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  Seal of Khurshid Jah, 23.5 × 19.5 mm
Archived article from the January 2001 issue of Princely States Report
Updated March 2001--see the Addenda at the end of the article

The Hyderabad Seal of Khurshid Jah
- David Heppell


About five years ago I did a trade with a colleague: some German locals for some Poonch. Keith pointed to one stamp on the page and said "I think that one might be the only genuine one in the lot!" The more I looked at it the more puzzled I became. It certainly wasn't from Poonch as the script was apparently Arabic or Persian; as I suspected, it was not listed among the Indian States in any postage stamp catalogue, not could I find it in the Koeppel & Manners catalogue of The Court Fee and Revenue Stamps of the Princely States of India. I showed an enlarged photocopy to my Pakistani newsagent and he took it to consult with his friends. A week later he told me they thought they could make out the word "khurshid". That wasn't much but it was the first clue. Looking again at the enlarged copy I noticed something I had missed on the stamp: just inside the frame lines at the top was a date "1280" which, if in the Moslem calendar, would correspond to 1863-64 A.D. This article relates all that I was subsequently able to discover about this intriguing item.

Queries & Answers

One of the great advantages of being a member of the India Study Circle is that queries can be submitted to David Padgham, who compiles the regular "Queries & Answers" feature in the India Post, with a fair degree of confidence in getting an informative reply, either from David himself or from other members of the society. Many of these requests for information are published, as are their resolutions. I decided to submit my mystery to David for identification, with whom sure enough the word "khurshid" rang a bell. I thank David not only for his illuminating reply but also for his permission to use here the information published as Q96/15 in India Post, No.129 (August, 1996) and subsequent supplementary notes in India Post, No.130 (November, 1996) and No.134 (November 1997).

The query appeared under the title "Handstruck seal in Persian script" and a very full answer was attached. I was told this seal is of very early origin, and was first recorded by E.L. Pemberton in February 1870, in The Stamp Collector's Magazine, as a state postage stamp of "the Nawab of Koorshedjah . . . stamped in black upon ordinary envelopes, and the specimen I received in 1866 had Indian stamps by its side". Other copies were reported on a variety of papers and envelopes, and the translation of the inscription was given as the signature of "HH Nawab Koorshed Jah Bahadoor, Hyderabad, Deccan". The inscription starts at the bottom right and extends over three lines ending at the top left: khur / shid / jah. The long "u" of the first syllable and the long "i" of the second syllable are sometimes transliterated phonetically as "oo" and "ee", and there seems to be some disagreement as to whether the Nawab [landowner] spelled his name with a "k" or a "kh" - I cannot see a "k" but with only a slight stretch of the imagination I can see a "kh" at the beginning of the inscription. Pemberton insisted he had copies definitely having franking power within Hyderabad, but for many years controversy continued as to whether they were postal stationery, postal franks on letters or only a personal seal. In November 1901, in Gibbons Monthly Journal, Major Evans summed up the known facts and concluded it was a departmental frank, and the known unused envelopes had been struck by favour.

David Padgham was unaware of any later writers having added to our knowledge of the usage of this seal but in looking for more information about Khurshid Jah himself he discovered important facts about his role in the postal administration of Hyderabad. Sir Khurshid Jah (1838? - 1902), created KCIE by Queen Victoria, was the premier noble of Hyderabad and Commander of the Nizam's Household Troops. His landholdings are described as a Paigah (or Paikar), an estate providing the income to pay the "paiks" or armed guards, but a paik also meant a courier and, historically, the men may have performed both functions. The Paigah lands in question were numerous detached tracts lying mainly west of the capital in Gulbarga and other adjacent districts. The relevance of this to the mysterious seal is gleaned from a scholarly study written in 1970 by Dr M.A. Nayeem, a Research Officer with the State Archives, entitled History of Postal Administration in Hyderabad, in which Appendix I is headed "The Paigah's Private Post of Sir Khursheed Jah Bahadur".

This is no doubt the true origin of the covers with the seal reaching London, originally as Sir Khurshid Jah's official mail carried by his runner, bearing Indian stamps as prepayment onwards from Hyderabad. Probably impressions were subsequently made for favour of British officials who were philatelists. How long the seals were in use is not known but, according to Nayeem, in 1906 the Postmaster of Gulbarga reported that a private post was "being maintained by the Paigah of the late Sir Khursheed. . . . Post is being conveyed from Hyderabad Post Office to these places by postal runners appointed and paid by the Paigah, although State POs existed there as well." The paigah reacted with high politics and rank-pulling, threatening punishment for the complainant and justifying the system which had existed from olden times. Eventually the Nizam himself had to issue a decree before the post was finally suppressed on 14 April 1907. Unfortunately this information is not repeated in Dr Nayeem's otherwise comprehensive book Hyderabad Philatelic History, published in 1980. According to Deschl, in his India States Postal Stationery Listing (1994), current thinking is that it was simply a merchant's seal and did not have any postal validity, but Nayeem's information allows a more generous opinion of its status.

Existing Examples

In the nineteenth century postal stationery cut-outs were part of normal stamp collecting; printed albums included spaces for them and the catalogues listed them. Deschl notes that early catalogues listed this seal as the Koorshedjah (or Khorshedjha) stamp for official use only. An illustration in India Post No.99 (February 1989) shows the front cover of a Gibbons Stamp Catalogue from March 1872, the borders of which depict 20 "classic" stamps including, second from top on the right-hand side, the Khurshid Jah seal. It is pleasing to see it among such fine company, even if the illustration is upside down! There is a copy of this catalogue in the Crawford Library of Philatelic Literature at the British Library [shelfmark: Crawford 250(7-10)] and, on my next visit to London, I will check whether the item is described and priced inside. This is unlikely, however, as David Padgham tells me he has a copy of the Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, c.1883 but lacking its cover, which lists the item under "Deccan" as "1866. ENVELOPE FOR KHURSHEDJAH. 1 anna. No.436 [unpriced]". The number refers to the illustration in the Appendix, which shows the same block as that on the cover of the 1872 Catalogue. How the face value of 1 anna was determined is unknown, but it is the same rate as for the first adhesive postage stamps of Hyderabad, issued September 1869 A.D. [1286 A.H.], which have the Hejira date 1283 incorporated in the design, three years later than that of the Khurshid Jah seal which has no visible indication of the franking value.

It is not known whether any of the original Pemberton covers survive. I checked at the British Library to see whether there was any such material in the specialized Burnett collection of Hyderabad philately, but there was nothing (though my visit to the philatelic collections was not wasted, for I was able to convince myself, by comparison with their material, that my Poonch stamps were genuine after all!). In response to the query in India Post, Ed Deschl wrote to say that there were several mint examples elsewhere in the philatelic collections of the British Library and, in fact, one is illustrated on p.91 of his book, where he states that it was handstamped in black on various coloured laid paper envelopes prior to use. Subsequently, David Padgham followed up this lead and was able to report that the philatelic collections of the British Library include, in the Tapling collection, two "unused" cut-outs, both black, one on white diagonal laid paper and one on white wove, as well as a black impression on a pink diagonally laid envelope with a Queen Victoria 4a adhesive alongside, unaddressed and unused. My own copy is unique so far in being purple-violet on horizontally laid paper, but is obviously struck from the same die. I know of no further examples and would welcome information on any others which may be known or which, perhaps, have been lying unrecognized in someone's collection until now.


While visiting the British Library in January 2001 I took the opportunity to consult price lists and catalogues of Stanley Gibbons in the Crawford collection of early philatelic literature. The Priced Catalogue of used and unused postage stamps is stated to have been issued on the first of every month; not every month is represented in the library holdings, but there are enough to enable a fairly accurate dating of the additional information about the Khurshid Jah seal to be reconstructed.

Up to July 1870 the item is neither illustrated nor listed, but on 12 August 1870 the cover of the price list is illustrated for the first time. The Khurshid Jah seal is depicted, inverted, as on the March 1872 cover mentioned above, but there is no mention of it within the price list itself. The same cover seems to have been used until March or April 1871 and then again from February until about October 1872. In February 1872 the postage stamps of Hyderabad appear in the price list for the first time (listed alphabetically under "Deccan"), but the Khurshid Jah seal is not included. Eventually, in the price list for 1 July 1879, it is listed as "Deccan. 1866. Envelope for Koorshedjah. 1 anna. No.239. black. 140/- unused." Before decimalization there were 20 shillings to the pound, so 140/- was £7. At that price the item was among the most expensive in the entire catalogue and must have been considered a great rarity. For comparison a used New South Wales "Sydney view" could be had for 4/- [currently catalogued at £275 for the cheapest printing], a mint 1868 British Columbia $1 cost 10/- [currently £650], and among the highest priced stamps, the 1850 British Guiana 4c yellow was listed at 160/- used [£8, currently £4750] and the 1856 4c crimson at 80/- used [£4, now £6000].

Later price lists and the subsequent Descriptive Catalogue and Price List of British, Colonial and Foreign postage stamps, post cards etc., with an appendix of illustrations, which superseded them, continued to list the "Envelope for Koorshedjah" but without a stated price, as in David Padgham's copy of the Descriptive Catalogue noted above, which is the 4th edition, dated February 1884. In the 8th edition, September 1891, it is described simply as "Official envelope". The 10th edition of 1895-96 was issued in parts, Part III dealing with envelopes and wrappers; here the additional information "black, on various papers" was given, but the item was still not priced. Part IV of the 12th edition, 1899-1900, was entitled Priced Catalogue of the Envelopes, Postcards and Wrappers of the World. In the Introduction it is stated that: "It is our intention to publish a new edition every year of Parts I and II, but of Parts III and IV only when the demand necessitates a new edition. . . . We would draw the attention of collectors to the fact that as we are frequently purchasing large and varied lots of the classes of philatelic matter dealt with in Part IV, we are able to offer many varieties that are unpriced in this volume; collectors therefore who send lists of wants in this department can have prices quoted whenever specimens are in stock." I believe that this was the last time that Stanley Gibbons published a catalogue of postal stationery. With the rapidly increasing number of postage stamps being issued, the demand for cut-outs from postcards and envelopes was declining and printed albums soon stopped including such material. Fortunately the 12th edition did include the Khurshid Jah seal, probably for the last time, now listed under Hyderabad. Whether because a further supply had become available or, more likely, because of the fall in demand, the price for an unused cut-out was reduced to 50/-; entires and used copies were unpriced. The price was still surprisingly high in comparison with other items now considered rare, as 20/- [£1] would have bought a blue Scind dawk [currently catalogued at £3500] or a mint 1854 India 4 annas, the wide setting with a blue wavy line [now £4000], better investments than other items offered at 50/- such as a mint 1854 India 1 anna (with pointed bust) [now £900] or the 8 annas mint of the first issues of Jind and Nabha [now £400 and £300 respectively].

Finally, some additional information on the Paigah Estates of Sir Khurshid Jah was gleaned from The Imperial Gazetteer of India, new edition,1908 (Vol.19: 314-316). The total area of these estates was 4134 square miles, of which 1512 square miles, including 468 villages, came under the administration of Sir Khurshid Jah who, according to this source, died in 1903.

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