30 June 2009

Postmark in Wrong Use

This is a cover which I believe most casual collectors would simply throw away. Only one stamp on it, it is a definitive - boring and most of all, damaged.

Look closer before you send it to landfill. The postmark has made things unusual.

It is a "PHNOM PENH RP CAMBODGE" postmark, all in French. "RP" is the acronym of "Recette Principale", the main post office of a city or an area, in here refers to the Phnom Penh Central Post Office. "COA" is "Courrier Ordinaire Arrivée". This "COA" postmark is meant for incoming ordinary mail, it is an arrival postmark.

Now you are enlightened. This cover is an outgoing mail, "COA" should not have been on it. "COD", "Courrier Ordinaire Depart" is the right postmark for outgoing ordinary mail.

The reason for this mistake is unknown. So far I have only seen one more sample of such mistake, it is a stampless official cover from the Department of Posts.

23 June 2009

Bogus Princess Diana Stamps

On 15th December 1997 Cambodia issued a sheetlet of 8 stamps plus 1 label in remembrance of the deceased Princess Diana, and highlighted her influential role in supporting the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Cambodia suffers one of the worst landmine problems in the world. Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians are injured or killed by landmines, many of them are just innocent young people. Landmines do not only bring casualties, they occupy habitable land, farms and water resources, which ultimately hinder the country's social development and economic recovery.

Side product of this issue is a set of 3 official FDC of the 8 stamps.

Bogus printers never miss a chance for lucre. Bogus Diana stamps emerged soon when the world mourned.

In Europe there are dealers carrying a set of 8 bogus épreuves de luxe (deluxe sheets), and a bogus stamp in sheetlet of 9. The épreuves de luxe have the same design as the authentic Diana stamps, while the stamps in sheetlet of 9 has a "new" design. To make the sheetlet look sophisticated, logo of CMAC (Cambodian Mine Action Centre) is on the selvedge of the sheetlet.

Filthy labels.

19 June 2009

Mail at Your Risk

In Cambodia, if you choose to send letters or parcels at a post office, it is a big challenge.

Post offices may not open. The staffs may not be ready to serve you. You may be randomly charged. Stamps may not be at face value. Your mail may not be delivered, and if it is to deliver, the service can be at tortoise pace in rain season, or sometimes your mail simply vanished.

The long war and consequent economic difficulties has made the postal services hard to operate professionally.

Low rank civil servants in Cambodia have salary which is difficult to support basic living. As a result public service users have to "contribute". Although there is a postage rate table at Phnom Penh CPO, the postal clerks charge at their mercy.

Rules and code of practice are reintroduced, but postal workers understand little about the importance of following them straightly. The stamps you get are not necessarily the amount you have paid, sometimes more, sometimes less. You just stick them on your mail, the postal clerk says it is okay, then it is okay.

The final challenge comes from the delivery. Phnom Penh is the national mail hub. Other than in-town delivery, all mail, both domestic and international, have to be sent to Phnom Penh first, then dispatched to their destination. Flying in and out of the capital is frequent, but travelling within the country can be slow, it depends on the condition of road network which deteriorates badly in rain season.

Although social stability and infrastructure development has been helping Cambodia Post improve her service, Cambodians more prefer telephone or private express shipping companies. Intra-town mail of private correspondence is getting less, within town is rare.

A Briton blogger, Michelle, has shared with us her adventure at Phnom Penh CPO, please click here for story.

The featured cover is a beautiful 1993 philatelic mail from Cambodia to USA. It was the time when the country name changed from "Kampuchea" back to "Cambodia". The old "Kampuchea" postmarks went obsoleted, the new "Cambodge" postmarks were not ready, so this pre-1975 postmark only with city name and no country name was just right for the duty. It was heavily used in 1994 and 1995 along with the new "Cambodge" postmarks.

14 June 2009

Handicap International

While a standard airmail letter from Phnom Penh to Hongkong costs 2300r, this only takes 1000r to Paris. It has a story to tell.

The letter was sent under the umbrella of Handicap International.

Handicap International is a Europe based non-governmental organization (NGO) set up in 1982. Initially they provided help in refugee camps in Cambodia and Thailand, now they focus their work on Cambodian disabled people welfare, AIDS fight, landmine clearance and proverty elimination. Outside Cambodia, the organization has a supporting network for the disabled worldwide.

If such does not impress you, you may like to realize that Handicap International is one of the 6 founding members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Cambodia is one of the worst sufferers of landmines - nearly 20,000 civilians have been killed by landmines since 1979, now one out of every 290 Cambodians is amputated. The ban landmine campaign had gained hearty support from Diana, Princess of Wales, and the biggest recognition came in 1997 when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2007 Cambodia Post launched a 2v set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Handicap International services. Long before this, the organization has been working close with different government ministries, including the Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications. To lower the organization's operational cost, an honourable agreement is made that mail under the organization's name enjoys bulk mail rate.

The postal used cover shown was sent by bulk mail, franked with a 1000r from the 2007 Handicap International set. Most Handicap International bulk mail is to Europe.

Please visit the website of Handicap International to know more about the organization:

12 June 2009

Private FDCs of Modern Cambodia

Two first day covers (FDC) of 1984 Flowers 7v set.
Some Victorian era philatelists would tell you, such kind of pictorials and FDCs are worthless. Well, the first official FDC is quite common, but not the second, it is a private FDC. The stamp set is tied by an authentic Phnom Penh Central Post Office (CPO) regular postmark, you can compare this with the fake private FDC I posted on 11th June, titled "Real First Day Collectables?".
In 1980s, Cambodians were still suffering from the after shock of Khmer Rouge terror. The country was closed off, the people were penniless. Basically no locals had spare time and dough for hobbies like stamp collecting. Only a very small number of foreigners, mostly aiders from the Soviet Bloc, would care about stamps as souvenirs.
I have tried to trace the premier owner of this private FDC, but failed. I acquired from a Singaporean private collector who bought from an Australian dealer. The clue stopped there.

11 June 2009

Real First Day Collectables?

Two FDCs of the 1983 "4th Anniversary of Liberation" set.

The latter one is a real first day cancel and an official one.

Amateurs may think that the first one is just a private FDC, specialists know it is bogus. The clue is there: the French "CAMBODGE" type postmark did not exist in 1980s, it is impossible for it to be on a 1983 cover.

Below is the postmark type used by the Phnom Penh Central Post Office throughout 1980s, the country name was "KAMPUCHEA" back then:

Private FDCs of 1980s would only bear such cancellation type or the pre-1975 "Phnom Penh RP" with no country name type.

Cambodian postal workers have been known for their bad practices and one of them is postmark back-dating which actually prohibited by UPU. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, just a little bribe could let you have postmarks of any date you wanted. This "tradition" lingers till today, consequently it weakens the credibility of certain postal and philatelic materials. The other side of the coin is, it keeps amateurs entertained and specialists busy, you complain and yet you enjoy it.

10 June 2009

The Silver Pagoda

What shown in this card is Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot (literally the Holy Emerald Temple), more commonly known to tourists as the Silver Pagoda. It is located next to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to serve as the royal wat.

The splendid silver floored temple now houses a crystal Buddha image, and in front of it is the Maitreya Buddha image commissioned by HM King Sisowath. The Maitreya Buddha is in royal regalia with 2086 diamonds including a 25 caret diamond in the crown and a 20 caret diamond embedded in the chest (ohh mon dieu!!!). This is a black and white photograph of the Buddha image taken in 1930s.

It is notable that, the 1994 "45th Anniversary of Cambodia's Admission to UPU" 200r stamp on this maxicard is tied by the rubber postmark mentioned in my very first blog posting. The postmark is bi-colour, date in red and the rest blue. It is a mystery how this happened.

5 June 2009

Laotian Olympic Team Flight

Back in the 4th century BC, the book "Analects of Confucius" recorded that Confucius praised a deceased scholar named Kung-yu.

Kung-yu was honoured with the posthumous title "Wen Gong" (means "honourable master of broad knowledge"). Confucius' doubting students and some other people argued that there were many scholars more senior and more knowledgable than Kung-yu, it was not appropriate to pay such high respect to Kung-yu.

The Great Master then explained that Kung-yu had truly lived up to the honour because he was "very willing to learn humbly, not ashamed to consult those who supposed to be less knowledgable, and not ashamed to learn from his subordinates".

Now back to the modern world. The Indo-China Philatelist (ICP) is the official journal of the Society of Indo-China Philatelists (SICP). In ICP #187, which published in March 2009, there shows an interesting cover. Nothing Cambodia, it is a beautiful aerogramme from Laos.

In the journal, it reads:

"Richard Aspnes, SICP President and specialist in commemorative markings from Laos, had not previously seen this marking, but he has some knowledge of classical Chinese writing. Even if the name of the addressee is written in simplified Chinese, Richard can say that the aerogramme is addressed to the Olympic village."

It is actually a plain and usual civilian residential address - the addessee Mr Huang's own home in Changping, a northwest suburb of Beijing. Mr Huang is a Chinese philatelist who is keen on Beijing Olympic items.

The cover has nothing to do with the Olympic Village, the address does not even bear the word "Olympic".

Perhaps Mr Richard Aspnes can learn from Kung-yu - do not be afraid to consult and learn. There are members in SICP who are perfectly fluent in Chinese.  This is an unfortunate case of "he thinks he knows".

Once the journal was out, I contacted ICP's editor, Mr Ron Bentley. No response given.

Wallpaper or Treasure?

After four bitter years of postal service crease, in 1980 Cambodia once again issued postage stamps. For the next two decades, most Cambodian stamps were designed, printed and marketed by the Cuban stamp producing company - COPREFIL.

COPREFIL has been the official stamp producer of Benin, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Guinea, Laos and some other third world countries. COPREFIL pictorials share the problem of what all those agency-produced stamps encountered, they are widely considered "wallpaper" by serious collectors. Complaints include poor quality, sales oriented themes, considerable printing quantity and rare postal use.

Let's make one thing clear: all stamps other than definitives are for collectors, phialtelic exploitation is nothing new: in 1888 New South Wales issued a commemorative stamp to mark state centenary, and in 1923 Luxembourg issued the first souvenir sheet of the world, these items only have one mission: to generate revenues!  Some self labelled philatelists or veteran collectors simply forget that all countries in the world have sales oriented postal services which have philatelic bureaux or agencies to serve stamp collectors.  Stamps other than definitives are not primarily for mail use but for extra dough.

For many European countries, virtually all post offices use framas and meters instead of lick-and-stick stamps. If no one uses stamps but stamps are printed, it does not matter what the print run is, the stamps are just in excess.  The Pitcairn Islands have less than 50 residents, no one uses mail, stamps are nothing more than tourist souvenirs, yet no collectors accuse Pitcairn's paper junk.   In contrast, Cambodia is a country with more than 10 million population, there are mail users and stamps are considerably consumed.  It is easy to realize that
calling Cambodian stamps "wallpaper" is biased and ethnocentric.

Although dogs and Olympics and chess constantly star Cambodian stamps in 1980s and 1990s, there are Cambodia related themes.  Below is the "Khmer Culture" series 1996 set featuring Khmer dance masks, a proud show-off of Khmer fine arts and heritage.

I hope collectors didn't miss out Cambodian épreuves de luxe, errors and proofs. Some stamp sets and souvenir sheets have imperforates, never made available by Cambodia Post, these items are likely to be proofs sneaked from COPREFIL. It is a challenge to collect them all. Below is a block of 4 uncut proof of the 1994 "80th Anniversary of the 1st Fly Performed by a Multimotor Plane" souvenir sheet. Print run of the souvenir sheet is only 39,150.

From time to time there are non-COPREFIL sets. Without sales agencies, generally they are not available to overseas collectors in mint and consequently scarcity turns them into high priced sets. In 1989 there came a Vietnamese printed 4v set showing 3 stone carved Asparas. The garish set has high face value (because of high inflation) for international mail, it is very easy to come by on covers, but not often seen in MNH.

In 1993, a 3v set was scheduled to mark the 40th anniversary of national independence. As COPREFIL shipped some of the stock to Cambodia for domestic use, suspiciously it was reported stolen during transit which forced Cambodia to declare the set illegal. Russia made a quick move of producing a new 3v set and presented to Cambodia as a gift. The new stamps share a same design of Angkor Wat, the renowned national symbol. This set was only available in Cambodia, while the stolen set was only available outside Cambodia. Below shows the replacement set:

Inflation and shortage of stamps has forced Cambodia surcharge some of her old stock. The first surcharges appeared in 1986, more were made in 1991. Now they are gems.

Quantity of Cambodian stamps sometimes suprises you in a nice way. Print run fuctuates, usually it is below 200,000 complete sets, sometimes it has a shape fall, a notable example is the 1997 Heinrich Von Stephan set with only 10,350 complete sets printed.

No mail from Cambodia in your pigeon box does not suggest mail traffic of Cambodia is finger counted. In 1980s the majority of outgoing mail was to Vietnam, France and the Eastern Bloc, in 1990s to western Europe. By mid 1990s Cambodia had more than 2,500,000 international outgoing items annually (from UPU statistics) - not busy but not too lay back. Just to mention some countries ranked way behind Cambodia: Belarus had about 1,600,000, Paraguay 1,000,000, Azerbaijan and Laos 580,000, Bosnia 90,000 only.

The first definitive set of Cambodia was issued as late as in 1996, so you can make the right guess what were on the 2,500,000 letters each year before 1996 - only the pictorials!  Be educated, do not ignorantly claim the Cambodian pictorials see very little postal use, it is just that you do not know how to find them.

Cambodian stamps give endless pleasure if you drop your prejudice and know what to collect. It is affordable, less studied, and with plenty of things you can focus on, all upon your imagination. In my future blog entries, I hope you would learn the unjustly neglected post 1979 Cambodian philately is way more than a pile of dogs and cars and chess canceled-to-orders, just as Cambodia is way more than Angkor Wat.

4 June 2009

80th Birth Anniv of HM King Father Sihanouk

My very first blog entry is devoted to the "80th Birth Anniversary of Preah Karuna Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk Preahmahaviraksat" set.

The sumptuous stamp set was issued on 31st October 2001 as the last issue of the year, and as the first issue after the contract between Cambodia and COPREFIL, the Cuban state owned stamp printer ended. With a total of 13 values, by far it is the largest set since Cambodia re-established her postal system in 1980.

HM King-Father Norodom Sihanouk held the title King of Cambodia again in 1993 until he abdicted in October 2004 because of ill health. The stamp set features images taken in different stages of King-Father's life.

Print run is unknown. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, there is no official FDC made for this issue, but it has a commemorative cachet (not a postmark) showing HM King-Father's portrait above the inscription "1921-2001" for public stamping. The cachet colour can be red, blue or black, all depends on the ink pad used by the postal clerk.

Below is a private cover. Since the stamps are only tied by a cachet instead of a postmark, this cover cannot be regarded as FDC. Still, it is a very great looking souvenir.

The FDC shown at the very top of this page is private made. The eye catching postmarks on this FDC are not the conventional "CAMBODGE" metallic in French used at that time. This is a rubber postmark in English with a 3cm diameter.

During the UNTAC era (1992-1993), many UN officers requested for philatelic souvenirs at the Phnom Penh Central Post Office (CPO). Unfortunately all those metallic postmarks at the desk were too worn for philatelic cancellation, the solution to this was a new rubber postmark made available at the philatelic counter for better cancellation. The Phnom Penh rubber postmark was also used on authentic non-philatelic commerical mail, but it was so rare that so far I have observed only very few samples.

More than one rubber postmark existed at the Phnom Penh CPO. The one on this FDC (shown on the left of the above scan) has 1mm space between the English letters and the big circular edge. To my observation, there was another (shown on the left of the above scan) with that spacing less than 1mm, letter and number fonts have boosted, and the overall size of the postmark was tiny bit larger by 1mm. There may have had more than two rubber postmarks at the CPO, further research is needed.

The rubber postmarks resemble the metallic postmarks "PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA" with postcode 12000 which came into daily use in late 2006. There are significant differences between them to distinguish: the Khmer letters on rubber postmarks are more distant while those on the metallic are more compact, and the metallic postmarks bear postcode 12000 but rubber never.