27 October 2016

"RPK" Overprinted Stamps of Cambodia

"RPK" overprints is an interesting and challenging area in post 1979 Cambodian philately.  Basic and yet valuable information regarding the status of "RPK" overprints is available in CIP #64, this blog entry is to offer a comprehensive list of basic stamps of the "RPK" overprints. 

Although veteran postal staffs have confirmed that the overprints did see commercial use in 1979/1980, the number of stamps officially overprinted "RPK" is uncertain, what now available to collectors is based on observation.  A total of 40 stamps and 1 souvenir sheet are recorded so far, here they are quoted in Michel catalogue numbers and the overprint ink colour is stated.  Your input is welcome to benefit all interested collectors and please stay alarm that forgeries exist (one update left out in the table below, Sc #253).

(click to enlarge)

28 July 2016

1991 Provincial Postage Meters

In 1991 Cambodia introduced postage meter (EMA) for the first time after the civil war (read my July 2009 blog entry on this).  Meter machines were installed in Phnom Penh Central Post Office and Daun Penh branch, according to Dr. Gale J. Raymond 's article in ICP #128.  It is found that later the same type of meter machines were available at other selected post office branches and provinces as well.

Above shows a specimen of the 1991 postage meter, the leftmost rectangular slogan box was dropped when the meter was put to use.

An official full list of post offices which actually used the 1991 type meter is unavailable, and information is scarce, so as a foundation for studies here is a list of geographic names appeared on meters reported by collectors so far:
        • Phnom Penh R.P.
        • Chbar Ampeou (Phnom Penh)
        • Daun Penh (Phnom Penh)
        • Olympic (Phnom Penh)
        • Banteay Meanchey
        • Battambang
        • Kandal
        • Kompong Cham
        • Siemreap Angkor

26 July 2016

Essen '84 Philatelic Cachet of Cambodia

After the re-establishment of postal system, in 1983 Cambodia started to have handstamp cachets marking international philatelic events.   Here is a cachet from May 1984, it celebrates the oldest international stamp fair of Germany - Briefmarken-Messe Essen.

Held from 26th - 31st May, Essen '84 is the 5th of the annual international stamp fair of Essen.  Cambodia was represented by COPREFIL, along with some of the client nations of the company.   A handstamp cachet was available at the spot for visitors to make their own souvenirs.

The cachet is inscribed "5eme Foire Internationale due timbre-poste POSTES KAMPUCHEA 26-31 Mai 84 messe", noted that almost all words are French except "messe" which is German for "fair". 

The cachet greatly resembles to the cachet of Cuba, after all they are both represented by the same agent.  A sample of the Cuban cachet is shown below, the only difference is the inscription.

Without surprise, the design of both cachets is based on the stamp fair logo:

21 June 2016

FDC-Look-Alike Private Covers

"Souvenir Covers of the World" collections produced by collectible companies receive some popularity among elementary collectors, popular themes include ships, pets, WWII and royal events.  While some of these covers have first day of issue cancellations or proper postal cancellations, some do not, collectors should be well alert of this.

British collectible company Bentham gives an illustrative case, this cover was produced for their "cats" series:

The cover features an oversize cachet on the left half, and a 1999 Cambodian postage stamp (Sc#1822) tied by a "1999 Cambodia Cats" "cancellation" on the top right corner.   The "cancellation" is not a postal cancellation of any kind, in fact it is a private made cachet, or a rubber stamp impression some people might call it, it is not even an official cachet from the Cambodia Post.  All 6 stamps of the set (Sc#1818-1823) have their corresponding souvenir covers by Bentham.

For comparison, the following is a cover from the same series, franked with an Antigua & Barbuda stamp (Sc#2014).  Notice the cancellation is a valid postmark.

13 June 2016

UNTAC Indonesian Contingent Cover

During the 1992-1993 United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) operation, Indonesia was one of the biggest contributors in terms of personnel.  Below is a 1993 cover sent from Phnom Penh to the Central Javan city Salatiga by a UNTAC Indonesian contingent member.  A 150r postage stamp (Sc#1259) tied by a 400r red ink meter fulfills 550r postage for Asian destinations.  There are two dates shown on the cover, the Phnom Penh Central Post Office date stamp gives 12-6-93, the hand written "18/6-93" between the addresses is probably the arrival date, so it was a 6-day travel.

The top left corner of the envelope has "KONTINGEN GARUDA XII" printed above the Indonesian coat of arms, national flag and UN emblem.  "Kontingen Garuda" is the Indonesian name for the Garuda Contingent, a peacekeeper group drawn from the Indonesian military to participate in UN peace keeping operations.  "Garuda" is a Hindu and Buddhist divinity, his image is used as the national symbol by Indonesia"XII" are Roman numerals for 12 to indicate that it is the 12th Garuda Contingent mission.

The return address on the left reveals the mail sender's identity.  He was a member of the "Garuda XII-C" battalion which stationed at the Phnom Penh UNTAC headquarters (the other Indonesian battalion stationed in Kampong Thom Province).  The word "Garuda" refers to the Garuda Contingent, while "XII-C" refers to the 12th contingent deployment C.  The Indonesian contingent had a total of four deployments in rotation to Cambodia, the first two, A and B were in 1992, while C and D in 1993.

8 May 2016

Golden-fronted Leafbird on Cambodian Stamp, Error?


Cambodia issued a set of 7v stamps in 1984 (Sc470-476) to honour birds which can be found in the country.  The 1r stamp depicts a golden-fronted leafbird (Chloropsis aurifrons) standing on a flowering branch which looks very much like a Prunus blossom branch.

Golden-fronted leafbird is a species in the Chloropseidae family, it occurs across India and most part of Indochina, so it is a fauna of Cambodia.

Geographic range map of golden-fronted leafbird.
(source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species)

Adult golden-fronted leafbird is described to have straight to lightly down-curved bills, green-bodied with a black face and throat bordered with yellow.  It has an orange forehead and blue moustachial line. Below is a maximum card of the 1r stamp tied by a 1985 Phnom Penh Central Post Office cancellation:

While the stamp illustration shows a golden-fronted leafbird, the inscription has a non corresponding species name.  On the right of the stamp it says "Chloropsis aurifrons inornata Kloss", one of the 6 Chloropsis aurifrons subspecies.  Chloropsis aurifrons inornata Kloss differs from Chloropsis aurifrons in having less orange on the forehead and practically no golden collar.  This subspecies habits in central and eastern Thailand, Cambodia and southern Viet Nam.

Chloropsis aurifrons inornata Kloss has no golden collar.
(Photographer: Parinya Padungtin)

24 November 2015

Uruguayan UNTAC Cover from Stung Treng

The cacheted airmail cover illustrated above was sent to Bregenz of Austria by a member of the UNTAC Uruguayan battalion in Stung Treng.  Postage of 700r for Europe was tied by a 1980s type Stung Treng postmark dated 19th July 1993, the mailing time was within the evacuation phrase of the battalion.  Via Bangkok the mail took 9 days to the Austrian destination on 28th of the same month.

During the 1992-1993 United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) operations, Uruguay contributed 1,330 soldiers which was nearly 5.5% of the country’s total armed forces.  This is Uruguay's first large-scale deployment abroad involving troops and contingents from different services.  The battalion had four units positioned across four Cambodian provinces.

The official cachet of the Uruguayan battalion shown on cover.  The inscription reads:
"Batallon de Infanteria Especial "Uruguay", R.O.U - U.N.T.A.C, Oficial de Operaciones"

Stung Treng is located in the remote northern Cambodia, initially it was the territory of the Khmer Empire, then the Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang and later the Lao Kingdom of Champassack, eventually in 1904 ceded back to Cambodia.  In 1992 UNTAC divided Cambodia into nine operational sectors, Stung Treng and the provinces of Kratie, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri formed Sector 4 with the Uruguayan battalion assigned to it.  Equipment was sent from Montevideo to Stung Treng via Bangkok.

Location of Sector 4 which includes the province of Stung Treng.
The red dot locates the provincial capital, Stung Treng town.
(Credit: Managing Arms In Peace Processes: Cambodia, UNIDIR, 1996 )

The primary aim of deployment in Stung Treng was to maintain peace and order as banditry was still a thread to civilians, and to ensure smooth operation of the electoral office.  The elections were organised by Johann B. Sünder, a Dutch who just retired from a U.N. career.  In Stung Treng town the well equipped yet very little used UNTAC hospital (exclusively for UNTAC personnels) was run by Indians, and there was a multi national police force. 

Homeland to the Khmer Loeu, Stung Treng is one of Cambodia's most remote and least developed provinces, the province is not attractive to investors and definitely not a choice for most tourists.  Henry Kamm mentions in his book Cambodia: Report From a Stricken Land that, after the Uruguayan battalion had arrived in Stung Treng, "Hola amigo!" was the most popular greeting to all foreigners by local children during the UNTAC eraLao is still widely spoken now in Stung Treng town and trade is expected to expand after the reconstruction of the Khmer-Lao border section of National Highway 7.

30 October 2015

Philex France 99 Philatelic Cachet of Cambodia

Handstamp cachets is a largely neglected area in modern Cambodian philately, it is the difficulty in collecting and the next to nil availability of information and references which makes the area out of spotlight.  In my previous blog entries I brought some cachets into the public eye, here is another one, the "Philex France 99" philatelic cachet.

Philex France 99 is a world class philatelic exhibition held in 1999.  Marking the 150th anniversary of  the first postage stamp of France, the exhibition last from 2nd to 11th of June at the Grand Palais of Paris.  Cambodia, a former French protectorate, issued 6 stamps and a souvenir sheet to celebrate the event.

The stamp set (Sc1874-1880 / Mi1951-1957) reproduces still life paintings of 19th century French Post-Impressionist artists.  Official FDCs were issued with a Khmer and French bilingual pictorial postmark which depicts a vessel from André Derain's oil painting "Table et chaises" (Table and chairs) of 1912:

Here is the original painting, it is featured on the 900r stamp as well, see the vessel there as one of the major objects in the painting:

During the exhibition time, a philatelic cachet was available to handstamp on venue.  The cachet design is based on the first day postmark with the vessel.  The primary differences are the fonts for both Khmer and French inscription as well as the contents of the French inscription, exhibiton dates has replaced the first day of issue date:

Here is the first day postmark again for comparison, it can be seen that the vessel has moved closer to the postmark edge to make room for large fonts at the centre:

9 August 2015

Apsara Dance on Cambodian Stamps

For tourists, it may be hard to differentiate the different dances of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia repertoire, but there is an easy-to-tell dance which has all performers wearing golden crowns elaborately decorated with "round disks" and three or five "spines".  This is "Robam Tep Apsara", the Apsara Dance, one of the most famous Cambodian classic dances. 

Three 2003 stamps depicting apsara dancers.

Apsaras, in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, are beautiful female celestial dancers in gods' palace.   During the Angkorian period, there were thousands of dancers in the royal court who performed exclusively for the kings and for religious rites.  Images of them can be seen on reliefs of temples of the era.

 Dancing apsara depicted in a bas-relief of Angkor Wat.

The classical dance flourished for six centuries until the down fall of the empire.  In 1431, the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya captured and looted Angkor Thom, artists, scholars and other elites were kidnapped to Ayutthaya to advance the Siamese culture.  Since then the Khmer art form declined in Cambodia and was almost lost until a renaissance in 20th century.

 Stamps depicting bas-relief of devatas at Angkor Wat.

In late 1950s Queen Sisowath Kossamak patronaged Madame Chea Samy and other dance masters to create a dance about the apsaras in garden, this is the Apsara Dance.  The music was modeled on that of "Robam Phuong Neary", the Flower Lady Dance.

A 1985 stamp features an Apsara dancer striking a pose at 
Preah Thineang Chan Chhaya (the Moonlight Pavilion) of the Royal Palace.

Just as all other classic dances, the Apsara Dance is highly symbolic and straightly conform to the old traditional language of gestures and movement with its own vocabulary which can be traced back to the Angkorian time.  These gestures and movement are like sign language for telling the story of the dance.  The dancers are accompanied by a choir, consisting of mostly female vocalists, and a pinpeat orchestra - an ensemble of traditional musical instruments.

In 2005 Cambodia issued a set of 5 stamps and a S/S to promote the Apsara Dance.
Here is the FDC of the stamps, each stamp depicts a movement of the dance.

Costumes are a faithful remake of what shown on the reliefs of Angkor Wat, the only modification is that the modern dancers wear skin tight tops while the ancient apsaras danced bare chested.

On this 2005 S/S, an Apsara dancer poses next to the bas-relief of devatas at Angkor Wat.
The costumes of old and new are very much the same.

The first performer of the dance was said to be Princess Norodom Vichara in 1958.  In 1961, Marcel Camis in his film "L'Oiseau de paradis" featured Princess Norodom Bopha Devi performing the Apsara Dance.  Since then, the well loved Apsara Dance has been one of the classic dances which Cambodians see as an artistic symbol of cultural heritage and national identity. 

The following is a YouTube video of a graceful Apsara Dance performance by the Capital Dancing Troupe.  In the later part of the dance, the dancers have golden branches of flowers in their hands.  Enjoy !

7 July 2015

1987 HAFNIA'87 S/S Misperforation

All the examples of Cambodian S/S misperforation I showed before are with multiple strikes.  This time we have a single perforation.

Issued on 16th October 1987, this S/S is part of the pictorial set which celebrates the world philatelic exhibition HAFNIA'87 held in Copenhagen of Denmark, 1987.  The single perforation is shifted upward in such a way that the country name in Khmer script and denomination in Arabic numerals almost totally falls out of the stamp at the bottom.

19 June 2015

1984 Winter Olympics S/S Misperforation

Misperforated stamps of Cambodia are spotted on the market from time to time, they are on market due to the poor quality control of printer, and the majority of them were issued in 1980s.  In August 2011 I reported an epic 1983 misperforated S/S (click here to view) , here is another freak, a dramatic double perforated S/S of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics issue.

Other than the usual perforation, there is a shifted perforation to the left. The normal S/S is catalogue listed as Sc #469 / Mi #545.

21 May 2015

1988 Aspara 4v Stamps of Cambodia

In 1988 Cambodia issued a set of four stamps sharing a common design based on one of the Angkor Wat apsara reliefs.  Unlike all the other Cambodian stamps at that time which were printed in Cuba, this issue was done in Vietnam, and it is the first bicolour issue since 1979.  The set does not only have a special background, it has special usage as well.

Apsara relief of Angkor which the stamp design is based on.
(courtesy: Chen Wei Hsien)

After the fall of Khmer Rouge, the national currency "riel" was reintroduced in March 1980 at 4 riels to 1 USD.  As part of postal system improvement, a philatelic contract with Cuba which took effect in 1983 secured the country of regular postage stamp supply, these pretty pictorial stamps are in denominations up to 6r.  To collectors' surprise, the apsara 4v set carries shockingly high face values in comparison: 35r, 50r, 80r and 100r, this has prompted the question of what these high denomination stamps were for.

Understanding the economic background may help to answer the question.  During the second half of 1980s and the first half of 1990s, Cambodia experienced as high as 3-digit inflation because of the closure of state enterprises, privatization, and later the UNTAC programme.  Below is an inflation chart based on the information provided by International Monetary Fund (IMF), it shows that from 1987 to 1994 the national currency, riel, plunged like weights.

(source: IMF)

Although inflation started to run wild in 1986, the Cuban stamp printer did not respond to it: except the 1984 and 1986 "airmail" sets, up to the end of 1988 the highest denomination of usual pictorial stamps remained to be 6r (which was actually from the S/S).

The first year of hyperinflation period have already made most stamps inadequate for postal use.  The official exchange rate became 30r to 1USD sometime before May 1986, then in September the next year the rate was down to 100r to 1USD.  Postage jumped more than 6 times in the second quarter of 1986, a standard letter to Viet Nam went from 1.5r to around 10r, flying to America was raised from less than 5r to around 43r, and registration fee cost around 40r.  Obviosuly only the 1984 and 1986 "airmail" sets which have the denominations of 5r, 10r, 15r and 25r were practical for international postage.

Postmarked 5 May 1986 in Phnom Penh, this mail to Viet Nam is franked with
two 5r 1986 "airmail" stamps issued in March.

While the 1986 "airmail" stamps were heavily used on mail, the authority realised that their face values were still too low.  To fulfill the urgent needs, three handstamped surcharges of 30r, 50r, 80r on existing stocks of low denomination stamps were created for international postage.  Furthermore in 1988 the 4v set of apsara stamps were ordered from Hanoi, the political and economic backup of Cambodia at that time, to nourish the supply of high denomination stamps.  This apsara set put the highest face value of Cambodian stamps to 100r.

The following is the back a registered mail to West Germany, postmarked in Phnom Penh on 22nd April 1988.  A 35r and a 100r stamp from the apsara set were franked alongside with a 5r from the 1986 "airmail" set.  The total postage for this mail shown on stamps is 148.2r (around 1.5USD).

These apsara stamps were usually used in mixed franking, but 50r often came in single or double franking in 1990 as it roughly fit the postage to Europe (the actual value of riel fluctuated from day to day).  As a matter of fact, before 1990 the 50r stamp was rarely used.

50r single franking on mail to France, postmark dated 11th June 1990.

35r on postcard to West Germany, postmark dated 26th November 1988.

Unlike the other three face values, the 80 stamp was used only in mixed franking as it has never been about the postage to any destination.  The stamp was also the most extensively used in the apsara set.

80r mixed franking on mail to Austria, total postage 100r.
Postmarked 23rd January 1991.

The apsara set continued to serve its duty until 1993 when inflation went up seriously again.

The official stamp catalogue published by the country's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) in 1997 does not give an exact issue date for the apsara set.  In major world stamp catalogues the 4 stamps are listed as Scott 985-988 and Mi 1063-1066 with the issue date given as 15th May 1989.  Quite a lot of postal used examples have been found since mid 1988, a year ahead of the issue date listed by Scott and Michel, and so the issue date given by catalogues cannot be true.

The 1988 apsara 4v set was not for high postage charge, its high denominations were merely the result of inflation.  Since it was not produced by the Cuban stamp agent, it did not join the worldwide philatelic distribution network like all the other pictorials did, no official FDC or CTO is available, however imperf proofs exist (they are proofs, NOT imperf stamps).  The Scott CV of the 4v set is 150USD both for MNH and used.

7 February 2015

Cambodia's Intersputnik Membership Marked on Stamps

On 2nd December 1987 Cambodia issued a set of 3 stamps (Sc830-832 / Mi908-910) featuring antennas.  Not much is said about these stamps in major world stamp catalogues, they are only briefly described as to promote "telecommunications".  The only interesting thing about the set is it features the very first tab in Cambodian philatelic history.

The philatelic advertisement used by the Cambodian authority for the set which I am very sure none of the catalogue editors have seen is shown below.

The stamps actually celebrates "Édification Nationale", which means national construction.  The antennas and buildings featured were those of the Intersputnik space communications ground station compound in Phnom Penh.

Intersputnik is an international satellite communications services organization established in 1971 by the Soviet Union.  The now commercially aligned organization was initially to facilitate the common use of communications satellites by the Eastern Bloc.

Logo of Intersputnik.

In January of 1987, the Soviet-funded Intersputnik station located on the now Monivong Boulevard of Phnom Penh started to operate. It provided telecommunication links between the city and Moscow, Paris, Hanoi and Vientiane.  This earth satellite station restored the telephone and telex links of Phnom Penh to the international world for the first time since 1975.

The postal cover postmarked 2nd December 1993 shown above is franked with the 8r stamp (Sc832 / Mi910) from the set to pay discounted postage to France.

Later the orange red roof land station is featured on the 1989 "National Festival" 3v issue as well.  The 3r stamp (Sc918 / Mi996) shows the station and the antenna behind it.  This second time being on stamps confirmed the importance of Intersputnik to the Cambodian people, the station did not only link the country to the world, it was also for domestic radio and TV broadcasting which had proved to be an efficient means for the government to promote public policies.

The station compound is now the headquarters of Telecom Cambodia and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.   A view of what was formerly Lake Boeung Kak is shown below. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is seen at the lower part of the photograph, the cross style station and the antennas are still in use

(courtesy: Nicolas AxelrodRuom)

The site was actually the grounds of the now gone Notre Dame Cathedral of Phnom Penh.  During the Pol Pot bitter years, the Catholic cathedral which seen by the Khmer Rouge as a stigma of French and Vietnamese colonization, capitalism and "opium of the people" was completely torn down by hand.  Here is an old postcard depicting the cathedral façade as seen from Wat Phnom, how graceful the city of Phnom Penh used to be.

25 January 2015

Cambodia to Pakistan UNTAC Mail

Pakistan was one of the 45 countries which contributed to the UNTAC operations in Cambodia from 1992 to 1993.  Since the contingent did not have their own military mail service, Cambodia Post and the French military mail franchised by Cambodian Post for international delivery were the two options for them to send letters.

Here is a Phnom Penh to Lahore mail sent by a Pakistani UNTAC CIVPOL Kampong Speu Province inspector.  Although he was in Phnom Penh, he used the UNTAC Bangkok Headquarters PO Box as his return address likely because of the unreliable incoming mail service of Cambodia Post at the time.

The cover was machine cancelled at the Phnom Penh Central Post Office on 27th October 1992 with an arrival postmark of Lahore on 18th November, it was a 3 week travel.  Due to rapid inflation and shortage of high denomination stamps, postage meter was extensively used on mail in 1992, this cover is a testimonial of the phenomenon with 410r meter postage and an additional 6r postage stamp franked on the far left of the cover.

The following is a Pakistani UNTAC mail from Phnom Penh to Lahore handled by the French military mail franchised by Cambodia Post for international delivery.  This service was offered from July 1992 to November 1993.

The Pakistani battalion did not only helped in the electoral support in Preah Vihear Province as assigned by the UNTAC, mine clearing, disarmament of different fractions, infrastructure repair and strengthening, language and vocational training for civilians are among many of the aids provided by the more than 1100 Pakistani contingent members from May 1992 to August 1993.

13 January 2015

1979 Vietnamese Military Mail from Cambodia

In response to the Khmer Rouge's cross-border offence, Viet Nam launched a full scale invasion of Cambodia in late 1978.

During the invasion and occupation period which last for a decade, most Vietnamese combatants in Cambodia wrote home using the Vietnamese military mail service.  Mail was taken from Cambodia to southern Viet Nam by pouch and then returned to the Vietnamese mail stream for delivery. The following is a sample of it.

In the return address "HT" stands for "Hòm Thư", "PO Box" in Vietnamese.  "7A" indicates that it is from Tactical Zone #7.  Not all Tactical Zone #7 mail was from Cambodia, so it is vital for collectors to find further information for clarification.  For this cover, the acronym "C.P.C." which stands for "Campuchia" in Vietnamese is the clue that tells the sender's location.  It was discouraged to include geographic names in the return address, this sender was simply a rule breaker.

While the vast majority of Vietnamese military mail from Cambodia was postmarked in Saigon of Viet Nam, this mail was in Mỹ Tho.  Mỹ Tho, capital of Tiền Giang Province, is a Mekong Delta region city located 70km from Saigon.  The cover has two strikes of the Mỹ Tho postmark yet no stamp franked when I acquired it, the stamp might have fallen off if there ever was one, I tend to conclude that it has no stamp as no paper thinning is observed.  The date shown on the postmark is 26th July 1979.

Another Mỹ Tho postmark appears on the back of the cover, but dated one day after, 27th July, 1979.

The cover is roughly made with lined writing paper, not a surprise as in those days everything was in shortage in Cambodia and Viet Nam.