28 September 2014

Vietnamese Capitalist Tax on Cambodian Mail

Sent from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, this Cambodian cover testifies the economic deterioration of Vietnam in 1980s.


Unification in 1975 under socialism did not bring Vietnamese peace and prosperity.  Elimination of private enterprise, prosecution of so called "capitalists" and ethnic Chinese, and military occupation of Cambodia all seriously hindered Vietnam's national economic development in the following decade.

Towards the end of 1980s, the Vietnamese economy was in such pathetic condition that people had to cross the border to Cambodia for jobs because the recovering Cambodia was relatively more prosperous.

To increase revenue, Vietnamese postal officials broke the UPU regulations with an introduction of an extraordinary tax charged on mail recipients.  From 1983 to 1991, in south Vietnam (primarily Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding areas) where people were comparatively wealthier than the rest of the country, mail recipients had to pay a surcharge for receiving mail from "capitalist" countries.

A box cachet was handstamped on mail to indicate a surcharge was to collect.   Inscription of the cachet varies: "express", postal surcharge", "collect additional fee" and many more, but all referring to the same taxation.  The following are some examples:

Bưu Điện QN-ĐN Phụ Thu
Dịch Vụ Phí
Phụ Cước
Phụ Thu
Phụ Thu Bằng Một Phụ Cước Ghi Số
Phát Nhanh
Phát Nhanh Thu
Phát Tận Tay Người Nhận
Phát Trực Tiếp Tới Tay Người Nhận
Thù Lao Vụ
Thu Phụ Phí

A tax amount in numerals followed these words or phrases.  This amount has kept increasing over time due to high inflation.

Cachet on Cover

The taxation cachet in red ink on the cover front reads "Phát Trực Tiếp Tới Tay Người Nhận 100đ", which means "deliver to addressee directly, 100 đong".  100 đong is the surcharge amount.

Here is an enlarged scan of cachet:

Cambodia was a socialist country throughout 1980s, so in general mail from Cambodia to Vietnam was not taxed.  But there was a period of exception. 

From 1989 to 1990 when the Vietnamese economy was in great difficulty, mail from both capitalist and socialist countries was taxed accordingly.  This Cambodian cover, cancelled in Phnom Penh on 27th Oct 1990 and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on 3 Nov 1990, fell within this revenue-hunger period.

Surcharge cachets no longer appear on mail after mid 1991, apparently the tax was still collected in some areas until mid 1990s.

10 September 2014

UNTAC German Field Post and Field Hospital

During the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) operation from 1992 to 1993, Germany was one of the contingents which ran their own field post service in Cambodia.

The two covers shown above are UNTAC mail, they feature the German field hospital handstamped cachet in blue ink and printed wordmark of UNTAC in black ink.  The contents show that both letters were written by the same United Nations Military Observers (UNMO) member to Vzlt Oswald Klier in Vienna, Austria.

The first cover postmarked 11th September 1993 was sent in Phnom Penh via German field post.  A 1DM stamp paying basic international airmail postage is tied by the "Feldpost 7415" postmark.

The second cover was sent via the Cambodian postal service, machine canceled 24th March 1993 in Chbar Ampeou, south of Phnom Penh.  A total of 530r postage was charged as Cambodia was experiencing runaway inflation.

The UNTAC mission was for the first time after WWII that Germany accepted invitation by the UN Secretary-General to take part in UN peace keeping operation.  However German laws did not allow the Bundeswehr armed forces to join with UNTAC forces, so non-combat aid was provided instead: 150 corpsmen and 350 tonnes of equipment were sent to Phnom Penh for setting up a field hospital.  This German run hospital was located in the Phnom Penh University campus (now the Royal University of Phnom Penh) and a German field post office was established in the hospital compound.

Airmail and registration was available for letters and parcels at the field post office which ran from 28th November 1992 to 31st October 1993. 

28th November 1992, the earliest day of use of Feldpost 7415.

In the beginning the hospital was exclusively for UN peacekeepers, but later it opened its door to the general public to provide free medical treatment for those who were too poor to afford local medical services.  During its operation period, more than 10,000 Cambodians were treated.

The hospital opened in May,1992 and closed in October 1993.  When the UNTAC mission ended, UNTAC and the German government decided to donate all the equipment and materials to the local hospitals because it was found that Cambodia had a great domestic need for them.

6 September 2014

Sindelfingen '83 Philatelic Cachet of Cambodia

After the abolishment of postal system in the latter half of 1970s by the Khmer Rouge, in 1980 Cambodia issued postage stamps for use again under the new Vietnamese backed regime.  Yet due to financial difficulties, only two stamp sets were issued in three years.  A change came when in 1983 Coprefil, the Cuban state owned enterprise started its philatelic contract with the Phnom Penh authority, since then stamps were regularly issued again. 

Following Cambodia's absence from the philatelic scene for several years, Coprefil had to find an efficient way to reintroduce the country to dealers and collectors worldwide, for maximum exposure nothing was better than participating in international stamp exhibitions.

The first Cambodian stamp prepared by Coprefil to celebrate an international stamp exhibition was issued in 1984 (click here for my relevant blog post), but before it the company had participated in international philatelic events on behalf of Cambodia.  One of the early examples is the Sindelfingen International Stamp Fair in Germany, 1983.  The cover shown below is a self made souvenir of the fair.


The Sindelfingen International Stamp Fair is an annual event held in Sindelfingen of Baden-Württemberg, Germany since 1983.  Stamps and the commemorative cachets of Cambodia, Cuba, Laos, Nicaragua and Vietnam are featured on this cover.  The five countries were clients of Coprefil at that time. 

Cachets of Cuba and Nicaragua are in Spanish.  Coprefil certainly knows that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are francophone, however the cachets of the trio are in German.  It is likely that the Cuban company was actually represented by a German agency which also prepared the cachets.

The following is a close up of the Cambodian cachet which ties the 1983 "Butterflies" 0.5r stamp (Sc#387) :

This may be one of the earliest post-1979 Cambodian cachets to mark philatelic events, if not the first.  Contemporary cachets of Cambodia are poorly documented, it posts great challenge for serious collectors to collect and study them.