A Report on (N.) Korean Philately part 1: (North) Korean Stamp Issues

Articles North Korea

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

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 importance 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 (circa. 1995) 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), and smaller sheets (7 x 3). Even where the sheet sizes are the same, issues for collectors may still have some differences.

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.

(Extracted from Korean Philately, February, 2001 -vol. 47, No, 1)