A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Thursday, June 4, 2020

China 1888-1929 - a closer look

1909 Scott 133 7c orange & brown violet
"Temple of Heaven, Peking"
Into the Deep Blue
Classical China (1878-1949) is a tough country for the WW collector.

I can't think of any other country where it is so difficult to obtain material (even inexpensive material), and dealers almost always have little stock, as it goes out the door as soon as it comes in.

I did join the China Stamp Society, and they do hold auctions for their members. But there are no bargains at their auctions because one is competing against other enthusiastic China collectors.

So, even though I have a high interest in obtaining classical China, I've not come very far. A happy problem for us WW collectors is there is always other countries to collect, often with abundant material available and bargains to be had. So I circle back to China only occasionally, get frustrated with lack of buying opportunities, and move on again to another county.

Be that as it may, I thought I would do a broad (but limited in depth) review of the classical stamps of China. The review will give short shrift to the early (and expensive) issues, as I simply do not have material. But there is still much to talk about.

I need to mention that I have already published several posts on the 1913-1923 issues "Junk" and "Reaper" stamps. See..

China "Junk" Issues of 1913, 1915, & 1923: The Differences
China "Reaping Rice" Stamps of 1913, 1915-19, & 1923: The Differences

Lets begin...

China 1888-1929 - a closer look
10 Candareen = 1 Mace
10 Mace = 1 Tael
100 Cents = 1 Dollar (Yuan) (1897)

1888 Scott 14 3c lilac "Imperial Dragon"
"Small Dragon", Perf 12
The Imperial Maritime Customs Service ("Customs Post") handled the  mail from 1878 to 1897. Only three issues were produced during this period: the Large Dragon stamps (1878-1883), the Small Dragon stamps (1885-1888), and the Empress Dowager Commemoratives (1894-1897).

The stamp values were in silver candarin.

The stamps were actually printed by the Customs Statistical Department in Shanghai.

Both the Large Dragons (Nine major numbers) and the Small Dragons (six major numbers) were printed on individual copper dies (cliches), so each of these dies can be identified by specialists. There are 76 known dies for the Large Dragons, 40 known dies for the Small Dragons. Catalogue values for these Dragon stamps range from $60 to $1500 (Most range in the $hundreds). Needless to say, this is the playground of the rich and famous.

My Small Dragon stamp above (3c lilac) appears a bit faded. The China Stamp Society catalog states: "The printing ink is water soluble and can be washed off. Small Dragon stamps must never be soaked in water to remove paper or hinges"

On February 20, 1897, the national postal service (Imperial Chinese Post) took over from the Customs post. While awaiting the new silver dollar currency stamps to be shipped from Japan (See below), the remaining supplies of Large and Small Dragons, the Dowager Commemoratives, and even an unissued 3c red revenue stamp were overprinted/surcharged in silver dollar values for use as postage. This occurred between January and May, 1897, creating some 61 Major Scott numbers. The CV ranges in price from ~$20 to $75,000 (Most are in the $30+ to $hundreds). Again a playground for the specialist.

1897 Scott 86-92 "Dragon, Carp, Wild Goose" Issue
Lithographed in Japan, Wmk 103 (Yin-Yang Symbol)
"Imperial Chinese Post"
On August 16, 1897, the Imperial Chinese Post released twelve stamps (three designs) that had been lithographed in Japan by the Tokyo Tsukiji Foundry. CV ranges from $3+ to $45 for nine stamps, with the three higher values @ $200 - $1,600. This set was only in use for 4 1/2 months.

1897 Scott 92 20c maroon "Carp"
Wmk 103 (Yin-Yang Symbol)
The "Carp", a beloved fish for eating, is shown on this 20c maroon. This issue was watermarked (See below).

Wmk 103 (Yin-Yang Symbol)
Note the Yin-Yang symbol.

1898 Scott 98-106 "Dragon, Carp, Wild Goose" Issue
Engraved in London, Wmk 103 (Yin-Yang Symbol)
"Chinese Imperial Post"
In January, 1898, an engraved twelve stamp Wmk "Yin-Yang" issue from Waterlow & Sons in London was released, and the 1897 Japanese printed lithographed definitive issue was suspended.  Actually the 1897 Japanese lithographic issue and the 1898 London engraved issue are similar in appearance, as both issues were designed by R.A. de Villard.

The watermark ("Yin-Yang" is rather difficult to detect, as the the paper is thick.

CV ranges from $2+ to $360.

1898 Scott 106 50c light green "Carp"
Wmk 103 (Yin-Yang Symbol)
A close-up of the 50c green. The China Stamp Society catalog states that many shades can be detected, although Scott does not list any.

Note that the 1898 London printed stamps say "Chinese Imperial Post", while the preceding 1897 Japan printed stamps say "Imperial Chinese Post".

1900? -06 Scott 110-117 "Dragon, Carp, Wild Goose" Issue
Engraved, Unwmk
"Chinese Imperial Post"
In 1902, the watermarked paper that was sent to London ran out, so the stamps (from London) were printed on unwatermarked paper. Scott is unclear when these stamps were in use, but the China Stamp Society catalog states from 1902-1911 (last year of the Ching Dynasty).

1900-06 Scott 117 20c red brown "Carp"
Engraved, Unwmk
"Chinese Imperial Post"
Note that these issue have the same design as the 1898 watermarked set.

CV is $2+ to $250 (most CVs are modest).

1905-10 Scott 124-129 "Dragon, Carp"
Engraved, Unwmk
"Chinese Imperial Post"
These were additional stamps that are the same as the 1900?-1906 issue in design, but with a change in color or a new denomination.

1908 Scott 129 10c ultramarine "Dragon"
Engraved, Unwmk
"Chinese Imperial Post"
The 1908 10c ultramarine replaces the 10c green from the 1900?-1906 issue. The changes in color were done to accommodate UPU regulations.

CV for the 1905-10 stamps ranges from $2+ to $20.

1909 Scott 131 2c orange & green
"Temple of Heaven, Peking"
Designed by an American (L.J. Hatch), printed in London ("Waterlow & Sons"), and honoring a new Emperor (Hsuan Tung, also known as Henry Pu Yi), this three stamp bi-colored set was released September 8, 1909. CV is $8+-$10+.

After the 1912 revolution, Emperor Hsuan Tung lived in the Forbidden City for a few years, then in Tientsin under Japanese protection. In 1934, he became the "puppet" emperor (Kang Teh) of Manchukuo. He eventually was allowed to return to China where he lived out his (now uneventful) life. The movie, "The Last Emperor" is about him.

1912 Scott 146-162 "Stamps of 1902-10 Overprinted"
Overprinted by the Maritime Customs Statistical Department (MCSD), Shanghai
Issues of the Republic
After the revolution and the founding of the Republic, fifteen stamps of 1902-10 were overprinted in black or red by the Maritime Customs Statistical Department and released March, 1912.

Note: Scott 161 & 162 (bottom row above) were actually printed by the Commercial Press, Shanghai. The characters differ in that the top character is shifted a bit to the right, and the bottom character has small "legs".

1912 Scott 147 1c ocher "Dragon" (Red Overprint)
MCSD, Shanghai, Issues of the Republic
The overprinted four characters mean "Republic of China". CV ranges from $1+ to $8+ for fourteen stamps, with the three higher denominations @ $30+-$70+.

1912 Scott 163-174  "Stamps of 1902-10 Overprinted"
Overprinted in Blue, Carmine, or Black
Overprinted by Waterlow & Sons, London
In addition, Waterlow & Sons, London issued overprints on fifteen stamps in 1912.  CV ranges from $1+ to $500+ ( most are less than $10+).

1912 Scott 174 50c yellow green "Carp" (Red Overprint)
Overprinted by Waterlow & Sons, London
The Waterlow & Sons, London OP stamps can be differentiated by the MCSD, Shanghai OP stamps by a change in shape of the characters.

1912 Scott 186 50c dark green "Dr. Sun Yat-sen"
"Honoring the leader of the Revolution"
The "National Revolution Commemoratives", a twelve stamp engraved set, was released December 24, 1912, and featured Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the revolution. CV is $3+-$600+.

1912 Scott 199 $1 brown red 
"President Yuan Shih-kai"
"Honoring the 1st President of the Republic"
The second twelve stamp engraved set released December 24, 1912 honored President Yuan Shih-kai. CV ranges from $1+ to $300+.

1921 Scott 246 10c blue
"Yeh Kung-cho, Hsu Shi-chang and Chin Yun-peng"
National Post Office, 25th anniversary
March 20, 1921 was the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Post Office. A three stamp set was released. The center portrait is President Hsu Shi-chang;  Chin Yun-peng, on the right, is Prime Minister, and on the left is Yeh Kung-cho , Minister of Communication.

CV is $1+-$5.

1923 Scott 272 4c red
"Temple of Heaven, Peking"
For the adoption of the Constitution, October, 1923, a four stamps engraved set was released. The "Temple of Heaven" is depicted, as that is the place where the constitution was officially adopted.

CV is $1-$3+.

1928 Scott 277 4c olive green
"Marshal Chang Tso-lin"
To honor Chang Tso-lin, Marshal of the Army and Navy, a four stamp engraved set was released March 1, 1928. The stamps were only valid in certain provinces. CV is $1+-$60.

1929 Scott 281 4c olive green
"President Chiang Kai-shek"
Unification of China
On April 18, 1929, a four stamp engraved set was released to commemorate unification of China. The stamps show President Chiang Kai-shek. CV is <$1 - $70.

Of course, Chaiag Kai-shek was very much intertwined with the history of China (and Taiwan) for the next 45 years.

1912 Scott 184 16c olive green "Dr. Sun Yat-sen"
"Honoring the leader of the Revolution"
Out of the Blue
There is much much more that could be said about the stamp issues of classical China, but this will have to do for now. I hope you enjoyed this brief survey.

Comments appreciated!


  1. I concur with your experience in acquiring material for China in that it is often quite expensive due to its current popularity.

    Really interesting post! I loved the detail on the post office for China and from where stamps were being sourced.

    1. albumfilling - good to hear from you and am glad you found some of the details interesting. !!