Saudi Arabia has been a member of the Universal Postal Union since 1927 and of the Arab Postal Union since 1948, and through arrangements sponsored or supervised by these organizations it maintains regular postal contact with almost all countries of the world. During the period of the first five-year Development Plan (1970-75) the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Telegraphs, Posts, and Telephones more than doubled the number of post offices in the kingdom (from 108 to 228) and as of the late 1970s the national airline, Saudia, and other carriers provided daily service between Saudi Arabia and other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Further expansion and improvement of the country's postal services is one of the goals of the government's development plans.
In the 1930s when the first geologists of the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later to be renamed Aramco) came ashore at Jubail, however, postal services were very limited, especially in the eastern part of the kingdom. The only international mail service in what was then called al-Hasa Province was by boat between al-'Uqayr and Bahrain, and the small post office at al-Khobar was unable to handle the quantities of mail involved in the oil operations. The mail pouches, accordingly, were taken down to al-Khobar pier and put aboard a company launch, accompanied by a Saudi postal official, and sent to Bahrain. Saudi stamps were not used; Bahraini stamps were applied, and return addresses in this period show "CASOC, Bahrain Island." Late in 1941 the al-Khobar post office was expanded and supplied with the large quantities of stamps required, and from this time on the company's mail began to show Saudi stamps. The first mail-carrying commercial air line flight (flown by TWA) landed in Dhahran on July 6, 1946, and in 1962 the first jet air service to and from Dhahran was inaugurated—an event the Saudi Post Office marked with the issue of a commemorative set of five stamps.
First Saudi air stamps appeared in 1949; set issued in 1963 marks first jet service.
The postage stamps of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its forerunners offer a fascinating field for the stamp collector, from the sometimes crude provisional issues of the early days before the establishment of the kingdom to the colorful and professionally produced issues of recent times. The first stamps issued for use in what is now Saudi Arabia date back only to 1916, but the postal history of Arabia goes back well before that. In fact the first postal service in the modern sense was provided by an Egyptian post office which operated in Jeddah from June 1865 until it was closed at the end of June 1881. This service was maintained principally for the use of Egyptian business-men in Jeddah and for Egyptian pilgrims on their way to or from the Holy Cities, but it was available to all who wished to make use of it, and the records of the Egyptian post office indicate that the Jeddah office was a successful and profitable one. Egyptian stamps used in Jeddah can be identified by the cancellation, which reads "Gedda" or "Djeddah."
Postmark indicates Egyptian stamp showing Sphinx and Pyramids was used in Jiddah.
The Hijaz at this time was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, and more or less contemporaneously with the operation of the Egyptian post office the Turks began to extend their postal system into the Hijaz and southward into Yemen. Turkish post offices were opened in Jiddah and Mecca in 1871 and by 1892 had reached at least as far south in what is now Saudi Arabia as the town of al-Qunfudhah. Stamps used at these offices were the contemporary Turkish issues, and here again collectors can identify them by their cancellations. Most of the Ottoman post offices in the Hijaz closed in 1916 when the Sharif Husayn, with British backing, declared himself King of the Hijaz, but Turkish forces held out in Medina until January 1919, and the Turkish post office in that city was the last to close. The Turks also maintained post offices in Qatif, al-Hasa, and Jubail in eastern Arabia; these offices were closed when Saudi forces captured this area and expelled the Turks in 1913. Collectors know that stamps bearing cancellations from these three offices are very scarce.
Letter bearing Turkish stamps was mailed from Ottoman post office in the Hijaz.
The first adhesive postage stamps of Arabia appeared in 1916-1917 under the auspices of the Sharif Husayn and were inscribed "Hijazi Postage" and "Mecca." The designs, selected by Colonel T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Sir Ronald Storrs of the British High Commission in Cairo were based on decorative carvings on mosques and other historical buildings in Cairo and on pages from famous copies of the Quran.
The 1/8-qirsh stamp of 1917 was one of the first postage stamps of the Hijaz.
In 1921-1922 Husayn, relying on secret commitments given him by the British during World War I and wishing to indicate that his domains were not restricted to the Hijaz alone, reissued these stamps with an Arabic overprint reading "Hashimite Arab Government" and the Hijrah date 1340. A short time later a set of locally printed stamps appeared with the same inscription as well as the arms of the Hashimite family, and in 1924 this set was reissued with an overprint commemorating the proclamation of King Husayn as caliph.
Arms of the ruling Hashemite family are shown on the 1/8-qirsh Hijaz stamp.
In July 1925, after the abdication of Husayn, a further set of stamps was issued, based on stylized arabesque designs and inscribed "Hijazi Arab Government." The central feature of each design was an elaborate calligraphic rendering of the name 'Ali ibn al-Husayn, and these were the last stamps issued by the Hashimites; five months after they appeared the Saudi forces captured Jiddah and the Hashimites withdrew from the Hijaz.
Stamps issued in 1925 bear the name of Ali as King of the Hijaz.
The Saudi Government in Najd and eastern Arabia at first had no formal apparatus of public postal services, and individuals who had a need to correspond with the world outside had to arrange for private travelers to carry letters either westward to the Hijaz and Egypt or eastward to Bahrain or Kuwait. As the Saudis moved into the Hijaz in 1924 and 1925 and took over the existing postal system, however, there was a need for new stamps to represent the new status quo. The immediate solution was to improvise by using a series of overprints reading variously "Najdi Postage" or "Najdi Sultanate Postage" which were applied to whatever stamps the retreating Hashimites had left behind them - including not only regular Hashimite postage issues but also Hijaz Railway tax stamps and various other Hijazi revenue stamps and even a few Turkish stamps left over from a still earlier period.
Saudi forces entering the Hijaz issued overprinted Hashimite and Turkish stamps.
The first definitive issue of Saudi stamps, printed in Egypt and consisting of five denominations from one-quarter to five qirsh inscribed "Hijaz and Najd," appeared in February 1926, shortly after 'Abd al-'Aziz was named King of the Hijaz and Sultan of Najd. These have been followed by a number of later issues. The first regular issue with which Aramco employees became familiar as they moved into the eastern part of the kingdom was the so-called tughra or monogram issue (so named after the main feature of the design, a highly stylized monogram of King 'Abd al-'Aziz) which appeared piecemeal between 1934 and 1957. Between 1960 and 1975 there appeared a very long series of over 225 stamps in three designs depicting the dam across Wadi Hanifah near Riyadh, Aramco's Buqqa gas-oil separator plant in the Abqaiq oil field, and an airplane of Saudi Arabian Airlines. A so-called "tourist" issue showing various local scenes such as the Ka'bah in Mecca, an Arab horse, and the rock tombs of Madain Salih appeared between 1968 and 1975; and another definitive pictorial set depicting the Ka'bah, a drilling rig in the offshore Khafji oil field, and other scenes began to appear in 1976.
Regular Saudi postage stamps show King's monogram Aramco GOSP and the Ka'bah.
Commemoratives mark world anti-malaria campaign and Dammam-Jiddah highway project.
The commemorative stamp issues of Saudi Arabia form a fascinating and often colorful and attractive record of some of the major events in the kingdom's history. The first Saudi commemoratives consisted of a set of five stamps overprinted and issued in July 1925 to mark the first pilgrimage to take place after the reestablishment of Saudi rule over Mecca, and other overprinted issues appeared later in the same year to commemorate the extension of Saudi authority to Medina and Jiddah after the withdrawal of the Hashimites.
Thirtieth year of Saudi national airline was marked by commemorative set of stamps.
A set of commemoratives issued in January 1934 to mark the proclamation of 'Abd al-'Aziz's eldest son, Sa'ud, as Crown Prince was the first set of Saudi stamps to be inscribed "Saudi Arabia" instead of the earlier "Hijaz and Najd," and these have since become some of the scarcest and most valuable stamps of Saudi Arabia. Later commemoratives have honored various international events and anniversaries, such as World Refugee Year, the centennial of the World Meteorological Organization, and the hundredth anniversary of the invention of the telephone, as well as milestones in the history and development of Saudi Arabia including the fiftieth anniversary of the capture of Riyadh, the expansion of Dammam port, the completion of the Dammam-Jiddah highway, and the thirtieth anniversary of Saudia, the national airline. The handsomest of all the commemorative stamps of Saud Arabia is probably the set issued in July 1975 as a memorial to King Faysal and showing a classically simple portrait of the late King in the act of performing his prayers.
The memorial set issued in 1975 shows King Faysal at prayer.