Friday, August 19, 2016

Specialized Catalogue Review for the ARABIAN PENINSULA

Region : ARABIA (includes past and present philatelc entities in what are now Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, the United Arab Emirates and Oman)
Catalogue Title : Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue : Arabia, 1st ed
Publisher : Stanley Gibbons LTD, Ringwood, UK (2016)
Format : Soft Cover, 344 pages, 170mmx240mm, color illustrations
Language of Text : English
Price : UK£29.95

While the retail branch of Stanley Gibbons has gone through a period of financial turmoil, the catalogue branch under Hugh Jeffries has maintained its high standards and moved the brand forward. Revisiting the nature of the division of its specialized global catalogues, Gibbons has not only provided new editions of some major non-British sphere regions (such as China, a new edition being released in 2015) but has also created new titles to further refine some regions (and no doubt reduce the size of some of the older volumes that would be unwieldly in a new edition.) It is in this vein that Gibbons released a new Arabia specialized catalogue in the early part of 2016.

The release of the Arabia catalogue fills a bit of a gap in the more specialized catalogue literature that exists. For the collector of the British Empire, Arabia of course is one region that is collected, as the British maintained an interest in the Eastern and Southern coasts of the peninsula, from Kuwait to Aden, resulting in several philatelic entities that are integral parts of the British Empire. These areas were seen as vital defense and trade zones on the periphery of the British Raj in the Indian Subcontinent, and the British worked to ensure their hegemony along the coasts was secured via treaties with local rulers.

More important, however, is the coverage of the majority of the Arabian Peninsula that was not under direct British influence, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Both areas were under the influence of the Ottoman Empire in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century (much to the chagrin of the local populations, Yemen in particular became known as the Graveyard of the Ottomans at the turn of the twentieth century as the Turks attempted to maintain control over the often rebellious tribal people in the Yemeni interior). Following the Ottoman collapse in 1918, the British were content with working with local powers to ensure that no outside power lodged itself in Western Arabia, thus allowing the consolidation of a Yemeni state under the Shi'i tribes around Sana'a and the rise of the Saudi state to dominate the majority of the peninsula.

Finally, one can not mention Arabia without a passing word regarding the infamous “Sand Dune” issues. These were stamp issues printed by various agents in the name of an assorted gaggle of political entities on the Arabian peninsula. Most of these issues were not sold in the lands they purported to come from, but their topical designs made them popular as packet fare in the 1960s and 1970s, before political changes resulted in the creation of new political units with much more conservative philatelic outputs. And there are collectors today who find a charm in these issues. We will return to these issues in the catalogue review.

To my knowledge, there exists no single recent specialized treatment of the stamps of Saudi Arabia (and its precursors) or Yemen in English (although I think there are works in Arabic for Saudi Arabian philately). Thus the Gibbons Arabia catalogue fills a vital gap to introduce collectors in the West to the complex philately of the region beyond the basic level.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott

The first point to deal with in any discussion of this catalogue is that it covers a fairly large number of postal administrations. To summarize, included are : 
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrein
  • the British PO in Eastern Arabia (the general issues used in what are now Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman after 1948 and Indian independence. Before 1948 the Posts were managed by the Indian post office)
  • Oman
  • United Arab Emirates – Includes issues for the Trucial States and each of the seven component sheikhdoms – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Ras al-Khaima, Sharjah and Umm al-Qiwain as well as the issues of some of the sheikhdoms' dependencies, such as Manama)
  • Qatar
  • Yemen – Includes both North Yemen (Royal, then Republic, with coverage of the Yemeni civil war issues from both sides in the 1960s as well) and the British-dominated zone of Southern Yemen, including Aden, Seiyun and Hadramaut. Also includes the Federation of South Arabia and the issues of several component members, independent South Yemen, and the Unified Yemen since 1990.
  • Saudi Arabia – including the independent issues of Hejaz and Nejd before the conquest of Hejaz by Ibn Saud in 1925 and the creation of the unified Saudi state.
A large number of different postal administrations are thus covered in the catalogue.

One important thing to remember is that until the twentieth century there were no local postal adminstrations. The Ottomans established a large number of post offices in Hejaz and Yemen, while the areas the British would come to dominate on the Eastern and Southern coasts of the Peninsula would gradually come under the Indian Post Office. One area of specialization popular among collectors of this region is cancels issued by the Indian and Ottoman post offices for branches in the area. The Gibbons catalog provides a lot of pricing information regarding cancels used on Indian postal issues in the region from Kuwait around to Aden.

Unfortunately Gibbons does not provided any coverage of the Ottoman precursor issues used in Hejaz, Yemen, and parts of Eastern Arabia before the establishment of British hegemony. I know there is some very specialist literature coving Ottoman posts in Arabia (and other areas of the Empire that did not become part of the successor Turkish Republic in 1923) but as of now this is an area that is lacking in terms of coverage in popular specialized Western catalogues of the region.

For clarity in discussion of the catalogue I am going to start with the British sphere of influence then move on to the Western Arabian peninsula states of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

A) The British sphere of influence in Eastern and Southern Arabia

One of the nice things about Gibbons is its coverage of Indian postal issues used in the Eastern part of the peninsula. Listings of prices for cancels from Bahrein and Muscat are provided, as shown below for Bahrein.

Listings for Bahrein cancels on the stamps of British India, (p. 3 of listings)

For the British sphere of influence Gibbons does its usual amazing job parsing out varieties such as watermark errors, shades and othe varieities, including items not covered by the Scott Classic Specialized. For example, here is the first page of Kuwait's issues starting with the 1923 overprints.

First page of listings for Kuwait

This specialization continues beyond the classical era, as shown here for the varieties that exist for the Elizabeth II definitive issue for Aden in the 1950s.

Varieties on the Elizabeth II definitives for Aden from the 1950s

And for those states that did not have postal services of their own, the British would take over administration of the post offices from India (or in a couple cases Pakistan) after the end of the Raj in 1947 and created their own postal surcharges that were used in Qatar, the Trucial States and Muscat.

Listings for the British Post Office in Arabia issues (note no info on cancellation values)

One thing NOT included though, which is a bit of a miss, is valuation of different cancels on these British issues. I would imagine usage from Qatar would have been more rare than from Muscat, and that legible Doha cancels would be worth more than Muscat or Dubai.

By the 1960s changes were coming into play in the eastern part of the Arabian peninsula. Kuwait became independent in 1961, and the other Arab sheikhdoms would assume local control over their postal services, producing stamps for their needs. This would of course lead to the rise of the “Sand Dune” issues as some of the poorer states, like Ajman and Fujeira, would sign contracts with agencies to produce stamps with topical appeal in their name.

Appendix listing for the "Sand Dune" issues of Ras al-Kheima in the 1960s

Gibbons does NOT price most sand dunes, instead listing the majority issued after 1967 in “appendixes” at the end of each nation, as the above for Ras al-Kheima shows.

But this is not true for all states. Dubai, which while not issuing as many questionable issues as the other smaller state, still had some very topical issues, is listed in full, and this includes issues NOT included in the Scott Standard Catalogue listings for Dubai.

When is a "Sand Dune" not a "Sand Dune?"  Full listings for all Dubai issues, 
in spite of their "Sand Dune"-like nature

Further south, an anti-British, anti-sheikh revolt in the British dominated regions of Southern Arabia would lead eventually to the withdrawl of the British from Aden in 1967. Some of the Easten Yemeni sheikhdoms would joint the Sand Dune bandwagon, issuing stamps until the radical nationalist rebels seized power. This included a new state, Mahra, which is not included in the Scott Catalogue.

The stamps of Mahra given full listing in Gibbons (not in Scott, however)

By the early 1970s, though, the flood of “wallpaper” coming from the former British sphere in Eastern Arabia would be rapidly shut down as the seven Trucial states federated into the United Arab Emirates in 1971, Qatar became independent (as did Muscat, as the Sultanate of Oman, though the Muscat government did not join the “Sand Dune” ranks) and an anti-Western regime came to power in South Yemen. All of these states would pursue much more conservative philatelic regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, and today these early independence-era issues have become quite valuable, cataloging many times their original catalogue value when first listed in the 1970s. The just goes to show that a nation may tart its philatelic reputation with Wallpaper for a period, but can rehabilitate that reputation with a more conservative stamp issuing policy afterward.

Today there is even a dedicated group of collectors of the “Sand Dune” stamps issued during the free-wheeling late 1960s, although Gibbons does not value most of these issues, they at least make mention of them (something the Scott Standards as of 2012 still did not do). For a full treatment of these issues however, one must turn to the Michel and it's “Gulf States” regional catalogue, where each issue is listed in full with valuations.

B) Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Moving to the non-British influenced are of the Arabian peninsula, the Gibbons catalogue does an excellent job dealing with the often complex issues surrounding the rise of the Saudi Arabian state in the 1920s.

The complex philatelic wonderland of varieties and errors of Saudi Arabian precursor issues 
from Hejaz and the Nejdi conquest after 1925. 

It should be noted that Scott, in its 2015 Classic Specialized, does a very comparable job with the listing of the regular stamp varieties, overprint complexities and varieties that exist, both for the issues of independent Hejaz (1916-1925) and for the Nejdi supremacy after 1925. Decades of involvement in the Saudi oil industry by Americans means that Saudi Arabian philately is actually a bit more popular in the USA than other areas of the Islamic World, and Scott responds well to that interest in its coverage of the Classical era stamps of the Kingdom and its precursors.

After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, Saudi issues become a bit less complex for a period, though there are still plenty of shade and perforation varieties, as the listings below show.

Saudi Arabia listings from the 1930s, note the full listing of perf-varieties for the definitive issue starting in 1934 (not fully covered in Scott 2015 Classic Specialized)

Moving into the post-oil boom era of Saudi history, Gibbons does a wondeful job listing varieties of color, perforation and design type that exist on the various Saudi definitive issues from the 1960s to the 1990s, providing illustrations where Scott might only list a footnote, as with the varieties of the al-Khafji Oil Rig issue of 1977-1978.

Gibbons (top) and Scott (bottom) listing for Saudi issues of the late-1970s, 
showing Gibbons full listing of the inscription varieties on the al-Khafji oil rig definitives, 
which are merely footnoted in Scott.

Finally, coverage of Yemen in Gibbons starts with the Kingdom issues first released in 1926. Fairly comparable to coverage in Scott until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1962. For the Civil War issues, Gibbons catalogs not only the majority of the Republican issues in full (there is a small appendix for issues in the period 1967-1972, and the listings are fuller than what is in the Scott catalog for the entire period of the Civil War for the Republic, with notes up to early 1967 then no information on later issues) but also the majority of the Royalist issues for the same period. This is an area that Scott's 2012 Standard Catalogue does not cover at all, not even in notes.

Royalist Yemen "issues" during the 1960s Yemeni Civil War, listed in Gibbons, 
but not even mentioned in passing in Scott.

By 1971 the Civil War had ended and a single North Yemen Republican regime was issuing stamps, and Gibbons covers contemporary Yemeni issues in a straight-forward manner, similar to what Scott covers.


A philatelically complex region, the Arabian Peninsula is covered quite nicely in this new Gibbons catalog. More specialized than the Scott Standard, and even for some states more specialized than the Scott Classic Specialized, the Gibbons Arabia is a great introduction to the philately of this part of the world, in all its nuances and forms.

Comments? Questions? Ask away and let me know people are reading this :)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Specialized Catalogue Review for AUSTRALIA (II)

Catalogue Title : Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue : Australia, 9th ed
Publisher : Stanley Gibbons LTD, Ringwood, UK (2014)
Format : Soft Cover, 338 pages, 170mmx240mm, color illustrations
Language of Text : English
Price : UK£29.95 (Note this price and review is based on the 9th edition published in 2014. The brand new 10th edition has just been published in 2016.)

One of the grand names in philately, and one of the “Big Four” catalogue publishers that publish worldwide catalogues (the other three being Scott, Michel and Yvert et Tellier), the catalogues of Stanley Gibbons are considered by most collectors of the the United Kingdom, the British Empire and modern Commonwealth as the catalogues of record for that sphere of the philatelic world.

What many collectors may not realize is that in addition to the top-notch Commonwealth catalogue 1840-1970 that Gibbons updates yearly and is the first place of reference for most collectors and dealers in the British sphere, Gibbons also publishes an EXCELLENT line of regional catalogues that cover all aspects of philately to the present day. With the exception of the old Dominons of Canada, Australia and New Zealand which have developed their own catalogues of record due to the existence of highly active collector communities, Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogues are the catalogue of record for these issues.

Australia is to some degrees in the middle between having its own Catalogue of Record and the primacy of Gibbons. As noted in my previous reviewe, the Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue (aka the Brusden-Whites) is THE primary catalogue of record for Australian issues from the first Federal issue in 1913 to the introduction of decimalization in 1966. However, there are a few things the Brusden-Whites either do not cover, or only cover in editions that are over ten years old.
  1. Pre-Federation Colonial Australian Issues for the six colonies
  2. Contemporary pricing of decimal-era issues and varieties
  3. Most of the Australian External Territories issues (it does cover the Cocos Islands and Australian Antarctic Territory issues up to decimalization, but for some reason neither Norfolk Island nor Christmas Island's pre-decimal issues).
  4. Australian colonies in the South Pacific (Papua, Northwest Pacific Islands, Mandate New Guinea, Papua New Guinea and Nauru)
For collectors looking for a specialized treatment of these four areas of Australian philately, the Australia volume of Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue remains the catalogue of record.

As this is the first of what will be several reviews of Gibbons catalogues, a couple of comments about Gibbons catalogues in general. First, the text in the catalogues is SMALL, very SMALL. Gibbons crams a ton of information in each page, and if like me you have less than stellar eyesight, you might find yourself reaching for reading glasses or a magnifying glass.

Second, the organization of minor listings has a logic to it, but like looking for the right key on a keychain to open a door, it takes a bit of trial and error to figure things out. Watermark varieties are usually marked with a minor listing w, and if the watertmark variety is tied to another variety within the issue, a second minor letter is added, so a bw minor listing would be for a watermark variety on the b variety of the main stamp. Again with a bit of practice you soon become accustomed to how Gibbons lists varieties, but to those used to Scott's system of using just one minor letter for each variety (most of the time) this will take a bit of accustomization.

Review Of The Catalogue and Comparison with Scott (and Brusden-White)

For most classical-era collectors, the lack of coverage of the pre-Federation Australian colonies postal issues (the stamps of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland) in the Brusden-White catalogues is a major gap in their otherwise excellent coverage of Australian philately. To be fair to the publishers of Brusden-White, the many complexities of Australian colonial issues would make such a tome (or tomes) would require would be another lifetime of work, and perhaps it is best that they have chosen to focus on the post-Federation era (though as we have seen they DO cover the Postage Dues of New South Wales and Victoria, so a precedent of sorts has been set. But I digress...)

As noted, Gibbons does cover the Australian colonial issues in this volume – they occupy the first fifty-five pages of the catalogue. And the amount of information provided in the catalogue listings is a specialists delight. As can be seen in the first page of the catalogue's Queensland listing.

The first pages of listings for Queensland in Gibbons Australia 9th Ed.

Compare this to the listings in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue 2015, and one can clearly see the greater degree of depth that Gibbons dives when covering the colonial issues. Scott does a good job as an introduction, but Gibbons clearly adds many more varieties, especially perforation varieites and plate flaws.

The first page of listings for Queensland in the 2015 Scott Classic Specialized

When it comes to the early Federal period pre-decimalization, however, Gibbons pales in comparison compared to the intricate parsing of varieties, plate types and errors that the Brusden-Whites provide, as the comparison below shows.

Coverage of the George V Sidefaces in Gibbons (first issues)

Coverage of the 1/2d George V Sideface first issue in Brusden-White

For many collectors, the level of detail that Brusden-White provides, especially in terms of plate flaws on specific plates, may seem like flyspecking overkill. For these collectors who want something a bit more detailed than what the Scott Classic provides, but not to the Brusden-White extreme, the Gibbons Australia provides a happy medium between the two.

Moving into the modern era, the comparisons between Scott, which only lists modern Australia in its Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, are much more clear. Compare the listings of the 1981-1984 Australian Wildlife Definitives between the two catalogues

Coverage of the 1981-1984 Wildlife Definitives in Scott (top) and Gibbons (bottom)

While Scott's listing is quite good, Gibbons provides a few more variety listings and a clearer illustration of the difference between the photogravure and lithographic centers on the 27c Tasmanian devil. One thing that Scott does better in this set is parse out the perforation varieties issued in 1983-1984 as a separate minor number set rather than mesh them together with the main listing. Given the popularity of Australia among North American collectors, Scott does a pretty good job with varieties on Australian definitives compared to other nations.

Se-tenant listings in Gibbons are minor-numbered beginning with the first stamp in the set!

One common point about Gibbons catalogues that will drive Scott-based collectors a bit crazy at first is how se-tenant issues are listed. Gibbons lists unseparated pairs/blocks etc as a minor variety after the first stamp in the set in the catalogue. Scott is the exact opposite, making the unseparated versions a minor number after the last stamp in the set in a catalogue. Something very important to keep in mind when looking online to purchase these setenant issues from dealers that use Gibbons.

One area that Gibbons covers in the Australia catalog that is not covered in Scott (either standard or Classic specialized) and for which Brusden-White's coverage was last printed in 2002 is full Booklets. Gibbons prices them, and given the plethora of booklets that have been released since the early 1990s, such pricing information is quite useful as there is at times a small markup for full booklets, especially for se-tenant issues that contain more than one set per full booklet. Many of these have been sacrificed to create single sets, and as a result full booklets are often given a large markup (much as was the case with USA booklets containing setenant panes of five designs that were popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

Gibbons listings of Australian complete booklets in the mid-late pre-decimal Federal period

Finally for the collectors of the Australian external territories and Australian colonies in the South Pacific, Gibbons provides specialized coverage to the same degree as their main Australia listings for Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Also included are listings for Australian ruled Papua, the Mandate of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Listings are also provided for the Australian occupation of German New Guinea and various German islands in the South Pacific in 1914, which would result in the issues for the North West Pacific Islands, with all its varieties in both base stamps and overprint.  The one limit is that Gibbons coverage of Nauru and Papua New Guinea only extend until independence. Post-independence issues are covered in the Western Pacific catalogue, which also duplicate the listings in the Australia catalogue for these entities.

For an example of coverage, compare below the listing for Nauru's first issues in Gibbons and the Scott Classic Specialized shows again how much deeper into varieties the Gibbons Australia catalogue goes in comparison.

Listings for Nauru in Scott Classic Specialized (top) and Gibbons Australia (bottom)

Finally also include for the first time in the 9th edition are listings for the German colonial issues of New Guinea, which of course would be the basis for the GRI overprints when German New Guinea was seized by the Australians in 1914. The listings are rather basic though, and probably the best catalogue for the German issues would be in volume one of the yearly updated Michel Deutschland-Spezial catalogue, which includes German colonial issues and all aspects of German philately up to the Zero Hour of April 1945.


This review is based on the 9th edition of Gibbons Australia, published in 2014. Gibbons has just released in July 2016 the 10th edition of this catalogue, and while there are no new major categories of stamps added to the catalogue, it does apparently list more varieities in the Colonial issues as well as expand listing on the pre-Decimal Federal era. Gibbons will never be a comprehensive as the Brusden-Whites when it comes to the pre-decimal Federal era, but for those who want to go beyond Scott's listings (and as I said before Scott is not a bad first reference point, especially the Classic Specialized, given the popularity of Australia in North America) the Gibbons represent a happy middle ground for those looking to specialize in Australia further.