Yemen Overprints May Be Rarity
Shortage of 4 Bogash Value Brings in Three Overprints,
Peculiar Use of Higher Value
Copyright 14 January 1957
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the January 14, 1957 issue of Linn's
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 #68the
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.
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
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 Arabica 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'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.