The First Issue of the Yemen by Stanley Phillips

Copyright July 1932
Reprinted with permission from the July 1932 issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly


I am indebted to Mr. Frank H. Oliver, proprietor of Messrs. Bright and Son, for permission to reproduce here (in slightly reduced size owing to the lack of space) a sheet and a large block of the stamps of the first issue of the Yemen, which he possesses.

It was in the autumn of 1926 that my attention was first drawn to this interesting issue, when Mr. N. N. Marino showed me a few specimens and supplied me with a translation of the inscriptions. He added that the stamps were for use in the interior only, and that letters intended for foreign countries, generally posted at Hodeida, did not then usually bear any stamps, though occasionally stamps of India were used, especially when letters were addressed to Aden. This information was given in the Monthly Journal for December 1926, and The Times philatelic correspondent repeated the information (which he may, of course, have received independently) in the issue of that journal of December 24th.

I reserved my decision as to whether these stamps should be catalogued, pending further information, but all was quiet on the Yemen front until December 1929, when it was reported in the philatelic press that the Yemen was to join the Postal Union and that in consequence a series of stamps was in preparation.

When the new stamps appeared in 1930, it seemed time to list their forerunners, which had no philatelic motive behind them,—a remark which cannot be truly made about the German-printed issue.

It was in recording and commenting on the latter, that Scott's Monthly Journal gave some further notes about the first issue (December 1930 number of the magazine). It was there stated that the postal service was first organized in 1926 and that this led to the issue of the two stamps we are discussing. While they were used on letters in the interior, letters for countries abroad had to be provided with stamps of the country of destination, or else postage paid in cash, which confirms Mr. Marino's observations, mentioned above.

The Editor added, “ We have before us about twenty newspaper wrappers (usually with fragments of the newspaper adhering), to each of which are affixed a copy of the 5 b. stamp and one of the current 1 anna brown of India. ... We have these stamps with various postmarks, indicating a general distribution and use.”

It would appear from the above that 5 b. was the rate for inland newspapers, and the Indian 1 anna presumably paid the newspaper rate from Aden to India.

a block of 5bgs on orange paper
A large block on orange paper.

While on the subject of postmarks, it may be added that Mr. Oliver has also shown us two envelopes addressed in Arabic script, franked on the back ; in one case with eight of the 10 b. and in the other with a pair of the 5 b. The postmarks are circular with Arabic inscriptions in white on a black ground.

As regards perforations, the pair of the 5 b., which is from the margin of the sheet, is roughly perforated 10 on three sides, the margin being imperf. The block of the same stamp which we illustrate has a similar rough perforation along the upper margin. The remainder of Mr. Oliver's stamps are imperf., which confirms the catalogue listing, with the exception that the 5 b. exists both imperf. and perf.

I have used the catalogue description in referring to the stamps as being of the denominations of 5 bucksha and 10 bucksha (this word presumably being the equivalent of the “ bogaches ”—singular “ bogchah ”—of the current issue), but Mr. Oliver describes them as 1/8 amadi (on white) and 1/2 amadi (on the orange paper), which reverses the values given in the catalogue.

Our original informant gave us the values as we show them in the catalogue, and Scott's Monthly Journal agreed. As to the currency, there was the same agreement—80 bogaches=1 imadi, the equivalent of the silver dollar of Maria Theresa, but it now seems to be agreed that only 40 bogaches go to the imadi.

This involves a new complication, for it would make Mr. Oliver's eighth imadi and half imadi, 5 and 20 bogaches respectively.

a sheet of the 2 .5bgs. on white paper
A complete sheet on white paper.

Mr. Oliver supplies the following translation of the inscriptions which, apart from the vexed question of values, agrees fairly well with our original note and with Scott, except that the inscription in the central circle is variously interpreted “ Under the protection of God ” or “ by the will of God, ” which, to the Arab, would be the same as the “ appointed ” of Mr. Oliver's text. Another discrepancy is as to the position of the words “ Al-Yemen ” in Yemen post. Scott stated that this is the small inscription below the central circle, while Mr. Oliver gives that word as “ Aminan. ”

Here is Mr. Oliver's translation :—

Top Panel. “ Sān'a. ” (The Capital of Yemen.)
Central circle. “ Al-Hukumat al-metwaklet al-Islamieh.” (The appointed Islamic Government.)
Right scimitar blade. “ Berid al-Yemen.” (Yemen Post.)
Left scimitar blade. “ Thumen 'Amādi.” (Eighth 'Amadi on the white paper.)
Left scimitar blade. “ Nesf 'Amādi.” (Half 'Amadi on the yellow paper.)
Below the central circle. Aminan. (The one trusting in God.)
Lower right corner. “ Yahya.” (The name of the Sultan.)
Lower left corner. “ Nasarhu Allah.” (God succour him.)

As my knowledge of Arabic is confined to a couple of dozen words (mostly terms of abuse) picked up in the East during the War, I do not feel competent to decide the vexed question of the value, especially as it is written in words and not figures, but there seems to be a family resemblance between the lowest group of characters in the left-hand scimitar blade on the white paper stamp, and the “ ½ ” in such surcharges as Type 12 of Transjordan, which would make Mr. Oliver's translator right as regards the value ½ imadi (i.e. 20 bogaches at forty to the imadi), but would make him wrong in respect to the colour of the higher value. However, we need not labour the point, as I know several G.S.M. readers will be able to confirm, or refute, my suggestion, and I hope they will let me hear from them, in order that the point may be cleared up.

In regard to the method of printing, Mr. Oliver writes me :—
“ I have spent quite a lot of time trying to determine positively how these were produced. In the first place there is no doubt that they were printed letterpress from either a stereotype or electrotype block or a made-up forme of twenty stereotype or electrotype separate blocks. Probably several casts were taken from the original block and fresh casts were taken from them, because a number of them are more or less alike. They apparently have had very rough usage which would account for many of the breakages, battered corners, etc. On the complete pane several of the stamps show quite clearly the tops of the nails used to fasten the plates on the wood, notably in the lower right corner.”

Examination of the sheet and block tends to confirm these suggestions, though the impressions are so faulty in many cases that it is difficult to compare one stamp with another.

Before I close these rather discursive notes, perhaps a word about the Yemen may be of interest. Lying in the south-west corner of Arabia, adjoining the Aden protectorate, it has an area of some 70,000 square miles, and a population of about 3 millions. Before the war it was, of course, ruled by the Turks ; but when they withdrew, the Imam began to “ spread himself,” and now holds Hodeida, Midi and Loheiya on the coast. He has attempted to encroach on the protected Aden tribes, and in 1929 had to be given a forcible hint from the air that he was out of his ground.

As the Imam is the head of the Zeidi sect of the Shiahs, while many of his original subjects, and most of the inhabitants of the territories he has annexed, are Shafais, he is distinctly unpopular with the latter and has to rule them by force.

Parts of the Yemen are very fertile, and various cereals are grown, but coffee is the chief export.

Altogether, this is a very interesting issue, but it is unlikely that many were printed, and judging by what has appeared in the Press, only a few dozen copies of the stamps have come into the hands of collectors and the trade.