Reader’s Question: Why these strange North Korean stamp issues?

Q&A

Leafing through the catalog of DPRK stamps and analyzing the policy of themes and stories on the stamps, I had several questions. Perhaps you, or other KSS members, can help me with the answer. Starting in 1946 to issue postage stamps with neutral themes (Rosa of Sharon, Diamond Mountains), the postal administration expanded the themes of the stories, celebrating the anniversaries of the country’s liberation, the adoption of laws, the war with the Republic of Korea, friendship with the PRC and the USSR, communist holidays.

The 1946 edition of The 1st Anniversary of Liberation from Japan (with a portrait of Kim Il Sung) stood out from the crowd, the next time the image of Kim Il Sung appeared only in 1961 (The 4th Korean Workers’ Party Congress and 1962 50th birthday Kim Il Sung, 1912-1994). Since 1955, the theme of outstanding historical figures appeared, then the DPRK’s achievements in the economy, art, and sports. The themes of flora, fauna and nature were not forgotten either. Traditional theme, nothing unusual not surprising.

And suddenly 1980 surprised with the releases:

  • Conquerors and Explorers,
  • The Con queror of the Sea,
  • Pioneers of Flight,
  • Conquerors of the Universe,
  • The 25th Anniversary of First Post-War Flight of Lufthansa,
  • The 150th Anniversary of Liverpool-Manchester Railway.
Fig. 1: 1982 Royal Wedding related stamp issue (overprints for birth of prince William).

Somehow they did not fit into the traditional theme. But 1981 and 1982 were even more surprising because of these issues: Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. These issues were for instance:

  • 1982: The 21st Anniversary of the Birth of Diana, Princess of Wales.
  • The 21st Anniversary of the Birth of Princess Diana – Royal
  • Wedding Stamps of 1981 Overprinted.
  • The 1st Anniversary of the Wedding of Prince and Princess of Wales! Birth of Prince William of Wales.
  • Birth of Prince William of Wales – 3-D Stamps.

Why so much attention to these events? I cannot name another country outside the British Commonwealth that has paid so much attention to these events.

Fig. 2: 1982 Royal Wedding related stamp issue, imperforated.

At the same time, the theme of friendship with the PRC and the USSR during these years appeared on the stamps of the DPRK only on December 30, 1984: State Visit of President Kim Il Sung in Socialist Countries. Then 1987: The 750th Anniversary of Berlin and International Stamp Exhibition “Philatelia ’87” – Cologne, Germany. How to understand these issues of postage stamps?

An attempt to revise the country’s foreign policy? Domestic policy problems? Or were there any other events?

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2 thoughts on “Reader’s Question: Why these strange North Korean stamp issues?

  1. In one word: money. The DPRK is always in need of more money, there is never enough money. However, there is something else going on here. During the 1960s and 1970s there was a boom in philately. Prices of stamps (for philatelic purposes) were going up all the time. Stamp collecting had become somewhat speculative, in that people not only collected for the fun of it (hobby), but also as a potential future moneymaker. Philately entered the classical bubble. Stamp issuing entities (and quite a few non-entities!) created stamps for the collecting boom. Especially thematics were popular. This led to endless new series which were sold at quite high prices. That is still true today, but unlike today at that time there actually was a market for quite a few of these issues. The early 80s were the high point of all this, and that’s precisely the period in which the stamps you list here were issued by the Korean Stamp Corporation (KSC). The Royal Marriage/Diana issues were the worst example of this, with a lot of stamp issuing entities creating a lot of series about this specific subject. When philatelists had had enough of it, the boom was over. Since then prices for stamps have come down a lot. Interestingly the KSC doesn’t list these speculative issues with non-Korean subjects in their online catalogue. (The paper catalogue produced by the KSC does list them however.) One reason is that the KSC very probably can’t sell you those issues, they were delivered to stamp dealers at the time, meaning the KSC doesn’t have any left. And the online catalogue is (mostly) a sales list. But I also suspect that the KSC doesn’t want to be reminded of these senseless issues…

  2. Korea Stamp Corporation cooperated with European stamp dealers in mid-70s and issued many stamps with non-Korea related theme. From 1975 to around 1990, the main target was European market. Since 1990s, the main target changed to Chinese market, KSC began to cooperate with Korea Stamp Society in China and produced many series. Collectors usually set 1980 as a cut-point and don’t collect DPRK stamps after that.

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