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Ethiopia 1928 -1931: Empress Zauditu & Ras Tafari



Zauditu & Tafari


Challenge Factor

Original Research



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This eight frame exhibit presents the 1928 definitive issue used from 1928 to 1931. The 1928 definitive issue and its overprints, errors, varieties, officials, unissued but postally used proofs and postmarks are examined. The secondary but unstated objective of this exhibit is to demonstrate how uncommon and complicated is this seemingly common issue of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian material dating from this time period presents a special challenge due to forgeries, fakes, reprints and often time poor quality but genuine over prints. Particular attention to cancels, registration labels, other etiquette labels and overprint measurements is required to correctly identify genuine materials from fakes and reprints. Throughout this exhibit, the following standards and classification systems have been used: (1) Cancels – Eric Payne; (2) Registration Labels – Roberto Sciaky; (3) Hailé Overprint Sizes – Daryl Reiber (original work); (4) Rarity Factors – Eric Payne; Air Mail Overprint Classification – Ken Doig.

In general, all Ethiopian covers bearing the overprinted 1928 definitives are scarce as they had short usage periods ranging from 5 days to about 3 months.

Challenge Factor

  • Prior to WWII, Ethiopian AR (Avis de réception or Acknowledgement of Receipt) is rare and scare. About a dozen AR covers have been documented to exist. To date, no genuinely used AR covering envelopes have been documented.
  • Declared value covers are rare and scarce from any Ethiopian period. Only 17 have been documented prior to WWII.
  • The 1928 New Post Office overprint issues were sold only for 2 days and were postally valid for only a period of 5 days. Moreover, it appears that the post office was actively discouraged from selling them. This may be due in part to the fact that this set was issued with a crowned Ras Tafari prior to his coronation. The depiction of the crowned Ras Tafari was said to be most displeasing to Empress Zauditu.
  • The New Post Office souvenir folders were issued in three colors with only about 350 of each color produced. A total of 1,000 folders of all 3 colors is reported to have been created.
  • Sales of the Proclamation overprint issue were limited to a “few days” and are known on cover for a period of only several months.
  • Air Provisional stamps were issued to commemorate the arrival of Ethiopia’s first airplane. Unfortunately the original flight associated with the issue never made it and was subsequently shipped to Addis Ababa via the Addis-Djibouti railroad. First flight air mail did not occur until December of 1929. All but a few covers flown during the first 7 flights were philatelic.
  • A new set of stamps was planned and issued in 1931. Because of this, the Ethiopian Post Office sold the remainder of the 1928 issue to Thomas Cliff, an English stamp dealer. To satisfy the demands of the collector, many of the remainders were overprinted with all of the prior overprints. Since the new set of stamps did not include any low values, the government was forced to buy stamps back from Mr. Cliff. Many of the unoverprinted stamps were again overprinted to create the needed low value stamps.  Their use lasted for a period of about two months.
  • The Hailé Selassié essay stamp was never released for postal use, but some sets were legitimately used for postage. This exhibit features 3 such items: the only known essay bearing post card to have flown on a zeppelin; and a pair of covers sent to Yvert & Tellier that are philatelically franked with the complete set between the 2 covers.
  • The Coronation overprints were used for only about 4 months. These were quickly replaced by the new 1931 issue mention above.
  • With the exception of the essay stamps and the coronation officiel overprinted stamps, the stamps from the 1928 time period are plentiful. However, the various errors, and trial & essay colors are scare.
  • Prior to WWII, internal mail is scare and en ville (or in town) is even rarer. Two en ville rate covers are on display in this exhibit.     

Original Research

My original Hailé overprint spacing research was conducted in 2003 when the first incarnation of this exhibit was created. Prior to my article on this, there was no mention or notice in the literature of the overprint spacing variety.

There is a new first for this exhibit … the showing of the first batch of back dated Proclamation overprints. This is an important discovery as it adds to the growing body of knowledge of early fakes and frauds. Pre WWII Ethiopian material is severely plagued by this problem.


Doig, Ken (probably the most accessible as it is an excellent Internet reference)

     Doig’s Ethiopia Stamp Catalog, by Ken Doig.

Handelman, David

     AR: Avis de réception. Volume 1?, by David Handleman with selections by Peter A S Smith & Henrik Mouritsen. Postal History Society of Canada. 2002.

 Payne, Eric

     Ethiopia Booklet No. IV, The Issues of 1917 – 1936. by Eric Payne. Cockrill Series Booklet No. 16, Philip Cockrill, Berkshire, England. 1981.

     Ethiopia Booklet No. V, Postmarks & Cancellations to 1936, by Eric Payne. Cockrill Series Booklet No. 17, Philip Cockrill, Berkshire, England. 1981.

 Reiber, Daryl

     Spacing Variations in the 1930 Hailé Selassié Overprint, by Daryl Reiber. Menelik’s Journal, Volume 19, No.4, October – December 2003, pages 16-17.

Sciaky, Roberto

     Ethiopia 1867 – 1936: History, Stamps and Postal History, by Roberto Sciaky. Vaccari srl, Vignola, Italy. 1999.

     Ethiopia 1867 – 1936: History, Stamps and Postal History - Addendum, by Roberto Sciaky. Vaccari srl, Vignola, Italy. 2001.

     The Postal Rates for Declared Value Covers, by Roberto Sciaky. Menelik’s Journal, Volume 19, No.4, October – December 2003, pages 21-23.






Award: Gold

Show: Sacapex 2008

Show Type: Local

Date: 1-2 November 2008

Place: Sacramento, CA

Palmares: Sacapex 2008 (Adobe PDF File)


Award: Vermeil

Show: Filatelic Fiesta

Show Type: WSP

Date: 30 Jan - 1 Feb 2009

Place: San Jose, CA

Palmares: Filatelic Fiesta I 2009 (Adobe PDF File)