What makes this stamp unique?: a contest

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.


    • 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.

  1. 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!

  2. 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?

  3. Pingback: Coexistence and variation in numerals and writing systems « Glossographia

  4. Pingback: The mystical Eye of Horus / capacity system submultiples « Glossographia

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