A Remarkable Foreign Postal Matter (Korea – Holland 1900)

Old Korea

The turn of the 20th century brought with it many marvels, not the least of which was the intricate and expansive postal system that connected even the most distant lands. Among the fascinating postal artifacts from this era is an envelope sent in the year 1900, corresponding to various calendars as Dan-Gee 4233, Kwang-Mu 4, and Go-Jong 37. This envelope stands out not only for its journey but for the rich tapestry of history it carries.

Designated as Foreign Postal matter and registered under ‘SEOUL NO. 445’, this envelope was franked with an elaborate series of stamps, the Plum-Blossoms Stamp Series being predominant among them. This series alone contributed stamps valued at 2 Ri x 5, 1 Jeon x 3, 2 Jeon x 2, 3 Jeon x 2, and a single 20 Jeon stamp. Alongside these were stamps from the Tae-Geuk series with denominations of 5, 25, and 50 Poon, and the Dae-Han Red Overprint series contributing 5, 10, 25, and 50 Poon stamps. In total, the envelope bore 21 stamps, amounting to a hefty sum of 216 Jeon and 2 Ri.

This was a significant overpayment considering the International Letter rate of the time was a mere 10 Jeon plus a registry fee of 10 Jeon. So why the excess of 196 Jeon 2 Ri? It’s here that philatelic experts, like the author of ‘CHEBU’, surmise that this was not a mere letter but a philatelic cover – a collectible item created by a stamp enthusiast. The sender likely requested every available variety of stamp at the post office to adorn this envelope.

Stamped with 16 ‘SEOUL COREE’ foreign cancellations, and additional marks from SHANG-HAI CHINA and HOLLAND (the latter on the backside), the envelope tracks a journey through time and space, beginning with the SEOUL cancellation dated October 9, 1900, passing through SHANG-HAI CHINA on October 16, and finally arriving in HOLLAND on October 18 of the same year.

The address penned in elegant French script hints at the possibility of the sender’s nationality. The Frenchman Emile Martel (1874–1949), known for his educational contributions in Shang-Hai, China, and in Cho-Sun where he established a French school in January 1895, could possibly be connected. Martel or one of his fellow French educators might have mailed this envelope, indulging in the era’s passion for philately.

The over-franking, the assortment of stamps, and the French connection all paint a picture of a time when postage was more than mere currency for mail; it was a canvas for cultural exchange, a hobby for the enthusiastic, and a token for the ages. As this envelope journeyed from the heart of Korea to the Dutch lands, it carried with it not just words, but a fragment of history, a snapshot of global connections, and a mystery for us to ponder over a century later.

This item is shown on page 178 of the book “Chebu”. For more information please see this article published on this book on the KSS website.
Dr. Joel Lee
Born in Korea, Vietnam war participation as ROK marine, Dr. of Ministry, Retired Presbyterian Pastor. 40 years collected for Korea stamps 1884-1905.

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