Stamp essay of 1884 5 mun stamp in Spink auction: do we know more about this item?

Q&A

In Spink’s auction of 12 January 2020 a rather strange item showed up. No, the type of item is not strange, stamp essays are quite commonly available. Actually, one might even say some essays are too common, just have a look at Willem van der Bijl’s article on the subject of North Korean “artworks” in KP Vol. 57 No. 1 (Q1 2021). But in this particular case it shows a stamp essay of the very first stamp of Korea, the 1884 5 mun stamp. This stamp (and the other stamp issued at the same time, the 10 mun stamp) had a rather “difficult” history and there are still quite a lot of questions about this very first issue.

Therefore when a very special item like this shows up, questions are being asked. Our very own official stamp expertizer, Florian Eichhorn (see his Bund Philatelistischer Prüfer e.V. (BPP) page), already stated he had seen a similar item: “In Holcombes collection sold at Sun Philatelic Center (SPC) 1980.3.8 was a similar one, but not showing the Yin-Yang, the “5” and the “Mn”.” So now we have TWO essays…? Of course, technically this is possible, stamp designs go through stages. The Holcombes item could have been an earlier stage, and the item from the Spink auction could have been the final stage of the same design process. Who knows?

The 1884 5 mun stamp essay from the PDF (enlarged image) as supplied by Spink for their January 2020 auction (CSS46).

To give the option to compare the essay with the stamp as issued, here is a scan of the 5 mun stamp from 1884:

KPSC1 / Scott 1

Here is the information Spink included in the 2020 catalogue:

1884 Moon Issue, enlarged essay of the 5m. value (72x86mm) in Indian ink on white paper, cut to size and mounted on thin greenish buff card with hand-drawn printer’s guides. This design varies slightly from the issued stamp, mainly in the central feature, top and bottom panels.

A rare and highly important item of this ill-fated first issue. No otther essays of ths issue have been recorded. Photo

Essays which were accepted for the issued stamps were usually retained by the printers. However, it was not unusual for unaccepted designs to be returned to the designer; in this case, Saito Chuzo. The seal below the design is not his and is probably a collector’s mark. This essay was found in the collection of a Spanish missionary who spent some time in Korea and in China, where he remained until the 1930’s. He died in the 1950’s and this has remained with the family since then.

The page as shown in the Spink catalogue. To get an idea of the asking price: 50.000-100.000 Hong Kong dollars equates to approx. 5300 – 10650 EUR or 6450 – 12900 US dollars. The Spink archive shows the item went unsold.

So, who knows more about this particular design? And does anybody have a good photo/scan of the Holcombe item? Please leave your comments below if you have any information for us on these fascinating items.

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KSS Korea Philately Editor
One of the earliest positions of the KSS. The position of editor of KP is, and has always been, the mainstay of the KSS.

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