Yemen Aerogram, Air-Letter Remainders
"Released" In Odd Manner; Prices Also Unusual

Bruce Conde

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 News
(www.linns.com)


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 profits made.

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 little deal.

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 monopoly."

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" in Damascus.

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 may 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.