As recorded by Herodotus and Xenophon, the first regular postal system in the history was established in Iran during the reign of the first king of the Achaemenid (Hakhamaneshi) dynasty, Cyrus the Great, in 6th century BC This communication service was covering the Persian Empire from Europe, Asia Minor, and Egypt to Babylon, Aden, and Arabia to Indian Ocean. The messengers were carrying mail by day and night; the relay stations were built only so far distant from each other so that a horse could run without resting or feeding. Thousands of kilometers roads were built to facilitate the delivery of mail throughout the Persian Empire.
As noted in the "Lion Stamps of Persia" by Dr. Mohammad Dadkhah; in 1851, during the reign of Nasser-eddin Shah Ghadjar (Qajar), the postal system was re-established under the supervision of his prime minister, Mirza Taghi-Khan Amirkabir. The news of the new postal service was published in an announcement on Friday, 11th of Rabi-ol-Sanni 1267 (12th February 1851), in the second issue of the "Vaghayeh Ettefagheeyeh", an official newspaper. The announcement read as follows:
"In the view to bring order and harmony in the postal system it was decided that post offices to be built in Tehran and other important provinces and any merchants or other people who wish to send letter by mail should bring it to that post office and leave it with the postmaster on the day the postman is leaving and on the arriving days of the postmen whoever has letters can pick it up to avoid any delays. However, due to the cold weather and excessive snow this service is now postponed until the first of August when the weather is better."
According to the 7th issue of the same newspaper, the postal service started on 17th of Djamadi-ol-avval (20th March 1851). On 29th October 1851, a senior employee by the name of Shafi Khan was appointed by the prime minister as the first postmaster.
The postal rate for letters delivered in Iran was fixed at 5 Shahis for one letter and 1000 Dinars or 20 Shahis for five letters or more in one envelope.
In early 1860's, by the recommendation of Mirza Ali Amin-eddowleh, the controller of the Post Office, and after the visit of Nasser-eddin Shah Ghadjar to Europe, a deputation was sent to Paris to make inquiries for establishing a modern postal system and utilizing postage stamps.
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In 1865, a French artist by the name of A. M. Riester, who was informed of the idea of the Iranian deputation, on his own initiative, based on an old Iranian Coat of Arms prepared a design showing a seated lion with rising sun on his back set in an oval surrounded by ornamental frame. Riester's initials are also shown in reverse beneath the frame in the lower right. Riester's essays were rejected by the Iranian government.
The Riester essays were displayed at the Exhibition of Fine Arts in the Champs-Elysees at Paris at that time.
Albert Barre, the famous French engraver of the laureate stamps of circa 1863-1870 of France was approached by the Iranian deputation and commissioned to design a postage stamp for the country.
click to see enlarged photo
The design of these stamps was based on the new Coat of Arms, representing a standing lion facing left (this is according to some legends representing the Lion of Ekbatana or Hamadan which is the symbol of power), holding a saber in his right hand (the saber is representing the Zolfagha'ar, the saber of Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammad the prophet of Islam and the first Shiite Imam, and which is the symbolic of Justice), and the rising sun which is known as "Mitra", "Mehr", or "Khorsheed" according to the Iranian culture and belief is the symbol of light, purity, goodness, good fortune, and perhaps the symbol of God or Ahura'mazda.
It should be noted here that according to some beliefs these essays were engraved by Charles Trotin, a member of the Money and Medallion Commission of France, and not by Albert Barre.