5 November 2013

1984 & 1986 Airmail Stamps of Cambodia (P.R. Kampuchea)

In 1984, five years after postal service was re-established in 1979, Cambodia had her airmail stamps again.

Officially issued on 2nd Jan, the new airmail set has four values which share an identical design depicting an Ilyushin Il-62 over the Khmer national pride, Angkor Wat.  This scene was merely a fascinative illusion as in reality Kampuchean Civil Aviation Company only provided commercial air service between Phnom Penh and Hanoi in 1984, there could have no Il-62 over Angkor.

1984 airmail set of 4v (Sc #C55-C58, Mi #546-549).

Denominations of the four airmail stamps are 5r, 10r, 15r and 25r respectively, they make a total of 55r which was around 7.85USD with reference to the exchange rate 7r to 1USD in January 1984.

The lowest value of the set is 5r, however at the time of issue most standard letters did not have postage more than 4r, this resulted in a very limited use of these airmail stamps in 1984 and 1985.  The set was primarily used for special delivery services which cost premiums, and on mail with considerable weight.  Here is a sample of 10r and 15r from the 1984 airmail stamps franked on an early 1986 registered mail:

Postmarked 6th February 1986, this cover was to Darwin of Australia.  The stamps show 29.9r postage including registered fee.   It is extremely difficult to study 1980s and 1990s Cambodian postal rates because stamp franking did not necessarily reflect the actual postage paid.  The chaos was the direct result of odd face value stamp supply, bribery and unprofessional postage bookkeeping.  To make things more complicated, during the high inflation period, postage in riel was hooked to the fluctuating daily exchange rate of riel to dollar.

According to the stamp printer, 855,500 airmail sets were printed.  This amount is surprisingly large as in 1980s the majority of Cambodian stamps were produced below 300,000 full sets per issue.  When the print run was high and the use was limited, there should have had a large stock remained in the coming years to fulfill postal needs but surprisingly another airmail set with exactly the same denominations was introduced just two years later.

On 4th March 1986 the Cambodian postal authority issued 606,650 new airmail sets.  This second airmail set has the same "II-62 over Angkor" design but with background colours, inscriptions and placement of them changed (see scan).

1986 airmail set of 4v (Sc #C59-C62, Mi #737-740).

Inflation climbed considerably after the stamps were issued.  It started at a sudden official fall, 30r to 1USD sometime before May, then in September the next year the rate was down to 100r to 1USD.

Devaluation of riel made high face value stamps like these airmail stamps just right for extensive use.  However the puzzling thing is, instead of using the 1984 airmail stamp stock to catch up with the postage increase, the post offices largely used the 1986 set.  The reason for this is unknown.

The following are examples of 1986 airmail stamps on covers:

1986 cover from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City franked with two 5r airmail stamps.
Total postage: 10.2r.  The postal clerk used two 5r stamps instead of one 10r
probably because 5r was handy.  In Cambodia, there is no practice of using
the least amount of stamps to make up postage.

Back of a 1989 cover from Siem Reap to Houston franked with four 5r airmail stamps.
Two 1988 Vietnamese printed "Apsaras" 35r and a 2r from the 1986 "Butterflies"
are on the front.  Total postage: 92r.

1991 domestic cover from Pursat to Phnom Penh with a
1986 15r airmail stamp, single franking.

The 1986 airmail stamps remained commonly used until early 1990s when further inflation rendered them obsolete.  Collectors should note that dealers love to claim that 1986 airmail stamps on mail is rare and scarce, it is absolutely not true.

The 2014 Scott retail price of the 1984 airmail set is mint 45USD, postal used 7.5USD, the 1986 set mint 37USD, postal used 7.5USD.  Market price for a mint set is under 10USD.  None of the major catalogues reflect real market price or scarcity.

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