Printing the surcharges on first military government issue for Korea 1945/46 (Scott’s #55-60)

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One of the first branches of the old Japanese Government activities taken over by the forces of the U. S. Military Government in Korea (USAFIK) after the occupation was the Communications Department which controlled the services of the post office, telegraph system, and radio stations. At the beginning the Postal Section had no alternative but to continue the use of the regular Japanese postage stamps as no provision had been made prior to occupation for substitutes.

In the fall of 1945 an order was placed through the U.S. Military Government in Japan to print a series of distinct Korean stamps (Scott’s #61 through #66), but it soon became apparent that the delivery would be delayed for such a period that some sort of substitute would have to be provided at once, since the supplies of certain low value Japanese stamps were rapidly becoming exhausted.

Old fashioned heavy lithographic stones were prepared for eight values and each stone had two values on it – 5 ch and 10 ch on one stone, 20 ch and 30 ch on the second stone, 50 ch and 1 woun on third stone, and the 5 and 10 woun values on the fourth stone.

Eleven sheets (100 stamps each) were prepared as samples, these were as follows:

  • 5 cheun on 5 sen Japanese Scott type A 86
  • 5 cheun on 17 sen Japanese Scott type A 93
  • 10 cheun on 40 sen Japanese Scott type A 154
  • 20 cheun on 6 sen Japanese Scott type A 147
  • 20 cheun on 20 sen Japanese Scott type A 94
  • 30 cheun on 27 sen Japanese Scott type A 151
  • 50 cheun on 50 sen Japanese Scott type A 97
  • 1 Woun on 15 sen Japanese Scott type A 150
  • 1 Woun on 1 yen Japanese Scott type A 98
  • 5 Woun on 17 sen Japanese Scott type A 151
  • 10 woun on 8 sen Japanese Scott type A 90

Only one sheet of each of the eleven combinations noted above was printed and these sheets were then used as samples for the officials to determine which should finally be issued. Before they were submitted to the officials, a handstamp in red ink was impressed on each stamp. This stamp consisted of two Chinese characters vertically. I have had these characters (as shown at the right) translated by several persons but no two hardly agree as to the exact meaning. They have been called “sample”, “example”, and “specimen”.

I believe the last is probably the most correct meaning.

FDC showing KPSC RS1-RS6

After examining the various “specimen” sheets, it was decided to limit the issue to five values, viz:-5, 10, 20, and 30 ch and 5 woun. ( The latter probably to take care of parcel post high rates) and it was also decided, and orders thus issued, that no stamp was to be surcharged on a Japanese stamp of the same face value.

Orders were issued to proceed with the surcharging immediately. The work was done in a small print shop located in the rear of the Communications compound on Kwanghwamoon in Seoul. The shop was a low one story Japanese style building and was equipped with just one hand press of a style obsolete in America for almost a century. It was hand operated and the rate of production was just about what you can imagine with this type press.

The lithographic stone was placed on the bed of the press and it was inked by hand, the surplus ink wiped off by hand, and then the press operator took a sheet of Japanese stamps from a pile on a shelf at the back of the press ( he was standing facing the side of the press) and placed this sheet face down over the layout for the lower value on stone. This operation was duplicated with another sheet of Japanese stamps from a second pile which was laid on the layout for the higher value. Then a pad was placed over the two sheets, the assistant pressman started turning a huge wheel which drew the bedplate under a massive roller and that printed the sheets. The pad was then removed, surcharged sheets taken from stone and placed on piles on a shelf at the side of the press, the assistant then rolled the stone back through the press to the original position and the operation was continued as before.

The surcharge consisted of three lines. The top line with two characters meaning “Korea”, the middle line also with two characters meaning “Postage” (or postage stamp) while the bottom line has the Arabic numerals of value at left with character representing the unit (“Cheun or Woun”) at right.

According to figures furnished me by the Postal Section of the Ministry of Communications, the following quantities were surcharged:

  • #56 – 560,000
  • #57 – 580,000
  • #58 – 320,000
  • #59 – 320,000
  • #60 – 120,000

(Quantities indicate individual stamps, NOT number of sheets produced.)

They were first placed on sale at the Seoul Central P.O. on 26 Jan., 1946.

The story of the finding of the 5 ch on 5 sen (Scott #55) is a very interesting one but too long to include in this article. It will appear later. Since the writer was the one who originally discovered these he has all the details.

We might conclude this with a discussion of the two “errors” Scott 58a and 59a. The light in the little print shop was limited to a very few dim electric bulbs. The piles of unprinted Japanese stamps were on a shelf across the bed of the press from the printer. As explained above, each litho stone had layouts for two values. It is not hard to imagine the printer taking a sheet of the 27 sen Japanese stamp from the right hand pile on shelf and laying it on the left hand layout on the stone and then taking a sheet of the 6 sen and laying it on the blank space at right hand side of the stone.

The writer was presented with a block of four of the 59a (30 ch on 6 sen) in 1946. He always claimed that somewhere there must exist a companion sheet of the 58a (20 ch on 27 sen) as they would have been printed at the same time. It was not until late in 1951 when on a visit to Washington that, while talking with an old friend who had been in Seoul, that subject of stamps came up. The writer mentioned having a block of the 30 on 6 and this friend then told of having bought a full sheet of the 20 on 27 in the little post office in the basement of the Ministry of Communications building. He had given a number of copies away and sold almost all remaining, but he was kind enough to give me a block of four to match the other block. According to the information given me by the party who originally discovered the sheet of the 30 on 6, that sheet was also found in the same little post office.

Whether any other sheets of these two errors exist I cannot say. I have heard rumors that there are more of the 59a extant but have not heard of any additional copies of the 58a. If any do exist, it would seem probable that they would have appeared on the market long before this.

[Editor 2021: this article was originally published in Korean Philately Vol. III No. 3 (December 1953). You can download a PDF with the original article from our KP downloads page.]
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