Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830 to 1916) was also the King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, and monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He’s a fascinating fellow if you care to dig around in the history files. Not least because quite a few of his closest and dearest came to a premature end during his reign, and this was after he survived an assassination attempt on his own life in 1853, when he was stabbed in the neck, the wound not fatal only because he wore a high collared uniform. However, other members of his family were not so fortunate. In 1867 his brother was executed in Mexico. In 1889 his only son and heir committed suicide. His wife was assassinated in 1898, and his nephew and heir presumptive was also murdered in 1914. That’s just the close family. There are a fair few others who died around him during his time because the Bulkans and much of Europe was a hotbed for wars and border disputes. But let’s not hold this against a man who was clearly a unique survivor, going on to become one of the longest ever serving monarchs in european history and more importantly he, like many other astute emperors and monarchs who trit-trotted around the globe at the time, made sure they had set up a Foreign Post Office in Egypt.
In fact, Franz Joseph I’s Austrian Post Office in Egypt was among the great and good of Europe, which included the Post Offices of Germany, Russia, Great Britain and France. All who like Franz Joseph I were canny enough to see the commercial and strategic importance of the region. And when our featured cover set-off from the Egyptian shores in 1869, Franz Joseph I was setting off for the Egyptian shores himself. He travelled on board a screw-driven friget style Seiner Majestät Schiff (His Majesty’s Ship), known as SMS Viribus Unitis – meaning “With United Forces” the Emperor’s personal motto – to the opening of the Suez Canal, which the French had been constructing for the previous decade
Now the Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Navy at the time was a chap by the name Wilhelm von Tegetthoff (1827 to 1871) and with such an important passenger as the Emperor, Tegetthoff oversaw arrangements for ferrying Franz Joseph I to this Suez powwow. And these two Austrian big-wigs had an emotional connection because when Franz Joseph’s brother, Ferdinand Maximilian, as noted above was executed by the Mexican government of Benito Juárez, Tegetthoff was the one who the Emperor sent to Mexico to bring his body back home, which he did in January 1868. So, our Naval Chief was a trusted hand, and considered to be one of the best naval officers of the 19th-century. And like most of the important nautical captains of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal War Navy, Tegetthoff spent much of his time, when on land, based in Orebic, which is a port town on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. The vessel and crew chosen to be Franz Joseph I’s floating Royal carriage would leave the very place our cover was traveling to, and coincidentally this Austria cover had come from precisely the place Franz Joseph I, under the watchful eye of our Naval Chief Tegetthoff, was heading, namely Port Said, which you’ll be aware is conveniently positioned at northern end of the Suez Canal.
Now the reason for elaborating on all this is because it coincided with a unique philatelic occurrence with our featured cover. In keeping with arrangements on the ground in Port Said, the Austrian Levant Post Office used their own stamps, and the one they chose to use for this mailing is pretty unusual being the ‘15s light-brown perf 9½’ Coat of Arms issue. Now the important point here is that this is the ‘only’ recorded use of this issue on a cover in Port Said, which like our Emperor is the only survivor. And is one of the fascinating lots available in our upcoming auction of J. Chalhoub Collection Foreign Post Offices in Egypt.
It’s an example that the material from this period and region is not just an important piece of philatelic record, because as demonstrated here a little delving in the archives and you realise every item is quite literally a lookingglass into the history of the world, of nations, monarchs – including their unfortunate relatives -, wars, historical events, politics and changes in social behaviour.
That’s not to mention that there will be those who won’t understand why the cover is addressed to ‘Austria, Dalmatian, Orebic’, given Croatia is now a country in its own right, and there have been several wars fought over it in the intervening period. Suffice to say our featured cover offers us a snapshot into history, which in the philatelic world, becomes more valuable when you take the time to look closely.
Lot 20037 1869 folded cover front bearing Austrian Levant 15 s. light brown, perf. 9 1⁄2, tied by clear crispy “PORTO SAID EGYPTEN 2/5/69” thimble datestamp, addressed to Orebic, an extremely fine exhibition showpiece, the only recorded usage of this issue on cover in Port Said.