1908 - 1 Piastre and Scroll Provisional

Before Ethiopia's entry into the UPU the postal rate for delivery to Djibouti was ½ guerche for post cards, 1 guerche for letters, and 2 guerches for registration. With the addition of appropriate French stamps the card or letter could travel on to international destinations.

The “1 PIASTRE & SCROLL” handstamp was used during a transition period of the Ethiopian Post Office. On January 27, 1908, the new French Director of Posts, M. Rouqe (formerly in 
charge of the Djibouti Post Office) took charge of the Ethiopian Post from its Postmaster, J. A. Michel. In Feburary Michel turned over the stamps to Roque. Six French agents arrived in Addis Abeba in May. Reorganized post offices were established at Harar and Dire Daoua on June 1, 1908 with the Arada (Market) post office opened in Addis Abeba on July 20, 1908. On November 1, 1908 Ethiopia was admitted to the U.P.U.

Roque received the stamp inventory from Michel between February 2 and 27. It consisted of 65,584 stamps made up of unoverprinted stamps of the 1894 issue and stamps with the overprints of 1901 to 1907.  A total of 8,996 of the ½ g and 11,601 of 1 g stamps were included. They were all declared valid for postage. Additional franking of Somali Coast stamps was required for international mail, these being sold over the counter at the Ethiopian post offices. The use of earlier Obock, Djibouti, or Levant was allowed. 

There are two theories on the reason for this handstamp:

1. SHORTAGE - A. Maure, a French postal clerk in Ethiopia and later Director of Posts, wrote in his own stamp collection that the 1 Piastre handstamped on ½ guerche was "necessitated due to a momentary lack of stamps at 1 g in Addis Ababa.” In Gibbons Stamp Weekly of November 14, 1908 Messrs. Whitfield King and Co. (stamp dealer) reported, “A piastre is the same as a guerche, and the overprint was necessary because the 1 guerche stamps were entirely exhausted, and there were not sufficient of the ½ guerche stamps to use in place of them.  This is the only value of the surcharged issue, the number overprinted being 7,000, which were distributed amongst all the Ethiopian post offices in Abyssinia.  Even these were not sufficient, as our correspondent, in his 
letter dates September 17th, stated that the few specimens he sent us were all he could get, and that there were no stamps of ¼, ½, 1, or 2 guerches obtainable of any issue, surcharged or unsurcharged, and that in consequence of this shortage the Postage Due stamps overprinted 'Taxe a Percevoir' were being used instead of ordinary postage stamps, being accepted for prepayment of postage... On examining the 1 piastre stamps sent us, we find there are two distinct types, evidently done in two separate printings, as the whole of one block is in one type and another block is second type."

Calculations of the probable existing stock plus the large quantity of reserve stamps held by the Ethiopian Government argue against the claim of a shortage. The unoverprinted 1g continued to be postally used at all post offices into September and October of 1908. Also, with an issue of 7,000 there would have been 3,500 pairs of ½ g available to make the 1 g rate. 

If there was as shortage it must have been very temporary of a few days, or weeks at most. Excess stamps were then overprinted and later reprinted by the French in dark blue to fulfill stamp dealer demands. 

2. NO SHORTAGE - Melville (Fred J. Melville, Abyssinia, Grosvenor: Tunbridge Wells, 1910, page 22) commented on King’s letter thus, “There are apparently two types of this surcharge and possibly others. The ½ guerche was perhaps sent out as a feeler to test whether a long suffering public would stand the strain of another set of surcharges.” Melville didn't buy the shortage story. 

The issue may have been philatelic to increase sales. It has been suggested, the the French PO overprinted the stamps to add "Piastre," a requirement when Ethiopia entered the UPU. However, the ½ g required for post cards was not handstamped "Piastre." Also, the handstamp appears hastily made and not a planned typographed overprint.

Click photo to enlarge

Maure, in his stamp album, wrote that the 1 Piastre handstamp was issued in July. The earliest recorded use is a loose stamp on August 14, 1908 and a philatelic cover the following day. The August 14 date is also found on the MELIKT::, CTO in Addis Abeba. Former Postmaster J. A. Michel reported the first day of issue as March 25, 1908, but examples bear his fake cancel with 11/11 strokes above and below the date (illustrated). The latest recorded commercial cover was dated October 2, 1908, while the latest date on loose stamps is CTO on October 7, 1908 (illustrated). The stamps were invalid for postage on the issuance of the UPU overprint on November 1, 1908.

Latest date CTO

Fake cancel

The reported quantity of issue was 7,000 on the normal ½ guerche. Former postmaster J. A. Michel later reported 7,500 of the ½ guerche and 150 on the MELIKT:: issue of 1903, perhaps including his forgeries. The quantities appear high. Based on the small number of known covers it is probable that most of the stamps were purchased by European stamp dealers and retained unused. A large portion of the 7,000 were probably reprints. The "error" on MELIKT:: is reported on one cover, one CTO, and only about 4 or 5 genuine mint copies.

The original overprint appears to be from a rubber device. The color is light blue that is somewhat fuzzy, sometime a bit greenish. This was probably due to an old inkpad with the stamps on top of a soft backing. The ink appears to have been oily which penetrated the paper and shows on the back. Varieties such as short A, 1 missing, 1 sans serifs, top bar of T missing, etc. all appear on the same blocks from the same handstamp; there are the result of inking and pressure differences. All confirmed postal use and the genuine copies of the MELIKT:: overprint are of this handstamp.




Reprints (also suggested as forgeries) were made in about September/October of 1908. These were produced from the same handstamp (or one very similar) in dark blue with a sharper image. These would be from a new inkpad and handstamped on a hard backing. Varieties are the result of ink and pressure. The distance from the middle stroke of the P to the middle stoke of the E varies from 13½ to 14¼ mm; the scroll is shifted slightly to the right. There is no recorded postal use of these reprints. 

Unconfirmed varieties exist, but they may be forgeries. These include handstamp diagonal, double with one inverted, 1p on 1g (Adler reported 5), and 1p on 1g DAGMAWI.



1 p on ½ g postal issue (light blue, fuzzy impression)
a. Inverted handstamp
b. Double
c. Double, both inverted
d. Diagonal
e. Pair, one no overprint





1 p on ½ g reprint (dark blue, sharp impression)
a. Inverted handstamp
b. Double handstamp
c. Double, both inverted
d. Diagonal
e. Pair, one no overprint



119 1 p on ½ g postal issue + MELIKT:: of 1903 (error)
                    * Included in issue of 7,000
                    ** Reported by Michel at 150 which may include his "reprints." Actual may be a pane of 25 mixed
                         in with unoverprinted stamps.



Forger B
Fournier - On Fornier fake stamps. Clean overprint with scroll ususally complete, including the top. Loops instead of lines on the left and right of the scroll. Fornier fake cancels.

J. A. Michel - Blue and blue-green. Clean overprint with scroll ususally complete with rounder outer loops. Details of scroll different with center dots about in line. (On all settings of the original and reprint the left dot is slightly lower than the right dot.) This overprint appears on the ½ g of Michel's "Pro Memoria" sheets, and the handstamp device was found in Michel's estate purchased by Ivan Adler.

Forger B - Blackish-blue with slightly fuzzy impression. Scroll usually complete with different details. Center dots in line. Letters unbroken. Known only with the MELIKT:: of Forger B with his fake cancel HR6-F3 in violet. These forgeries are thought to have originated in the 1960s.

Michel 1

Michel 2

Michel 3
J. A. Michel evidently gained access to the original handstamp in late 1908. Stamps appear with the reprint handstamps of the second and third impressions with the numeral 1 over reprints of Michel's Type I and Type II MELIKT::. The Michel 2 above has what appears to be a forged Addis Abeba cancel AA3F.

The following page preprared by Ulf Lindahl

    Last update: February 16, 2002