A password will be e-mailed to you.

Designer of the Toughra Stamps

Toward the end of 1920s famous Turkish philatelist Bondi Beraha noticed various small notes as he was looking through the pages of the album which was comprised of an old collection of stamps dated between 1863-1892. These notes said that Toughra stamps were designed and impressed by two men, “Ser-Sikkeken Abdulfettah Efendi” and “Ensarcioglu Agop, and that after the stamps were  printed in “Darphane-i Amire” (Imperial Print), they were sent to “Nezaret-i Maliye” (Ministry of Finance) for to be stamped “Control Band” on them.

Bondi Beraha wrote for the first time about his discovery in his own report of the IPOSTA International Stamp Exhibition (1930) and following year wrote in the 2nd issue of one and only philatelic journal of the time called Pul Mesheri which was published by Ali Nusret Pulhan. Beraha’ s discovery was mentioned in the same way in the Pulhan Catalogues, philatelic publications and in all the encyclopedias after that date.

Turkish philatelist Hilmi Bayindir (Author of the Ottoman Turkish Seals & Postmarks 1840-1920) said the following preface of  Ara Garmiryan’ s book “Tugrali Pullar” (Toughra Stamps 1988):

“We know that the stamps were made by the Lithography technique. These are documentations in the Darphane-i Amire which indicate that the stamps were made by Sikkezenbachi Abdulfettah and Ensarcioglu Agop. It is certain that the skills of the craftsman are obvious in the creation of the stamp-like reverse carving of the Toughra Stamps. However, there is no information about how and where these craftsmen, who exercised tone printing were educated.”

Ara Garmiryan mentions the same problems in his own preface and goes further to say that the philatelist Mr. Vedat Kocak was tracing the stone molds of Toughra stamps and that they were been kept and been looked after until the present date.

Although there had been many researches about Sersikkeken Abdulfettah and Ensarcioglu Agop Efendi, there is no research about their private life stories and they have always been neglected for some reason.

A short preface about the terms “Sikkeken” and “Sikkezen”

The terms “Sikkeken” and “Sikkezen” are two separate terms in meaning and they are usually mistaken in their usage as “Sikkezen” is used in the place “Sikkeken“.

Sikkeken is the artist who designs the reverse design which is to be carved on the metal coin called “sikke” with the metal stick named “celik” (steel).  Due to the importance of their jobs, Sikkekens were usually kept under the supervision of the Empire within the walls of the palace. On the other hand “Sikkezen” is the craftsman who takes the hot round metal coin called the “pul” (stamp) out of the oven and stamps the “celik” stick on it enabling the design to be printed. Sikkeken had to print the design on the hot coin by hammering the stick on it at one shot out this. This is where he conveys his mastership.

Metal coins have been made in the above manner until the 19th century. After the Tanzimat period, Darphane-i Amire had been modernized and machines together with their mechanics were brought from abroad to produce metal coins. Nevertheless, the terms were used as previous.

The term “Ser” is used in two ways in Ottoman: the first meaning is “head” and the second meaning is the “leader” or “manager” of a group. For example: Ser-asker, Ser-Muharrir, Ser-tabib etc. The term “Ser-sikkeken” used in this article means either the head craftsman or the manager of the Imperial Mint. Abdulfettah Efendi had been officially promoted to the duty of “Ser-Sikkeken” in the year 1857.

Abdulfettah Efendi

Ser-Sikkeken (or Sikkekenbaschi) Abdulfettah Efendi was born in 1814 at Chios (Sakiz) Island. He was brought to Istanbul as a slave at a very young age. He was then sold to Serasker Mehmet Husrev Pasha (1). His father’s name  “Abdullah”  was written on his birth certificate. At that date if a slave or a person accepted Islam as his religion later on his life, they had to adopt the mane “Abdullah” as his father’s name.

Abdulfettah Efendi had taken mathematics, geometry, Arabic and Persian lessons from the military teachers who were personally chosen by Mehmet Husrev Pasha himself. Meanwhile he started to exercise “Hat” (calligraphy)(2). He then learned Sulus and Nesih  calligraphy styles from Sakir Efendi and he received his Icazetname (proficiency) in 1832. Also in 1846 he received his proficiency on Ta’lik calligraphy style from his teacher Yesarizade Mustafa Efendi.

In 1931, when he was 17 years old, he started to work under the patronage of Serasker Husrev Pasha and then took up the duty of teaching in the newly Sibyan Alayi (3)  to teach the Rik’ a writing style to the students and to the officers that were responsible for the correspondence. Rik’ a is the official and daily Ottoman writing used in the offices. In 1839 he worked at Sadaret Mektubi Kalemi (4) without being paid. In 1845 he was employed at Eyup Mosque; and in 1846 at Sehzade Mosque he worked for charity.

Between 1839 and 1857 Abdulfettah Efendi worked at various official services. Among these were secretary to the Governor of Kastamonu and the Major of Selanik (Salonique) state.

After 1855 Bursa earthquake, besides repairing and restoring some of the wall inscriptions (Yazit) of Ulucami (Great Mosque) he prepared new big size inscription plates. “Besmele”, “Allah hu”, “Huve Kuran’i mecid” plates are some of his famous inscriptions. Abdulfettah Efendi wrote these plates with a special broad tipped wooden pen he made himself (5). When repairing of the Ulucami (Great Mosque) inscriptions were complete, this special pen was hung on the mosque’s Mihrab, where it stayed for many years.An inscription by Abdulfettah Efendi, dated lower mid, signed, celi sulus musenna script framed inscription in Ulucami (Great Mosque) Bursa / Turkey, dated 1858.

Other works of Abdulfettah Efendi are as follows:

  • The “Kelime-i tevhid” on the tomb covers of Saban-i Veli and the ones that surround it in Kastamonu.
  • The writings on the buildings by Sultan Abdulmecid.
  • The covers of the tomb of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror). That was repaired by the orders of Sultan Abdulaziz and the writings surrounding the tomb.
  • Inscriptions of the Beylerbeyi Palace.
  • Inscriptions of the Yildiz Hamidiye Mosque and Besiktas Ertugrul Mosque in Istanbul.
  • The writing plates given as gifts to the Islam organization in England and to the Mosque in Crete.
  • The 44 Toughras written for Crete courts.
  • The writing on the tomb of Osman Gazi in Bursa.

He has many pieces at museums and private collections besides the ones mentioned above.
He was promoted as Ser-Sikkeken to the Imperial Mint by the orders of Ministry of Finance in 1857 and was paid 75 gold liras which was considered to be a very high salary at that time.

He was sent to Vienna and Paris in 1860 to learn watermark techniques.

He was Employed by the Minister of Postal Service, Agah Efendi in 1862 for the duty of preparing the first Turkish postal stamps. He used the Toughra of Sultan Abdulaziz as the pattern on the stamps. I believe his choice of this design was due to him being a good Toughra designer (Tugrakesh). He designed a big size Abdulaziz Toughra while he was repairing the inscriptions of Ulucami (Great Mosque) in Bursa. It is certain that the “Toughra” and the writing on the stamps were made by Abdulfettah Efendi and the other decorative motives were made by Ensarcioglu Agop Efendi. This is because Abdulfettah Efendi never had done decoration work in his entire life. For many years jewelry type delicate ornament artists came amongst the Armenians. Due to this reason I believe Agop Efendi was given the duty preparing the motives and the decorations of the stamps independent from the Toughra and the inscriptions.

Furthermore, Ebuziyya Tevfik, who was a famous journalist and publisher of the Turkish Press, had claimed some important points in his article about “stamp design competition”, which was organized by the Posta Nezareti, within his own journal “Mecmua-i Ebuziyya” in 1913. According to his argument, Sultan Abdulaziz was not impressed with the design of the stamps similar those on the coins. After the Toughra stamps were put in use, Sultan Abdulaziz sketched some stamp patterns personally and sent to the famous Hattat (calligraphist) Vahdet Sevket Bey who was in London at the time, and appointed him with the duty making the molds for the stamps. The stamps described in detail by Ebuziyya Tevfik are the ones we call “Duloz”. It is known that those stamps were impressed at the Poitevin printing house in Paris. It is also known that the artist who prepared the stamps was Duloz and these stamps were named Duloz stamps after him.

Ebuziyya Tevfik had begun his career in journalism at the time the Toughra stamps were put to use and he experienced that period intensely. If the events he mentioned were real, they must have taken place in 1864. Hattat (calligraphist) Vahdet Sevket Bey was in Paris on duty in the first months of 1864 and his work had impressed Napoleon III and his wife Eugéne. Moreover, he administrated the printing of the Ottoman banknotes “Kaime” and Shares which took place in Paris and London. Besides being a popular Hattat, Vahdet Sevket Bey was one of the most experienced person over preparing, engraving and printing banknotes and Shares of his time.

Why then, the duty of preparing the Toughra stamps was given to Abdulfettah Efendi and not to Vahdet Sevket Bey?

Well it’s hard to find a reply to this question; both artists were respected within the government, but due to Abdulfettah Efendi’ s post of being the head of Imperial Print might have given him the first position to be elected. Whoever the artist of the Toughra stamps might have been, the carelessness of the imprinted stamps have been prepared and imprinted in the second half of 1862. However, the efficiency of the Kaime’ s and Shares imprinted in the same period can not be detected on the Toughra stamps. Toughra stamps were imprinted by the Lithography technique and were colored later by being dipped into paint or by applying paint with a sponge or cloth. Furthermore, the paint can be applied directly when imprinting with the Lithography technique. Owing to the reason that the stone used in the Lithography technique worn out rapidly, the number of imprinting has been kept limited. The following argument may be given to the usage of such technique for the imprinting of the stamps of an Empire:

The organizers of Toughra stamps, thought that postal service was not going to be applied widely within the boundaries of the Empire and by experimentally impressing the stamps they did not want to do a dead investment. However, the realization of the new application gave way to the efficient preparation and impressing of the usage of the Duloz stamps of which the sketches were sent from Turkey. It is possible that at that point Vahdet Sevket Bey might have administrated the imprinting of the stamps in the Poitevin printing house situated in Paris.

The opinions over this topic may be relative to the individual. Although 150 years had passed over the impressing of Toughra stamps, number of interesting information need to be explored in the Ottoman archives.

I should turn to Abdulfettah Efendi as he is the subject of the article.

Abdulfettah Efendi received a third degree “Osmani” Imperial medal in the year 1864. I gathered this information from the volumes of Vakanuvis (6) Ahmed Lutfi Efendi. Lutfi Efendi mentions that Arifi Bey (translator of Divan-i Humayun) and Ser-sikkeken Abdulfettah Efendi each had received a third degree “Osmani” Imperial medal (with Ula Sinif-i Sani) within the volumes 1863-1864 of his books. However, he had not said why they received these medals; the occasion could have been that the Toughra stamps were started to be used in that year and that he might have received it as a reward.
For his services in the Imha-i Kavim commission in 1878, he received a 1st degree “Mecidi” and a 1st degree “Osmani” medals in 1879. Both medals were of the highest order of the Ottoman Empire.

Abdulfettah Efendi died on October 16, 1896 in his residence in Vanikoy-Istanbul. He was buried in the garden belonging the tomb of Sultan Mahmud. He was known for his hard working.

1 – Son Hattatlar, INAL Ibnulemin Mahmud, Istanbul 1955.
2 – Istanbul Ansiklopedisi, KOCU Resat Ekrem, Istanbul Vol. 1, P: 80-81.
3 – Istanbul Ansiklopedisi, Toplumsal Tarih Vakfi, Istanbul 1993, Vol. 1, P: 30-31.
4 – “Ketebeler“, Berkin Vahe, Antik & Dekor magazine No:7, P: 58-63.
5 – Turk Hattatlari, RADO Sevket, Istanbul.
6 – Darphane-i Amire’nin Kisa Tarihi (Short Story of Imperial Mint), Istanbul 1997.
7 – Tugrali Pullar, GARMIRYAN, Ara, Istanbul 1988.
8 – “Osmanli Pullari“, Ebuziyya Tevfik, Mecmuay-i Ebuziyya, No:100, 1913, P: 693-697
9 – Sabanci Hat Koleksiyonu, (Sabanci Collection of Calligraphy), YAZANSOY Cenap, KARAHAN Abdulkadir, Istanbul 1985.

(1) – Abdulfettah Efendi’ s adopter Mehmet Husrev Pasha:
He was born in 1756. Due to the reason that he lived to his hundredth age he was also called “Koca” (Great). He was brought to Istanbul as a slave just like Abdulfettah Efendi. In 1801 he fought against French, who invaded Egypt, with success which lead the way for him to become the Mayor of Egypt. Between the years 1881 and 1826 he worked as Kaptan-i Derya (Admiral) even though the duty was not a continuous one. In 1826 he became “Ser-asker” and stayed at this duty for 10 years. He became the Grand Vizier when Abdulmecid was crowned and Tanzimat Fermani (Declaration of Reform) was declared at the term of his duty in 1839. Husrev Pasha was not a reformist. Moreover, he spent a lot of effort to do away with Reshid Pasha who was the establisher of Tanzimat declaration. Thus, he was dismissed from his duty and was sent on exile to Tekirdag where he died in 1855. Because he was an orphan and rich, he brought his slaves up as children and gave importance to their education. He brought up many children on their lives became Vizier, Grand Vizier or a High Officer in the government of Ottoman Empire.

(2) – Hat: Calligraphy, artistic writing.
(3) – Sibyan Alayi: An Ottoman military organization. It was established in the Istanbul Selimiye military barracks in 1831. It is considered to be the core of the military academies.
(4) – Sadaret Mektubi Kalemi: The department responsible for the correspondence and documentations of the Grand Vizier.
(5) – Hattat (Hat artist): Hattat uses a special reed pen to write. The tip of this pen is sharpened with a certain angle. Abdulfettah Efendi ‘s own pen was broader than the ordinary “Hat” pens.
(6) – Historian.