Postage stamps and postal history of Afghanistan

Postage stamps and postal history of Afghanistan

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This is a survey of the Postage stamps and postal history of Afghanistan.

First postal service

The first postal arrangements in Afghanistan are credited to Sher Ali Khan
Sher Ali Khan
Sher Ali Khan was Amir of Afghanistan from 1863 to 1866 and from 1868 until his death in 1879. He was the third son of Dost Mohammed Khan, founder of the Barakzai Dynasty in Afghanistan....

, who established a postal service
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...

 in the 1860s as part of a program to modernize the country.

First stamps

The first stamps appeared in 1871. They were round in shape, imperforate, and printed in black, with a crude tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

's head ("Sher" meaning "tiger"), surrounded by Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 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 office
Post office
A post office is a facility forming part of a postal system for the posting, receipt, sorting, handling, transmission or delivery of mail.Post offices offer mail-related services such as post office boxes, postage and packaging supplies...

s on the Peshawar
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the administrative center and central economic hub for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan....

Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

-Khulm route. Each design in a sheet was individually engraved, so the stamps vary considerably 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 Khan
Abdur Rahman Khan
Abdur Rahman Khan was Emir of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901.The third son of Mohammad Afzal Khan, and grandson of Dost Mohammad Khan, Abdur Rahman Khan was considered a strong ruler who re-established the writ of the Afghan government in Kabul after the disarray that followed the second...

 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
Postage stamp paper
Postage stamp paper is the foundation or substrate of the postage stamp to which the ink for the stamp's design is applied to one side and the adhesive is applied to the other...

; 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
Amanullah or Amanallah is a male Muslim given name meaning the trust or protection of God. It may refer to:*Amānullāh Khān , ruler of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929*Amanullah Khan , several other people called Amanullah Khan...

. 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
Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union is an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration , the Postal Operations Council and the...

 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
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 "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
Waterlow and Sons
The Waterlow and Sons Limited was a major worldwide engraver of currency, postage stamps, stocks and bond certificates established in 1897, in England.-Portuguese Bank Note Crisis:...

, and mostly featured portraits of Mohammed Zahir Shah
Mohammed Zahir Shah
Mohammed Zahir Shah was the last King of Afghanistan, reigning for four decades, from 1933 until he was ousted by a coup in 1973...


A large number of Afghan stamps appeared in the 1950s. Since the Afghan Postal Authority issued some stamps well below the minimal amount of postage, this was considered to be scheme for making money from stamp-collectors.

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.

Civil war and after

The disruption of governance in the late 80s and early 90s due to civil war and the Taliban, led to stopping of stamp issues from 1989 to 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown and the Afghan Postal Authority resumed postal operations. During this period, many unofficial stamps were printed and distributed, which are disavowed by the Afghanistan postal services.

The first issue of a postage stamp after the hiatus was the May 2002 stamp showing Ahmad Shah Masoud, a military general and national hero who defended Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and later led a resistance movement against the Taliban.

Further reading

  • Masson, Sir David Parkes
    David Parkes Masson
    Sir David Parkes Masson CIE VD was a British philatelist who was one of the "Fathers of Philately" entered on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in 1921...

     & B. Gordon Jones. The Postage Stamps of Afghanistan. Madras: Higinbotham & Co., for the Philatelic Society of India
    Philatelic Society of India
    The Philatelic Society of India was formed in 1897 by a group of, mainly, expatriate Englishmen resident in the country as the first all-India philatelic society...

    , 1908. (From notes originally prepared by Gilbert Harrison
    Gilbert Harrison (philatelist)
    Gilbert Harrison was a British philatelist who was one of the "Fathers of Philately" entered on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in 1921....


External links