Seventy Years of Postal History at the French Post Office in Beirut, by Semaan Bassil.
The Lebanese-British Friends of the National Museum, Beirut, 2009. ISBN 978-9953-0-1478-4. 232 pp. Hardback.
This large-format, profusely illustrated, bilingual (French and English) book is published as a double issue of Archaeology and History in the Lebanon and is edited by ASTENE member Claude Doumet Serhal MBE. To any philatelist it is a dream. The book offers a wonderful insight into the development of the postal system in Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a fascinating study of a particular form of travel, upon which many human travellers depended. Anyone who has lived overseas understands the importance of the arrival of the post and the pleasure, disappointment or even sorrow it might bring.
The French Post Office in Beirut opened on 16 November 1845, closed during the Great War in 1914, and continued until the end of the French Mandate in 1946. (The first telegraph network with Damascus and Constantinople opened in 1863 and was soon linked to Alexandria.) The text is accompanied by a wonderful collection of stamps and covers, maps, photographs and postcards. These postcards particularly tell us so much: the Tripoli Customs Office (with its barrels, guard and loiterers), the steel clip with which letters were held at Lazarets around the Mediterranean, and a card of the Lazaret itself, should a traveller want to send such a scene home! Coinage is also illustrated. A splendid early 20th-century photograph shows young girls boiling silkworm cocoons in a Mount Lebanon silk mill under the eye of a portly French observer.
This book gives us the results of deep and varied research and would be a wonderful treat for any philatalist or reader interested in historic travel. In 1861 a traveller could post a letter to Signor Fratelli, Patron, Livorno, or to The Reverend Professor Mitchell DD, St Andrews, Scotland. Not, I think, today.