LONDON – A block of one of the first stamps issued in North Korea sold for £27,500, or about $34,900, at Chiswick Auctions on July 19. The near-mint sheet of 104 copies of the 1946 Gen. Kim II Sung 50ch was part of the second tranche of a remarkable postal history collection assembled by John Newell, who is described as being ‘a former British journalist and presumed diplomat’ during the Cold War era.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Newell gained access to some of the world’s most secretive countries. He spent time in places such as North Korea, China, East-Germany, Russia, Tibet, Zanzibar, Alaska and Panama, for both work and leisure. Many of these areas were largely off-limits to Westerners.
The collection has been sold during two auctions without reserves, with the first sale having been held in March. Part two, which took place in July, featured a large number of stamps and items of postal history relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The country issued its first stamps in the tumultuous year of 1946.
Something of the chaos of the time can be seen in the iconography of this brown-printed 50ch stamp. Priced in Korean Yen – the North Korean Won did not become the official currency until late 1947 – it shows the nation’s founder as a young military general in front of the Taegeukgi flag that is now the national flag of South Korea.
It was not until 1948 that the familiar North Korean flag, with its red star and blue stripes, was adopted and appeared on a national stamp. By this time DPRK stamps had begun to assume more typical socialist subject matter: heroic workers, soldiers, Soviet friendship, slogans and the like.
Any block of these stamps is a rarity and a key item in any collection of North Korea philately. This almost-complete sheet of 13 by 8 stamps, missing only two blocks of four, was described as a ‘fine and extremely rare multiple.’ The estimate was £5,000-£8,000 ($6,300-$10,100).