For railway enthusiasts 12 December 2009 was a sad day, as EuroNight sleeper train 469 Orient Express left Strasbourg on its final overnight run to Vienna. And so the name Orient Express disappeared from official European railway timetables after 126 years. The first stamps seen here were issued by Serbia and celebrate the 125th anniversary of the service. The stamps show a train approaching Istanbul and leaving Paris.
The last train was a true descendant of the first 1883 “Express d’Orient” and it officially carried the name Orient Express. Its evolution can be traced from timetable to timetable, year to year from 1883 to 2009. In 1992 Mongolia produced a fine 8-stamp minisheet featuring two travel poster designs from the years 1931 and 1928 respectively. Below them can be seen two trains (one the famous Golden Arrow) leaving Victoria Station, London. Then a train waiting to depart a station in Yugoslavia and a turn of the 20th Century train and the bottom pair show the Flèche d’Or approaching Étaples, France, and a train approaching Istanbul.
On its last run, the Orient Express had evolved into an Austrian Railways (ÖBB) EuroNight train, with one Austrian Railways air-conditioned sleeping-car (with 1 & 2 bed compartments, including two deluxe compartments with toilet and shower), two modern air-conditioned couchette cars with 4 & 6 berth compartments, and an Austrian seats carriage. Austria and Romania produced an Orient Express commemorative joint issue in 2010 with two stamps depicting trains leaving Sinaia and Salzburg and a map of various routes the trains covered over the lifetime of the service.
Possibly the best stamps featuring the history of the Orient Express were produced by Sierra Leone in 2001 and are shown above and below. The main character on the first stamp sheet is Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian civil engineer and industrialist. He designed major European luxury trains, in particular the first Orient Express, after being impressed by American engineer and industrialist George Pullman’s luxury railway carriage creations whilst in America in 1867. The stamps show five locomotives and a caboose car and a portrait of the Dutch dancer and courtesan Mata Hari, who had travelled on the train and whose name has become a synonym for the seductive female spy.
Mata Hari is also featured here along with the train leaving Constantinople and two travel posters. The stamps at top show the first sleeping car introduced on the service in 1872 and two dining cars. The bottom three stamps depict three later sleeping cars.
In 1934 the book Murder on the Orient Express was published. Written by Agatha Christie, the suspense thriller quickly gained a cult following, inspiring numerous film adaptations and feeding the imaginations of travellers for nearly a century. Agatha Christie (1890-1976) can be seen on the above stamp sheet.
This souvenir sheet from North Korea shows the route of the first Orient Express in 1873 with a stamp displaying the luxurious interior of carriages from 1905.
From North Korea we have more 100th anniversary of the Orient Express stamps with a connection to railway history – the inauguration of the Paris-Rouen line in 1843, a British railway line in 1821 and an official opening of a French railway line in 1860.
Then in 1996 Uganda produced various Orient Express Disney character-themed stamps and stamp sheets.
The 700/- value commemorates an accident that happened with the Orient Express when it overshot the buffer stop at Frankfurt’s Central Station and ended up in the station’s Buffet area. The 800/- stamp relates to 1929, when the OE was stuck in a snowstorm for five days.
Another 100th anniversary issue in 1983, this time from Romania, showing the train’s 1883 route with a stamp depicting the first train leaving Bucharest’s main station. The 2008 stamps below, were issued by Bulgaria to commemorate 120 years of the inclusion of Sofia on the Orient Express route.