The Collector’s Minute: Chinese Military Stamps

These Chinese military stamps, in the yellow, blue, and purple issue, are rare due to the fact that the Chinese government in the 1950s ordered them destroyed when it decided they posed threat to national intelligence

Every now and again I’ll run across an item that does not excite me at first glance. Generally it’s an item belonging to a friend or neighbor at a party around this time of year who insists I look at it. Much like doctors, dentists and psychiatrists, it’s an occupational hazard I run into at the first mention that I’m in the antique business. It sometimes turns into a mini Antiques Roadshow.

Generally the item is nothing special, but my incurable curiosity usually gets the better of me and I just have to look. Such was the case with one of the stamps pictured here, a purple Chinese stamp from 1953 I was shown over the holidays.

In the case of fairly modern items like stamps from the 1950s, one would think surely it would go for a couple of dollars at best, as China, like most countries, has issued thousands of special stamps since 1949.

This was my original thought, but due diligence being the name of the game when it comes to valuations, I told its owner that although a great many modern stamps are best used for their intended purpose, he should hold onto this one and give me a couple days to check it out for him.

Stamps not being a specialty I claim to have much interest in, I made some calls on his behalf to those who do eat, live and breathe this kind of thing, and I found some very interesting information.

His stamp was indeed one of the exceptions to the rule. It is a rare Chinese military stamp.

Chinese military stamps were issued in three types: The first design was orange-red, referred to today as the “yellow military post;” the second design was purple and is referred to as “purple military post” and the third was blue, referred to as “blue military post.”

What makes these stamps so rare is they were supposed to have been all destroyed. When they were first issued, each officer and soldier was given two stamps per month for personal postage. When it came to the attention of Chinese intelligence personnel that without code-named post boxes these stamps could be used to mail impossible-to-trace information regarding military bases and troop movements, those that were not circulated were ordered destroyed.

The blue examples were the last to be issued and are very rare; the latest one for which we have records sold last year for $428,654. The latest sale of a purple example sold for $1,150, the purple examples often selling in the $1,000 to $1,200 range in specialist stamp auctions.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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