26 July 2009

1991 Postage Meter of Phnom Penh

Dr Gale J Raymond, in his article ""UNTAC Cambodia: Namibia Peacekeeping Forces" published in ICP #128 (The Indo-china Philatlist, journal of Society of Indo-china Philatelists), gave the information that two French postage meter machines (Empreinte de Machine à Affranchir - EMA) were brought to Phnom Penh during the UNTAC era. They were supposed to solve the problem of high denomination postage stamp shortage. Below serves as a quick glance over their usage.

This outoging cover from Phnom Penh dated 29th February 1992 has an relatively early use of the postage meter. This meter stamp has actually been in use since late 1991.   Usage can be generalized in four categories.

As inflation was making most stamps inadequate for international postage, postal clerks simply franked an obsolete low face value stamp on mail, then cancelled it by meter stamp which paid the actual postage. The cover shown above falls into this category, 950r meter on a 5r stamp.

Sometimes no stamps were used, only the meter stamp was applied. Maybe the postal clerks finally realized that mail could go without a postage stamp, or they were too lazy to find one. Here is a fine example of meter with no postage stamps, another cover from Phnom Penh to Washington DC.


Meter stamp was used in a supplementary way when "practically usable" postage stamps were handy. In 1993 and 1994 it was quite common that partial postage was paid by postage stamps, and the rest filled up by meter. This UNTAC cover features a 50r stamp with a 480r supplementary postage meter.

The fourth usage is to serve as killer only. This happened most when high denomination postage stamps were in sufficient supply again in 1994. The 1995 cover below was franked with a 1500r stamp which paid all the postage, meter machine was for cancellation.

To my observation, all postage meter machines of this type ceased service in late 1999. Starting from 1998 Cambodia had some new machine cancellations, but they were merely killers without bearing postage.

Meter machines were available not only at Phnom Penh CPO. There are examples of postage meter bearing names of other districts, cities and provinces. Within Phnom Penh there are meters of district post offices such as Daun Penh and Olympic. The UNTAC cover shown before bears a meter stamp of Chbar Ampeou, a commune in southeast of Phnom Penh.
In 1995 there came a variation with a little cross in each side of the spacing between the French and Khmer words on the round datemark:

CPO has another meter machine which apparently is for parcel postage. It can also be found on letters.

21 July 2009

Radio Phnom Penh

These are the 2 sides of a Radio Phnom Penh greeting card sent to a listener in the Philippines.

Radio Phnom Penh, which called Voice of the Kampuchean People (VOKP) after Khmer Rouge fell, started to operate by the late 1980s as the state's mouthpiece.

Based in Phnom Penh, the station is now known as Voice of Cambodia.

I have the luck to reach Mr Manfred Lepp, the recipient of this card. He is kind enough to provide some background information:
"Back in 1990 I was sending a reception report to this station when they were still broadcasting on shortwave. Then later on they sent me this card, which you got from me. I have no further connection with the radio station, but I can give you a little information about it:

Now they are only transmitting on mediumwave 918 kHz from 2230 UTC to 1600 UTC (= 06:30 in the morning up to midnight Hong Kong time) with a power of 120 kw.

The station address is:

National Radio of Cambodia
20 Street 106
Sangkat Wat Phrom
Phnom Penh 12202

The last time I could hear this station was just recently when I was in Myanmar but with heavy interference from Radio Thailand operating on the same frequency. In the Philippines I cannot hear it at all because the Philippine station DZSR on the same frequency is just too strong."

My profound thanks to Mr Lepp for his kind response and valuable information.

Now back to philately. The card has a 170 riels postage. A sharp postage increase in December 1991 due to inflation has consequently led to high denomination stamp shortage. From information by the International Monetary Fund, we can see the inflation trend of Cambodia from 1987 to 2008:

In 1989, centrally controlled economy was no longer practiced. Just as most former socialist countries had experienced, transformation to market-oriented economy brought considerable negative impacts on monetary and financial stability, and one of them is inflation. Stamps obsoleted quick when inflation ran faster than the stamp printing machines.

On top of inflation, peace brought by the Paris Conference on Cambodia 1989 has made UN and NGO staffs flock to Cambodia. The sudden mail traffic boost resulted by these foreign aiders' correspondence also contributed to a significant demand on high denomination stamps for postage.

The postal authority tried to solve the problem by surcharging existing stamp stock, but very soon they realized that surcharges were too easy to counterfeit.

A second solution then came up. The French flew in meter stamp machines. In such a way, high denomination stamps were no longer needed in great amount to make up the postage.

My next blog entry will show samples of the French meter on covers.

13 July 2009

Chinese Navy visits Sihanoukville

PR China has been trying to maintain good relationship with Cambodia since 1990s, as the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs puts it, so to create opportunities of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. Currently Cambodia has the giant dragon to be the leading investor.

On the occasion of 50th anniversary of Khmer-Sino diplomatic relationship in 2008, the two countries crowned the year "Cambodia-China Friendship Year". Celebration includes the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sending a vessel to Cambodia as their very first ship visiting the Kingdom.

"Zheng He", a PLAN training boat with 411 men on board, left Zhanjiang (formerly Kwangchouwan) of China on 2nd November 2008. It was the last stop on Chinese soil and 4 days later the vessel proudly sailed into Port of Sihanoukville.

USA has sent 4 vessels to Sihanoukville before and now China wanted to flex muscles as well.

This is a photo from Xinhua News Agent, it shows "Zheng He" arriving Sihanoukville. The visit inlcuded cocktail parties, vessel's open day, football and volleyball matches between the Cambodian & Chinese navies and delegation meetings.

The training boat then sailed for Bangkok of Thailand and Danang of Vietnam after the Sihanoukville trip ended.

The official navy cover below commemorates this three countries trip of "Zheng He". It features stamps and arrival postmarks of all three stops:
  • the Chinese "PLAN Day" stamp postmarked 25th October in Dalian (Dairen), the port where "Zheng He" originally harboured in,
  • the Cambodian "50th Anniversary of Independence" stamp postmarked 5th November in Sihanoukville,
  • the Thai "HM King Bhumibol" definitive stamp postmarked 10th November in Phra Khanong of Bangkok,
  • and the Vietnamese "BirdLife" stamp postmarked 18th November in Danang.

This cover was jointly issued by PLAN and China National Philatelic Corporation, the state owned company for producing and distributing Chinese philatelic products. Print run is 11,000, not small for its kind.

An arrival backstamp dated 30th November 2008 of Dalian is on the back, it was the day when "Zheng He" was back to its marine base.

There are stamp and postmark variations for this cover. The Sihanoukville postmark can be in blue or black ink, and at least 3 other Vietnamese stamps are used for franking. Danang's postmark can be "Da Nang 1 GD" or "Song Han".

Sihanoukville, where "Zheng He" visited in a high profile way, is the only deep water port of Cambodia. The laid-back town has been gaining her former glory as a commercial seaport and holiday destination since the civil war ended. In 1990 Cambodia issued a set of 3 stamps featuring Kampong Som, Sihanoukville that is.

Sihanoukville used the historical name "Kampong Som" in 1980s and early 1990s. The city restored her French name "Sihanoukville" after Cambodia became a monarchy again in 1993. Below is a cover from Sihanoukville to Washington DC with postmark bearing the Khmer name Kampong Som (spelt Kompong Som).

Information source:
"Training Ship of Chinese Navy Zheng He Visits Cambodia", Xinhua News, 5th November 2008.
"PLA Navy Training Ship Zheng He Visits Thailand ", PLA Daily, 11th November 2008.

9 July 2009

Diplomatic Mail of Kampuchean Embassy 1979

Again nothing to do with Cambodian philately. Just that I think this item is scarce and interesting.

Dated 27th October 1979, this is a letter sent by the Embassy of Democratic Kampuchea in Beijing to the Embassy of Republic of Zaire by ordinary mail as printed matter. It informed the Zairean ambassador that the Kampuchean ambassador was away.

The letter is franked with a 1.5 fen Chinese definitive for basic postage. An eye catching red rectangular ink stamp indicates "printed matter". The blue rectangular ink stamp on the top left corner says "Telecommunication Receive & Dispatch Seal of Embassy of Democratic Kampuchea in China". Quite a surprise that diplomatic documents were sent cheap like newspaper, is this a common practice? Shrug.

Victories of the invading Vietnamese has made Pol Pot abandon the capital city Phnom Penh in early January 1979. The nutty Maoist Khmer Rouge retreated to the northwest dense jungles near the Thai border for guerilla and stayed there for the next two decades. Once Khmer Rouge had fled, Vietnamese promptly installed "People's Republic of Kampuchea" but failed to secure international endorsement , Khmer Rouge remained on the seat of Cambodia at the United Nations until 1993.

8 July 2009

Pure Philatelic Covers of Modern Cambodia

Unlike neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodia does not have a large volume of domestic commercial mail, so domestic philatelic mail often take up much collection space.

The cover shown above is a Phnom Penh intracity cover. The well excess postage was cancelled with a Phnom Penh Central Post Office (CPO) postmark, so it tells the letter was mailed at the CPO. The addressee's address is a CPO Box, so it tells the sender actually sent the letter to the place where he sent the letter. The philatelic nature is conspicuous.

Here is one more Phnom Penh intracity philatelic mail, from Boeng Pralit branch office to the CPO. It was overpaid for pretty illustration. Nice eye candy.

Intracity commercial covers are rare, as there is little reason for them to come into existence. Phnom Penh dwellers do not really send letters to reach each other, they use telephones and fax since mail is unreliable. Important documents are always sent by private express delivery companies such as Fedex, TNT, DHL, UPS.

In my 11 June 2009 entry (
click here to read), I brought out the postmark back-dating problem of Cambodia Post. Here is another victim.

Above shown is the written side of a postcard. Cancelled 13th April 1994, the stamp is from the 13th April 1994 "Khmer Culture" 3v set, so this looks like a first day of use thrill.

The unthrilling fact: 1994 was too early for the "PHNOM PENH RP2 CAMBODGE" postmark to come into existence.

This cancellation is obviously the work of back-dating.