privateer brothers Aruj and Hayreddin Barbarossa moved their base of operations to Algiers in 1516 and conquered the city from the Spaniards.  With the aid of a force of 2000 janissaries provided by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Hayreddin Barbarossa 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.

Santa Cruz de Oran, Algeria

Despite usurpation, military coups and occasional mob rule, the day-to-day operation of Ottoman government in Algeria was remarkably orderly.  One major threat, however, was in the form of Barbary pirates who preyed on Christian and non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean, capturing between one and 1.25 million Europeans as slaves between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Two pirate ships from Algiers sailed as far as Iceland in July 1627, raiding and capturing slaves as they went.  In 1629, pirate ships from Algeria raided the Faroe Islands.  Piracy on American vessels resulted in the First (1801-1805) and Second Barbary Wars (1815).

It is not known when postal services were first established in Algeria but letters sent by Europeans in Algiers date from 1690.  A postal marking from Spanish-controlled Oran is known from 1749.

French bombardment of Algiers, 1830

In 1830, the French invaded and captured Algiers followed by a conquest which lasted until 1848 and resulted in considerable bloodshed.   In 1834, France annexed the occupied areas of Algeria, which had an estimated Muslim population of about two million, as a colony. Colonial administration in the occupied areas – the so-called régime du sabre (government of the sword) – was placed under a governor general, a high-ranking army officer invested with civil and military jurisdiction, who was responsible to the minister of war. Marshal Bugeaud, who became the first governor-general, headed the conquest, making a systemic use of torture and following a “scorched earth” policy.  A period of pacification followed until 1871 and then a period of peace from 1872-1890 before the conquest of the Saharan oases.  Civil administration by France did not reach the desert provinces until 1902.

Biskra, Algeria in 1899

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 but still used military handstamps until 1839 after which datestamps with town names became standard.  The service expanded into the interior as French control spread.  There were 295 post offices in operation by 1880.

Initial postal services were by courier and by coastal steamboat service operated by the French navy which passed to Messageries Maritimes in 1866.  Starting in 1862, railways began slowly moving forward with the Constantine-Philippeville line opening in 1870 and Algiers-Oran the following year. 

Stamps of France were used for mail in Algeria starting on 16 January 1849 and were initially obliterated by dumb grille which are only identifiable as originating from Algeria when on cover.  Starting in 1852, these were replaced in 1852 by the so called “petit chiffres” (small figures), a lozenge of dots surrounding a number.  The “grande chiffres” (large figures) with new post office numbers replaced the small figures after 1863.  The numerical cancellations were replaced by circular datestamps incorporating the name of the post office from April 1876.

Algeria Scott #P1

On 8 May 1924, French stamps and postal stationery overprinted with “ALGÉRIE” were issued for the country.   Some thirty-two types were issued over the next two years.  The first stamps inscribed with the country’s name appeared in 1926, consisting of four typographed designs showing local scenes.  This series ultimately consisted of thirty-five types, ranging in denomination from 1 centime to 20 francs.  Algeria’s first commemorative stamp marked the centenary of French control and depicted the Bay of Algiers on a 10-franc value.

Postcard commemorating centenary of French control of Algeria

Following the armistice between France and Germany in 1940, Algeria continued to be governed by France.  The Allies first landed in North Africa on 8 November 1942 and the Comité Français de Libération Nationale (French Committee of National Liberation) took over the administration of Algeria on 13 March 1943.  Fezzan was captured by the Free French Forces of Chad in 1943 and used the stamps of Algeria between 1943 and 1946.

Algeria011

After the Second World War, dissatisfaction among the Muslim population, which lacked political and economic status in the colonial system, gave rise to demands for greater political autonomy, and eventually independence, from France. A declaration that Algeria was to become an integral province of France led to open war on 1 November 1954.  The Algerian War led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Algerians and hundreds of thousands of injuries.

Postcard from Algeria

The use of Algerian-imprinted stamps ceased during the 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.

Algerian traditional music

Today, Algeria is a semi-presidential republic of 48 provinces and 1,541 communes. Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been President since 1999.  The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe, and energy exports are the backbone of the economy. According to OPEC Algeria has the 17th largest reserves of oil in the world, and the second largest in Africa, while it has the 9th largest reserves of natural gas. Sonatrach, the national oil company, is the largest company in Africa.  With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometers (919,595 square miles), 90% of which is desert, Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world and the largest in Africa.

Algeria006

My 2009 edition of the Scott catalogue lists a total of 1605 Algerian stamps.  These are divided amongst 1388 general issue stamps, 115 semi-postals, 23 air mail releases, three air post semi-postal stamps, 74 postage due varieties, and two stamps for parcel post.  Algeria is considered to be a fairly inexpensive country to collect with the majority of issues valued at less than US $1.  The most expensive stamp listed is Scott #66, the 10-franc denomination issued in 1927 picturing the tomb of Sidi Yacoub, valued at $52.50 in 2009.

Algeria010

In addition to the Scott-listed stamps, French postal stationery items consisting of envelopes, newspaper wrappers, letter cards, and postal cards were overprinted “ALGÉRIE” and issued in 1924. A total of eleven different newspaper wrappers were produced for use in Algeria between 1924 and 1943, four of these were by overprinting French newspaper wrappers and two by surcharging Algerian newspaper wrappers. These were followed by postal stationery printed for Algeria in 1927. Envelopes, newspaper wrappers and letter cards were discontinued in the early 1940s.  Upon independence in 1962, Algeria issued a single postal card plus aerogrammes in 1976.  There are also the Algerian Railways (Parcel Post) issues in five pictorial designs – Gare de Philippeville, Renault Railcar, Micheline Railcar in an Oasis, Viaduct, Gare de Bone – which are unlisted in Scott.

Algeria Scott #1

I currently have seventeen stamps from Algeria, including Scott #1 – eleven of the general issues, five airmails and one newspaper stamp (Scott #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 173, 175, 176, 179, 182, 284, C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, and P1).  With so many utilizing the French penchant for great design and the low cost involved, I would like to add more of these attractive stamps to my collection.  I still don’t have one which I would call the “perfect choice” to represent Algeria in my A Stamp From Everywhere collection.

Algeria005

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