APS Stamp Chat with KSS’s Professor James Grayson ‘North and South Korea: The First Issues after the Second World War’

General Philatelic News

Professor James H. Grayson, a member of the KSS since 2000, was invited to speak on the American Philatelic Society’s ‘Stamp Chat’ internet discussion group.  His subject was ‘North and South Korea: The first issues after the Second World’.  He uses a semiotic approach to understanding the designs of stamps to discover the meanings which they convey.

James explained that; “the advantage of looking at northern and southern Korean stamps together is that both the common Korean characteristics are made clear and also the significant differences, particularly in political ethos.  Also, these documents being a record of the time can be used to confute political assertions made today, for example about the origins of the Korean War.”

James is an anthropologist and Methodist minister, who served with the Methodist Church in Korea from 1971 to 1987.  He was then appointed as a Lecturer in Korean Studies at The University of Sheffield, England and held the position of Professor of Modern Korean Studies until his retirement in 2009.

His philatelic interests are in stamps and the postal history of East Asia generally and in Korea particularly, as well as in the first issues of a country.  His particular area of interest and expertise lies in the semiotics of stamp design, namely the cultural and political meaning of the images which appear on a particular stamp.

As well as being a member of the Korea Stamp Society and a member of the KSS’s Board since 2018, he also belongs to the Sheffield Philatelic Society (founded 1894), and the First Issues Collectors Club.

Here is James’ complete APS ‘Stamp Chat’.  Enjoy and please leave your comments and questions below.

For more articles on Korean philately and science please see our Science/Archives series of articles.


6 thoughts on “APS Stamp Chat with KSS’s Professor James Grayson ‘North and South Korea: The First Issues after the Second World War’

  1. Such an interesting and educational lecture.
    As for the last question, I remembered that at time US occupied not only Southern Korea but also Japan homeland. Since they need stamps to be used in Southern Korea but no good printing facilities available, the process of surcharging was done in Japan homeland, using stocks of old Japanese stamps. So the margin was with imprint of Japan printing bureau.

  2. 23.11.2020
    Dear Yi-Fu, According to the Korean Postage Stamp catalogue only the 10 chon and 30 chon stamps were overprinted by the Japanese Imperial Printing Office. In total this amounted to over 1 million stamps. However, some of the 680,000 overprinted copies of the 10 chon stamp were overprinted by the Korean Cabinet Printing Office. The Catalogue doesn’t say how many of these 10 chon stamps were overprinted in Japan and how many in Korea. The 5, 10 and 20 chon and 5 won overprints were done by the Cabinet Office printers in Korea. The total of these issues was 1 and a quarter million stamps.

  3. Thank you Prof. Grayson for the very interesting presentation. Having special interest in early Korean and occupation issues, I found it especially enlightening.

    There was one thing that surprised me though. You mentioned that Northern Korean occupation issues (hibiscus and mountains) use cyrillic characters as currency denomination. I have never paid attention to these strange characters. Looking at them closely now, I, as a native Russian speaker, can say that this doesn’t appear to be the case.

    What I see looks like a peculiar version of “z with stroke” (crossed z) character which is not part of the Russian alphabet (“z” in Russian is written as “з”, similar to number 3). So I wonder where this character on the stamps has came from, do you know?

    Thanks and stay healthy,

  4. Hi Nathan, to make it easier I have uploaded the stamps with the “symbol” after the value on the stamps. What is interesting is that all these stamps had values in fractions of the (North Korean) won, the jeon or chŏn. There is something going on with the symbol for the value, because the hanja (Chinese character, often used in Korean) for chŏn is 錢, in Korean using hangul this is 전. Neither of those is visible in the images behind the numerals for the postal value.

    There is a character which I remembered seeing some time ago, the Ƶ. This is another way of writing the Polish Ż, which is close to the Ж in Russian. Maybe there is a link with the Ƶ? It may seem far-fetched, but don’t forget that among the Soviet troops there were also many people from (East European) minorities and some of the Koreans returning with the Red Army had served in the European theatre.

  5. Hi Ivo,

    Thanks for the additional info and the scans. James and I have had an interesting email conversation on the subject. He can probably elaborate, but the current thought is that while the early Kim Il Sung stamps bear currency denomination in Russian (“чен” which is “chen”), hibiscus and mountains stamps include an unknown currency symbol which resembles “z with stroke”. It is clearly not cyrillic and might be some experiment on their part with currency symbols (like $ or £), but I guess we don’t know more than that, so any thoughts are welcome -:).

    Stay healthy,

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