Lickable! Stamps designed by T. E. Lawrence for the Arab Revolt

[Lawrence, T. E., British explorer, intelligence officer, and writer (1888-1935)]. [Four stamps designed by T. E. Lawrence for the Arab Revolt, with a signed handwritten note in the hand of King George V of England].

No place, [1916 CE =] 1334 H.

Folio (215 x 275 mm). 1 p. With the letterhead of Mohamed El-Chafai Bomboatman, a stamp dealer in Port Said. Four stamps pasted down, and handwritten signed note.


An extraordinary document presenting examples of four stamps designed by T. E. Lawrence for the Arab Revolt, sent directly to His Majesty King George V, who has noted in his own hand: "These stamps are the new issue since the Sherif of Mecca has been on our side", signed simply "Geo". Reportedly, George V (an avid stamp collector) received around 400 Hijaz stamps.

What Lawrence and George V would have both understood was that postage stamps were a useful political tool. As Oriental Secretary at the Arab Bureau, Sir Ronald Storrs (1881-1955), wrote in his memoirs: "Shortly after the Arab Revolution we found that its success was being denied or blanketed by Enemy Press (which was of course quoted by neutrals), and we decided that the best proof that it had taken place would be provided by an issue of Hajaz postage stamps, which would carry the Arab propaganda" (quoted in Beech). Storrs also described how he "wandered with Lawrence round the Arab Museum in Cairo collecting suitable motifs in order that the design in wording, spirit and ornament, might be as far as possible representative and reminiscent of a purely Arab source of inspiration. Pictures and views were avoided, for these never formed part of Arab decoration, and are foreign to its art: so also was European lettering" (Beech).

T. E. Lawrence himself mentioned the stamps in a letter to his brothers in July 1916, excited by the prospect of design and paying special attention to a scheme to use flavoured gum on the back, which involved strawberry essence on the red stamps and pineapple juice on the green stamps. Both red and green are in fact represented here, though with their flavour untested.

The final designs were in fact the work of two men, neither of them Lawrence himself. First, Agumi Effendi Ali, who designed the ¼ piastre stamp (seen in green) and the ½ piastre stamp (seen in red), which David Beech states were inspired by the carved panels on the principal door of the al-Salih Talayi Mosque in Cairo and by the last page of a Holy Qur'an in the 14th century Mosque of Sultan Barquq, respectively. Second, Mustafa Effendi Ghozlan, who designed the 1 piastre stamp (seen in blue), inspired by "an ancient prayer niche in the Mosque of al-Amri at Qus in Upper Egypt" (Beech). This particular collection also includes an orange stamp, interestingly, noted as worth 1/10 piastre.

"Perhaps without this philatelic connection Lawrence might never have become 'Lawrence of Arabia'. For it was on this, his first visit to the Hijaz, that he met one of the sons of King Husayn of Hijaz, Emir Faysal (1885-1933) who was to become successively Commander of the Northern Army in the Arab Revolt 1916-1918, King of Syria from 1918 until 1920 when he was deposed by the French, and finally King of Iraq 1921-1933" (Beech).

A small closed tear, but a fine survival.


David R. Beech, "Hejaz: The First Postage Stamps of 1916 and T E Lawrence", in: The London Philatelist 114 (205), 323-327.