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Volume 21, Number 6November/December 1970

In This Issue

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Stamp Out Deficits!

Written by Robert Obojski

Some familiar household names for your collection: Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Dubai, Ajman, Fujeira, Umm al-Qiwain. Household names? Yes, if there's a philatelist in the house. Since they first started issuing their own postage stamps in 1963 and 1964, the seven Trucial States have attracted the attention and enthusiasm of stamp collectors around the world—and I do mean around the world. Stamp issues from these tiny Arabian Gulf shaikhdoms grace front windows in shops everywhere—Waterloo, Iowa and Meadville, Pennsylvania, as well as New York, London and Tokyo.

There was a time when these seven seafaring states tucked into that upsweep of the Arabian Peninsula known as the Trucial Coast paid their way with piracy. And many today have begun to collect substantial incomes from recent oil discoveries. But in between, during the years after the British Navy moved in and before the discovery of oil, the Trucial States, as well as a handful of other shaikhdoms, protectorates and republics scattered along the east and south coasts of the Peninsula, hit upon the idea of helping to balance their budgets by issuing stamps for sale to collectors. As one wag put it: "They decided to just stamp out deficits!"

Most of the stamps are designed and printed under contract in Europe or Britain. To confirmed purists, such stamps, apparently issued with big-spending collectors in mind rather than post offices, are not quite cricket. On the other hand these stamps are all officially recognized postal issues which can be used to mail letters and which are regularly described and illustrated in the world's stamp journals. With few exceptions they are listed by standard catalogues such as "Stanley Gibbons Postage Stamp Catalogue" (London), and "Scott's Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue" and "Minkus New World Wide Stamp Catalogue" (New York). More to the point, they are also among the most handsome, interesting and artistic specimens available.

The fact that the Trucial States are in Arabia doesn't prevent them from adopting themes as far removed from the Arabian Gulf as—well, the moon, to cite just one example. In fact, the outlook of the various postal departments seems to be the more unlikely the subject the brighter the stamp.

America, for example, is not exactly a neighbor of the Trucial States, nor are its Middle East policies altogether popular there. Yet themes from the American scene recur with surprising frequency, such as Ajman's 1969 "Champions of Sport" issue. This series portrays six U.S. Hall of Fame major league baseball players: Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, George Sisler and Babe Ruth. Like many of the new issues of the Arab world, the vignettes on these stamps are based upon actual photographs.

Even more popular are the Kennedys. Stamps bearing portraits of President John F. Kennedy have been issued by a score of Arab countries, of course, but Ajman's 1970 set, consisting of two, three and ten-ris values, bear color portraits of the three Kennedy brothers: Senator Robert F., President John F., and Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy. Sharjah has also issued Kennedy stamps, a Kennedy memorial series which was issued on November 22, 1964, portraying the late President with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

The same year Sharjah released a set of three airmail stamps to mark the opening of the New York World's Fair of 1964-65. The one-riyal value, measuring no less than three and a half by one and three quarter inches, has a panoramic view of the New York skyline as seen from lower Manhattan. Dubai also commemorated the opening of the New York World's Fair with the issuance of six stamps in 1964, all featuring the Unisphere, symbol of the fair, and joining panoramas of New York's skyline with views of Dubai's harbor.

On the other side of the Peninsula, the Yemen Arab Republic has marked America's space achievements on a number of stamp issues, including a "moon landing" set in 1965 (four years before the U.S. actually achieved this feat), and an issue released in the same year citing President Kennedy's role as staunch advocate of the space program.

Still more unusual than the varied stamps with American themes are the numerous Arab issues which portray the works of some of the world's greatest artists and which have attracted worldwide attention among collectors. Writers have said before that stamps might sometimes be considered as miniature works of art (Aramco World , May-June 1966), but several Arab shaikhdoms have taken it quite literally. Umm al-Qiwain issued a 1968 set of stamps inscribed with the self-portraits of seven classic painters; El Greco, Henri Rousseau, Titian, Goya, Rubens, Hogarth, and Modligiani.

Nor has classic Middle Eastern art been forgotten, Fujeira in 1966 released a series of eight stamps featuring ancient Egyptian treasures, in honor of the successful international effort to save the ancient and magnificent monuments at Abu Simbel from inundation by waters backed against the new Aswan Dam.

Further south, on the Arabian Sea, the Kathiri State of Seiyun, formerly a part of the British-controlled Aden Protectorate, has produced art stamps which have particularly caught the attention of philatelists. Kathiri State's Winston Churchill series shows the great World War II leader at work at his easel, as well as examples of his water colors, and a 1968 series of eight stamps features works by various world artists, including George Bellows (the only American in the group), who is represented by his famous painting of two boxers, "Stag at Sharkey's."

Both the Yemen Arab Republic and the Kingdom of Yemen have produced a variety of excellent art stamps, with the former releasing a 1968 series showing a number of notable paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish artist. In 1967, the Kingdom of Yemen issued a six-stamp Rembrandt souvenir sheet in connection with the "Amphilex" philatelic exhibition held at Amsterdam in that year. The souvenir sheet is remarkable, since the stamp designers adhered very closely to the colors Rembrandt himself used in executing the six original paintings.

Robert Obojski, who recently revised Fred Reinfeld's "Stamp Collectors' Handbook" (Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 1970), has been the regular stamp columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, and has contributed to many philatelic publications, including "Linn's Weekly Stamp News," "The Minkus Stamp Journal," and "The Gibbons-Whitman Stamp Monthly."

This article appeared on pages 12-17 of the November/December 1970 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 1970 images.