This will be, what I hope, the first in a series of columns on various stamp-related topics on the country of Saudi Arabia. And what better place to start, than with oil. It’s on everybody’s mind these days, whether you pull up to the pump in your SUV every other day, or only once a month in your eco car. You feel the pinch every time that gas nozzle comes close to your vehicle.
But as is often the case, there is a story behind the story.
The Arabian Peninsula has been a focal point for both British and American petroleum companies since the early 1920’s. An American oil company, called Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL), had made progress in finding oil in Bahrain in 1932, and in 1933 was granted an oil concession in Saudi Arabia by the recently unified Saudi government. SOCAL then passed the concession to its subsidiary, California-Arabian Standard Oil Co. (CASOC). After five years of exploration in the Persian Gulf, CASOC discovered oil in 1938.
The well became known as Dammam number 7. The discovery of oil in 1938 began the transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 1944, California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC) changed its name to Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). Beginning in 1973, the Saudi government started to acquire controlling interest in Aramco and, within seven short years, had acquired 100% of the company. Today, Aramco is the largest oil corporation in the world and has the largest crude oil reserves and production capacities in the world.
Of special interest to our readers, the U.S. imports approximately 55% of its oil requirements. The main sources of U.S. oil imports are Canada (16%), Mexico (12%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Venezuela (11%) and Nigeria (8%). These four countries provide almost 60% of the U.S. oil import, with the remaining 40% scattered among 89 other countries.
And now the connection of the story to the stamps.
The first in a series of oil-related stamps shows a Gas-Oil Separating Plant (GOSP). The series began in 1960 and are identified in Scott as 227-242. This first series were printed on unwater-marked paper, perforation 14, in a size of 27 1/2 x 22mm, and with values ranging from 1/2 to 200 piasters. Each stamp in the series has the same motif bearing a decorative frame surrounding two large oval tanks in the background, with a series of pipes crisscrossing the area in front. Above the tanks reads Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Arabic, and in the top right corner is the cartouche of King Saud. Immediately below the pipes, the inscription reads ROYAUME DE L’ARABIE SAOUDITE, in French. The number in the lower left corner reflects the stamp value in Western numerals, while in the lower right corner in Arabic. Each value carries a different two-color combination. Figure 1 shows an example of a 20 piaster stamp in the first series, as Scott 238.
The 2007 Scott catalog values this mint, never hinged set at $213.10, and used at $18.05. Imperfs exist in the entire range.
Additional GOSP series are also available under Scott numbers 264-273, 314-341, 422-450, and 474-483. Various design changes occurred over this period including the stamp dimension, with watermark, as well as the printing technique used. Beginning in 1966, the cartouche of King Saud was replaced with that of King Faisal. Prices for other sets range from $159 (Sc. 264-273) to $1,677 (Sc. 422-450) for mint, never hinged sets.
Figure 2 is an example of the 1 piaster of 1964 in the larger 28 1/2 x 23mm format. Figure 2 is Scott 265, and uses watermark 337 showing the Crossed Swords and Palm Tree of Saudi Arabia and the King Saud cartouche.
Figure 3 above is a return to the unwatermarked paper, but in a 27 x 22mm size format. The series maintains the same design elements of the original, but with enhanced details in the drawing. Figure 3 is Scott 334 in the 23 piaster value.
The last example in the GOSP series is shown in Figure 4. This stamp shows the cartouche of King Faisal in the top right corner. This is the 20 piaster value and is listed in Scott as 441.This item is on unwa-termarked paper in the 27x22mm format.
Figure 5 shows an enlargement of the King Saud cartouche, while Figure 6 shows that of King Faisal.
The next stamp in the series is the offshore Al-Khafji Oil Rig from 1976. This series carries the Scott watermark 361 (Crossed Swords, Palm Tree, and Arabic Inscription), and the stamps are identified in Scott as 731-751. The fourteen values in this series range from 5 halalas to 2 riyales. The stamps carry a common motif of an offshore oil rig in the center, with a ship tethered to the rig on the left side. To the right of the oil rig are flames emanating from the burn-off tower. The inscription Kingdom of Saudi Arabia written in Arabic and the initials K.S.A. in English are located in the top right corner. The top left corner of the stamp bears the value in Western numbers together with the word POSTAGE. The Arabic equivalents are located in the lower right corner. Figure 7 is an example the 65 halala stamp.
The 2007 Scott catalog values the fourteen stamp set at just $28.15 for mint, never hinged, and $7.30 for a used set. The series continues under Scott numbers 885-892 with 3 different perforations.
Still other examples of oil-related stamps exist in the Saudi Arabia series, including the East-West Pipeline (Scott 934-935), the 50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oil (Scott 1003-1004), as well as several stamps commemorating anniversaries of OPEC (Scott 629, 794-795, 959-960, and 1136-1137),
Despite the connotations of Saudi Arabia in the current geo-political context, there is no intent in this column to change people’s opinions, but rather open their minds to a corner of the world rich in history and tradition.