Yemen Overprints May Be Rarity
Shortage of 4 Bogash Value Brings in Three Overprints,
Peculiar Use of Higher Value

Bruce Conde

Copyright 14 January 1957
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the January 14, 1957 issue of Linn's Stamp News


In earlier Linn's articles the writer hinted that a stamp shortage in Yemen would bring about new philatelic wrinkles in the near future. Well, the stop-gap measures adopted by the Post Office to meet the lack of 4 bogash stamps to provide first-class inland letter frankings really turned those hints into masterpieces of understatement!

Upon my arrival here on 4 November (instead of 27 October, as originally scheduled, due mainly to the increasingly tense Middle Eastern situation which finally erupted into the Sinai-Suez war) the following condition of near-chaos prevailed in the Yemen Post Office:

All significant stocks of "overprintable" lower values as well as all stocks of 4 bogash definitives had been exhausted by the first week of October.

Scott's "Type b" four-bogash provisional (handstamp) overprint slug finally collapsed from overuse and neglect and had to be discarded. Its final impressions, on huge quantities of Scott's #68—the 1 bogshah of the first Italian-printed set of 1951 had degenerated into a reprehensible blob or smear, slightly rectangular in shape. This could be duplicated without the slightest difficulty by any schoolboy possessing a piece of cork, a pen-knife and a bottle of ink. It had the defective lettering of French on top of Arabic, which had rendered the set objectionable to the Imam and prevented its regular use as a definitive set.

When "Type b" had been devised, in 1949, the Post Office Department was still in the process of transferring the General Post Office from Sana'a to Taiz, and the Sana'a Postmaster General's authority to thus replace the dilapidated (1939) "Type a" was not questioned. For the next seven years "Type b" shuttled back and forth between Sana'a and Taiz to everyone's satisfaction. Periodic shortages of 4 bogash definitives were met by slapping the handstamp on unwanted stocks of obsolete low values, sometimes to the tune of cleverly manipulated accounting, or lack of accounting for certain denominations of basic stamps which had previously been issued to postmasters at their lower definitive face.

Yemen - examples of overprint types "a", "b", and "c"
Cover showing the rare Type"C" Yemen Provisional Oveprint
(center) tied with early October 1956 Sana'a cancel. Types "a"
(lower left) and "b" (lower right) are shown for comparison.

At the time of "Type b's" collapse, the seat of the Postmaster General was definitely at Taiz, but that dignitary was on an extended leave of absence. The Sana'a postmaster wanted a replacement surcharge but the acting PMG at Taiz lacked both the authority and the inclination to OK the request, and suggested that Sana'a (of whose obsolete stamp hoard he was jealous) use up its stock of Postage Dues and other odds and ends as regular postage stamps.

This was not to Sana'a's liking, and the Sana'a postmaster went ahead with his new replacement handstamp, to which we shall refer in the future as "Type c".

When "Type c" was ready, Sana'a applied it cautiously to a few left-overs of #68 and let them filter through to Hodeida and taiz as trial balloons.

"Unauthorized," snapped back Taiz, and the project came to an end during the week of its inception (early October, 1956). Punitive action could not be taken, however, as Sana'a had cleverly avoided violating the letter of the PMG order forbidding a new 4 bogash overprint by omitting the figure of the value.

As it stands, "Type c", which may become quite rare if it is not subsequently OK'ed, is similar in appearance to its "b" predecessor, but larger (it measures 15 x 18mm in size instead of 13 x 15). Its Arabic inscription at the top, "Barid al-Yemen" ("Yemen Post") is quite well known from the frame line (on blurred copies of "b" it usually touches the top frame line) but its English word "Yemen" at the bottom is scarcely 1mm up from the bottom frame line, while on "b" it is nearly 2mm up.

The frame of "b" is almost touching the "Y" of "Yemen" on the left, whereas in "c" it is fully 3mm away. Finally, the "b" frame line is thick, usually measuring 1mm, and is not joined at the corners, in total contrast to "c", whose frame is a thin hair line, joined all around.

Instead of the Arabic figure of value "4" in the center, handstamp "c" had only a pair of brackets or crescents facing each other, some 4mm apart in the center and 2½ at top and bottom.

Two copies, on ordinary commercial covers mailed from Sana'a to Hodeida in early October, were inspected by the writer, and the one illustrated herewith was kindly presented to him by veteran (part time) dealer M.H. Dossa of Hodeida, about whom a later article will appear in Linn's.

It is thought that only a very few of these provisionals exist, and the writer will report further on this situation when he has had a chance to check commercial cover accumulations here more thoroughly.

After the Sana'a postmaster's early October attempts to solve the 4 bogash inland letter-rate stamp shortage by manufacturing a "Type c" overprint (without value expressed), and applying it to a few sheets of Scott's #68, and by issuing the 1951 1 bogshah official stamp without overprint for use as a 4 bogash provisional had failed to win Post Office Department approval, his Majesty the Imam was forced to intervene and impose an interim solution to the situation by royal decree.

"From the Commander of the Faithful to the Minister of Communications .." ran the sovereign's laconic order, telegraphed from the new royal capital of Yemen at the seaport of Hodeida to the 8000-foot elevation former capital city, Sana'a still seat of most of the ministries. In the cryptic ukase, transmitted in the usual manner on a quarter sheet of fools-cap rolled in a small cigaret-like cartouche and stuck either in the turban or behind the dagger (jambiya scabbard of the soldier-runner, H.R.H. the late Prince Seif al-Islam al-Qasim, perpetual Minister of Communications since the days of his father, the late Imam Yahia, was informed by his royal brother that the 5 bogash value of the 1951 Rome-printed set (Scott's #71) should be considered a 4 bogash stamp, forthwith, and that postmasters should be directed to so purchase and use it.

This requires a little explanation. Yemenite stamp stocks, since the accession of the reigning Imam, King Ahmad the First, in 1948, have been considered the personal property of the sovereign, locked in his palace vaults and sold at face value to postmasters, cash in advance, for postal use. Much chicanery went on during currency of the "Type a" (1939-49) and "Type b"(1949-56) 4 bogash provisional overprint handstamps, when stocks of low value stamps (particularly 1 bogshah, ostensibly for newspapers) were purchased by postmasters and subsequently overprinted for sale and use as 4 bogash stamps.

The only "higher-than-4-bogash" surplus remainders of little-used values to get the handstamp (Nos. 45 and 65) were 5 bogash stamps of the 1940 and 1931 issues, respectively, which had been issued under other circumstances, not from palace vaults against cash, so that no accountancy problem arose concerning them.

Thus, from mid-October, 1956, the handsomest stamp in stock anywhere in Yemen once assumed to be condemned to semi-oblivion and eventually to be burned with other unwanted obsolete remainders, finally came into its own. It is a striking bicolor, with the Yemen flag (the Sword of Ali and five stars, in white, on the red flag of the ancient pre-Islamic Yemenite emperors, or Tubbas, of Himyar) in natural colors on a sky blue background and surrounded by an ornate blue frame of elegant medieval Kufic inscriptions.

The stamp's two defects were that it was an unwanted and unneeded value, gratuitously inserted by the Italian stamp printing works on the assumption that the denomination "4", as ordered, was in error. And two that all self-respecting countries have a "5" value, plus the unforgivable faux-pas of having the French translation of the Arabic text above the Arabic—a colonial trick which didn't get to first base in the independent Arab country.

Actually, Postal Adviser Kablawy spotted both of these defects before the set was to have been issued and complained to the government about them, but the story is that certain elements financially interested in completion of the "deal" without any hitch, prevented Mr. Kablawy's objections from reaching the Imam, and presented the issue as a fait accompli.

When the Imam set eyes on the set he told Kablawy to order a new one without delay and authorized provisional use of the "Type b" overprint on older stamp stocks until the new and unobjectionable (1953) set should be delivered. For reasons of economy he later authorized sale of complete mint sets, post and air, to dealers, and philatelic use, by favor, of some of the values, but never allowed the set to be sold to postmasters for regular postal use. This means that the stamps are more common mint than used, and the catalogue value should reflect this.

Yemen - 5bgs from the 1951 regular series
Yemen's solution to 4 bogash stamp
shortages is this 5 bogash 1951
remainder used without overprint to
prepay the 4 bogash inland letter
rate from mid-October 1956 onward.

During acute shortages he also allowed the 1 bogshah's use as a newspaper wrapper value and the overprinting of the 1, 2 and 3 with "Type b" overprint, but the set as a whole is still anathema and will never be released for normal postal use.

The illustration is from a cover mailed as a 4 bogash local letter item from Hodeida to the former provisional capital, Taiz. Although technically restricted to inland mail use, the stamp is occasionally accepted for prepayment of 4 bogash additional face on covers going abroad, as the royal decree precludes its sale or use as a 5 bogash value.