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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

THE SCINDE DAWK STAMPS

BY: - F. Aleem Sundal

The postal system in Sind was highly irregular until the mid-19th Century. It had depended upon private messengers called Qasids. This messenger, Qasid or Namaber, a name which had acquired a poetic and romantic connotation in the literature of the Orient, was a foot-runner carrying mail, covering long distances with only a spear to guard against attacks and a pair of jingles tied at the top of the spear to frighten away wild animals while passing woods.

The postal reforms in Great Britain gave an initiative to the officials in India and efforts were made to ensure speedy and safe mail transit. On July 18, 1848, a system called “Camel Dawk” was introduced between Karachi and Thatta.

But this proved neither effective nor safe and was soon replaced by the services of the police horseman. This kind of postal service was, by and large, confined to carrying official mail from Muffasils to Districts or Divisional Headquarters. However, a few well-to-do and privileged private citizens could also avail of very high service charges.

Mr. Bartle Frere (later Sir Bartle Frere), who was the Commissioner of Sind during the period, was aware of this problem. He was increasingly concerned over the system of the post, run at perpetual loss to the authorities. While the government officers were entitled to use the postal facilities free of charge, the public was made to pay postage relate which were well above the reach of the common man.

The practice of defrauding the post offices also became quite alarming. Un-paid or bearing letters became a menace for the post office department. Many letters were refused by the addresses after penetrating searching looks at the covers. They discerned the message of the sender from the peculiar folding of the flaps, the way of writing of the address, any unusual dot, and mark or appar3ently undecipherable stripes on the cover.

This led to the piling up of enormous quantities of bearing letters coming back to the post offices, declared as “refused” or “addressees unknown”. The postal authorities under this old Dawk system experienced unsurmountable difficulties in running the post offices as no profits accrued. The postal services, too, were not functioning for the benefit of the common man.

Mr. Frere belonged to the group of administrators who felt the need for a simplified postal system based on some sort of prepayment of postage. They had in view the remarkable success of the uniform penny postage in Great Britain in 1840.

Although a very strong lobby existed against the introduction of some uniform postage system in Sind on the lines of the penny postage in London on the plea that the political, administrative and geographical conditions of the province greatly differed from those in England, Mr. Frere did not give up his sustained efforts to introduce a uniform low-paid postal system which would benefit every citizen.

He was greatly assisted in this deavours by the then postmaster, Karachi, Mr. Edward Less Coffee, in designing the Sind District Dawk Stamp. July 1, 1852 finally saw the introduction of “Scinde Dawk”- the first postage stamps of Asia.

The design of the stamps was the insignia, of the East India Company. It had in the centre, a heart shaped device divided into three segments, each containing one of the letter EIC (East India Company). Above this, a symbol resembling the figure 4 denoted the handle of the sword of authority. At the foot of the design was the value ½ Anna.

The whole design was enclosed in a circular garter containing the inscription Scinde District Dawk. In the lower part of the garter, was a buckle as well. The entire printed area was embossed.

Stamps were printed in three different colors, blue, red and white by De la Rue & Co. and were suppressed in October 1854. The quantity issued is not known.

Although all three values are very scarce, a block of 14 stamps, white un-used, is unique. No other large block of this nature is known to exist anywhere in the world. It is an almost tattered, part sheet, folded at three places, with the centers of six stamps punched through by embossing and two stamps having prominent crease running across. This seemingly worthless piece of torn paper is among the highest prized items in the philatelic world.