A Report on (N.) Korean Philately
by: Shih Wai Zhong

A rough translation by Prof. P. Kevin MacKeown of an article
originally published in Jiyou, No. 1, 1996.
(Originally published in Chinese, in the People’s Republic of China)

Extracted from Korean Philately, February, 2001 -vol. 47, No, 1
EDITOR: Dr. Gary N. McLean.

The author, Shih Wai Zhong, was born in Shanghai in January, 1944, and is currently an associate researcher in the Academica Sinica’s Natural Resources Research Council.

From 1993 to 1995 he served as a Secretary in the Chinese Embassy in (N.)Korea. A collector from childhood, in collecting he has emphasized research on the technology of postage stamps and has written over 100 articles on stamp collecting and published several books on the subject of stamp collecting. He is a member of the National Philatelic Association’s Committee on Stamp Terminology and vice-chairman of the Peking Stamp Study Association Committee.

(N.) Korea and our country are neighboring brotherly allies. In the cause of strengthening and developing Sino-Korean friendship, the Korean government, in recent years, has issued a series of 7 issues, 6 sets of Sino-Korean friendship stamps; they are:

   1990, October 23: 40th anniversary of entry of Chinese volunteer forces into Korea, a set of 4 stamps, I miniature sheet, a commemorative postal envelope and a postal card.

   1993, November 16: 100th anniversary of the birth of Mao Tse Tung (1st series), an overprinted miniature sheet and 6 three-dimensional commemorative postal cards.

   1993, December 26: (2nd series), 4 stamps, a miniature sheet, a sheetlet and a commemorative envelope.

   1994, October 1: 45th anniversary of the founding of the PRC (showing historical scenes featuring Chou En Lai), 4 stamps, a miniature sheet, 2 sheetlets and 2 three-dimensional commemorative cards.

   1994, October 25: 45th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Korean diplomatic ties, 1 stamp and 1 miniature sheet.

   1995, April 17: 2nd anniversary of Kim Ii Sung’s meeting with Deng Xiao Ping, 2 stamps and I miniature sheet.

   1995, October 1: 46th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, 3 miniature sheets.

Such rich philatelic items receive a warm welcome from philatelists in our country. Accordingly, Chinese stamp collectors will appreciate an understanding of Korean stamps andthe philatelic situation there.

Already ten years ago, the writer produced an essay, “A Simple History of Korean Postal Issues,” but that was written based simply on my own collecting, without any direct contact with the Korean philatelic sources. Since then I have had the opportunity to live in Korea for an extended period, where, work apart, I could come to understand the policy on stamp issuing, distribution, and the philatelic situation generally, which I would like to introduce here to interested readers.

1. (North) Korean Stamp Issues.

Korea issued its first set of stamps on November 18, 1884, and up until 1903, including overprinted stamps, issued a total of 44 stamps. In April, 1905, Japan forced Korea to sign a treaty surrendering its postal administration, and in August, 1910, Korea was swallowed up by Japan as a colony and forced to use only Japanese stamps. On the 15th of August, 1945, Korea was liberated, and on the 8th of February, 1946, a North Korean Provisional People’s Assembly was set up. In the same year, on March 12th, the first set of post-liberation Korean stamps was issued. Since that time the style of Korean stamps has drawn attention.

Subsequent (N.) Korean stamp issues can be divided into three periods:

1. 1946 to 1953, the early post-liberation and Korean War period. Stamps of this period primarily feature political themes, with design and printing of a simple nature; reprints of the majority of these were issued in 1957.

2. 1954 to 1975, the scope of the issues became larger—scenery, flora and fauna, sports, folk customs, etc., still with strong political overtones.

3. 1976 to date, the scope of the topical material is much broader, and international themes play a relatively important role, printing is finer, and colors more beautiful. A particular feature of the stamps of this period is the occurrence, in addition to Korean text, of the English designation, “DPR KOREA.”

The Korean stamp issuing policy has two goals:
(1) Issues specifically for stamp collectors. For the most part the themes of these issues are topical, printing is of a high quality, and are almost always issued in conjunction with miniature sheets, sheetlets or small sheets, in some instances imperforate stamps, imperforate miniature sheets, etc. In the recent two years sets of miniature sheets alone have been issued (featuring one or several pieces), without the issue of accompanying individual stamps. Because of this the number of miniature sheets issued annually has soared. In 1992 a total of 32 pieces were issued (inclusive of sheetlets and small sheets); in 1993 the number was 45, and in 1994 the total exceeded 70.
(2) Issues for regular postal needs. The themes of these stamps are predominantly political. In 1994 the DPRK’s great leader, chairman Kim Il Sung, died, an event of great import in Korean political life. In the same year, the event was commemorated by the issue of 6 miniature sheets and a sheetlet, while in 1995 the first anniversary of his death was marked by the issue of 5 miniature sheets and a sheetlet. What the author is at a loss to understand is why all these stamps were issued solely for collectors, they did not circulate in the country, and the great bulk of the population will never have seen them.

Stamps issued by Korea for general postal use are not very numerous, constituting only a small portion ofthe annual total issues. For example, of the 22 sets issued in 1992, only 3 sets were for general postal use; 9 of 28 sets issued in 1993, and only 9 of the 34 sets issued in 1994, fell into this category. Reckoned on the actual number of stamps, the proportion is even less because issues for general postal use are often single stamps, or two stamp sets.

The distinct difference in emphasis in the issue of Korean stamps means that there is a clear distinction in their printing. Philatelic issues do not enter into the internal postal system (apart from their use by foreigners). Moreover, of those stamps issued for regular internal postal use, some also have special prints to supply to collectors. The basic difference between the two are: those for collectors are on better quality paper, of white color and stiff texture; stamps for regular postal use are on relatively poor quality paper, thin and soft and yellowish.

In the recent two years there has been an improvement in the quality of paper in the internal issues, using the same paper as the philatelic issues so that it is not possible to tell from an individual stamp which category the issue falls into.However, full sheets of stamps do have differences, there being larger (7 x 7)(Figure 1), and smaller sheets (7 x 3)(Figure 2). Even where the sheet sizes are the same, issues for collectors may still have some differences. For example, in the case of the 1994 Sino-Korean Friendship issue, sheets of stamps for general use are in a 6x13 format(Figure 3) , while those specially for collectors, though in the same sheet size, have the central, 7th, column blank, forming a gutter between two 7x6 panes (Figure 4).

Korean stamps are designed, printed and issued by the Korean Stamp Company of the Korean Post and Telegraphs branch. The Korean Stamp Company operates in a manner similar to our former stamp issuing bureau (the China Stamp Company); the stamp occasion, the design (stamps featuring top leaders excepted) are all decided by the Korean Stamp Company. This explains how in the 80’s Korea became the only country in the world outside the British Commonwealth to issue stamps commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles.

2. The Sale and Distribution of Korean Stamps

Korean stamps have two completely different issuing purposes, and for this reason there are two distinct methods of marketing. Before talking of marketing, however, we must first introduce the internal currency situation in the country. At the present time, three distinct types of currency circulate: the ordinary people use ordinary Won(Figure 5) Then there is a currency exchangeable for US$, Japanese yen, etc., printed in blue which we will call the blue won(Figure 6). One US$ buys 1.98 blue won. In addition, there is a currency, not freely exchangeable against U S dollars, etc., which is limited in use to the purchase of foreign goods. The bills are red so we’ll call them red won (Figure 7). [Translator: It’s not clear how one acquires such currency.]

The distribution of those stamps issued specially for collectors is the responsibility of the Korean Stamp Company, internally and abroad. The Korean Stamp Company headquarters arc located near Pyongyang’s best hotel, the Korean. It holds a comprehensive supply of philatelic goods, and its principal clientele appears to be foreign collectors and tourists; blue won are used for all purchases, at a price of twice the stamps’ face value [Translator: I presume he is referring to mint stamps.] At the same time some hotels have bookshops which sell stamps; they also require blue won. Also, in these shops, incomplete sets are sold at face value; the writer managed to put together some complete sets from such purchases.

In March, 1995, Korea carried out a major revision of the prices of stamps; the selling prices of stamps from before 1990 underwent a rather large adjustment. The item most affected was the 1985 Kim IL Sung Visits China miniature sheet(Figure 8). Its original price was 10 Us cents. For a long time there was no supply; now it is reckoned at US$140, a 1400 fold rise.

Stamps for postal use are distributed throughout the country by the Post Office’s stamps division for all the post offices to sell. One can use ordinary money, or red won, for purchases at face value. Not many ordinary (regular) stamps are issued in Korea; one usually encounters commemorative stamps at the post office. The postal rates are simple; an internal letter costs 10 chon, with no distinction between local or otherwise, while a registered letter costs 40 chon. In a post office one can occasionally come across 10 chon stamps from commemorative sets originally issued for collectors. The selling price of the same stamp is either 10 chon or 20 blue chon, reflecting a potential 100% difference in price. For this reason the Korean government stipulates that foreigners in the country may not use ordinary currency, but must use red won or blue won.

3. The Philatelic Situation in (North) Korea

Korea has many philatelists. At times of new issues, one can see many citizens and students at the Pyongyang stamp shop buying stamps. Several years ago Pyongyang stamp shop had a clearance sale, the 1957 reprints of the early liberation period were sold at the low price of 50 chon (ordinary money) each, and were very quickly bought up by Korean collectors. Some collectors are very diligent; in the Korea stamp main shop, I have seen a middle-aged mid-manager in a skilled technology department who would spend many days copying the thick catalog during his breaks and enjoying it very much.

However, in Korea collectors can only buy that small category of commemorative stamps issued for ordinary use every year. The much larger category available for purchase only with foreign currency is totally inaccessible to the ordinary collector. Because the price of Korean stamps issued for collectors is very high—a typical new set, including a miniature sheet and sheetlet, will cost several US dollars or more. One can’t easily compare the value of the Korean currency with the US dollar, but by a reasonable reckoning such a set of stamps would cost the equivalent of several months’ to half a year’s salary. Accordingly, with some exceptions, no Korean collector can acquire the large quantity of beautiful stamps issued every year especially for collectors. In addition, stamp exchange activity in Korea is quite rare; it is also not very practical for the ordinary collector to exchange with foreign collectors. The writer brought a quantity of Chinese stamps when he went to Korea in the hope of exchanging with some like minded collectors, hoping to buy some covers from the Liberation War period. This, however, was all in vain.

There is a national philatelic society in Korea, closely associated with the Korean Stamp Company. It doesn’t have any headquarters of its own. They used to publish Korean Stamps in English mainly devoted to introducing Korean stamps. It published over 100 issues but has ceased publication. At present no stamp collectors’ magazine or newspaper is published.

Three editions of a Korean stamp catalogue have been published. The latest, in 1993, featured all the stamps from 1946 in color, was produced on high quality paper, and sold for 16 blue won. Apart from this catalogue, Korean philatelic publications are limited to the Stamp Company’s advanced notices of new issues, and irregularly published booklets introducing Korean stamps.

Authentic Korean philatelic items are commemorative prestamped postal envelopes and postcards. Every year, to celebrate national political events, as well as certain international meetings and activities, Korea issues, in not very great numbers, several such envelopes and cards. The franked values are of three types; --10 chon (internal ordinary), --40 chon (internal registered) and --120 chon (international letter). The cost of the item is an extra 10 chon. From my observation the quantity of each item issued does not exceed several tens of thousands. These items, apart from a small number which feature foreign topics and are philatellically distributed, are all sold at post offices over the counter, and are very rapidly sold out. After being sold out they cannot be obtained anywhere. The Korea Stamp Company is the controlling department for issuing Korean stamps, but the writer could not find any records of the issue of this postal stationary; these cards and envelopes cannot be obtained from the company. In (Figure 9)we show two commemorative covers and in Figure 10a and (Figure 10b) two postcards.

There are two places in Pyongyang where you can buy foreign stamps. One is the Korea stamp shop headquarters. Here there are several large collections of stamps of the former Soviet Union and all the East European countries, obtained in exchange with members of the Association [Translator. National Philatelic Association?]. The writer, apart from a few topics, did not collect foreign stamps, but in the face of all these attractive stamps and sheets could not resist and finally bought around a thousand miniature sheets, etc., from over 100 countries and territories. This can be reckoned my greatest philatelic success in Korea!

Finally let me record that, while working in Korea, I received many letters from collectors [Translator: from China] seeking introductions and exchange with Korean collectors. The above report may serve as an answer to these inquiries and serve as my excuse [Translator: for not responding].

"Stamps of North Korea provide challenges"  
by: Michael Rogers

As printed in LINN's STAMP NEWS, February 21, 2000    :    

      In the early 1990s, North Vietnamese stamps became available to stamp collectors in the United States. The Scott Publishing Co. provided listings in its catalog, along with valuations and illustrations. Material from Vietnam and Europe rapidly inundated the U.S. market. Even the scarcest stamps became easy to obtain.

      Collecting North Korean stamps is far more challenging. Not as much is known about North Korean stamps. The major overseas catalogs do not agree in their listings, and few dealers enjoy a comprehensive inventory. Although the 1946-52 stamp issues endured the Korean War, many stamps were destroyed and data is incomplete.

( More about The Stamps of North Korea)

Reviewed by Ted Hallock
Jayson Hyun

D.P.R.K (North Korea) 1946-l957 plate identified: A handbook
Author: Dr. Taizo Maeda

Determining differences between North Korea’s original issues circa 1946 to 1956 and its officially issued reprints (or some prefer “new printings”) has never been simple. But unlike the P. R. China reprints, NK’s are usually identifiable, but often only when you have both the original (0) and the reprint (R).

( More about Book Review)

A note on the 1950
Order of the National Flag
stamps of North Korea

by: Prof. P. Kevin MacKeown

Extracted from Korean Philately, August, 2001 -vol. 47, No, 3
EDITOR: Dr. Gary N. McLean.

The catalogue listings for this 1 won stamp are a bit confusing, and, at the risk of repeating something well known to readers, I outline the situation as it seems to me.

There are two stamp types that, in turn, come in different dimensions and in two printing methods. The two types are distinguished by the two-line frame surrounding the stamp. In type I the outer line is much thicker than the inner; while in type II they are equally thin. There appear to be five basic stamps, which I correlate with the listings in Gibbons, Michel and the Korea Stamp Catalogue - colours in square brackets are how I would describe the copies I’ve seen. In most cases there is considerable variability in the dimensions of the stamps, my estimates are "best guesses" of the average, and I haven’t made any effort to detect paper varieties that almost certainly exist.

   1. Type I, Printing: Lithography(litho.)., 23.5X38mm, occurs in at least three distinct shades,(Figure 1).
     (a) sage green [olive green] (SGN24, Mi26b, illustrated in KSC)
     (b) bright green [apple green] (SGN24a, Mi26a, illustrated in KSC)
     (c) [lemon green, Michel says grey-olive] (Mi26c)

   2. Type I, litho., 23.5X37.5mm(?), brown-orange, unseen (SGN25, Mi27, illustrated in KSC)

   3. Type I, litho., 20X32.5mm, red-orange (SGN26, Mi28, illustrated in KSC).
(Figure 2).

   4. Type II, Printing: Typography (typo), 23X36.5mm, orange (not listed as such in any catalogue, but Dr Maeda refers to it in his article in Korean Philately, February 1998. It is likely that this is SGN28, Mi29, in both cases being erroneously described as pale olive green, because, as Dr Maeda points out, the green typo version does not appear to exist with these dimensions) (Figure 3).

   5. Type II, typo., 22.5X35.5mm, occurs in at least two distinct shades, (Figure 4).
     (a) deep green (SGN27, Mi29, illustrated in KSC)
     (b) green or yellow-green

Dr Maeda suspects that 5(a) and 5(b) are just part of the spectrum arising from variable quality of the inks used, they do, however, look quite different.

There are green and orange reprints, both are type II, litho.

The North Korean "Reprints"
by: J. Kevin MacKeown

These "official imitations", commonly referred to as reprints, are among the earliest and often despised, acquaintances of any collector of North Korea, and much is known about them. Maeda's (2000) monograph is an invaluable guide in this respect. Their status in the catalogues, however, is marginal. Gibbons mentions only that they could be, and have been, used for postage, but as that was not their primary purpose, we do not list them.

( More about North Korean "Reprints")

Cover of 2007 DPR-KSC.

Representative office of KOREA STAMP CORP. in Moscow, Russia:

Mr. Han Song
72, Mosfilmmovskaya
Moscow 119590

Tel: 007-499-147-6220
Fax: 007-499-143-6302
e-mail: nkoreastamp@yahoo.com
Mobile: 79099211739

Extracted from Korean Philately November 2006, Vol. 51, No. 4.
EDITOR: Dr. Gary N. McLean.

Korean Stamp Catalogue 1946-2006
397 pp., Pyongyang: Korea Stamp Corporation, 2007. No ISBN, no price stated.
Reviewed by P. Kevin MacKeown

The latest in a series of catalogues that goes back as far as 1958, the newest edition combines the stamp catalogue with the cata­logue of postal stationary—the only previous edition of which, Korea Postal Stationery & Maxicard Catalogue 1948-1998, came out in 1999. Apart from the maximum cards, which have been dropped entirely, everything--stamps, stamp booklets, stamp cards, presenta­tion packs, and postal stationery--is now con­tained in one fully illustrated 397-page vol­ume. Most of the stamps and souvenir sheets, and especially the postal stationery items, are reduced in size compared with the earlier vol­ume, and the trueness of the colors reproduced is less reliable than before. All prices are given in euros.

The development of this catalogue has been an incremental process, and, apart from the newer issues, some interesting additions have again been made in this edition. There is not yet the inclusion of the Pang Ho-san com­memorative of 1952, no mention of the domes­tic paper issues of 1970s and SOs (yellow paper issues), nor any recognition of the many perfo­ration varieties that exist. No details, either, are provided of the war-time validation chops of 1951, nor any listing of the 3-won overprints of 2002. But there are details of several unis­sued stamps included, the existence of most of which, but not all, was noted in the previous edition but without detail; most notably a set of three butterfly stamps from 1971 (Nos. 995-997). In addition, there are a few heretofore totally unrecorded (unissued) items. All of these stamps are illustrated but unpriced, as are now some other stamps that were very mod­estly priced in previous editions but known to be very difficult to locate, e.g., the 1967 set of five 15th-16th century paintings (#783A-E) and the 1968 ‘blue dredger’ (#829b).

Never a very reliable guide to prices in the outside world, prices now, on the whole for issues after 1956, have been modestly in­creased, but with a few dramatic increases— again in issues known to collectors to be diffi­cult to locate. As examples, the set of three Revolutionary Fighters of 1966 (#698-700) goes from $1.60 to €850, the 1970 sheet of 10 of the Fifth Congress goes from $20 to €335, the 1976 Pothong River Works 1 Ochon stamp (#1457B) from $0.40.to €50, and the 1979 set of high-value roses (#1781-84) from $24.30 to €720; all prices are for mint stamps.

Prices quoted for early issues are just too erratic to analyze seriously, although slightly more rational than in the past. An ex­ample is the 1950 Liberation of Seoul (#17) used, reduced from $48 to €20, a stamp of which surely less than 50 copies exist—unless they have started producing them! The most expensive stamp is now the 1948 3rd ~ saxy of liberation issue, at €1800 mint corn­pared with $260 in the last edition. In most cases the originals and the 1957 reprints are shown side by side, but in almost all cases the size of the illustrations is too small to enable a distinction to be made. Some recognition is now given of the relative value of reprints compared to original prints—in the past reprints were often assigned a higher value—but we still find major anomalies like €120 for the used (CTO?) 1948 Labor Law reprint!
As before, the validation chops of early 1951 axe mentioned, but without details of the issues affected. For the first time, also, the overprints on south [sic] Korean stamps are mentioned, but no details are given. Perhaps the most in­teresting aside, but again without details, re­lates to the massive devaluation of the won in August, 2002, in connection with which it is stated that “those previously-issued 91 postage stamps were overprinted with the new denomi­nation [i.e., a 3won surcharge] to be used for a certain period of time from August.” Does it mean that 91 stamp types were so surcharged? If so (1 have only seen two), we collectors have our work cut out!

The least satisfactory aspect of the cata­logue is the section on postal stationery. The earlier catalogue of this material was a very attractive and useful volume. No improvements to the listings (several early items are absent), beyond adding more recent material, have been made, and all illustrations have been much re­duced in size. Prices quoted are not as me­chanical as before, with increases in the early issues, and in issues after 1990. In the case of envelopes, there axe significant reductions in most issues in the period 1960-1990.

Spurred perhaps by Scott’s listing, there is an increase in interest in collecting North Korea, and the demand for this publication is likely to be greater than for earlier editions. KP

TO: F.L. Korean (my pen-name),
     Monday, November 26, 2007.

A few years ago, I received a bundle of North Korean stamps from relatives. I am not an expert on stamps, but I have tried to find out if these stamps carry any value, other than the emotional value. Unfortunately, my searching didn't provide me with any answers. I've flipped through many books and have scoured the internet, but all to no avail. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon your page a little while ago, where I found this e-mail address. I hope you don't mind me asking this of you, but as experts on the matter, could you help me determine the value of my stamps? I have attached the pictures to this e-mail in .zip format. Windows XP and/or Windows Vista should have no problem opening it. There is one thing I would like to mention. If you were to carefully examine photo B, you would find that the date on the stamp and the rubber stamp itself do not match. On the stamp there's the year 1948, but the rubber stamp seems to be from 1946. I found this rather peculiar. I really do hope you can help me.

With kindest regards,

( More about North Korean "Sheets")

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