In my childhood I was a passionate stamp collector and still today I will often pick up some stamps as souvenirs when I travel, particularly when I visit what might be termed more obscure countries in the stamp collecting world.

North Korea offers little choice in terms of souvenirs but stamps are an option and they are readily available almost everywhere tourists visit though some places offer a wider selection than others. In 2018 we visited two specialist shops, one outside the Koryo Museum near Kaesong (also visited in 2014) and the Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall in Pyongyang, the subject of this review.

My visit to the Stamp Exhibition Hall started with lunch in the restaurant downstairs.

2a
Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall and Restaurant

Here we enjoyed a delicious Korean bibimbap while watching what appeared to be a Korean War documentary with actual war footage – alas it was not in English but still part of the ongoing reminder to everyone that the Korean War continues to this day.

2b
Bibimbap
3(1)
Korean War documentary playing in restaurant

After lunch we moved upstairs to the Stamp Exhibition Hall which was beautifully laid out and obviously very new. I understand it opened in 2012. Stamps and other philatelic items were well laid out in a number of display formats and descriptions were in both Korean and English.

4(1)
Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall
5(1)
Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall

As I recall this was the only place we visited in North Korea where descriptions were in English.

5a
Multi-lingual captions

What I found especially interesting was that the pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, typically found in public areas like this, were, here, given a philatelic makeover with two actual stamps being enlarged and displayed.

6(1)
Philatelic orientated pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il

North Korean stamps cover a range of topics. Prior to the mid 1970s they primarily dealt with subjects specifically related to North Korea, its foundation, Kim Il-sung and other patriotic themes. Realising then that stamps can be a useful source of foreign currency, from overseas collectors, the range of topics covered was greatly increased and stamps are now also produced with a special focus on European royalty, sports, wildlife and other thematic subjects of particular interest to international thematic collectors. In 1982, for example, stamp sets were issued to commemorate the ‘21st Birthday of the Princess of Wales’, the ‘Birth of Prince William of Wales’ (a two and three dimensional set!) and the World Cup Football Championships, Spain, Results’.

7(1)

It is likely that many, if not most, special issue stamps (now numerous sets per year with 18 to June 2019) are not circulated at all within North Korea or intended for actual postal use.  Many North Korean stamps, including the three sets specifically mentioned above, are relegated to a special section of Stanley Gibbon’s catalogues with the advice that the ‘….. stamps have either been issued in excess of postal needs, or have not been available to the public in reasonable quantities at face value’. Essentially the renowned British philatelic dealer and publisher doubt their legitimacy as stamps. Obviously many of the stamps in my photos are special commemorative editions which, per Gibbon’s, is fine if the base stamps included have been sufficiently circulated at face value.

Of course, almost all countries issue stamps specifically for collectors so North Korea is far from unique in this regard.

Stamps available locally, for postal use, tend to be patriotic in content and often depict miniature forms of propaganda posters and murals, rather than images of the leaders. I would not want to be the postal official who cancelled a stamp featuring one of the Leaders by slapping a black franking mark across their face! (Any form of defacing the image of a Leader in North Korea is a serious criminal offence).

8(1)
Typical North Korean Stamps

I doubt if any of the leaders stamps depicted below have been in general circulation within North Korea and I have seen it said that if anyone used them to post something from North Korea it would not leave the country. I imagine overseas postal officials would not be sufficiently trained to identify these depictions of the Leaders and treat them in an appropriately respectful manner!

(Addendum – A member of the group I travelled to North Korea with in 2014 has just let me know that she (contrary to advice she received) used stamps depicting the Leaders to send postcards overseas in that year and they were delivered).

9(1)
Commemorative stamps depicting Kim Il-sung (and Kim Jong-il -bottom right)
10(1)
Commemorative stamps depicting Kim Jong-un (and Kim Jong-il – upper left)

11(1)The definitive stamps, as pictured alongside, were those sold to tourists wishing to send postcards overseas (in 2018). If you tell the shop assistant that you plan to use the stamps to send postcards they will give you the correct stamps.

As a side note, should you visit and send postcards overseas ensure you do not say anything disrespectful about the Leaders or the country and do not call it North Korea – you must refer to it as the DPRK or Korea. Assume your card will be read and if deemed inappropriate, binned.

Now the unexpected!

Of particular interest to my reader may be that in June 2019 North Korea issued three stamps commemorating the first anniversary of the 2018 summit in Singapore between Marshal Kim Jong-un and President Trump. Pictures below were sourced from https://koreastampsociety.org/

12
Marshal Kim Jong-un and President Trump Summit Singapore 2018
13
Marshal Kim Jong-un and President Trump Summit Singapore 2018
14
Marshal Kim Jong-un and President Trump Summit Singapore 2018

Also due for public release in the next couple of days are two stamps, one commemorating Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Pyongyang in late June 2019 and one of President Trump with Marshal Kim Jong-un in North Korea, at Panmunjom, on 30 June 2019. Pictures courtesy of NK-News.

15
President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Pyongyang in late June 2019
16
President Trump with Marshal Kim Jong-un in North Korea, at Panmunjom, on 30 June 2019

I doubt if stamps will be issued to mark the Hanoi summit meeting.

While President Trump is the first (only) US president to be depicted on North Korean stamps other world leaders have often appeared on the country’s stamps.

17
Kim Jong-il with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Kim Il-sung with President Castro of Cuba and Chairman Mao Zedong of China

Having had a look at the exhibition I moved on to the shop area where many of the stamps on display, plus others, were available for sale. I only purchased a few individuals stamps here, including some of those depicted above, as I had already purchased quite a few at other locations and on my previous visit in 2014.

18
Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall Shop

My next North Korea (2018) – Pyongyang review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Pyongyang reviews – HERE


14 thoughts on “Korean Stamp Exhibition Hall – North Korean Stamps – Expect the Unexpected

  1. I guess the DPRK’s philately may be a great theme to collect. Stamp collecting is always surprising as its “paper pieces” are also surprising, not only for stamp collectors. Thanks for sharing all these in a great blog post, and I hope you’ll find again the passion for stamps! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some unexpected stamps indeed Albert! But I like the panda ones the best 🙂 I used to collect stamps when I was young, and had a great joy in doing so! I stopped collecting many many years ago though, but I still have all of them. I never had the heart to get rid with them and I guess I never will 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the panda ones too .. that’s why I use it as the lead photo. I am like you and still retain my childhood collection … who knows maybe it is worth a fortune today – it certainly wasn’t when I was collecting. Yours too!!!!

      Like

  3. I was prepared to think, ‘stamps, how boring, I hope we don’t go here’, but halfway through my read I started to find the stamps pictured rather interesting and would be happy to see them for myself!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post reminds me that I misplaced a special photo-portrait of crazy Muammar Al-Ghaddafi and his White Book which I bought in Tripoli in 2004. This propaganda stuff always much alike, “nice” stamps by the way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Let me add one fact, cause the North-Corean propaganda seems to be working also in my country with “great” success. So one German pensioneer prefers to get his pension of € 1,286 paid to North-Corea where he/she is living now permanently. So take care. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s