Simple ways to identify stamps from Chosun Dynasty, North Korea and South Korea

Q&A

One of our newest Korea Stamp Society members asked the Korea Stamp Society for information on how to tell the differences between South and North Korean stamps. As most of our articles on the KSS website are on specialized topics about Korean philately, we thought it would be good to write an article about identifying Korean stamps. So following are some examples from the first early Korea Empire issues to lastly modern South Korea stamps so collectors can easily tell the difference.

Fig. 1: Chosun Dynasty issued the first stamps on November 18,1884, 5 and 10 mun Scott 1-2 when the first postal service was created. The 25, 50 and 100 won stamps were never issued by the postal authorities. The value of stamps are in mun (문, Mn) and Korean is written Corean in English.
Fig. 2: The second Korea issue, Chosun Dynasty 1885 values in poon, Scott 6-9
Fig. 3: The third series of regular postage stamps from Korea were issued by the Korea Empire in 1900-01, the “Plum Blossom” series, values were 2 re, 1-50 ch (cheun) and 1 to 2 Wn (Won), Scott 18-33.

Japan occupied Korean from 1905 until the end of the WWII and in addition to using Japanese stamps during that time for use in Korea, Japan issued “Offices in Korea” overprints on Japanese stamps.

Fig. 4: Japan, “Offices in Korea” Scott 1 – 14. Overprints of Japanese stamps with red or black characters.

After WWII was Korea was liberated, the countries were broken up into North Korea and South Korea. During the first few years, North Korea postal administration was run by the Soviet Union and the South Korea postal system was administered with the help of the US Military

North Korea (DPR Korea) Stamps

Fig. 5 North Korea identify itself as Chosun, name of old Korea. The stamps issued from 1946 to 1947 are identified with Chosun Stamp (표우선죠) written from right to left with Cho = 죠. Shown are several of the 1946 North Korean stamps issued under Soviet occupation, Scott 1 and 5.
Fig. 6: Stamps issued 1948 to present North Korea used (조선우표), DPRK, or DPR Korea. Chosun (조선우표) is written left to right and Cho = 조. North Korean stamps in late 1977 started to have in English “DPR Korea”. Some examples of these stamps, from left to right: Scott A902 or 1456, 1976, 10ch 3rd Asia Table Tennis Championships; Scott A947 or 1674, 1978, Postal History 25ch Tupolev Tu-154 Jetliner; Scott A1100 or 2282, 1983, Raphael 500th Birth Anniversary 10ch Madonna of the Goldfinch.

USAMGIK Stamps

The USA military (“USAMGIK”) overprinted Japanese stamps for use in South Korea during 1946 before later in 1946 issuing the first stamps for South Korea.

Fig. 7: Japanese tamps overprinted by the US Military in 1946 for use in South Korea. Scott 55-60

South Korea Stamps

South Korea stamps are easily distinguished from North Korean by looking at a few key points.

Fig. 8 From 1946 to June 1948 South Korea stamps also used Chosun Stamp (조선우표) written from left to right or top to bottom with Cho = 조. However, in contrast to North Korea Stamp, the valuation is written in English alphabet just as stamps from Chosun Dynasty. Shown is 1946 Scott 60.
Fig. 9: From July 1948 to present, South Korea identifies itself as Republic of Korea (대한민국). Also, some will have “Korea” and/or valuation written in English on the stamps. Shown is 2019 Scott 2541

In summary, the following are key points to identify the different eras of Korea, North Korea and South Korea on their stamps:

  • Chosun Dynasty: Korean is written as Corean, valuation (Mun and Poon) in English Alphabet.
  • Korea(n) Empire: 1900-1905 “Imperial Korean Post” is written in English, valuation in re (half of Poon or 2re = poon.), ch (cheun) and Wn (won).
  • North Korea: 1946 to 1947 Chosun Stamp (표우선죠) written from right to left with Cho = 죠. 1948 to Present; Chosun (조선우표) is written left to right and Cho = 조. North Korea is written as DPR Korea on some of its stamps. Never is “Korea” written in English alone.
  • South Korea: 1946 to June 1948 South Korean stamps also identify South Korea as Chosun Stamp (조선우표) written from left to right or top to bottom with Cho = 조. The valuation is written in the English alphabet. July 1948 to present, Republic of Korea or Korea (대한민국). Some valuation written in English. On most early South Korea stamps the word “Korea” is written in English.

Note: On all South Korean stamps after late 1953 the monad is pictured on the stamps. It is on many of the South Korean stamps prior to 1953. If a stamp has the monad, it is not from North Korea.

Fig. 10: South Korean (KoreaPost) souvenir stamp sheet showing stamps KPC3398-3413 “Taegeukgi in History”. The monad is clearly visible in all these stamps.
Fig. 11: One of the stamps in the series shown on the souvenir sheet, showing in detail were to locate the nomad. It is always in a corner of the stamps, in one colour (can be blue, grey, or any other appropriate colour).
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1 thought on “Simple ways to identify stamps from Chosun Dynasty, North Korea and South Korea

  1. Looking at the number of stamps issued by South Korea from 1946 through 1953, I estimate that only about 25% do not have the words “Korea” in English and/or the monad/South Korean Flag. Maybe there are others, but the last South Korean stamp I could find without the monad is the 1953 1st Hawn definitive series Scott 190-194, KPSC R63-67, but they do have words “Korea” in English on stamps. The last South Korean stamps that I can find without “Korea” or the monad/flag are the Aug. 1, 1953 semi-postal set for the Red Cross, Scott B1-B2, KPSC 142-143. Maybe some readers know of others.

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