It was only a couple of weeks ago that we heard the bad news: the August 2023 number of the OPAL magazine was meant to be the last. A little later, the news got worse: not just the magazine, but the society itself was about to close. So, we asked Mehmet Basaran, President of OPAL for the last fifteen years, to drive us through the days of this historic philatelic organisation.
The inaugural meeting of the Oriental Philatelic Association of London was held at the premises of Harmers, the London auction house, on 8 November 1949. Some twenty-five people were present, mostly collectors of Egypt and the Sudan, but gradually others interested in neighbouring countries spread the geographic focus until the Society became established in its present form, covering the territory of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday, and forming a crescent of states around the Eastern Mediterranean from Libya to the former Yugoslavia.
From time to time over the past fifty years, there has been fierce debate about the Society’s title. This arises from the word “Oriental” which has changed its meaning over the years from “East of the Mediterranean” (Concise Oxford Dictionary) to its modern meaning which takes in the whole sweep of Asia south and east of the Himalayas. As a result, the society had people applying to become members from Japan and S.E. Asia. However, the latest consensus was that the acronym “OPAL” was how the Society was best known, and so that is how it will stay.
Like most societies, OPAL has had its ups and downs: the late 70s was a low point with a membership of less than 100. In 1999, the Association’s members gave a display before the members of the Royal Philatelic Society London to mark their 50th anniversary at which time the membership stood at 275. Following the display, after a meeting of members at the London 1980 exhibition proved a turning point, and under the guidance of Keith Tranmer, backed by Bill Robertson, Bash Orhan, Otto Hornung and Mehmet Basaran the society returned to its former vigour. The latest definition of OPAL’s aims was set out at this time and for the first time a proper constitution was adopted (recently revised to keep pace with modern practice).
Because of its wide geographic spread, the Society has always seemed fairly rootless. In the early days, regular meetings were held in Caxton Hall, London, (which is probably why that city features in the Society’s name) but later there was only one regular meeting – the Annual General Meeting – held in the late spring, usually in London. In recent years locally organised meetings have been held in the UK and USA. The main unifying thread in the Society was the Journal – which went from strength to strength under the editorship of Jeff Ertughrul, who received many awards for the standard which he set.
Many of the Society’s members, past and present, have distinguished themselves in the world of philately, particularly in the wide range of published works by people such as Coles & Walker, Tranmer, Birken, Bayindir, Phipps, and Basaran. Others, such as the late Otto Hornung, Michael Fulford, Christopher Cruttwell and more recently Mehmet Basaran have distinguished themselves as prominent philatelists earning several awards including Grand Prix, National Grand Prix and Large Gold at National and International stamp exhibitions worldwide.
At the last AGM, the members voted to wind up the society with immediate effect.