North Korea is probably the only country in the world that continue to exist in isolation in the 21st century. Despite being a rogue nation, DPRK produces some of the world’s best propaganda stamps and they are certainly not very common. However, are they worth collecting?
North Korea as a nation needs very little introduction. The rise of China as the red-hot market for anything philatelic in the last decade has more or less brought attention to this region. As a neighbouring country, North Korea has received some unavoidable attention from collectors worldwide especially those who are keen to make this hobby a long term investment.
North Korea became a member of the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie since June 1965 and surprisingly has a museum dedicated for philately in Pyongyang.
Despite this, very little is known about North Korea stamps although it is known that North Korea has out-produced South Korea in terms of stamps issuance since 1970s, largely as an effort to generate profit among foreign collectors.
North Korea Stamps
An interesting article by Shih Wai Zhong, an avid philatelist from China, who also served as a secretary to Chinese ambassador in North Korea from 1993-1995 revealed the situation of North Korea philately.
According to the author, the North Korean issuing policy has 2 main goals: (1) Issues for stamp collectors; and (2) Issues for regular postal needs. Stamps issued targeting the collectors are printed on high quality paper and are almost always issued in conjunction with miniature sheets.
These purely philatelic stamps do not enter the internal postal system apart from being used by foreigners and are largely unknown by the general population.
In contrast, stamps issued for regular postal are printed on relatively poor quality paper, thin, soft and yellowish. This however, changed beginning 1995, after which it is more difficult to tell the difference between the two issues.
Sale and Distribution of North Korea Stamps
The Korean Stamp Company is responsible in the distribution of stamps issued targeted for collectors either domestically or abroad.
According to a report, the headquarters of the company are located near Pyongyang’s best hotel – the Korean. It has a comprehensive supply of philatelic goods with its main clients being the foreign collectors and tourist. The stamps are sold twice the face values.
Stamps for regular postal use are distributed by post offices throughout the country.
As of 2016, eBay maintained its ban on any sale of North Korea stamps in adherence to the US embargo on the country.
Values of North Korea Stamps
North Korea stamps are mainly produced in China. Most of these stamps stay in North Korea and a small number are available in neighbouring country of China at “extremely cheap” prices. Although they are cheap and perhaps readily available in China, anecdotal report suggests that the Chinese collectors show very little interest in collecting them. Postal history and covers from North Korea are unheard of.
The prices quoted in major stamp catalogues for North Korea stamps are said to be extremely overinflated and that they don’t quite match up with the supply and demand of such stamps. In this case, we have both low demand and supply.
Nevertheless, I reckon that as with any postage stamps ever issued, the North Korea stamps are definitely of some value and would be a fun collectible at least. Although there is no data on the numbers of stamps produced, the sale restriction in the US and the limited availability worldwide usually equates to rarity as we learn from China stamp history.
It is unlikely that the political and economy situations in North Korea are going to change anytime soon. Similarly, the status quo in North Korea philately is likely to stay the way it is for a very long time, making this an untenable investment idea at least for the next 10 years.
Further Reading: Stamps of North Korea Catalogue Prices are extremely overinflated.