To the best of my knowledge, this Egyptian postage stamp, along with the two other denominations in the same 1937 series (5 mills and 15 mills), are unique in a very specific way. My puzzle to you is: what makes these stamps so special?

Place your guess by commenting below (one guess per person). If you are the respondent with the correct answer, your ‘prize’ is that you may ask me any question relating to the themes of this blog and I will write a separate post on that subject. Happy hunting!

**Edit: Well, that didn’t take long. In just over 20 minutes, Dan Milton successfully determined the answer. In case you still want to figure it out on your own, I won’t post the answer here in the main post, but you can find it in the comments if you’re stumped. I will follow up with some analysis later.**

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I don’t know a lot about Egyptian stamps, but what’s up with the mirrored hieroglyphs? Also, did they usually have Latin on them?

Actually, Egyptian hieroglyphs could be written left to right or right to left, and the glyphs would change direction depending on the direction of the line. Basically one reads towards the faces. The organization is unusual on the stamp, but that’s not surprising since this is not actually an Egyptian inscription. As for the Latin, it’s not common, certainly, but there are plenty of stamps that have Latin on them.

Ah, that’s good to know. I suppose I should have considered that the hieroglyphs didn’t mean any thing anyway — considered it’s two identical sets. Anyway, the message in the Latin baffles me a bit. Forgive me if I’m way off base — I don’t actually know Latin — but it looks to me that it’s something like Ophthamalogical Council? Or maybe “ophthamalogicum” is some odd reference to the Eye of Horus prominently displayed on the stamp? Very confused.

Yes, the ‘Concilium Ophthalmologicum is a reference to the 15th International Council of Ophthalmology meetings. It appears that the Council regularly puts its title in Latin, which is interesting in itself.

It did sort of strike me as taking a Classical-root coinage in English and trying to wedge it back into Latin (yes, I know the roots are Greek).

They include text in four languages (Egyptian, Arabic, Latin, and French).

This is true, and it is highly unusual, but it is not unique. See, for instance: http://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=39437 Very good guess though!

I wonder if the 2 stamps from Hyberabad shown there don’t use 4 kind of numerals too. I think they use at least 3.

Dear Frédéric,

This turned out to be a very interesting digression. At first I thought there were only three numerical notations: looking at http://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=39437#p3002033 we see (clockwise from bottom left) Western, Devanagari, and Telugu, but the Urdu for ‘2 annas’ is written out in number words, not numerical notation. But then I realized that of course there are Arabic script numerals in the centre of the stamp, such as the date ‘1286’ (A.H = 1869/70 CE) and ‘100’. So it does indeed have four numerical notations. But that raises a couple of interesting questions: first, why did they choose not to write ‘2 annas’ in Urdu using the ordinary number symbol for 2? Second, how long and on how many stamps did this practice (4 languages, 4 scripts, 4 numerical systems) persist? Third, are there other contexts where different combinations of four (or more) numerical notations were used in India?

I have since looked for more example on banknotes. The current situation, seems to be the use of “arabo-indic” numerals only, but with the noumber spelt out in 17 languages http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_rupee#Languages (but the Oriya version looks like numerals)

Knowing your interests, I’d say that it has four number-writing systems: Arabic , European “Arabic”, Roman, and Hieroglyphic. The Hieroglyphic is represented if the Eye of Horus is considered in its mathematical use as a sum of fractions.

Dan, you’ve got it exactly! While there are lots and lots of stamps with multiple languages (this one has four) and lots with multiple scripts (this one has three), this stamp, and the other two, are the only ones I know of to contain four distinct numerical notation systems. You are our winner and, as per the terms above, have won the privilege of asking me any question on the themes of this blog, to be answered in a future post. Congratulations!

That is quite interesting. We tend to think of the modified Hindu-Arabic-European system is universal. Very interesting to see various different systems being used.

OK, thanks!

The Wikipedia article “Eye of Horus” (which I checked before answering) says:

“The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus was thought to contain tables of ‘Horus Eye Fractions’.[14]

In Ancient Egyptian most fractions were written as the sum of two or more unit fractions (a fraction with 1 as the numerator), with scribes possessing tables of answers (see Rhind Mathematical Papyrus 2/n table).[15] Thus instead of 3/4, one would write 1/2 + 1/4.

Studies from the 1970s to this day in egyptian mathematics have clearly shown this theory was fallacious and Jim Ritter definitely showed it to be false in 2003.[16] The evolution of the symbols used in mathematics, although similar to the different parts of the Eye of Horus, is now known to be distinct.”

I don’t have access to the books referred to in footnote 16 and it isn’t clear what theory is fallacious (combining fraction symbols into the eye symbol is a modern not ancient construct?). So can you explain?

I sure can! In fact, I already have, several years ago: https://glossographia.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/as-i-was-going-through-the-times/ If you’re happy with the explanation given there (if it clarifies what is fallacious and why) then feel free to ask a different question, or if you need further clarification, I can write more on the subject. I’m not an Egyptologist but at least in this domain, I’m on familiar turf.

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