Wednesday 21 July 2010

African Problems 2: Ghan-aaagh!

In the last few days I have managed to obtain a stamp for which I have been searching for twelve years or so - the c200 value of the set from Ghana which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the country's independence. This famously featured the portrait of the then president, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, who decided it was not appropriate for his portrait to appear on Ghana's postage stamps and so the stamp was withdrawn from circulation. Having been issued on 6 March 1997 it ceased to be available on 22nd April 1997 and the short period of sale resulted in it becoming instantly rare and not generally included in stamp dealers' new issue distributions and so missing from many collections. I recently found it being offered for sale on the Delcampe auction web site and dashed to buy it. Another rare piece of modern philately secured!
Unfortunately Ghana continues to be problematical. One set I have not yet seen offered by any dealer and overlooked by Gibbons in their West Africa catalogue is a set from - I think - 2005 commemorating "Panfest '05" which I believe was the Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival. At least five stamps were included in the set although I have only managed to obtain four of them in used condition so far. They are illustrated above. The stamps have clearly been available for everyday usage, so why they have not received a philatelic distribution is mystery to me.
Right now, the problem area for me is attempting to obtain all the values of the definitive set of small designs which has been running from 1995 to 2007 and on top of that it is difficult to know how many stamps, some definitives and some commemoratives, have been surcharged in different formats to address the change of currency which has occurred in the last couple of years or so. So far I have seven different stamps (illustrated above) and I have at least one more on its way to me from a seller in Ghana. As I say, just how many of them there are in total will no doubt become apparent eventually. 
In the last two or three years, Ghana has concentrated on issuing stamps of pure local interest (apart from a couple which I think originated with the Chinese commemorating the Beijing Olympics and the Peony Festival in China - see previous blog on the subject of philatelic imperialism) and the flood of poorly researched and designed stamps from New York seems to have been assuaged. I enjoy the struggle to track down Ghana's real stamps and abhor the abuse of Ghana's national reputation represented by countless issues featuring American pop stars and baseball players. Let us hope that we have now finally seen the back of all the expensive garbage that has appeared over the years and that Ghana is now getting on with issuing stamps to be used on its mail that reflect the various aspects of Ghanaian life, culture, wildlife, scenery and so on.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Somaliland to Somalia to Somaliland

The Horn of Africa was strategically vital to the security of the British Empire in India and in 1884 the british proclaimed a protectorate over Somaliland. It was administered from Aden initially as an Indian dependency and Egyptian post offices had been opened there during 1876 and the stamps of Egypt were used there until the garrisons were withdrawn in 1884. Two cancellations were used from Berbera and Zeila and Indian stamps were used from these offices from 1 January 1877 until 1903 with the "B" obliterator used in all Bombay-controlled offices. The Protectorate Post Office was established on 1 June 1903 when the control of British Somaliland was transferred from the Indian government to the British Foreign Office. The first Protectorate stamp issue consisted of Indian stamps depicting Queen Victoria overprinted in black in eleven values. The illustrated cover shows the eight lower values of the set on a clearly philatelic cover to Oldenburg in Germany. In the late fifties, Somaliland was prepared for independence by a series of constitutional measures including the establishment of a Legislative Council with a majority of members being elected, an event commemorated by a pair of definitive stamps, appropriately overprinted, on 5 April 1960 (illustrated). It was decided that Somaliland would be merged with the former Italian Somaliland, Somalia, when independence was achieved but Somaliland's independence preceded that of Somalia by four days and so for that short period Somaliland was an independent state and three stamps were issued to tide over the postal needs of the country for that short time; Gibbons does not include these items in the Part 1 Catalogue as Somalia did not subsequently join The Commonwealth. The issue consisted of three Somalia stamps overprinted "Somaliland Independence 26 June 1960" printed in three lines and they consist of designs featuring a native plant and the head of a gazelle. These stamps are illustrated.
  In January 1991, Siad Barre, the Somalian dictator, was overthrown and anarchy spread across the country. Previously, in May 1988, civil war had broken out between the Somali National movement (SNM) and the central government and as the anarchy spread, the SNM proclaimed the independence of Somaliland on 18 May 1991 since when it has remained a de facto independent republic but has not been recognised as such by any foreign state even though it remains a veritable oasis of calm in the midst of the chaos in Somalia. If it were to be recognised as a sovereign state then it would certainly qualify to be a member of The Commonwealth although I imagine that a number of countries would object since the recognition of a secessionist state might pose them problems with potential breakaway areas within their own territories.
  Since secession Somaliland does not appear to have inaugurated a postal service and therefore not to have issued any postage stamps . This is rather surprising since one of the prerequisites of statehood seems to be the production of little pieces of paper with the country's name on them ostensibly for the prepayment of postage. A lot of bogus items have been produced however which are supposed to be Somaliland stamps. The Somaliland government has said that no such items have been issued. One of the most fascinating productions of such bogus stamp releases dates back to 1998 when a British philatelic magazine included a short piece in its news section stating that a British agent was producing stamps for the Somaliland government and giving a number which could be contacted for further information. I contacted the number and was told by the individual who answered that he had been asked to produce stamps for Somaliland as well as producing other services for its government and that the first issue would be British Machin definitives surcharged in Somaliland currency (one value of 500 shillin on a 1p stamp). This rather unusual idea was supposed to underline the historic links between Britain and Somaliland but, he said, (perhaps not surprisingly) the depiction of the ruler of the former colonial power proved very unpopular locally and use of the stamps was short-lived. Two versions of the surcharge were produced:- one in which the penny sign was not obliterated and the other in which the penny sign was obliterated by a small five-pointed star, the inscription of the overprint reading "REPUBLIC OF SOMALILAND FIVE SHILLIN" in four lines (both varieties are depicted - the former in a block of four and the latter as three singles "used" on a cover and cancelled by a large two-ring postmark reading ".HARGEISA . REP OF SOMALILAND" and dated 11 MAR 1998). The cover was addressed to "NATIONALBANK HARGEISA". I was also told that during this period external mail to Somaliland was being routed by sea from Aden to Hargeisa and that there were also air connections with links existing between Somaliland and Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. I was informed that a definitive series featuring wildlife was planned and indeed such an issue did later appear on the philatelic market bearing a fictitious coat of arms and some additionally overprinted "Govt Official AIR-MAIL" in three lines. Twelve values were produced ranging from 500 shillin to 25000 shillin and I later obtained a basic set cancelled on a "cover" with the same postmark from Hargeisa as described above and dated 09 APR 1998 although there is nothing to say that that was the supposed first day of issue. Further issues also appeared apparently from the same source most notably an addition to the ubiquitous Princess Diana stamps produced by many postal agencies at the time in the form of a sheetlet of nine different portraits which I have "used on cover" cancelled by the above Hargeisa "postmark" and dated 10 May 1998 and imperforate on cover with the above official overprint and with a cancel of 21 May 1998. Somebody had some fun producing that lot and even more fun from extracting money from unsuspecting collectors for them. Despite their bogus nature, I cannot help but actually find them to be interesting and even more interesting to me is he question "why has Somaliland not got round to establishing a post office?"
  I tried to get information directly from Hargeisa about a possible postal service as long ago as 1997 but my letter was returned by the British post office with an interesting boxed inscription "SERVICE SUSPENDED RETURN TO SENDER" (see illustration). I repeated this exercise about three years ago but on that occasion Royal Mail returned my letter undelivered and with no postal markings applied. A photograph on a Somaliland website depicts a local post office (in Berbera or Hargeisa?) in a very run down state and clearly not open for business (see illustration) and about the same time a correspondent in Germany informed me that he had received a reply from Somaliland in response to a question from him, routed through the Middle East, which confirmed that Somaliland had never operated a postal service thus far.

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Friday 9 July 2010

Great Britain used in BIOT.

An item I obtained quite by chance in 2004 was a spectacular cover with British stamps applied, all cancelled by a BIOT Post Office cachet. Some free BIOT definitives were given away with an edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly and as I already possessed the items as part of a complete set I thought I might apply them to a cover and send it to the BIOT and ask the postmaster there to kindly apply a local postmark so that I might have a nice cover genuinely sent through the post from the BIOT. The postmaster was more than obliging - he not only serviced the cover I sent him but also sent it back to me inside a "On Her Majesty's Service" envelope bearing a 2002 "Friends of Chagos" 34p stamp. Both covers were cancelled with a (slightly oval) circular date stamp - "Diego Garcia . Chagos - B.I.O.T." dated 30 November 2004 (the cover I had sent for cancellation) or 08 December 2004 (protective envelope). These were two lovely items to please any philatelist but even more surprising was that the very kind postmaster had also returned the envelope in which I had originally enclosed my cover. This is a remarkable item. It appears that the British Post Office had not cancelled any of the stamps on it so when it had arrived in Diego Garcia the postmaster there cancelled it with the large BIOT cachet as well as the Diego Garcia cds. This was not done on arrival but on 8 December when my cover was being despatched back to me and the cover bearing British stamps was then inserted in the protective cover along with my original item. I therefore received three interesting covers instead of one but, most spectacularly, a cover with an example of British stamps used in the BIOT. What a remarkably kind and helpful gentleman the BIOT postmaster was and what a happy surprise I received when I opened the containing cover from the BIOT on its arrival. The "GB stamps used in BIOT" cover remains one of my favourite items in my entire collection. The illustrations depict the "Friends of Chagos" stamp cancelled by the BIOT cachet, the Great Britain stamps cancelled with the BIOT cachet, the entire GB used in BIOT cover, the Diego Garcia cds, BIOT stamps with cachet and the whole of my original cover.

Sunday 4 July 2010

History of The Commonwealth: The First English Empire

The modern Commonwealth of course has its roots in the former British Empire and many stamps have been issued over the years which can be used to tell the history of these two institutions. English imperial aspirations go back much further than Victorian times however as what we may call The First English Empire dates back to the reign of King Henry II, the English king from 1154 to 1189. After years of civil war between his mother, Mathilda, and Stephen of Blois, Henry came to power following an agreement by both sides that he should succeed to the throne when Stephen died. He had inherited Normandy from his mother (she had done so by descent from William The Conqueror who had first united the throne of England with The Duchy of Normandy by conquest in 1066) and Maine and Anjou from his father as well as Aquitaine from his wife, Eleanor. In all he ruled not only England but more of France than the French king - what is known as The Angevin Empire.
  In addition to all this he extended his empire to Ireland by responding to a call from King Diarmait Mac Murchada of Leinster to help to restore him to his lands from which he had been driven by the High King of Ireland and following the successful outcome of the campaign to restore Diarmait, Henry proclaimed himself Lord Of Ireland in 1171 hence beginning 800 years of English overlordship of the island for the next 800 years. So early in history, the King Of England was the leader of a large Empire which would lead to centuries of intermittent conflict with the French and Irish.
  From the point of view of this first English Empire, the reign of Henry's son, the notorious King John, proved to be disastrous. John's brother, Geoffrey, brought Brittany to the Angevin inheritance by marriage but John attempted to seize Anjou, Maine and Brittany from Arthur, Geoffrey's heir, and eventually imprisoned the young man and murdered him. Philip Augustus, the French king, eventually confiscated all John's lands in France except Gascony and when John died, the first English Empire was a shadow of its former self. 
  Edward III (1327 - 1377) resumed action against the French in an attempt to salvage the English possessions in France. Territories lost by John in the meantime had been restored to the English monarchs but in 1337 the French king, Philip VI, confiscated the Duchy of Aquitaine and the County of Ponthieu. Edward staked a claim to the French throne as the only living male descendant of Philip IV, his deceased maternal grandfather, but the French invoked the Salic law of succession and Philip VI came to the throne. Edward's aggressive response led to the start of the Hundred Year's War and in 1346 invaded Normandy. Calais was captured the following year and in subsequent years Edward gained a considerable number of possessions which he secured in full sovereignty by the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 although he renounced his claims to the French throne. The war was begun again in 1369 but the outcome was less satisfactory for the English and by the Treaty of Bruges of 1375, English possessions were reduced to the coastal towns of Calais, Bordeaux and Bayonne.
  The Hundred Years War was resumed by Henry V in 1415 and early successes in Normandy restored the territory to England and Henry's forces captured Paris in 1419. Henry was acknowledged as successor to the mad French king, Charles VI, by the Treaty of Troyes of 1420 but died before he could take the throne but his son Henry VI was eventually crowned king of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 16 December 1431 while the French supported Charles VII of Valois and opposed the English. The French campaign was in the doldrums until Charles followed Joan Of Arc, a young woman who was experiencing hallucinations, in stepping up the campaign against the English and the weak leadership of Henry VI finally led to the end of the Hundred Year's War and the English Empire in France reduced to the port of Calais.
  Calais was finally lost during the reign of Mary Tudor who had married the Spaniard Philip IV and who had  managed to get Mary to send English troops to fight on the side of the Spanish in a war against France. The outcome was disastrous and Calais was lost finally on 13 January 1558. The First English Empire was ended but already the English were looking to the New World - Mary I's grandfather, Henry VII, had sent John Cabot across the Atlantic and he had discovered Newfoundland.
  The illustrated stamps are from a set of "English Monarchs" and were issued by Barbuda from 1970 to 1971 and depict William I (Duke Of Normandy and King of England), Henry I, John, Edward III, Henry V, Henry VI and Mary I as well as two French stamps which depict Joan Of Arc, issued 1968, and the last English possession in France, the port of Calais.

Thursday 1 July 2010

More Tonga Surcharges

I was quite surprised to receive a phone call in the latter part of last week from Steve Zirinsky, the New York dealer, wanting to let me know that he had received some more surcharged stamps from Tonga. He informs me that two were issued as recently as May 2010 and consist of the Niuafo'ou WWF Lorikeet 55s value originally issued in 1998 and hand-surcharged in July 2008 with a 30s value, now surcharged with 70s and the other is the 55s value of the Niuafo'ou Barn Owl set also surcharged 70s. A month later in June 2010 a further surcharge was produced - this time it was the 55s value of the 2001 Tongan dance set again surcharged 70s. One assumes this 70s value represents a new postal rate and that it came into being in May and, as often before, there were insufficient stamps available at the post office for the new rate. Judging by the prices of these items the owl stamp ($300) is considerably rarer than the others, the dancers costing $50 and the lorikeet $40. I was also surprised to see on the scan that Steve Zirinsky sent me that another unpriced hand-stamped value from July 2008 had surfaced - a Niuafo'ou 33s butterfly stamp surcharged 30s. It is important to note that two of the latest stamps feature designs of birds (and also one is a WWF stamp) - of immense interest to collectors of bird thematics and the 2008 butterfly stamp is relevant to collectors of that equally popular theme. As I have said before, these are real postage stamps not tedious collectables from greedy agencies.
  The illustrations depict the 2008 butterfly stamp surcharge, the 2010 owl painfully rare stamp and the group of 3 surcharges issued in May & June 2010.