DUBAI // Rare stamp collections recording the first time the emirates took part in a world’s fair have been revealed ahead of the vote to choose the host city in 2020.
Dubai is pitching to welcome the world – and the rare stamps highlight how the event will put the whole country on the map.
Khalid Ali Al Omaira owns a particularly rare stamp booklet issued in 1970 to mark Abu Dhabi’s World Fair debut in Japan.
The limited edition green and gold booklet is bound with red and gold thread. It carries a red stamp with the mark Osaka, Japan, and near-beige stamps of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father.
It also features stamps from the first Abu Dhabi expo pavilion, shaped to replicate the watchtower of the Qasr Al Hosn fortress, an Emirati clasping a falcon and stamps of the snow-topped Mount Fuji.
“These are very rare because few booklets exist,” said Mr Al Omaira, a philatelist and communications engineer. “It takes many years to create a collection, it’s a challenge.
“Booklets and stamps give details of a country, tell us about the president, the sheikhs, history, national heritage, the people, the environment. Stamps did not just deliver an envelope from one place to another.”
Mr Al Omaira owns a special pack of postcards released for the Osaka expo, capturing views of daily Abu Dhabi life such as people near Maqta bridge, a street fountain and a flower-speckled roundabout.
The UAE is competing against Brazil, Russia, Thailand and Turkey to host the six-month expo in 2020. The vote to select the winner is in June.
“The time has come for the UAE to organise it,” said Abdulla Khoory, president of the Emirates Philatelic Association. He has sets of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah 1970 expo stamps and rare stickers of the pavilion gifted to VIPs in Osaka.
“Our bid will enhance trade, commerce and will create a tourism boom in the country,” Mr Khoory said. “For the younger generations, these stamps are records of our interest in the expo since earlier days and interactions with the world even before the country was one.”
Stamps issued before the federation was formed in 1971 hold immense historical value.
The Emirates’ postal history dates back to 1909 when the Indian Branch Post Office under the British administration opened in Dubai.
When British control of the postal service ended in 1963, each of the trucial states issued its own stamps until 1972, when the postal service of the UAE launched.
Inaugural expo stamps were issued by Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah and Ajman, featuring replicas of miniature Japanese paintings, sculptures – some embossed on gold foil – and women in kimonos.
To many Emiratis, these stamps indicate the possibilities that will open up if Dubai wins the 2020 expo.
“This put our country on the map because before that people in the Arab world and Europe knew us but not many in Japan knew about Abu Dhabi,” said Abdullah bin Jassim Al Mutairi, a collector and heritage and archaeology sites consultant.
“Even before the UAE was formed, they issued these stamps and went to Japan. A stamp is never just a stamp, it has always been an ambassador of the UAE.”
Mutaz Mohammed Othman, author of UAE’s Stamp History and the operations director of the Sharjah expo centre, believes the old stamps register global ambitions.
“The stamps show our new generation where we have been, where we are now and where we are going,” he said. “It’s a message that the UAE, from the early rulers, didn’t want a closed country but had an image of a global country. The Expo 2020’s natural location is in Dubai because there is a historical connection.”