LOCATION: Central Asia
POPULATION: 23,500,000 (est. 1995)
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: 1871.
Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country in central Asia. Emerging as an independent state in the mid-18th century, during the 19th century, the country was caught up in the struggle between Russia and Great Britain and became a de facto British protectorate until it won its independence in 1919. The emir was crowned king in 1926 and the kingdom remained until 1973.
In 1978 a Russian-inspired coup installed a puppet Soviet regime and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was established. Following opposition by Muslim loyalists, the Russians invaded in December 1979, an occupation that lasted ten years. Moderate Muslims replaced the Marxist government in 1992, followed by the radical Taliban in 1996. A United States-led invasion occurred in the early 21st century, toppling the Taliban government. An Islamic republic with a democratic constitution was formed in 2004.
Afghanistan issued its first stamps in 1871 as the Kingdom of Kabul. However, these weren’t valid for postage outside of the country as Afghanistan didn’t join the Universal Postal Union until 1928. British India stamps were required for postage abroad.
The Lion’s head issues of 1871-1878 are famous for having a corner torn off to indicate cancellation. Created during the reign of the emir Sher Ali Khan who had initiated the postal service a few years earlier, the first of the square stamps featured a circular design printed in black ink. The lion’s head in the central emblem symbolized the reigning emir – Sher means “lion” in the local Dari language. Note that my copy of the Scott catalogue (2009 edition) calls these stamps “tiger’s heads”; the first issue is numbered #2.
Stamps were issued between 1876 and 1878 for each postal district, printed in different colors for the main post offices at Jalalabad, Kabul, the Afghan office in Peshawar in neighboring Pakistan, and Khulm (Tashqurkhan). Catalogues differ in how they treat these issues; Scott has them listed as #29-108 but is unclear as to which color belonged to which office. It does note that some specialists view the black printings as proofs or color trials.
The emir died in 1880, after which a similar circular design was used but without the lion’s head emblem. This basic design was used until the Kingdom of Afghanistan was established in 1891 after which all designs were rectangular in their layout. In February 1927, the first stamps to include the words “Afghan Post” in English were released; prior to that, only Arabic script had been used to label the stamps. The French equivalent, “Afghanes Postes” began appearing shortly thereafter.
As a result of the civil war, no official stamps were issued from 1992 until 2001. The Taliban issued stamps during this period after they were expelled from the capital but still controlled parts of the country, but these aren’t listed in catalogues.
Between May 1870 and 7 December 2004 (the last issue listed in my 2009 Scott catalogue), Afghanistan issued 1600 general issue stamps. There are many more unlisted varieties, many of which were imperforate versions designed to be sold solely to collectors. By my count, the nation released 113 semi-postal stamps between July 1952 and October 1981. The first air post stamps were released 1 October 1939 with the last appearing in 1962, a total of 62 stamps including a few souvenir sheets. Other back of the book issues include 10 registration stamps (used on post office receipts), nine official stamps which were used only on interior mail, 21 parcel post stamps, and 25 postal tax stamps. This all makes a grand total of 1,842 stamps released by Afghanistan that are listed in Scott.
Only the pre-1891 Afghani stamps are fairly expensive with some retailing for USD $200 and up. Most of those released after 1891 are affordable. The most valuable are Scott #8 and 9, “tiger’s” head stamps released in 1872 on toned wove paper and dated “1289”. They were printed in sheets of four (2×2) – two of the 6 shahi and two of the 1 rupee kabuli, both in violet. There are two varieties of each with the date varying in location. Unused copies of the 6sh are valued at USD $1,000 (2009) and the 1rup goes for $1,500. Used copies are valued $650 and $1,100, respectively, with most used examples smeared with a greasy ink cancellation.
Currently, I only have three stamps issued by Afghanistan in my collection. Scott #285 – 2 pouls black – was released imperforate in 1937, paying the newspaper rate. I found a mint pair in a packet of 100 all-different stamps from 100 different countries (a VERY good mix, by the way). An unused single is worth USD $1.00.
Scott #689 is the high value of a set of three issued on 12 July 1964 to publicize Afghanistan as a tourist destination. The 3 afghanis red, black and green stamp was printed in Photogravure and is perforated 14×13½. A map of the country is superimposed upon the national flag, a vertical tricolor of black, red, and green charged in the center with the national emblem (not seen here).
The flag of Afghanistan has had more changes since the start of the 20th century than has that of any other country in the world. The design remained static through most of the constitutional monarchy period but has been changed thirteen times since 1973. The current design is very similar to the one flown from 1930 until 1973 with the addition of the shahadah at the top of the coat of arms.