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Sudan is, to my mind, a kind of microcosm of the English view of ‘Darkest Africa’. Huge, hot, sandy, utterly foreign and with more than a whiff of danger, but with an allure that attracted many, in some ways it hasn’t changed that much since the nineteenth century. The story of the original design of the ‘Camel Postman’ stamps is well known and I won’t repeat it here. But the design was, and is, eminently suitable for such a country. Just the idea that such a dangerous-looking chap, obviously armed to the teeth and quite probably beyond, could be a postman is patently ridiculous. He wouldn’t go down at all well in my village. At any rate, the design lasted from 1898 to 1948, with sporadic appearances thereafter. The first issue to concern us, with the new ‘SG’ watermark, came out in 1927 and was not replaced until 1948. The Gibbons and Commonwealth King George VI catalogues have very similar listings for this set. All values exist on chalky and ordinary paper, with the exception of the 4p (chalky paper only). If you use the 4p as a model for the other values you will find the papers easy to sort. It is on pitted, thick paper with brown streaky gum; the ordinary paper stamps are on unpitted white paper. It is often worth checking sets in dealers’ stocks, especially in the U.S.A. – Scott used to distinguish between the chalky and ordinary papers, although they are as different as chalk and cheese (pardon the choice of phrase). Some of the ordinary paper stamps are expensive and difficult to find. All are cheap in used condition, but it is not easy to find a nicely-used set. Misplaced vignettes can be found on a number of values, and the 4m on ordinary paper exists with inverted watermark, either mint or used. Richard Stock points out that the 5m with a sage-green vignette, rather than in the normal brown, is a colour changeling, not an issued variety.

‘barid al-Sudan’

In 1940-1 surcharges were necessary during shortages of the 5m and 4½p values. The 5m on 10m gave rise to a number of catalogued varieties, details of which are readily available. None are easy to fine in used condition. The ‘inserted 5’ is scarcer than the others, having existed on ‘some sheets’ only. The ‘5’ is always slightly out of alignment, having been inserted by hand. There are many other varieties of type. The 4½p on 8p has a poorly-produced overprint too, but Stock points out that large multiples are scarce so it is hard to know which varieties are constant. Inverted surcharges are fakes. An overprint reading ‘NOT VALID FOR POSTAGE’ and 1 millieme in Arabic was applied to 60,000 3p stamps to serve as currency during a shortage of 1m coins in Darfur province. This overprint was on the chalky paper stamps, which had their gum removed prior to overprinting. Examples may be found which are on the later white ordinary paper and have full gum – their status is doubtful.

The 1941 Pictorial set featuring Tuti Island was, to quote Commonwealth, an ‘emergency issue made necessary by difficulty of obtaining supplies of normal issues from Great Britain during the war.’ The Security Press at Nasik in India was responsible for the production. It’s an attractive and popular set, the 20p having had a printing figure of a mere 10,960. As so often with Nasik, it is possible to find double prints of the frames on the 3p and 4p values, and possibly others. Stagg records the 5m with a double centre. Others may exist and reports are welcome.

The 1948 set had a different Arabic inscription at the base, reading ‘barid al-Sudan’ instead of ‘bosta Sudaniya’. There was a mixture of ordinary and chalky papers, but only the 10p exists on both. The 20p may be found perforated 13¼ x 13 instead of the normal 14 – mint is not that hard, but used is a different matter. Be suspicious of postmarks on these. One used example of the 10m is known with inverted centre (it is about to be sold in London – tomorrow, as I write this. Despite the tear which affects it, the estimate is €25,000 to 30,000.) The 5m exists with inverted watermark, which is quite difficult to see. Misplaced centres occur on several values, and shades can be found on all the millieme denominations. There is a nice plate variety on R2/3 on the millieme values, an extra dot above the left character at the base of the vignette, known as the ‘nun’ variety after the character above which it occurs. Stamps exist with a typewritten ‘New Issue’ overprint, made for publicity purposes; all values may be found overprinted ‘SCHOOL’, for training purposes. A keen reader of my articles may observe that I haven’t mentioned the P-word so far; now is the time to say that Sudan indented for its stamps on an annual basis, and those who have gone into such matters tell me that sorting the printings is not a realistic prospect. I bet there is someone beavering away trying to do exactly that. There are also plenty of plate varieties, some of them rather good, but these are deemed to be transient at best. I think there is great scope for study here. Combining a study of the plate flaws with shades and dated used may well enable some dating to take place – look what has been achieved with Leewards. Certainly a challenge for someone patient to take on!

‘nun’ variety

Use of the 1951 set extended into the 1960s and dramatic shades may be found. I have studied some sheets of this issue and found, again, plenty of plate varieties showing all the signs of being constant. ‘SCHOOL’ overprints exist. There was an Airmail set which appeared in 1950; a rather underrated set in my view, which has a tricky shade of the 4½p. There were just two commemorative issues during the reign, both in 1948. A 2p stamp celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Camel Postman design. This can be found in two types, one with a white patch behind the camel’s neck and the other without. Strangely, both types can be found from both plates 1 and 2, and the number of examples of each is not constant from sheet to sheet. The Opening of the Legislative Assembly had 10m and 5p denominations – plate varieties have been found but constancy not yet established.

Postage Dues in use until 1948 were from the set originally issued in 1927. The 1948 issue saw the same alteration to the Arabic inscription as the definitives. This set is reasonably easy to obtain mint, but used are scarce enough to warrant buyers being wary of the postmarks.

Official stamps, overprinted ‘SG’, parallel the definitives in most respects. I believe all of them to be somewhat undervalued, in mint condition and, to a lesser extent these days, used. I have seen faked cancels on some of the lower values. A glance at any catalogue will give you an idea of which values, or papers, are scarce. Current until 1948, stamps with the ‘scorpion’ character in the inscription appeared in 1936. The 1m is known used with the overprint ‘SG’ double, closely spaced. As Richard Stock points out, it is likely that these were cancelled to order, since most have Wadi Medani CDSs of 25th January 1947. The 2m on chalky paper is a scarce stamp, especially mint. The 1948 set has the ‘nun’ variety on the 1m, 3m, 5m 10m and 15m values, but not the 2m or 4m. The 1950 air set has the same tricky shade on the 4½p as the postage set. The 1951 Pictorials boast a couple of scarce items; the 2p with overprint inverted, which seems to be known only mint, and the 20p with overprint inverted, which is known only used.

There are a good number of cancellations to be found on Sudanese stamps of the period and this is highly recommended as a collecting area, with Ted Proud’s book a good starting-point.


Stanley Gibbons Ltd., Commonwealth & British Empire 1840-1970 - Part 1
Murray Payne Ltd, The Commonwealth King George VI Catalogue, 19th edition
Richard Stock, The Camel Postman 1898-1998 published by the Sudan Study Group,
2001 Major E.C.W. Stagg, Sudan, the Stamps and Postal Stationery of 1867 to 1970
Lt.-Col. Sir John Inglefield-Watson, personal communications