An Attempt to Unravel Some of the Confusion
Surrounding Yemen Cancels, Post Office
Copyright 16 July 1956
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the Monday, July 16, 1956 issue of Linn's
In 1926, His Majesty the Imam Yahia, king of the usually closed and
forbidden mountain land of Yemen in southwestern Arabia, inaugurated a
royal postal service for the first time, without benefit of outside postal
advice and completely unaware of the fact that there was anything in the
world called philately. Only eight years before, Yemen was still partly
occupied by Ottoman troops, whose forerunner postal service (Hodeida,
Taiz and Sana'a cancels on regular Turkish stamps for indifferent and
irregular mail to Turkey, mostly by the military) had not been available
to the population at large.
Two basic stamps, a "1/2 of 1/8 imadi" (5c U.S.), and "1/8
imadi" (10c US), corresponding to small pentagonal silver coins of
the realm (40 bogash1 imadi80c U.S.)
were produced locally by locking 20 individual cliches together in a single
frame for each master sheet.
Both stamps showed two crossed Yemeni daggers or "Jambiyas" and Arabic
inscriptions, with the value spelled out on the left dagger blade. Both
were simply black on white, but to avoid confusion due to the lack of
clarity of the inscription of value, the low value was eventually painted
over with an orange wash, thus creating Scott's No. 2 and completing the
first, or "Jambiya", set of three stamps, which were imperforate and ungummed.
A sewing machine perforation was subsequently applied to some of the
sheets at a nearby local tailor's for the benefit of postal patrons and
post office clerks.
Cancellations were simply enlarged versions of habitual Arabic personal
seals, with ornate entwined letters, giving the name of the town, the
inscription: "Post and Telegraph" (they were also used for telegrams,
as the Turks left a pretty complete telegraphic network throughout formerly-occupied
parts of the country) and the year date. These "seal-type" cancels are
still used today for telegrams and are occasionally struck on modern stamps
during temporary lack of postal cancellers proper.
30 post offices, mostly set up in existing telegraph offices, used the
Jambiya stamps and seal-type cancels between 1926 and 1930, and the Yemen
Post went merrily on its way, still without outside notice or philatelic
The cat got out of the bag with the appearance of the low value stamp
on Yemen newspaper wrappers addressed to India, Egypt and Syriasometimes
with additional Indian stamps affixed in Aden, sometimes without additional
adhesivesand the issue was first brought to philatelic attention
by N.N. Marino and Frank H. Oliver of Bright and Sons stamp firm, in London.
By December of 1926 both English and American stamp journals or columns
had noted the Jambiya issue and its seal-type cancels, but very little
information about them or the country's postal service was available until
Charles R. Crane, America's first great philanthropist to interest himself
in the Arab world, had, in the meantime, sent mining engineer Karl S.
Twitchell, as a sort of private Point IV technician, to advise the Imam's
government on development projects. Twitchell, on hearing of the Imam's
desire for international recognition of his sovereignty, suggested that
joining the U.P.U. would help.
In 1930 Yemen followed this suggestion, and Yemenite representatives
in Germany prevailed on the German Republic's stamp press to provide the
country with an issue of gummed and perforated stamps, on regular German
government watermarked paper, in U.P.U. colors. At the same time metallic
cancellers, in both Arabic and English, with date wheels running up through
the 1940's, were provided for the 30 existing Post Offices.
Subsequent general issues were variously printed in Berlin, London, Paris,
Philadelphia, Vienna and Rome, with over a hundred now listed by Scott
and Gibbons. However, there was no corresponding general replacement of
the original German cancellers, whose latest available foreign date figures
were used in 1949. Makeshift repairs, replacements, and new cancellers
for newly-opened offices, on a piecemeal and non-uniform basis have subsequently
created a chaotic situation insofar as Yemen P.O. cancels are concerned.
In a 1952 series in MEKEEL's, entitled "Stamps of Arabia Felix: Postal
Issues of the Kingdom of Yemen", the writer listed all 30 known post
offices for the first time.
In 1946-47 the late Brigadier Glynn Grylls, of England, in several issues
of the London "Philatelist" described and illustrated both seal
and foreign-type cancels and listed 12 post offices of identifiable places,
for which he had cancellations on piece or on cover, and mentioning eight
others whose locations were unknown to him.
In 1953, while in Yemen, the writer sent a new series to MEKEEL's, published
in the spring of 1954, entitled "The Yemen Post Today", in which
Yemen's 63 then-functioning post offices were listed, in their Arabic
order, as certified by the Postmaster General's Office.
During the past three years the writer has managed to dig up nearly 30
additional post office names, some of them new offices, others officially
reported to the U.P.U., others representing reopened offices which had
been dormant in 1953, and others pretty much of a mystery, but all having
at one time or another applied cancellations to postal paper.
Of this "complete" list of 90 post offices, which are given below in
English alphabetical order, the writes now has 46 identifiable cancellations
(marked on the list with asterisks) on cover or on piece, plus a dozen
unidentified additional varieties, which boosts the actual number of Yemen
post offices to over 100.
Some of the principal types of standard postmarks are illustrated herewith,
but as time goes on and more of the decrepit old German cancellers fall
to pieces (as that of Mokha did in the hands of the writer, on 3 December,
1953, as he endeavored to cancel a batch of Christmas cards with it),
all kinds of weird and unorthodox contraptions are bound to appear, creating
confusion compounded. A few of these makeshift concoctions are also reproduced
with this article.
Where dates are legible (few, if any with changeable foreign dates will
show dates after 1949) more confusion is bound to ensue, for the Yemen
Post still uses (largely for accountancy purposes) the defunct Imperial
Ottoman civil calendar, long abandoned by Turkey itself.
This was the current dating system when the Imam inherited the remnants
of the Ottoman civil service in Yemen in 1918, and as the Turkish bureaucrats
knew of no other Moslem solar calendar, those who formed his primitive
postal system in 1926, inflicted it on Yemen.
The idea of applying a colored wash to the surface of already-printed
stamps also came from the Turks, who has used it on their 1863 issue.
Originally this dating system started with the then-applicable Moslem
year date, based originally on the Christian year 622 A.D., the date of
the flight of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, known as the
Hijra. But as the Moslem calendar is a lunar one, which gains about eleven
days a year on our solar calendar, this neo-Hijra calendar soon fell behind
the regular one and is now three years behind (i.e. 1372 instead of 1375
Worse, it starts each year from the first of March. Then again, instead
of using the Moslem names of the months, or the Arabic civil month names,
it mixes the latter with Arabic-spelled foreign months, as follows: "Mart"
(March); "Nisan" (April); "Mai" (May); "Huzairan"
(June); "Tammuz" (July); "Augus" (August); "Ailul"
(Sept.); "Tishrin-Awwal" (Oct.); "Tishrin-Thani" (Nov.);
"Kanun-Awwal" (Dec.); "Kanun-Thani" (Jan.); "Shubat"
These are spelled out or abbreviated right after the day of the month
figure and appear second from the right on all date lines. Sometimes they
are represented by a figure always starting with March as "1", April as
Going by this system, the date on which the article is written would
read "7 Huzairan 1372", corresponding to the Moslem date "7
Dhulqu'adah 1375" and to the Arab civil (Christian-style) "15 Huzairan
In other words, the Turks used the Moslem lunar month day figures (29
or 30 to the month), the Arab civil or foreign month names, and the Hijar
year date, now three behind. How they adjust the civil months which have
30 or 31 days instead of 29 or 30, in order to keep up with the sun calendar
each year, is just another one of those little mysteries of the Yemen
Post with which this writer has not yet caught up.
The writer has long supported Postal Adviser Mustafa Kablawy's efforts
to get postal officials to junk the Ottoman civil date system in favor
of either the straight Hijar dates or Hijar plus Christian-type ones,
and to order a uniform set of cancellation devices, but apathy, lack of
foreign exchange, and a general tendency to solve difficult and perplexing
problems by slipping the pertinent papers under the carpet of the royal
diwan for an indefinite period, has consistently defeated our combined
Taking Yemen cancels as they are, here are the respective sizes and characteristics
of the most common types to date:
- Seal-type, (1926-1930) 20, 23, 25, 29,
30 and 31mm in diameter, respectively. The smaller ones usually contain
colorless letters cut into a solid black background similar to our 19th
Century cork cancels. Larger types contain outer and inner circles of
the same "white-on-black" letter effect, or, occasionally (notably "Beit
al-Faqih"), a crescent in this type, with the town name in black
on white letters within the horns of the crescent. (See
Illustration # 1)
- German-type, (1930 to date) 31mm, date band
across center, with Arabic date on right, Arabic town name in upper,
outer circle, English in lower one, five-pointed star in lower inner
semicircle; some without the star; smaller towns, with little or no
outgoing foreign mail, omit the foreign date figures and place the Arabic
ones in the center. (See Illustrations # 2 and 3.)
- Modern adaption of seal-type: Similar to
Beit al-Faqih "crescent" type of 31mm seal cancel of 1926 but
larger 35mm). See Illustration # 4: Khamar).
- Modifications of German-type:
- Without upper and lower semicircle lines,
but lettering still following round contour of outer circle 33mm
(See Illustration # 5: Zuhrah).
- same, but with lettering straight across, parallel to date band,
33mm (See Illustration # 6: Ta'iz); with lines of date band
curved upward and down and in center, above and below date (See
Illustration # 7: Zabid).
- Makeshift provisional types: Clumsy imitations
of German cancellers, but with very narrow or with vertical slugs in
center, (5mm) date band, usually empty and date figures, if any, at
right and left ends; upper and lower semi-circles filled with parallel
vertical lines; English letters of town name very crudely shaped and
cut, with numerous errors, 35mm (See Illustration # 8).
Spelling of the town names in English letters, at the bottom of most
cancellations, vary from German to French to English to versions of unknown
origin, Also, the prefix "al-" (the definite article) which is always
written in the Arabic version of proper names taking the article, is not
always included in the English version. The Arabic "al-Hodeida",
for example, invariably appears as "Hodeida". The local dialect,
which renders "Q" as "g" in "golf", among other things,
also show a tendency to creep into the spelling at the bottom of the new
makeshift provisional cancels, Thus, "Gaedeh" for "al-Qa'aidah",
One thing is for surethere's never a dull moment on collecting
1956 LIST OF YEMEN
|2) 'Aadain (al-)*
||32) Jebi (al-)*
||33) Jof (al-)
||63) Qalaat al-Mendel
||64) Qarea (al-)
||35) Khadir (al-)
||65) Qtataba Khaqare
||36) Khamis (al-)
||66) Rahidah (al-)
|7) Baida (al-)*
||67) Raud (al-)
||68) Rawdah (al-)*
|9) Bara'ah (al-)
|10) Beit al-Faqih*
|11) Ben 'Abbas
||42) Mafalis (al-)
||72) Salif (al-)
|13) Dar al-Nasir*
||44) Mahabishah (al-)*
||74) Sayaneh (al-)*
||45) Mahwith al-)*
||75) Sha'ar (al-)
|16) Doran (Anes)*
||76) Sheikh Said
||47) Makha (al-) (Mokha)*
|20) Harf (al-)*
||50) Mandeb (al-)
||80) Tawileh (al-)*
||51) Mansurieh (al-)
|22) Hasha (al-)
||82) Wisab al-A'ail*
||83) Wisab al-Safil*
|26) Hodeida (al-)*
|28) Hojeriah (al-)
||58) Murawi'ah (al-)
|29) Hojeilah (al-)*
||59) Nadira (al-)*
||60) Qa'aidah (al-)*
||90) Zuhrah (al-)*