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The joys of philately


Some of the earliest stamps related to the modern oil industry were issued by Azerbaijan around 1920. In 1959, the United States issued a stamp commemorating the drilling of the first commercial oil well, Drake Well, in Titusville, Pennsylvania , in 1859.

On 7/10/22, the FT headlines read ‘US says ‘no complaints’ in response to OPEC+ oil cuts”. Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has pushed up oil prices, pushed the global economy to the brink of recession and brought the spotlight back to the commodity known as black gold. But this article is not an analysis of world news. Rather, it’s about history, development, and a unique way to document milestones. While several books have been written on the history of the oil industry, it is interesting to examine the evolution of this sector through postage stamps.

Yes, this article is about philately and more specifically about petphilately. While philately refers to the collection of postage stamps, pettrophilately is a niche subset of this activity, which is avidly practiced by a band of enthusiasts who collect stamps related to the oil and gas industry. The 20th century was dominated by the oil economy and is widely considered the age of oil. A review of petro-stamps offers a fascinating insight into its progress and growth. As noted in the 1962 Aramco World article, “Without moving from their chairs, philatelists learn much about the history, romance and grand adventure of the oil industry, as stamps often commemorate the uses of oil and its international value as a global energy resource. Theirs is relaxingly “wild”.

Some of the earliest stamps related to the modern oil industry were issued by Azerbaijan around 1920. In 1959, the United States issued a stamp commemorating the drilling of the first commercial oil well, Drake Well, in Titusville, Pennsylvania , in 1859. The first stamps show the derricks used in the upstream activity. Later stamps show pump jacks as well as offshore oil rigs. As the downstream industry of producing fuels such as gasoline and diesel developed, countries also began to issue stamps depicting refineries. For example, in 1962 a stamp was printed in India for the inauguration of the Guwahati refinery in Assam. The middle part of the value chain includes pipelines, terminals, and tankers have also been heavily depicted on stamps.

Generic philately. Getty Images

Steve Fraser, Vice President of the Petroleum Philatelic Society International (PPSI), has been collecting petro stamps for 30 years and informs us that he particularly enjoys collecting oil and gas stamps as they relate to an industry he is familiar with. . “With 370 stamps listed in our catalog (PPSI),” he says, “Romania has by far issued the highest number of oil-related stamps of any country.” He adds that many of them are only included because an oil rig is part of the Romanian coat of arms.

Some of the petro-stamps were issued by countries that no longer exist, such as the United Arab Republic, East Pakistan, the USSR and Czechoslovakia. East Pakistan issued a stamp in 1969 to mark the first refinery in Chittagong. From time to time, stamps are issued to recognize the contributions of individuals. For example, a stamp printed in Portugal around 1965 bears the image of Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian oil businessman and philanthropist. Gulbenkian had been instrumental in bringing together Western interests to form the Turkish Petroleum Company and in doing so, earned himself the nickname Mr Five Percent.

There are even OPEC-related stamps which, as Steve points out, were issued to mark anniversaries, summits and extraordinary conferences.

While the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven up the price of oil, there have historically been some oil price spikes, for example, during the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 The Arab oil embargo was underway. response to US support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. These conflicts are also depicted on postage stamps. Ukraine has issued stamps that display its defiance of Russia and a number of countries have issued stamps in favor of Ukraine (these stamps related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict do not yet enter the personal collection of the author).

Generic philately.
Generic philately. Getty Images

Samir Wadekar, interior stylist and decorator, has been collecting stamps for 20 years. Although he is not a thematic collector, he owns a dozen on oil and gas. “As far as petro-stamps go,” he says, “I was drawn to its intricacy and detail. A tiny postage stamp that was often smaller than a square inch would depict a large oil refinery or would have the most interesting illustration. energy to mitigate climate change. These alternative sources have also been featured on stamps. As a result, the oil industry is undergoing an energy transition. It is highly likely that in the distant future these little scraps of paper will turn into treasured reminders of the glorious years of the oil industry. After all, stamps not only help deliver the mail, but also serve as keepers of history. And as the title of the book reminds us by Cheryl Ganz – “Every stamp tells a story”.