The Philatelic Middle East

Bruce Conde

Copyright 9 July 1956
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the July 9, 1956 issue of Linn's Stamp News

Syria's "Hussein Visit"
Plot Thickens

Since submitting an initial article to this paper on the April 11, 1956 overprinted commemorative issue of Syria in honor of the state visit of H. M. King Hussein of Jordan to Damascus, the writer of this column has received further information from Damascus which makes the situation even more serious.

In the article it was stated that the 12,000 sets which did not initially fall into the hands of the exporter-speculator, "Mr. X" of Damascus, were sold out to dealers and collectors throughout Syria on the day of issue.

It now appears that instead of being sold to the philatelic public at face value (except at the Aleppo P.O. whose quota was only 2000 sets, a thousand less than the speculator's share), these were largely snapped up by postal employees at face and resold at a premium of 80 to 100% over face the first day, principally to "Mr. X" or his agents, to further solidify his monopolistic control of this issue, whose face value is approximately 15c U.S.

Outraged local dealers, who had received no advance warning and had not been allowed to enter the usual advance subscription to cover standing new issue orders of overseas clients at 6 to 10% over face set up a howl of protest and generally refused to handle the issue at all, advising their clients as to their reason for boycotting it.

One (Baroody's, of Beirut), even went so far as to get out a circular letter, which it distributed in lieu of existing standing orders to all clients who were subscribers to its new issue service. In this circular, Baroody described the situation as disclosed in Linn's and ended with the following words:

"Under the above circumstances, this firm and all other bona-fide Middle East dealers decline to deal in that so-called commemorative issue, as it does not feel that it would be justified to demand of its honorable clients the high and unwarranted percentage over face which it would be necessary to pay to secure commercial quantities of this 15c or 1 shilling set."

To put teeth into the matter, Baroody extended distribution of his circular to the Syrian P.M.G (with a scorching covering letter), the Secretary-General of the Arab League, (Attention Arab Postal Union Section), muckraking government officials, and the Syrian press.

We now sit back to watch with interest:

a) At which price this dime-and-a-half set hits the U.S. and British markets.
b) Local repercussions regarding the M.E. dealer's opposition to the issue and to this philatelic practice in general.

"Normal" Yemen Covers and Condition

Innumerable collectors and dealers have brought up the following gripes concerning local-use (commercial, non-philatelic) covers and used stamps from Yemen:

"Look at this stuff! All the stamps on the back of the cover and cemented down with glue; illegible date stamps, fly specks, footprints, soiled hand marks and uncatalogable stains on over half of the covers. Used stamps over 50% damaged in unpicked lots. What goes on there?

As one of the world's longest-suffering Yemen specialists (since teen age in 1930) the writer wishes to commiserate with his fellow-sufferers and to disclose to them the results of his personal investigations in Yemen (1953-54 winter) on this touchy subject:

1) Stamps are not normally sold over the counter in Yemen but are affixed by postal clerks on mail handed in at the window and accompanied by cash payment of the required fee.

Yemen cover - heavy glue used to hold stamp on cover

2) As the letters handed in (habitually in smaller-than-standard-size covers) usually have the address written in such a way across the face that there us no room for the stamp without obliterating part of the address, the adhesives are logically affixed to the back, usually as a seal to the flap.

3) Postal employees are so notoriously underpaid in Yemen that they have had to resort to numerous sharp practices to make both ends meet. One such trick was for the Postmaster of A to include in the mail sack to the Postmaster at B approximately 100 letters from which the stamps had ostensibly fallen off in transit.

Actually, the cancel had been applied to the stampless envelopes partly over a little slip of paper the size of a stamp, the 4 bogash or higher fee pocketed, and no record of these 100 covers, or of any corresponding stamp sales, being entered in the books.

Yemen cover with address and stamp on same side

When postal inspectors found out about this they directed that whenever the gum was insufficient, glue should be applied to hold the stamp on the cover. They held each Postmaster personally responsible and made spot checks on mail sacks to see that the practice was discontinued. It was, and we collectors have inherited the glue as a souvenir of this charming bit of Yemenite postal history.

4) Date stamps still carry the Turkish civil solar version of the lunar Moslem calendar based on the date of Mohammed's flight from Mecca (the Hijra) which is now three years behind the Moslem year date (1372 instead of 1375) and has been long abandoned elsewhere even by Turkey itself.

In most cases the date rollers have run out of the latest possible date combination, and as the parsimonious Minister of Communications will not authorize purchase of new cancellers until the old ones literally fall to pieces (as that of Mokha did, in the hands of the writer, in 1953), local postmasters have to make hand-made repairs on the rollers, and the results are usually illegible.

There is also a new crop of entirely new hand-made local cancellers which remind one of our 19th Century U.S. Postmasters' hand-carved cork "killers", with absolutely fascinating versions of supposedly English town names beneath the Arabic ones.

5) There are no collectors or regular dealers in Yemen, only a few merchant-accumulators and a part-time dealer (Dossa, of Hodeida), and there is a chronic paper shortage. This means that most covers are reused by recipients for other purposes and that the ones recovered by accumulators for philatelic export abroad are gathered from waste paper. To insist on special care for these particular papers would immediately inflate their value in the eyes of philatelically-uninitiated holders and render them unprofitable to collect for export at reasonable prices. This accounts for their truly waste-paper aspect. The same applies to used stamps, which have usually been subjected to such rough treatment that even their covers could not be salvaged.

This means, of course, that nice, clean Yemen covers, with stamps on the face of the envelope, are uncommon, and habitually command fancy premiums. Of course, we are excluding philatelic covers, which are usually unobjectionable from the aesthetic angle but do not usually carry any known postal rate and are thus not considered legitimate items by old-fashioned philatelic standards.

Inquiries and correspondence about Middle East philatelic matters can be sent to my attention care of Linn's Weekly Stamp News. In case a reply is wanted (10c surface mail and 25c airmail) postage should be enclosed in the form of international reply coupons, or mint U.S. commems.