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 :)


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