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Have You Ever Considered Collecting X?

This month, I will bring to a close a series of articles based on the countries that are in, border on or depend on the Indian Ocean. My intent was not to suggest that this area is especially suited for collecting any more than any other area, but rather, to show how by simply picking up a map and selecting an area of the world that you might not be that familiar with, you just might find some unexpected enjoyment in your worldwide stamp collection while expanding your non-stamp collecting knowledge base.

Our tour of the area started with the islands of the Indian Ocean and then moved up the east coast of Africa, through Mozambique and to the north heading toward the port city of Aden in Yemen. Aden lies on the Gulf of Aden, a body of water that is part of the Indian Ocean and connects to the Red Sea through a relatively narrow channel called Bab el Mandeb Sound. If you have your map handy, you can easily see that the connection to the Red Sea leads all the way to Egypt where it splits and can be followed to Israel and to the Suez Canal.


For roughly a hundred years Aden was a British Protectorate and most of the early stamps used there were from Great Britain, India, Ceylon and Mauritius. Identification is through postmarks. Between 1937 and 1951, stamps were issued specifically for use in Aden. Figure 1 is Aden 22, one of several values of a set that depict the capture of Aden in 1839. Collecting stamps of Aden is fairly straightforward. Although there are a number of color varieties and a group of sets of stamps that were issued for the Kathiri and Quaiti States, most of the challenge lies in finding the stamps used in Aden before 1937.

Figure 2   is an example of these stamps. It is India 41. The cancel identifies the stamp as having been used in Aden on March 30, 1887. To fully understand the importance of this area to the world economy, it is important to look beyond oil. In 1869, the Suez Canal opened providing access from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and ultimately to the Indian Ocean and the rest of the world.

Ships of that time needed to refuel, that is take on wood or more commonly, coal. Aden was a major refueling stop for ships of all flags passing through the area, but the French and Italians worried about their dependence on a British port for fuel. Before we go any further, it is critical that we understand the history of the Suez Canal a bit better.

The canal is about 100 miles long. Before the canal existed, it was quite common for goods to be transported by boat to Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, unloaded and carried overland to Suez on the Red Sea, and there reloaded on ships to head toward the Indian Ocean. The idea of building a canal in the region goes back many centuries, but it was in 1858 that a company was created to undertake the project. It took eleven years to build the canal, from December 15, 1858 until November 17, 1869 when the canal opened for traffic.

Almost 2 million men worked on the construction and more than 100,000 died during the process. Although a simplification of the political situation in the region, I’d suggest that the preceding paragraph is sufficient for most of us stamp collectors to understand why a number of little "countries" exist in our albums. Take for example, Obock. This port city in what is today the country of Djibouti is located about 120 miles to the southwest of the port of Aden across the Gulf of Aden.

While I do not profess to be a maritime scholar, it appears to me from looking at a map that Obock is closer to the path ships would normally take when coming out of the Red Sea, and therefore the location of Obock could well pose a significant alternative for ships looking to refuel over Aden. Was this in the minds of the French when in 1862 Obock became the first French colony in the region? Was it the history of war between the French and British that prompted the creation of Obock? Wouldn’t it be nice to have been a fly on the wall in all those French meeting rooms as the plans for the creation of Obock took form?

I expect that the date is the key. Remember the year 1862 is just about at the mid-point of the building of the Suez Canal. Giving the French credit for being a typical political entity, it is reasonable to expect that they spent some time deciding on what to do once they realized that the Suez Canal would actually be built. The result. Obock! Obock stood on its own for only a few years and eventually became part of what was known first as French Somali-land, Somali Coast and now Djibouti.

Scott lists around eighty stamps from Obock. Figure 3   is Scott 34, one of the Navigation and Commerce series that was used throughout the French Colonies. It has an April 3, 1898 postmark. In 1902, stamps of the Somali Coast superseded those from Obock. I would think that a collection of the stamps from all of these "entities" mounted together would be quite interesting and fun to put together. I do not currently have a large collection of the stamps of Somali Coast, but I do think that many of them are quite nice and I have the region on my radar screen for attention as I look through auction catalogs.

Figure 4   is Somali Coast C17, a 1947 airmail showing the Governor’s Mansion. So now we understand the regional French and British influences on our albums, but we are not at all finished. The Italians also had a lot to do with the confusion we face when leafing through the pages of our collections. Italian interest in the region goes back to the same underpinnings as those of the French and British, namely trade. In the later part of the 19th Century, the Italians established a foothold in Eritrea, which lies on the Red Sea bordering Sudan and Ethiopia. Now an independent country, Eritrea was an Italian colony with postage stamps of various designs being issued from 1892-1936 when it became a part of Italian East Africa.

Figure 5  is Eritrea 44, a brown carmine stamp. There is another color variety of this issue, number 45, in brown orange that is much less common. Figure 6  is Eritrea C6 one of a set of six airmails issued as part of a 1934 commemorative series for the Second Colonial Arts Exhibition, in Naples. I really like these large, colorful and artfully executed stamps. There are sets of these types of stamps throughout the various Italian colonies and most are reasonably priced.

Figure 7   is Scott Q16 one of many parcel post stamps that should be fairly familiar to most collectors. These two part stamps, used in Italy and the colonies, were meant to have one part affixed to parcels while the other part went on the receipt issued to the sender. I like to collect the complete stamps although it is quite easy to come across both parts of the used stamps.

For those of you that really want a better feeling for the Italian interests in northeast Africa, I recommend that you do some heavy reading into the First and Second Italo-Abyssinian Wars of 1896 and 1935. This topic is quite complex and is far more than I have the desire to go into in this article.

On the other hand, there is one more piece of real estate that I need to discuss before we leave the Italian interests in the region. That is the small piece of land that lies west of the Juba River and borders on Kenya. In your albums this would be Oltre Giuba. It is sometimes referred to as Italian Jubaland. It runs generally north-south and has a width of only about 100 miles at its widest and at it southernmost border lies on the Indian Ocean. The area lies presently in Somalia. Oltre Giuba was given to Italy on June 29, 1925 reportedly as a reward for the Italian support of the allies in World War I.

About a year later, it was incorporated into the colony of Italian Somaliland. Figure 8 is Oltre Giuba E2, an Italian special delivery stamp overprinted for use in Oltre Giuba. Figure 9 is Somalia C6, another of the 1934 commemoratives of the Naples, Colonial Arts Exhibition.

I could continue this series for many more months but I think that I have done what I wanted to, that is, point out how you can use a map to augment your collecting enjoyment. Zero in on a different area of the world, learn some of the associated history and then seek out some of the stamps to fill those empty spaces. I hope that you have a feeling for the importance of this area of the world associated with the Indian Ocean. I have never seen a stamp album that is organized to pull all the countries of this region together, but I can see how someone would want to have such a collection. With the ability to create your own pages using available computer programs, everything is possible. What you decide to do is, of course, up to you. How you define "X" is a personal decision and one that can never be "wrong"!

Contact's: Fred Wexler