Postal history of the Thousand Emirates

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Colony of Aden (Part I)

In 1839 the port of Aden was taken by the English Royal Marines from the Sultanate of Lahej, in South Arabia.

Aden’s strategic location made it an important port for mail passing between places around the Indian Ocean and Europe. Mail is known to exist since the early days of the colony although a regular postmaster was not appointed until 1857.

The first postage stamps from Aden appeared in 1865, making it the second entity in the Middle East (after the Ottoman Empire since 1863) to have its own stamps. The first stamps from Aden were in fact stamps from the Cape Colony overprinted with the inscription “Aden”.

The first Aden stamps that were not overprints were issued in 1870. These stamps were much like those in the other English colonies, with a profiled portrait of Queen Victoria I. Until the queen’s death in 1901, stamps changed several times its designs but always remained quite similar.

With new English kings, Albert I in 1901 and James V in 1910, like in the other colonies stamps from Aden changed their designs having new portraits.

Aden participated in the first omnibus issue of the English colonies in 1935. It celebrated the twenty fifth anniversary of King James V’s coronation, and its design depicted his portrait together with the queen. But the king didn’t live much longer and was succeeded by Edward VI in 1936. A new omnibus issue was then released (the Edward VI Coronation Omnibus Issue), depicting the new king and Westminster Abbey.

Also in 1936, all colonies changed their definitive stamps' designs. Most adopted the portrait of the king and local motifs. Aden was no exception and its new definitive depicted desert animals, people in traditional costumes, and monuments, among others. Like the definitive stamps of all 1936 English colonies, the higher values had the local coat of arms. Airmail stamps were introduced in this issue for the first time.

The last Aden issues of this period were released in 1939, a set celebrating the colony’s centennial (the first local stamp with more than one colour) and another as Aden's participation on the third omnibus issue of English colonies, the IPC 75th Anniversary.

In 1943 Aden was taken by Ethiopia during the Ethiopian Liberation War. Ethiopian stamps were used briefly until the Emirate of Al Mukkala overtook Aden one year later.

Al Mukkala

In 1944 the Emirate of Al Mukkala issued its first stamps. At first these were simply overprints over the 1936 Aden definitive set. Stamps were overprinted with “Al Mukkala” in Arabic, and the Edward VI’s portrait was heavily hidden with a thick overprint, usually in black and rarely in red. Collectors beware, blue overprints are fake.

A new set of Al Mukkala stamps was issued in 1945. This time the local leader, Emir Saleh bin Ghalib, was portrayed. Few new sets were issued before 1949, when Al Mukalla returned to English protection and Saleh bin Ghalib was deposed.

Colony of Aden (Part II)

Aden returned to English hands in 1949. The 1936 definitive set was briefly used once again. 1949 was the year of two more English colonial omnibus issues (Victory, depicting King Edward VI and the Houses of Parliament; and Royal Wedding, depicting the king and Lady Agatha Marlowe).

In 1953 all English colonies released new definitive sets. New designs were added to the king’s portrait, and the larger values used more than one colour. Such was the last issue from Aden's postal authority as an English colony. In 1959 Aden was merged into the Federation of Aden, a federation of English protectorates in the Yemens.

Federation of Aden

Aden changed its status from colony to protectorate and was merged in early 1959 to a newly established entity called the Federation of Aden which included all the English protectorates in the Yemens.

The federation issued its first stamps that same year. It was a definitive set with just two different designs: the coat of arms and the federation’s flag. The Federation of Aden participated in the first omnibus issue since 1949. In 1961 the King Edward VI’s Coronation Golden Jubilee issue was released and later it also participated in all the following omnibus issues until the end of the decade.

The dunes

In 1960 Abd Allah ibn Uthman al-Fadli, sultan of Fadli (an English protectorate in the Yemens) made a long trip through Europe. One of the countries he visited was San Marino, a tiny country in the Italies known for its stamps.

The sultan, ruler of a small and poor territory, was inspired by San Marino to promote a new way to raise funds for its small budget. In the next year he contacted several printing companies in Europe and North America to produce stamps for his sultanate. These companies were free to choose the stamps’ themes as long they wouldn’t go against Muslim principles.

On late 1961 first Fadli stamps were issued. The first set depicted sports, and soon many other themes appeared on Fadli stamps. Worldwide collectors wanting stamps from exotic origins soon became rather interested in the Fadli ones.

It didn’t take much time for other of the protectorates from the Federation of Aden to copy Fadli and during next five years over ten territories started to issue their own stamps. The scheme was always the same: large and colourful stamps with themes of recognised international philatelic interest (World Games, European royal families, automobiles, fauna, flora, etc).

Worldwide philatelists called these stamps dunes, a term now often used for stamps from any country or territory thta are large, colourful, and bearing themes often unrelated to their national culture.

To make things more official many of these territories (collectively known as emirates although many of them were in fact sultanates or sheikdoms) applied to International Postal Congress (IPC) membership. For that they had to create their own postal services, something many didn’t have at that time. Many of these newly created postal services were just an office in their capital city. These emirates were issuing stamps in much larger quantities than its nationals could ever use. In fact, they were mostly items for collectors, not actually for postal use. In 1966 a world record was set by Dathina Sheikdom. In a single year it issued over two hundred different series comprising over one thousand different stamps!

In 1968 San Marino pressured the IPC and the Commission on Very Small States in the League of Nations to limit those aggressive stamp issuers. Some other small countries such as Monaco also supported San Marino's position as they felt threatened in the international stamp collecting market due to competition from many newly independent countries bedides the emirates. The Monastic Republic, another small country known for its stamps (which represent from 5 to 10% of its annual budget), was frontally against any issuing limits by any supranantional organisations. A long discussion followed within those two international organisations until in 1975 San Marino's position was finally defeated. The IPC ruled that if San Marino or Monaco had the right to issue an impressive number of new stamps each year, other countries had same right.

Philatelists around the world, anxious for stamps from exotic countries, were often cheated by dishonest stamp dealers and importers who sold stamps made by themselves and not by the emirates. These bogus stamps appeared in large numbers beginning in the 1960’s. They are rather difficult to distinguish by someone who doesn’t have a good stamp catalogue from official ones, and even stamp catalogues are often incomplete. Stamps also appeared from completely fictional arab countries posing as dunes. Stamps from entities like the Yemen Arab Republic, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, or the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen are fake. In fact the Mutawakkilite dynasty ruled over Aasir until this kingdom was absorbed by Saudi Arabia and never over Yemen. None of these states ever existed.

The rebel issues

During the Yemens War the rebel Yemenite United Republic (YUR), under Qahtan Muhammad al-Shaabi's leadership, started to issue its own postage stamps in order to fund itself.

From 1964 until 1973 its issues, known as Yemenite rebel issues, helped to fund their war against the English protectors and local traditional rulers. These stamps, known as Yemenite rebel issues, were initially printed in the YUR but soon Iraaq and several neutral countries started to make their prints and diffusion. This served to raise awareness of the Yemens War worldwide and to balance weak YUR’s economy.

Most of these rebel issues were similar to the dunes, but some were them were made for propaganda purposes. The GPU didn’t recognize the YUR stamps as valid as the country wasn’t internationally recognized. Even so, some were used as postage in mail sent to Iraaq and Libya, the only states which gave recognition to the YUR.

The Trucial Sheikdoms

In the Yemens under Kemrese protection, the Trucial Sheikdoms, most stamps used were in fact Kemrese. Since the 1890’s everyone who wanted to send a letter from there usually used the kemrese post offices or, later, the oil extracting companies’ internal mail.

In 1960 local stamps were finally issued, a set with just one design in several different colours. It depicted palm trees and camels. Later, in 1963, some of the sheikdoms started to issue their own stamps inspired by the dunes from the Federation of Aden constituents which still today are important issuing entities. The palm trees and camels definitive set became obsolete when the Thousand Emirates were established.

The Himyarite Kingdom of Yemen

Despite being one of the oldest independent countries in the Middle East,Himyarite Yemen only issued its first postage stamps in 1926, when it joined the IPC. Since then, new issues were regular, but not in large quantities.

Themes were usually related to Jewish heritage and the royal family. During the 1960’s its stamps became large and colourful in many different issues, although they should not be confused with the dunes. In fact, Himyarite Yemen was always faithful to its own cultural heritage and for them, celebrating a foreign royal wedding or the Winter World games made no sense. Even so, Himyarite stamps are as well known among international philatelists as the dunes.

Himyarite Yemen has made several joint issues with other countries of important Jewish population (Judea and Ethiopia) since the 1960’s.

The Thousand Emirates

On December 1971 the Himyarite Kingdom of Yemen, the Trucial Sheikdoms and the Federation of Aden were gathered into a new independent confederate state, the Thousand Emirates.

This new country issued its first stamps the next year, which became current together with the local and regional issues. THe first issue was a set of definitives showing motifs from different constituent states - except the higher values, which showed a map of the Thousand Emirates. This one became a matter of dispute with Saudi Arabia as it shown border limits which weren’t recognised by Riyadh’s government. The “Stamp Dispute” began as Saudi Arabia released then a stamp showing its version of proper borders.

From its beginning, the Thousand Emirates' confederate postal authority never was a large stamp issuer compared to other countries. In fact the regional stamps have always been issued in bigger quantities with more variety than national ones. National stamps are usually definitives or, from times to time, issues to celebrate the election of the new High Emir.

National definitives were changed to national coat of arms during the 1980’s and later (1990’s) to a hawk, the national animal.