Postage stamps and postal history of Afghanistan

The establishment of postage stamps and early postal history of Afghanistan is credited to Sher Ali Khan, who established a postal service in the 1860s as part of a program of modernization in the "Kingdom of Kabul".

The first stamps appeared in 1871. They were round in shape, imperforate, and printed in black, with a crude tiger's head ("Sher" meaning "tiger"), surrounded by Arabic script specifying one of three denominations. Cancellation was accomplished by cutting or tearing off a piece of the stamp. Initially somewhat large, subsequent issues kept the same basic design but were smaller each year, with the last appearing in 1878. Starting in 1876, the stamps were printed in different colors, each color corresponding to one of the main post offices on the Peshawar-Kabul-Khulm route. Each design in a sheet was individually engraved, so the stamps vary considerable variability in appearance. Many of the Sher Ali issues are readily available, while some sell for hundreds of US$.

The defeat of Sher Ali by the British brought Abdur Rahman to the throne in 1880, and the following year brought new stamps, still round, but with inscriptions in the middle instead of the tiger head. The era of round designs ended in 1891 with rectangular issues for the "Kingdom of Afghanistan". The three designs were entirely Arabic script, and printed in a slate blue color. The 1892 issue featured a mosque gate and crossed cannons, and was printed in black on colored paper; at least 10 colors of paper were used, and there are many shades as well, even though all the colors had the same value. Issues in 1894 and 1898 varied in details of the design.

Issues in 1907 depict a whole mosque, and in 1909 the mosque is inside an eight-pointed star pattern.

The first issue after independence came out on 24 August 1920, a design featuring the royal star of King Amanullah. The three denominations were also the first to use Latin script for the numerals as well as Arabic. Beginning in 1924, each year at least one stamp was issued in February to commemorate independence, a pattern that heald steady, with some omissions, until the 1960s.

Afghanistan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1928; previously international mail required stamps of British India. In 1927, the first Roman letters had appeared on an Afgan stamp, the inscription reading "AFGHAN POSTAGE". This changed to the French "POSTES AFGHANES" in 1928, and remained in that form (with some deviations, as in the 1939 issue) until 1989.

The Afghan stamps of the 1930s and 1940s are rather plain affairs, mostly typographed, with large blank spaces in the design. The definitive series of 1951 was finely engraved by Waterlow and Sons, and mostly featured portraits of Mohammad Zahir Shah.

The issues from 1960 on are not especially notable. Starting in the mid-1980s, many of the issues were clearly produced to sell to Western stamp collectors; for instance, the ship series of 1986 is not especially relevant to a landlocked country.

Sources

* Stanley Gibbons Ltd: various catalogues
* [http://www.jl.sl.btinternet.co.uk/stampsite/home.html Encyclopaedia of Postal History]
* Stuart Rossiter & John Flower: "The Stamp Atlas"
* David P. Masson and B. Gordon Jones, "The Postage Stamps of Afghanistan" (1908) - a classic but scarce work
* F. E. Patterson III, "Afghanistan: Its Twentieth Century Postal Issues" (The Collectors Club, 1964)


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