On 6 December 2014 it was announced that The United Kingdom would open a new naval base in Bahrain, a country with which the British have had longstanding historical ties. This would be the first British base to be opened in the region of the Middle East since Britain's withdrawal from "East of Suez" in the 1960's. The modern history of Bahrain has frequently been linked to British history and the same is true of Bahrain's postal history until the beginning of the 1970's.
Bahrain, previously a dependency of Persia, was occupied by the Portuguese in 1507. Persian Arabs took control of the territory in 1622 to be followed by Omani Arabs who took over control of the area in 1718. Subsequently there were struggles for control of the territory between various Arab tribes but in 1819 HMS Eden, under orders from the British government in India, visited Bahrain to investigate the activities of local pirates and after defeating the pirates, the British signed a General Treaty of Peace with the rulers of Bahrain, the Al Khalifa family, on 15 January 1820. By the treaty, the British recognised the Al Khalifa family as rulers of Bahrain and agreed subsequent treaties with them in 1861, 1892 and 1952.
The treaty of 1861 placed Bahrain under British protection and by an agreement of 1868 the British agreed to support the Al Khalifa as rulers of Bahrain thereby securing the family's position in the territory. Bahrain became the most important trading centre in the Persian Gulf and as such an played an important role in the British Indian Empire.
An Indian postal administration was established in Bahrain with a post office situated in Manama from 1 August 1884 as a sub-office of the Bushire Post Office. Both Bahrain and Bushire were part of the Bombay Postal Circle. Unoverprinted stamps of India were used at Bahrain from 1884 to 1933.
In 1892 an Anglo-Bahrain treaty established Britain's complete dominance in the state with resultant local unrest and an uprising against Sheikh Issa bin Ali and British military intervention took place. Oil was discovered in Bahrain in 1932 and the British Royal Navy moved its entire Middle Eastern command from Bushire in Persia to Bahrain in 1935.
The first set of stamps of Bahrain was issued on 10 August 1933 and consisted of 13 values of the contemporary definitive set of India, depicting King George V, with overprints of the name of "BAHRAIN" applied in black (depicted above and below). The values ranged from a half anna value to 5Rs and a 3 pies value was added in December 1933. From 1934 to 1937, further Indian definitive stamps which were issued from 1932 to 1936 and with watermark Multiple Star were overprinted "BAHRAIN" and released in the territory.
With the succession of King George VI, 16 Indian definitives which depicted the new king (in values ranging from 3 pies to 25 Rs) were again overprinted "BAHRAIN" and issued in the territory from May 1938 to 1941 when they were replaced with 13 overprinted Indian definitive stamps on a white background which were released from 1942 to 1945:-
The Indian post office in Bahrain was superseded by a British post office on 1 April 1948 and overprinted British stamps were put on sale there from that date in the form of 11 contemporary British definitives ranging in face value from Half anna to 10 Rs:-
The British pair of stamps which commemorated the Silver Wedding anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was overprinted and surcharged and issued in Bahrain on 26 April 1948 and that issue was followed by the 4 stamps which commemorated the London Olympic Games (issued 29 July 1948) and the set of 4 which commemorated 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union which was released in Bahrain on 10 October 1949. Subsequently 9 overprinted and surcharged values of the final British George VI definitive set, values ranging from Half anna on Halfpenny to 10 Rs on 10/-, were issued in Bahrain from 2 October 1950 (4 anna value) to 3 May 1951 (remaining values). These were superseded by the issue of the British Wilding definitives (with Tudor Crown watermark), surcharged and overprinted, which depicted the new queen, Elizabeth II:-
The set of 4 British stamps which commemorated the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was surcharged and overprinted and released in Bahrain on 3 June 1953, and that issue was followed by the 3 stamps which commemorated the World Scout Jubilee Jamboree held in Sutton Coldfield and released in Bahrain on 1 April 1957. During that period 5 values of the Wilding definitives were issued with watermark St. Edward's Crown (from 8 June 1956 to 4 March 1957) and on 1 April 1957 11 Wilding definitive stamps, with St. Edward's Crown watermark, were issued with surcharges in the new currency of 100 naye paise = 1 rupee. The 2 and half annas values was reissued on 24 May 1960 but printed on paper with Multiple Crowns watermark.
On 15 February 1953, a one and half anna stamp depicting Shaikh Sulman bin Hamed al-Khalifa was issued primarily for use on mail within Bahrain. This was followed by a half anna value (deep green) and a 1 anna value (deep blue) which were released on 1 October 1956. These "local" stamps were printed in intaglio by De La Rue:-
Three new local stamps in the revised currency were issued on 16 October 1957:-
Bahrain issued a new definitive set of 11 values (5np to 10 Rs) on 1 July 1960. The 7 small designs and 4 large designs all depicted a portrait of Shaikh Sulman bin Hamed al Khalifa, the lower values being designed by M Farrar Bell and printed in photogravure by Harrison and the higher values being printed in intaglio by De La Rua and designed by O C Meronti:-
A further 6 values (5p, 10p, 15p, 20p, 30p and 40p) of the "local stamps" were issued on 20 March 1961:-
On 22 February 1964 a new partially pictorial definitive series was introduced which was again comprised of 11 values (5 np to 10 Rs) and which depicted Shaikh Sulman with additional illustrations on the higher values - the Air Terminal at Mubarraq and the Deep water Harbour. The low values were designed by M Farrar Bell and printed in photogravure by Harrison and the high values were designed by D C Rivett and printed in intaglio by Bradbury Wilkinson:-
The Bahrain Post Department took over the running of postal services in Bahrain from the British Post Office there on 1 January 1966 and the Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue uses this event as a reason to stop the listing of Bahrain stamps in its Commonwealth section even though Bahrain was still a Protected State and part of the dwindling British Empire. This omission of Bahrain stamps prior to the territory's independence is rather illogical especially as Bahrain had a resonaly conservative policy towards the release of new stamp issues in the period between 1966 and the achievement of Independence.
A new definitive set was issued on 21 January 1966 and consisted of 12 stamps with 4 low values depicting a portrait of the Shaikh Sulman and the remainder depicting the Shaikh with additional pictorial elements in the design. The set was printed in photogravure by Harrison and was valued in the revised currency where 1000 fils = 1 dinar:-
A number of commemorative issues were released between 1966 and 1971 and are illustrated below:-
27 March 1966 - Bahrain Trade Fair and Agricultural Show - 4 values;
1 June 1968 - 20th anniversary of the World Health Organisation - 3 stamps;
13 November 1968 - Inauguration of Isa Town - 4 stamps;
26 April 1969 - 50th anniversary of Education in Bahrain - 3 stamps;
14 July 1969 - Inauguration of the Satellite Earth Station - 4 stamps;
23 February 1970 - Second Conference of The Arab Cities Organisation - 2 stamps;
1 March 1970 - Third International Asian Archaeology Conference - 4 stamps
5 April 1970 - Inaugural Flight of the first Gulf Aviation VC10 from Bahrain to London - 3 stamps;
1 November 1970 - International Education Year - 2 stamps;
Bahrain declared its independence on 15 August 1971 and formally became the independent State Of Bahrain on 16 December 1971. Bahrain issued a set of 4 stamps on 12 December 1971 to mark Independence Day. The issue was again printed in photogravure by Harrison. This issue is probably the appropriate point at which Commonwealth collectors should discontinue their Bahrain collection rather than 1 January 1966 and it certainly allows the inclusion of a number of interesting and modestly priced iissues which in their design and printing are so typical of the sort of stamps which were being produced for many Commonwealth countries in that period:-
The forthcoming opening of the new British naval base in Bahrain, recalling the opening of the British naval base in Bahrain in 1935, will be the latest development in the long and historical links between Bahrain and Britain and from the point of view of stamp collectors I presume that mail services will be provided by the British Forces Post Office and that as with the bases in Cyprus, there will be BFPO postmarks associated with the new base.See also Blogs 241, 263, 424 and 438.