(Originally from KP May 2012, Vol. 54, No. 2) In the early years of the Korea Stamp Society there were frequent articles in Korean Philately as to whether Scott #1-5 (Figure 24) were ever legitimately used. See also Andrei Lankov’s article on page 13. From time to time I will follow the thread of this discussion with reproductions from the KP archives. Here are three from Volume I: #6, #10, and #11.
KP Volume I, #6 (March, 1952) by KP Editor Harold Bearce.
SCOTT”S NO. 1-5
Until someone takes up and extended study of this first issue of Korea in used condition, especially on cover, and prove conclusively if possible, one way or the other, there will always be differences of opinion as to whether or not these issues were used for the transmission of mail under surety of a sovereign nation. This question is being dealt with here because it has been brought up by our member, Mr. Forrest W. Calkins, when he writes, “Did you ever see any of the first set genuinely used? They are not listed in Scotts as used, but I have seen quite a few in other collections that appear to be used, although I do not have any in my collection used., of that particular set.” A hurried examination of the information on hand seems to indicate that the stamps have been genuinely used to carry mail, but perhaps by no existing nation.
Mrs. H. K. Zirkle, an authority on early Korean, writes in the October, 1951, issues of The American Philatelist,
“On July 18, 1884, the Department of Posts was established at Seoul with Hong Yong Sik as Postmaster General. The new post office was opened in Seoul Dec 4, 1884, and Branch offices in Chemulpo, Fusan (Pusan) and Wonsan. The first issue of stamps (Scott 1-5) came out at the same time and was distributed to the Branch offices. During the course of a banquet being held on the opening day of the new government service, a revolution broke out among the people who believed the Post Office system was a device of ‘foreign devils’. The main Post Office in Seoul was sacked , the postmaster was killed, and three days later (Dec.7, 1884) the building with the supply of stamps was burned. The Department of Posts was then non-existent … From this, one may conclude that the first issue was in use from the Seoul Post Office about three days, and perhaps longer from the Branch post offices.”
“It is generally believed that the 5 and 10 mon values of the First Issue were used for a short period. The higher values are not known in used condition, except one of the 100 mon which was found in the correspondence of the Bishop of London, but experts think the cancellation was forged.”
So we see from Mrs. Zirkle’s writings that the revolution broke out as a result of the dislike for postage stamps, but we wonder why these people would kill the Seoul postmaster, sack the post office, and yet not take control of the stamps. It was three days after issue before the post office building with the stamp supply was burned, and Mrs. Zirkle points out that we can conclude that this issue, then, was in use from the Seoul Post Office for three days … but rather would it not be better to assume that this issue MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN USE … instead of “was in use.”
NOW, Mr. Heath points out that the Japanese government claim that they never put these stamps in use … if this is so then any use of them by anyone would be an example of using unissued stamps. Mr. W. Lloyd Heath’s remarks are taken from the Korean Philately, Vol. I, No.3,
“While I was in Seoul I came into possession of a book which had. been is-sued, by “The Bureau of Communications” of the Residency General. It is not dated, but contains illustrations of all stamps issued under the old Kingdom of Korea. Some of the facts as given in this book are a little different than the general accepted theory.
“The first page of this book illustrates the stamps under discussion, and the translation of the Japanese description is as follows:
“These five varieties of postage stamps were made by our (i.e Japanese government) printing department in 1884 under request from Korean Government). However, they were never issued due to the abolishment of Bureau (of Communications) due to Korean Uprisings on the day of the opening of the department of communications in 1885 [sic]. Consequently these postage stamps were not used.”
“You will note that the official statement is that these five stamps were never issued. Independent research while I was in Korea leads me to believe that practically the entire supply was destroyed BUT that some were stolen and afterward placed on covers which were “canceled to order”. The stamps would NOT have been recognized as valid for postage by the Japanese controlled P.0. Dept, and I cannot see where the covers could have been legitimately used.”
But it seems to us that these stamps could have been used locally whether the Japanese government issued them officially or not – – – for the stamps were available for use, evidently.
KP Volume I, #10 (July, 1952), by Stephen G. Rich.
[This is a reprint of an article that appeared in Western Stamp Collector on July 26, 1949. The original article was written by Stephen G. Rich, before the beginning of the Korean War. The war created a widespread interest and study of the stamps of Korea, so some of his assertions did not survive future scrutiny, but here is the article as written. JT ]
THE HERMIT KINGDOM
Korea was long known as the “Hermit Kingdom” because of all the lands anywhere. it resisted, for the longest time, the admission of influence by persons from any other country. Only Tibet, inaccessible behind the mountains, and thinly populated, held out in hermit isolation any longer. In stamp collecting, Korea has been a land of interest to the old-timers. In re-cent times, only a few enthusiasts have bothered with it.
The revival of its own postal issues since World War II and its liberation from Japanese domination may well bring Korea back into stamp interest. The guess is here made, that anyone who works up a Korean collection now, will quite likely find that he is ahead of the crowd.
The catalog may give you a misleading impression about Korea’s stamps at several places. The “first issues” of Korea, the 1885-1886 stamps, really rank as essays, and nothing more. They were planned and made under Japanese influence on Korea. But the Koreans would have nothing of the sort – not even a postal service. The stamps sent to Korea were all destroyed in the rioting. What we have is the stuff never delivered, and a large quantity of later printings – which not even the greatest experts admit they can distinguish. Considered in their real nature, as just essays, they are interesting.
Cancelled copies dubious. Cancelled copies are almost always counterfeits. A very few genuine cancelled copies are known – and the one known cover shows us how they were made. They were slapped onto later covers along with enough current and valid stamps to pay the postage, in some cases. In others, we even suspect that the cancellation is privately faked.
[Rich’s article continues with an analysis of the later Korean Kingdom/Empire issues. There is a subsequent article by Rich in KP Volume 1, #12, (reprinted from WSC, Nove.28, 1950) which reiterates his claim that these stamps were “essays”. Jim Kerr in the Korean Kingdom and Empire Philatelic Catalog and Handbook (2nd Ed 1990) disagrees – “Rich chose to call #3-5 ‘essays’, a misapplication of the term; they were prepared ethically, but circumstances prevented their coming into full postal use.”]
KP Volume I, #11 (August 1952), by Arthur Korzyn, KSS Member #2
[This article or a portion of it was attributed by Korzyn to an article in”Review of Reviews” of April 10, 1899.]
Korea, for many years, had had a kind of postal system by which a letter was taken to a certain office and the postage paid there. This system was in use for several hundred years. Such letters should have been sent out by special messenger, but usually the person who was supposed to deliver the letter pocketed the money he was paid, and destroyed the letters. Corruption in Korea was supposed to have been even worse than it was in China or Japan in those days.
On Dec.14, 1884, the Japanese tried to introduce a modern postal system in Korea. Plates were ordered in Japan and the Imperial Japanese Government Printing Bureau made the first stamps of Korea, as a set of 5 values. While the higher values showed the inscription “Corean Post” the lowest value of 5 mon was destined for domestic mail only, and therefore, showed only the native characters. The 5 and 10 mon arrived at the post office first, while the other three values were not ready yet. Whether on account of this “new” postal sys-tem, or for some other reason, we do not know, but in any case right then another revolution started. The post office was burned and the stamps were withdrawn. One of the reasons given for all this trouble is that the Chinese did not like the inscription which reads “Great Corea” against which they protested. Another reason given for the prejudice against the postal system is that the king of Corea did not want to pay for making the stamps and wages to the employees who had to sell them, and that he wanted to go back to the good old days where a system was used where he did not have to “pay”, but was a partner in pocketing the money.
Only some very few copies of the 5 and 10 mon are known to exist in postally used condition; of the other values only one copy of the 100 mon. This 100 mon copy was of the late Bishop of London taken from his correspondence by his secretary. THE WEST END PHILATELIST, which usually is very reliable, says that the history of this specimen seems quite straightforward.
The United States Consulate in Seoul sent out a circular letter on Jan 2, 1894, which stated that postage stamps were issued in 1884 in Seoul, but before a single mail had been sent out or received the new post office was looted and destroyed. The large government supply was bought up by a German firm (Kossack) … no Korean stamps are to be had here now, none were ever genuinely cancelled. Japanese and Chinese stamps are used entirely for foreign mail … thus the story of the US Consulate at that time.
The bitter argument – whether any of these stamps have been postally used or not – has been raging for many years, but the latest findings indicate that some very few copies actually exist genuinely used.