by: Dr. James W. Kerr

In ancient times signal fires arranged in more or less concentric circles around the capital were the only official communication means to the far reaches of the Kingdom. These were still in use for special occasions in the 1930’s. By 1587 a “pony express” courier system was in use; their brass medallion passes (Ma Pae) designating rank of the rider and the number of horses the bearer could requisition are highly prized today. A central control station was established about a century later.

On November 10, 1876, the first true post office in Korea was founded by the Japanese at Pusan. (This was not a Korean post office.) Branches at Wonsan and Inchon appeared in 1877. (Note that Inchon is another name for Chemulpo; which in Chinese is Jenchuan; called Ninsen or Jinsen in Japanese.)

On March 27, 1884, Hong Yong Sik (some say his father had this role) was made Postmaster General, and he proceeded to order a set of 5 stamps from Japan, and to establish a postal system centered at Seoul, with branches at Pusan, Inchon, and Wonsan. Stamps #1 and 2 became available late in November 1884, and are known cancelled before December 4, 1884, the official opening date of the system. Unfortunately, Hong, who by that time was prime minister, was murdered that day (or perhaps December 6), and the central P0 was sacked and burned, with rioting of Koreans and Chinese against Japanese influence continuing through December 7.
            Picture of Hong Yong-sik       Picture of First Postal Flag

Picture of Rebuilt First P.O.

One US officer on the scene reported “many sheets” of #1 and 2 “thrown into the streets.” Hong’s home was used as execution hall by the winning (conservative) faction, and later was given to H. N. Allen for a hospital. Thus #3-5, which were not yet in Korea, were never regularly placed in use except in later customs, shipping, and tax roles.

The riots ended the new Korean system, but the Japanese offices continued to multiply, (numbering 63 by 1905). Japanese stamps were used during this period; only postmarks can show Korean origin. Japanese and Chinese customs offices also handled mail until 1896 or later, as did various coastal vessels, until even later.

In 1895 the Korean Postal System finally got off the ground under a Japanese director, and lasted ten years, reaching 385 offices by 1905. It was placed under the Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Public Works after August 1896. A French Director of Posts, Mr. E. Clemencet, took over from the Japanese incumbent in 1897, and by January 1, 1900 Korea was accepted as a member of the U.P.U. Currency speculation then forced Japan to overprint her stamps for sale in her Korean offices. These were on sale January 1, 1900 to April 1, 1901, by which time Japan was so firmly entrenched she could disregard protocol enough to use un-overprinted stamps again, though political aspects of the decisions remain unclear. The overprints, while generally listed under Japan, are of great interest, and rather scarce, especially on cover, some being issued in quantities of only 100,000, and the lone commemorative even less. They were postally valid until December 31, 1922.

On April 1, 1905, Korea was forced to give Japan a monopoly of post, telephone and telegraph. This was followed on July 1 by a Japanese stamp, good for domestic (Japan and Korea) use only, which showed the two imperial flowers, and marked the amalgamation of the two systems. Transfer of facilities began May 18, 1905, and from July 1, 1905 Japanese stamps were sold at all Post Offices, though Korean stamps and postal stationery were valid at par through August 31, 1909, (latest known use is December 4, 1909). Formal annexation took place August 29, 1910. Therefore we can look for Japanese stamps cancelled in Japanese P0’s in Korea before 1905, in Japanese and Korean P0’s before 1910, Korean stamps with Japanese cancels 1905-1909, mixed franks and cancels before 1909. Chinese stamps can also be found with customs chops and regular postmarks for this same period.

One word about the flower emblem of Korea. It has been variously called cherry, plum, rose of sharon, and wild rose, hibiscus, etc. Accepted symbol nowadays is the mu-gung-wha, or an althea, which our U. S. grandparents called “the backyard plant”, for its excellent screening properties.

Extracted with permission from,
by Dr. James W. Kerr; 2nd Edition, 1990;
published by MICHAEL ROGERS, INC.
415 South Orlando Avenue
Winter Park, Fl. 32789.
(407)644-2290 Offices/Gallery

EMAIL: info@michaelrogersinc.com
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by: Edgar J. Mandel

See Horse Warrants Map'ae extract
from "Cast Coinage of Korea", by
Edgar J. Mandel

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