Yemen Aerogram, Air-Letter Remainders
"Released" In Odd Manner; Prices Also Unusual
Copyright 19 May 1958
Linn's Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio USA 45365
Reprinted with permission from the May 19, 1958 issue of Linn's Stamp
Our old friend, the notorious "Mr. X" of the Lebanese and Syrian
souvenir sheet and imperf proof scandals, has finally staged a long contemplated
coup vis-a-vis the much sought after Yemen aerogram and letter sheet remainders.
As readers may recall, there was a very limited issue of 500 each of Yemen's
only aerogram (10 bogash red, Scot No. C-14 adhesive) and letter sheet
(6 bogash blue, Scott's adhesive No. 84) in 1956.
One thousand of each had been prepared by the Italian Government Printing
Bureau in Rome in connection with the corresponding adhesive sets C14-16
and 83-85. The other half of the total numbers printed remained in the
vaults of Sala Palace, near the Yemenite capital city of Taiz, along with
the other stamp stocks prepared since 1948.
In anticipation of the issuance of the remaining 500 each, the Beirut
dealer who had purchased several hundred of the original lot and marketed
them in the U.S. at a reasonable mark-up over face, deposited 325 Lebanese
pounds (over $100, US) on the Beirut account of the Yemen Post Office
Department. He dealt with the official who had secured the original release.
His deposit covered 300 more of each, plus the official's commission.
I also deposited somewhat over 100 Lebanese pounds to the same official's
account for 100 copies of each. The remaining 100 would continue to be
doled out as requested by users at the Taiz General Post Office, where
demand had failed to use up 200 each of the original 1956 release.
It was on this basis that the dealer booked orders with his US wholesale
clients against the momentarily expected release of the remainder. It
was also on this basis that that I advised Linn's readers and my personal
friends in postal stationery societies to wait for the opening of Sala
Palace's vaults for another supply of stamps and postal stationery.
I also borrowed 100 of the dealer's 6 bogash letter sheet stock, which
he had not been able to dispose of as readily as the aerogram value, and
printed my 1956 holiday letter on them, as an appropriate souvenir of
Yemen. I agreed to repay the dealer the corresponding face value partly
with 6 bogash and partly in 10 bogash sheets, and there the matter rested
until the summer of 1957.
In June 1957, the official came to me in Sana'a and said that there seemed
no chance of getting the sheets from the Sala vaults in the foreseeable
future and that he would return my deposit in the form of Yemeni riyals.
He promised to advise me of the eventual release of the stationery and
to permit me to purchase 100 each at the time, in order to pay my debt
to the dealer. He apparently forgot about the dealer's deposit, which
he acknowledged by cable in November 1956.
In the fall of 1957, while in Beirut on leave, the official was contacted
by "Mr. X" of Damascus, who apparently persuaded him that there
was very little profit in his 5% or 10% commissions for furnishing mint
Yemen P.O. stock to the Beirut dealer on a bona-fide basis, as he had
been doing for some eight years. On the other hand, if he would assist
"Mr. X" in controlling desirable Yemen stamp issues on a monopolistic
or semi-monopolistic basis, prices could be fixed and extremely large
Apparently this argument was effective, for in the winter of 1957 we
find the official bypassing an Egyptian dealer who had arranged to purchase
2500 sets of Yemen's new APU at the official rate of the Egyptian pound
in order to pay the £500 printing bill to the Survey Department.
Instead, he made a private flight to Beirut to place the lot (ahead of
issue) in the hands of "Mr. X" of Damascus.
In addition to selling the lot at a figure over face and charging "Mr.
X" a 10% overall commission, he allegedly bought cheap Egyptian pounds
on the Beirut money market with which he paid the Survey Department at
the official rate, thus cleaning up between $750 and $1000 profit on this
Such profits whetted his appetite to listen to more of "Mr. X"
blandishments. "If you can bribe someone to expedite issuance of
the 500 letter sheets and aerogram remainders from Sala Palace, and place
them in my hands" seemingly ran the reasoning of the Damascus speculator,
"we can make another fat profit, since we shall have an absolute
On January 27, 1958, on the first flight of the Ethiopian Airlines plane
carrying Yemen airmail from Taiz to Asmara and points north, one of the
first flight covers was a bulky package addressed to "Mr. X"
Less than a month later, I received a letter from the Beirut dealer,
advising me that the official's nephew, in Beirut, had contacted him,
saying that the entire lot of remainders was in his hands and suggesting
that the dealer buy them at a very high markup over face. The dealer,
who had already promised to fill the orders of his clients at the normal
percentage over face, refused to submit to this attempted extortion, He
pointed out that he still held documentary confirmation of his deposit
against 300 sets "on issue", and he served notice on both the
nephew and the official that he would raise a legal case against them
if anyone tried to dispose of the material without his own order being
filled previously at the figure already deposited.
Ignoring this, the nephew passed on the entire lot to "Mr. X"
in Damascus, who began releasing them to the British and American stamp
trade at such markup that they were retailed at once at between 200 and
300% over face.
A rival Beirut dealer, who had also booked orders against anticipated
Post Office release at face, was able to secure a lot of 200 each wholesale,
from "Mr. X", at only 100% over face. These he rationed to his
US clients at a normal dealer's profit over cost.
As this dealer know of my disappointment at not securing even a token
lot for my own collection, he allowed me to purchase five copies of each
at his cost price. I had been unable to get a single unused copy of the
10 bogash aerogram, although living here in Yemen within a few miles of
Sala Palace and only a few hundred yards of the Post Office.
It must be noted that "Mr. X" probably possessed more than
the 500 remainders of each, as the official had still saved some stock
from the first release, and had also secretly cleaned up the counter stock
at the Taiz General Post Office without letting any local philatelists
purchase more than a few dozen sheets. It should be pointed out that during
the time the sheets were nominally on sale at the Taiz Post Office (before
my return to Yemen), there were no local philatelists who collected postal
stationery. Use of the two items had been confined to a few foreign technicians
who used them for non-philatelic mail as aerograms, and to the local collectors
who used a few dozen as souvenirs to friends outside Yemen.
When I saw some in a French road building engineer's writing desk and
rushed off to the Post Office to purchase more the official in question
had already told the staff to tell me that they were all sold out. It
ay be that by that time, the official had actually cleaned out the balance
for the deal with "Mr. X".
After hearing from Beirut on the subject, I went to a high official of
the post and asked him to sell me some air-letter sheets, since they were
now being sold in Beirut and Damascus. He replied that they were still
unissued, still in the Sala Palace vaults, and that he had no idea how
anyone in Beirut or Damascus could have obtained any.
"It is probably a mistake," he said, evasively. Since his post
precludes that any withdrawals of stamp stock from Sala could be made
without his knowledge, it is not improbable that he had been bribed with
part of the anticipated profits. His part would be to secretly secure
the release of the entire balance from the royal storekeeper, against
cash payment, at face, and immediately to turn it over to the official
who rushed it my airmail to Damascus.
Until corrupted by "Mr. X" of Damascus, whose unpopularity
in his own country and Lebanon has caused him to extend his activities
farther afield in the Arab Middle East, the official who co-operated with
him on the advance-of-issue APU and the letter-sheet deals, used to be
a reliable and bone-fide person with whom foreign philatelists could deal
in securing Yemen stamps at face or near face. This is no longer the case,
and I can no longer recommend dealings with him.
Steps are being taken to bring these matters to the attention of the
higher authorities in the Yemen government, and it is probable that they
will be considered in connection with the renewal of contracts for the
coming fiscal year.
A proper philatelic agency or a stamp window to permit Yemen government
stamp sales direct to the philatelic public, however, is not feasible
at present, so collectors or dealers will have to continue to depend on
the long suffering Beirut dealers for the time being.
This is the final chapter in the story of Yemen's famous issue of 1000
aerograms and 1000 letter sheets in 1956 and 1958. Although it is not
the ending I should have liked to present to Linn's readers, after having
promised to advise them of the anticipated release of this stock for bona-fide
postal sale at near face, it is nonetheless the story of what actually
happened. And it must be remembered that it was due in no little part
to the consistent encouragement and support extended to "Mr. X"
by certain foreign dealers.