Suspect Accidental Release of Prepared But Unissued Yemen Official Postage Stamp

Bruce Conde

Copyright 14 May 1956
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the May 14, 1956 issue of Linn's Stamp News

When counting a supposed order of 990 complete sets of Yemen's 1951 Italian-printed regular postage definitives (Scott's #68-77; Gibbons' 71-80), the stock girl of Beirut's biggest Middle East stamp firm let out a yelp.

"We have only 770 sets and 220 without the low value," she complained, pushing aside a few sheets of what looked like a slight variation of the 1 bogshah dark brown," and they slipped in 220 copies of this thing."

"This thing" was a little lighter in color than Scott's No,. 68, but scarcely enough not to be taken for a poorly-inked variety of the latter. Its value plaques, at the bottom, were identical, as was the bilingual country name at the top, and the shape and size of the sheet (40 subjects, in five horizontal rows of eight) with the fretwork design in the left sheet margin, as well as the black-printed sheet number at the bottom.

Like No. 68 it bore the imprint of Rome's government stamp press beneath the design of each stamp. But there the similarities stopped.

Instead of Sana'a's central Shararah Square (too distant to be effective on No. 68), "this thing" showed a closer view of the old capital's most imposing gate in the medieval ramparts—Bab al-Yemen, with citizens in native garb standing by, in the right and left foreground.

Across the bottom of the picture was the French inscription: "Timbre Gouvernamental", which signifies "Official Stamp" in free translation, with the equivalent "Tawabi'a Hukumi" beneath it.

Now, Yemen has never issued, used, or acknowledged the existence of any official stamps, and the writer is familiar enough with governmental mentality in the Imam's kingdom to know that this particular stamp could never prove a howling success among Yemenite officialdom, for the same reason that the whole 1951 issue has never seen widespread use.

The reason is simple enough. When the Imam approved the subjects and text to be used on this set, the Yemenite representatives in Cairo, through the Italian Legation there (whose head is concurrently ex-officio Minister to Yemen), submitted the data to Rome's stamp designers and left the rest up to them.

Italian artists, apparently laboring under the colonial mentality of Italy's own imperial issues of yesteryear, committted the terrible faux pas of putting the foreign (French) text above the Arabic one, in all cases. This is tantamount to inscribing Israel's stamps in Arabic at the top, with the Hebrew text beneath.

The Imam, after one look at the new definitives, turned thumbs down on the whole set and ordered a new one. Pending arrival of the new and acceptably-lettered series (the Taiz minaret definitives) the defective 1951 issue was generally reserved for cash sale, in mint condition, to outside stamp collectors and dealers, although the 2 and 3b low values were overprinted with the provisional 4b surcharge during stamp shortages, and the 1 bogshah was used on newspaper wrappers during other emergencies. In these ways, the Post Office Department hoped to recover at least the printing costs.

Yemen - 1bg official stamp from the 1951 series
The newly-discovered Yemen Official stamp
"issued" on March 28, 1956. Lower left hand
corner block of four showing fretwork design
in left margin.

Since 1b official stamp could be useful only to frank the government's "An-Nasir" and "Al-Iman" newspaper, and since no Arab state could frank official mail to other Arab countries, abroad, or even to its own citizens, with the national language subordinated to a foreign tongue on its stamps, the ill-fated 1b "Timbre Gouvernamental" of Yemen and any other values which may have been prepared, suffered perpetual oblivion until 28 March, 1956.

On that date, five-and-a-half sheets of the 1b value were apparently issued inadvertently as 1b regular postage stamps along with 990 otherwise complete sets of the 1951 series.

What will be the fate of this unusual item vis a vis the stamp catalogues?

Yemen - 1bg regular stamp from the 1951 series
Lower left corner block of the regular
1 bogash low value of Yemen's 1951
definitives whose similarity to the uniss-
ued official stamp caused the latter to be
"issued" inadvertantly.

If it turns out that the regular 1 bogshah is now completely out of stock due to its extensive use as a newspaper stamp, and the 220 officials were substituted deliberately in an effort to use them up as regular postage stamps (as is being done with the 1942 postage dues, unoverprinted), this maverick may yet make the grade as a regularly-listed Yemen stamp.

Furthermore, if it appears on newspaper wrappers---which it hasn't to date, as the writer is a regular subscriber to the Taiz independent journal "Saba", whose circulation department has always franked mailings with either the 1b dark brown or the 1b purple (Scott's No. 51) of the French-printed set for the past three years---, it may become as common used as the 1 bogshah dark brown regular item, although relatively scarce in mint condition since there are few orders nowadays for the old 1951 set in any condition.

The 990 sets taken by the Beirut dealer (if he succeeds in getting 220 singles of the low value) may be the last big lot to go into philatelic storage, with remainders in Yemen being consigned to the incineratore whenever the Post Office Department feels that it can afford the loss.

This brings up the matter of Scott's and Gibbons' prices for mint vs used specimens of the 1951 set. The writer has yet to see a single commercially-used specimen of any stamp except the 1b. Every time he or any other Yemen specialist wants used copies or covers it is necesary to buy mint copies and send them to Yemen for cancelling, and unless the newly-discovered official is to receive newspaper wrapper use, it will be even scarcer is used condition.

Under these circumstances it is difficult to see why the catalogues persist in assigning higher values to the mint specimens, which are abundant in philatelic hands, while used copies are relatively rare.

Perhaps the unexpected appearance of Yemen's lone official will prove the gadfly to awaken Scott and Gibbons to a reappraisal of the whole 1951 series of which it is a part.