Yemen: separating sheep from goats

On May 1, 1971 Royalist Yemen's last stamp contract with outside entrepreneurs for the production of certain issues ended, and the dust began to settle on the highly controversial stamps released by that country between 1962 and 1971.

Three days after the coup in Sanaa, the princes of Yemen contacted me to accompany them and their uncle, H.R.H. Prince Hassan, Yemen's Delegate to the United Nations, to lead loyalist forces in the northern part of the country in a military, public relations, and postal advisory capacity. By royal decree the Imam named his first cousin, Prince Mohammed al-Hosein, Minister of Communications, and three days later I was asked to undertake the immediate task of instituting a postal system with stamps, cancels, etc. in the liberated regions of the kingdom.

In addition to scattered stocks in the few dozen rural POs still under the control of the Royalists, there were considerable supplies in legations abroad that had not defected to the rebels, notably Jeddah, Amman, and London. So it was decided to overprint these in Arabic and English, "Free Yemen Fights for God, Imam and Country." This would protect the Royalist postal authorities from presentation of stocks looted in the rebel areas for postal prepayment and would provide the volunteer armies with a patriotic formula on their mail.

The press overprinting was accomplished in Beirut, but individual cliches were made into rubber stamps for distribution to rural POs for hand-overprinting any and all remainders. In all, about 85,000 sets were press overprinted, from the six latest issues before the coup, and a very much smaller number were handstamped. The full picture of the handstamps is not entirely known, as there was no central control or accounting during the emergency period. However, in general only issues later than 1958 were so treated, as prior issues had been demonitized during the reign of Imam Ahmad.

Following this modest beginning there were about ten provisional postal issues, either oveprinted by press or handstamped on definitives or entirely handstamped on gummed paper or directly on envelopes. There were also twenty-three memorial or commemorative issues relating to the Yemen War or regular postage definitives or topical sets requested specifically for their local interest. Thus, a total of thirty-three issues amy be considered as postal, as contrasted with the remaining sixty-eight "philatelic" issues of no interest whatsoever to the Yemenite public.

These speculative, commnercially produced items flooded the market and caused a lot of trouble with respect to the philatelic reputation of the Mutawakelite Kingdom of Yemen. In subsequent articles I will detail the various provisionals, local-interest commemoratives, and semipostals for poison gas victims and Jordanian refugess, but now I want to reveal the truth about the sixty-eight "goats" and their producers (who, of course, must remain unnamed). There was a constant stuggle between the postal authorities and myself on the one hand and the entrepreneurs, occassionally backed by venial government officials totally uninterested in postal affairs or the quality of the nation's stamps and philatelic reputation, on the other.

To begin with contract printing agents of the old kingdom (prior to the coup) managed to secure contracts from both the Royalists and the Republicans for "philatelic" issues. The terms of the contracts often depended on the amount of public and private profit to be expected by both parties, rather than on the postal interests or philatelic reputations of the country. I tried to excercise effective controls over the few items in the contracts which safeguarded the Ministry of Communications' higher interests, with a modicum of philatelic ethics, but it wa a losing battle.

In the first place, as an army officer on active duty from time to time at the front, with additional duties as public relations officer, it was not possible for me to supervise the printings, avoid printers' waste, check on quantities and destruction of plates and/or negatives, insure delivery of correct postal quantities, coordinatge first days, or prevent the prior distribution of unauthorized varieties, etc., except in a very few cases. It was possible to to supervise part of the original "Free Yemen" overprintings in Beirut, the "Patriotic War" issue in Jeddah, and the "Antiquities of Yemen (UNESCO I)" issue in London, etc., but these were the exceptions. The handstamped local overprints and the entirely handstamped provisionals were largely suprevised, but almost none of the "philatelic" issues were so inspected.

Communications delays resulted in my becoming aware of unauthorized varieties months after they had been seen normal postal use in remote areas of Northern Yemen. What to do with these became a sticky question. Even counterfeit "Periodicals" overprints appeared in a reputable German dealer's catalog before I could detect and denounce them. Postal employees were bribed to cancel junk, forge overprints, steal ans turn over to rival entrepreneurs entire issues supplied by other agents.

A whole series of 1966-67 issues appreared out of a clear blue sky based on forged contracts. By 1967 -- the year the floogates were opened -- there were so many authentice and forged contracts in existence, including overlapping ones, that the 1968 issues had to be farmed out to three rival entrepreneurs. The resultant war of the troika brought on compounded confusion and a decision by Gibbons catalog editors to withhold recognition of further Royalist issues. Scott, of course, had refused to list either the Royalist or Republican issues from the beginning of the war; only Yvert and Michel struggled on, attempting to cope with the unwieldy situation.

This is not to say that some of the world's most beautiful and most interesting stamps are not to be found among these "goats," or that all issues all issues had speculative or objectionable features, or that they were necessarily worthy of being boycotted. All were sold at face value or more, and in general they represent good philatelic value.

One of the devices I used to prevent undue speculation was to sell mint new issues, first day covers, etc. at face value from the Yemeni post office headquarters. Tens of thousands of such sales were made to collectors around the world who followed my articles in Linn's and other philatelic publications.

Copies of the contracts have survived, and they will make interesting reading at some future date, with the correspondence between myself and the entrepreneurs, will throw considerable light on the constant struggle with what we came to call "the incorrigible contractors." When successful, the issues were relatively "clean" or some of "our" twenty-three commemoratives resulted. When unsuccessful, an awful lot of high-priced material was dumped on an unamused public, almost putting to death the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Here, then, are the sixty-eight "goats" listed by year of issue: 1963: FAO (but the 1b and 2b surcharges were "ours"); 1964: Tokyo Olympics; Astronauts; 1965: Kennedy; ITC; Churchill; Mariner IV; Gemini V; Cats; Outer Space Acheivement; Tokyo Winners.

1966: Builders of World Peace (but the 1b King Faisal value was "ours"); Preparations for Mexico Olympics; World Peace Throught Communications and Pope Paul's Visit to the UN and New York World's Fair (a lulu!).

1967: Kennedy Grave (but the souvenir sheet was "ours"); Football Cup; Paintings I (Rembrandts); 50th Anniversary of Kennedy's Birth; Fish; Paintings II; Paintings III; Scout Jamboree; Pre-Olympic Mexico; Horses and Butterflies (in which the incorrigibles found nothing incongruous); Pre-Grenoble overprints (on fish -- excellent logic).

1968: Grenoble Olympics; UNESCO II; Venice; Grenoble Winners; UNESCO III; Florence; Mexico Olympics; Mother's Day; Ten Olympic Years; Same, Winter Sports; Human Rights; Paintings IV; World Racial Peace; Children's Day; Mexico Winners; Ending of Mexico Olympics (Gold Medal Winners and EFIMEX, a "split"issue).

1969: Champions of Sport; Apollos 7 and 8; Paintings V; Moon Mission and Conquest (another profitable "split"); Apollo 12; Pre-Olympic Munich; Wildlife; Apollo 11 (at least five "splits" to say nothing of the gold and silver foils and the gold coins); Save the Holy Places (of Palestine, with interesting Dead Sea Scrolls "split"); Christmas.

1970: EXPO 70; Osaka (entrepreneur number 1's set); same (number 2's set); Football Cup; Sports; Football Cup Winners overprint; Pele Winner; Space; Famous Men; Same, number 2's batch; Vintage Cars (you guessed it, split between U.S. and Europe); Napoleon; De Gaulle; Transportation (semi-astronaut); Philympia.

1971: Nudes; Stations of the Cross (entrepreneur number 1 insisted on both as "best-sellers"-- we rejected the nudes out of hand but they had already been placed on the market); Christmas; Apollo 14; Three-Dimensionals of Dogs, Birds, Stuffed Animals, Ships; Apollo 11 and Christmas (horrifying!).

A few additional mavericks probably will turn up. It seems that the World Racial Peace issue got overprinted in some mysterious way with Apollo something-or-other (still under investigation), and the "lulu" issue, Yemen's only triangles, is said to have unspecified overprintings.

So there you have it. Political events have ended the nightmare for the time being, but further changes in the Middle East may confront us with the same problem again. The struggle will go on, some beautiful topicals may appear, a lot of collectors will be over-charged, and Yemen specialists and postal history students will go right on collecting and studying the thirty-three postal issues and largely ingoring the sixty-eight speculative releases.

That's what I'm doing, for even as Postal Advisor of the Kingdom, I was unable to accumulate a complete "herd" of the "goats" and their "kids."

Return to the Yemen index page.