North Korea Stamp Color Variation

North Korea

Stamps with different colors were used to indicate different denominations until multicolored stamps appeared along with the development of color printing techniques. The majority of modern stamps are still of a single color design. In the early days of printing stamps, inks were made up in batches as needed and the colors were inconsistent. In such cases, the shade provided information about when and where the stamps were made and possibly might identify particular printings. However, we have very little information on North Korean stamps with different shades of color. 

There are many possibilities. The printer may have used different inks due to the lack of adequate ink supplies, or the ink may also have been diluted or applied thinly. Sometimes variations occurred when printing plates were accidentally under-inked. Extreme variations may be considered color errors and may not even be released to the public. Examples are:

Figure 1: 1973 Scott A777 (40ch Fishing spot on riverside) sheet version 1
Figure 2: 1973 Scott A777 (40ch Fishing spot on riverside) sheet version 2

Also, color variations may occur as a result of chemical reactions like oxidation. A reaction involving lead may turn a blue or green stamp to black. The possibilities are endless when there is no information available.

However, when we understand the economic situation in North Korea, we can conclude that variations of color often occur due to a lack of adequate ink supply, just like printing different quality stamps for domestic and international use in order to conserve paper supplies.

Figure 3: Both versions of the stamp next to each other for better comparison.

In addition, color variation may also result from counterfeit printing plates and inks. It is very hard to distinguish between genuine stamps and forgeries if the stamps are unused. The techniques used in making the stamps are identical.

For example, 1996, Scott A1617, Kim Jung Il Appointment as Supreme Commander stamps: when you look at the stamps closely with a magnifying glass, you can see that there are many different characteristics as if they came from 2 different printing plates:

  1. Color shade: the genuine stamp is darker than the other;
  2. Year: the genuine one has finer and clearer numbering than the other;
  3. In the English-written KOREA, the E is written slightly differently.
  4. In the Korean text, 조선우표, the 우 has a rectangular ㅜ in the genuine stamp and the other has a more pointed ㅜ; also in the character 표 the genuine stamp has space between the top of the character ㅍ and the bottom ㅛ while in the other they are completely touching each other.

The two stamps:

To the left: from my personal collection; genuine. On the right: from Flags of the World, counterfeit.
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15 thoughts on “North Korea Stamp Color Variation

  1. Why would anyone want to counterfeit such a low denomination stamp? It can’t have been for use inside the DPRK (defrauding the postal services), that would have been nonsense. At the same time, it is not as if this stamp is highly valued by stamp collectors. Therefore, why did someone even bother to do this?

  2. Yes, it is small denomination for you and I who are living in a developed country. However, for those living in a 3rd world country, it is a lot of money. In 2000 to 2006, the average college graduate working for a big company made around 300 USD a month. For those, who are not so fortunate (average laborer) made 100 to 150 USD per month. People made much less in rural China bordering North Korea. It was very common to see kids, women, and men selling DVDs, coins, and stamps (North Korean) to the tourist on the street.

  3. I don’t really understand what it means that the counterfeit is from ‘flags of the world’, what is that? A website or something else?
    I cannot say no counterfeit exists but this one may not be counterfeit.
    Please be reminded that the production quality of DPRK stamps were not very stable before 2000 and may with varieties.
    This stamp, KSC No. 3720, has at least 3 different versions: large sheet (6×8, no gum, domestic), small sheet (6×3, gummed) and small sheet of 10 (KSC No. 3720A, with silver margin), so there is high possibility that they use different plate to print this stamp, that causes varieties.
    Also for your information, not all DPRK stamps were printed in Pyongyang, some were printed in China or even Europe because of printing technique difficulties. Also there is a possibility that this stamp was counterfeited in China.
    And the most important point I have to mention about this stamp is: this stamp is the image of The Greatest Leader Kim Il Sung! Any counterfeit of this stamp in DPRK is definitely death penalty!

  4. Well, as you can see from my question above I was also at first a bit confused: why counterfeit a DPRK stamp within the DPRK? But as Yong Yi pointed out, this is not about the DPRK but about selling DPRK stamps (stamp sheets) to tourists in China.

    Flags of the World is indeed a website about (yep, you’ve guessed it) flags of the world.

  5. As Mr. Chen has stated that many DPRK stamps were printed in China. Yes, some of their stamps were printed in China and some of their stamp designs are very similar to the Chinese stamps. China like most manufacturing country, when they receive an order for a product, they manufacture 10% over the order received. In some cases, factory next door makes imitation as they produce original. These products are then introduced to the secondary market. When I visited Dan Dong, our guide told the group not to make any purchases from street vendors because all (stamps and old coins) are made locally and they were imitation.

  6. First, If ‘Flag of the World’ is a website and Yong Yi didn’t possess that counterfeit stamp, it’s difficult to certify that stamp is a counterfeit or not, maybe just image distortion. All the images I sent to Ivo, taken by my iPhone, have similar problems too.
    Second, I coincidentally know a person who knows some background of DPRK stamps productions in China. DPRK cooperates with Chinese Stamp society to produce some stamps, mainly Chinese related themes. They need to find appropriate printing factories to produce and the whole process (from theme decision, image design to print and final check) is very serious. I need to confirm with him about the possibility of imitation in Dandong.
    These factories not only print DPRK stamps but also print many other products including Chinese stamps.

  7. I’d like to revise some words in my previous comments.
    1. DPRK printed MOST stamps by themselves. Only those stamps whose printing techniques cannot be achieved in DPRK will be printed by foreign printing factories. Some thematic stamps (e.g. 2000 animal series, 2009 lighthouse series) were printed in Europe because of stamp dealers’ requests. But not too many different types.
    2. No information of counterfeit produced in Dandong, and no reason to counterfeit recent stamps since genuine stamps are also cheap. One genuine No.3720 sheet of 18 is just $5.4($0.3 each), the total cost might be cheaper than printing a new fake sheet (and you cannot just print ONE sheet only). However, since Dandong has so many domestic stamps available, a person without enough philatelic knowledges may mistakenly think these stamps are not genuine.

  8. Actually, I do recognize Yong Yi’s point about “secondary production”, I know an example from the clothing industry. Chinese production companies have the “tendency” to overproduce a product (such as expensive designer jeans). Of course this overproduction is not mentioned, but since the original cloth and original production method is being used for the extra production these products are effectively 100% the real thing. They are not even counterfeit, they are the product. There is no way to see/notice/check the difference, because there isn’t any. (This was approx. 10 years ago, might be there are newer tricks to avoid this.)

    Regarding counterfeiting these stamps: once you have a good enough version which you can print over and over production costs fall dramatically. Even a stamp of $0,30 will sell at a profit if the production cost is $0,03 (or even less). And then the other point Yong Yi makes kicks in: if you make 100 dollars a month, making 100 extra dollars by selling these sheets to tourists effectively means doubling your income. (Think of your own current income, then double it. Nice, isn’t it?)

    Printing just one sheet would indeed never create enough of a margin, but printing 10.000 sheets would easily do the trick. I have been in the publishing industry and therefore have an idea of the cost of printing. It should even today be easy to make a lot of money this way. However, notice Yong Yi is not talking about today/recent times, but about quite some time ago when the margins relative to (low) local incomes would apparently still have been large enough to make this trick worthwhile.

    Of course, your point about counterfeiting inside the DPRK is true: the (very potential) cost of losing your life would not be easy to recuperate with a few fake stamp sheets…

  9. Well…. this is an unexpected and interesting development. Originally we are talking about plate/color variations but later the whole discussion rerouted to counterfeits.
    First, I have to apologize that many of my words usage may not be very precise. As all of our readers know now KSS is an International but not an American-only society, we might expect that many misunderstanding may result from language barriers.
    Second, if it is possible, I welcome anybody to join our discussion since I’m not very specialized in printing techniques and paper. But we need specialists to share their opinions.
    Third, if necessary, we can open another board to discuss counterfeits specifically.

  10. Hi Yi-Fu, I also sometimes have this problem with English, as it is not my native language either. Yes, English is very close to my native language (Dutch), but still, I also have the tendency to sometimes mistake the “emotion” behind the meaning of a word. This could even be the case between Brits and Americans, James Grayson gave me an example a few months ago.

    The idea about another part on the website to discus more sounds interesting, this subject is definitely worth further discussion. We used to have a discussion board, but it was a bit clumsy and therefore did not get much response. I will have to look into what can be done technically.

  11. Honestly speaking I like this series, first we discuss plate and color variations, later we turn to discuss counterfeits, and now we turn again to discuss possible DPRK imitations in Dandong China, and it relates to domestic version stamps we discussed before! All things are not independently happened!

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