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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The 19th Century Cancellations on the Postage Stamps of Afghanistan

By: Capt. U.A.G. Isani

Imtiaz Rizvi


  1. Afghanistan is a country in the mountainous region of Central Asia. It is bounded on the west by Iran on the north by Russia and on the south and east by Pakistan. The narrow corridor of Wakhan extends to China. It is spread over 250,000 sq. miles. The population according to various guesses is 14 – 15 millions. There are, however, almost 4 million Afghans who are refugees either in Pakistan or Iran. The almost continuous fighting since 1979 has devastated the country economically. The postal system today barely function and there have been no new postage stamps issued by the government at Kabul for over 10 years.
  2. Afghanistan issued its first stamps under Amir Sher Ali who ruled between the years 1870 to 1878. There were the famous circulars “tiger hounds” which are keenly sought after by serious collectors of this country. Sher Ali was succeeded by Amir Abdur Rahman who ruled Afghanistan from June 1880 to 1901. The stamps issued under the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman also followed the circular pattern of the stamps as in the time of his predecessor. In 1891 for the first time Afghanistan issued rectangular stamps, which pattern has been followed since then.
  3. The postage stamps of Afghanistan in the 19th Century have been cancelled in many unique fashions. Major Adrian Hopkins writing in the Holy Land and Middle east philatelic Magazine (Vol-I, No.6) has stated that Sir Rowland Hill on 17th September 1840 had suggested that in order to prevent re-use of postage stamps they can be rendered useless by tearing a piece ou 11)
  4. It appears that Afghanistan is the only country, which has actually employed this method of cancellation for a long time. Many viewers in philatelic exhibitions have been confused by the postal cancellations on early Afghanistan Stamps and have considered the stamps to be damaged. In fact some jurors in exhibitions have also taken such stamps to be damaged and judged the condition of the exhibits to be unsatisfactory. In order to remove any possible misunderstanding we have enumerated below the different types of cancellations that are found on the early Afghan stamps.
  5. The circular series issued under the reign of Sher Ali and subsequently Abdur Rahman generally, had the margins around the stamp cut with a scissor before the stamp was affixed to the envelope. Consequently, many of these “circular series” stamps in used condition are cut to shape and should not be deemed to be damaged.
  6. Different types of cancellations usually encountered are as under:-

a) A piece torn from the edge of the stamp by hand. Generally the piece is torn away from the west lower corner but it would be a piece torn from any side of the Stamp.

b) A piece cut from edge by a scissor. Here again one can run across stamps where the piece has been cut from different corners of the stamps.

c) A triangular or star shape piece generally very small, which has been snipped from the body of the stamp.

d) Single pen line generally in black native ink across the stamp. It would be by itself or in combination with dashes on the edge of the stamp.

e) Pen cancellation of two lines making a cross. This is generally the commonest on the edge.

f) A pen cancellation of the three lines has also been noticed but not as often as the two line pen cancellation.

g) Pen cancellation of 4 lines either in the shape of a double cross or just a star like appearance. In case of bigger pieces each stamp was cancellation with three lines and then one continuous line across them.

h) Pen cancellation showing a pattern resembling a figure of 8, made with out lifting the pen from the paper.

i) The word “Ralif Kardan” “spoiled” written across the stamp in ink. “TALAF” and “KARDAN” forming a cross.

j) The words “”Talaf Kardan” written across the stamp forming a cross.

k) Cancelled with short dashes on the edge in combination with other form of cancellations.

l) The “Batila” (means CANCELLED) canceller: In 1891 with the issuance of the rectangular series under the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman, a hand stamp obliterator was introduced which was used in all the provinces. Its details are given below. These obliterations were applied generally in sepia and dull violet inks. However, a wide range of colour can be found which can be grouped into four classification”

i) Black mixture

ii) Red range from brick to orange

iii) Blue from greenish blue to dark blue

iv) Purple shades

The colour scheme of this cancellation has given rise to two schools of though:

a) The first school of thought is that the different colours are allocated to different post offices and actually indicated place of use. Major Hopkins has suggested that orange red indicated use at Peshawar. Purple at Kandhar and the blue colour at Mazar-e-Sharif.

b) The second school of thought is that colour indicated different functions. The black was used on mail originating from a particular post office. The blue was used for mail in transit; purple for incoming mail for local delivery while the reds were used for registered mail.

Examples have been noticed where this strict division of colour does not appear to apply but this could be attributed to the carelessness of the postal clerk.

Some forgeries of these cancellations have also been noted but they are with thick lines and crude and can easily be distinguished.

A careful study of the postmark reveals that the inside square measures 20 mm x 20 mm. It is flanked on 4 sides by 3 lines 17 mm, 11 mm and 4 mm in length. Our research shows that the last small line of 4 mm has registered on the earlier covers but seems to have quickly worn out with the result that the later covers show only 2 outer lines of 17 and 11 mm. The distance between the lines is 2 mm. A study of the design inside the square reveals that it is a stylized writing of “Batila” (cancelled in Arabic script)