Postcard Guide to Alexandria - Book Review

Mohamed Nofal with the Postcard Traders Association Desmond Chamberlain Cup for postcard research for 2007, presented in London on September.


"I have always said that postal history, marks, stamps and postcards are one subject and complement each other, so why separate them?" - Mohamed Nofal (ESC 489) asks a very good question in the introduction to his voluminous guide to postcards published in and about Alexandria. Happily it is one that, at least in the Circle, is already being answered positively, with postcards always welcomed to illustrate almost any display.

I collect postcards, but have never fully got to grips with the sheer number involved. Egypt has long been a tourist trap, and publishers, helped by a blind eye to copyright, have served that trade for at least 120 years with an immense variety of styles and illustrations. Mohamed Nofal, Alexandria-born, has worked since 1993 to make sense of the various series, and has succeeded admirably. Alexandria: Egypt 1890-1956 is the first of his guide-books: happily, there are more to come. He has managed to define no fewer than 1050 publishers, and in over 300 pages describes examples of all of their work in an array that leaves me for one very envious of some of his Hotel cards. Each publisher has a vertical half-page with illustrations of the back of the card, a couple of examples, and brief notes. A rarity standard from one star up to six (and "rare" above that) is provided, based on his personal opinion.

Frustratingly, in some cases only a single card from a series is illustrated - because he has only one! Requests are made throughout for correspondence and copies or scans of missing cards, and it is clear that he is keen to build a community of collectors. Perhaps crucially, he omits to publish any list of titles of known cards from a given series - but this list has been prepared and is available on application: it will be published when more complete.

The reproduction of the cards is exemplary (deleting the address on used cards while leaving the postmark, though understood, is disconcerting!), the information comprehensive, the notes perhaps a little on the sketchy side. And there are slips of English and expression that should be picked up for a second edition - for example, the captions on the Victoria College (147) and Kardiache (173) pages are swapped, and in the preview of his Raphael Tuck volume the word "Oilette" loses its final "e" in embarrassingly large type!

But these quibbles are not to dismiss a massive piece of work. The standard of publication is high, the work behind it even higher. For the first time Egyptian postcards are brought into order - though the abbreviations and listing styles take a little getting used to, though there is still much work to be done, this is an exciting and comprehensive start to a massive task.    Mike Murphy (ESC 240)

" Postcard Collectors Guide: Part I - Alexandria, Egypt, 1890-1956, by Mohamed Aly Nofal, A4 size, paperback, 324pp, lavishly illustrated in colour. Price 50 / 75 / $100 - 10 per cent discount for ESC members, plus postage and packing, from 137 Gunnersbury Avenue, Acton, London W3 8LE, or visit www.nflpostcardsegypt.com or email man@nflpostcardsegypt.com.