The story of postage stamps and postal history of Afghanistan begins with Sher Ali, 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$.
1-abasi stamp of 1892
The defeat of Sher Ali by the British brought Abdus 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.
1 abasi, 1909
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 healed steady, with some omissions, until the 1960s.
15-poul imperf stamp of 1927, first type with Roman letters. Smudge in the upper left is probably a postal clerk's fingerprint
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.
Parliament House on the 15p of 1939
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.
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)
Cover sent from Kabul to Peshawar in Pakistan in March 1954; the addressee, a "Messrs. Musharraf & Co., Out-side Katchery Gate" is on the other side, along with what is presumably the same address hand-written in Arabic. Note that one of the three cancellations is different in that "MAR" is spelled out; this is probably a Pakistani receiving mark.
1872-3 1 Rupee, Pos 1, reddish purple
1872-3 6 shahi, Pos 4, reddish purple
1871 1R lilac pair
The Series of Small tiger heads 1876-1878 (altogether 3 issues) were printed in several colors. The color of the stamps was characteristic for each post office - fro Kabul in shades of green, for Peshawar in grey, for Tashkurgan in purple and for Jalalabad in brown. Thes stamps in black were not allocated to any post office. The status of these stamps has been debated for more than 90 years. According to some catalogues and experts they are considered as forgeries, others take them as reprints or proofs. There was a famous dispute between British colelctor Colonel H. Appleton with experts of the Royal Philatelic Society of London between 1924 and 125.
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