Narrow gauge in Korea: the Inchon – Suwon – Yeoju line

While reading an excellent book about the situation in Korea between 1945 and 1950 (“The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning” by Allan Millett”) I noticed on one of the maps that there were at that time in Korea several narrow gauge railway lines. On the Ongjin peninsula, to the west of Haeju, there used to be several narrow gauge lines, built in the Japanese colonial period. With the current economical situation in North Korea it is unlikely that trains are still running on these lines, but they are certainly not narrow gauge anymore, having been regauged a long time ago. According to the book “Communist logistics in the Korean War” by Charles Shrader in 1950 there were 523 miles of narrow gauge in the whole of Korea. Luckily this book can be found at Google books, see here for the relevant pages.

Engine 7 of the Suwon to Inchon narrow gauge railway.
Engine 7 of the Suwon to Inchon narrow gauge railway, now located next to the Sorae (소래) museum, in 2013

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Danish railways system map of 1968

Sometimes something just needs to be shown once found. When I recently went through all the available maps at the NVBS cartography library I found this jewel of a map. It shows the full railway system of Denmark in May 1968.

The nice thing about such a map is that it shows a lot of railways which have disappeared, although of course many more railways already disappeared before 1968 and so can’t be found on this map. However, lines like the line from Thisted to Norresundy can be found on this map. The only way you can find this line on a modern map would be to look for the telltale line of a dyke going seemingly without reason running through the landscape.

Another line still on this map which can no longer be found is the railway on Bornholm, shown in the right-hand lower corner of the map. At the time of printing the days of the line were already numbered, and this is the last remnant of the network. But in 1968 it was still possible to take the line from Ronne to Nekso.

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How the Moluccans might have been part of the Korean War

These days the Korean alphabet is being exported abroad as a possible letterset for nations without their own set of characters. If that initiative is going to make it or not has to be seen, but the only minor success so far has been amongst a group in Indonesian, the Cia-Cia on the island of Buton. But this is not the only connection between Indonesia and South Korea in recent history. The Indonesian car industry was basically Korean for instance. But there is another story, which neatly combines exile stamps with the Korean war, two subjects of particular interest to me.

Example of stamp produced by RMS

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Ukrainian Camp and Exile issues catalog

After having bought quite a few specialist catalogs I recently received another compliment to my every growing selection of exile stamp catalogus: the “Ukrainia DP Camp, POW Camp, Government in Exile and National Council Issues” (second edition) catalog of stamps of, well, the title says it all.

The cover of the catalog.
The cover of the catalog.

And let me start by saying that this catalog did surprise me: for the first time I had a specialty catalog not produced by an actual publishing company which gave me the “wow factor”. Okay, it has almost no color (only the front and back have some color: blue lettering) and it has no nifty layout, but straight after opening the envelope I noticed that this book is exactly as I would have hoped. The lettering and layout is very nicely done, no overstatement or whatever, but what is more important: this catalog actually tells me what I need to know.

No hidden agenda in this catalog: whatever the political feelings of the author may be, I couldn’t find it in the text. This catalog, unlike the Croatian exile catalog, doesn’t have to make me feel ashamed for the blatant political propaganda. Of course, the history of the Ukrainian nation is different from the Croatian nation in at least one sense: during the Second World War the Ukrainians never had any form of independence, so they never got around to doing what the Croatians and Serbs and pretty much everybody else in Easter Europe at the time could do: slaughter everybody else. This nation was slaughtered, either by the communists or the fascists. They put up an heroic struggle, which is very interesting to read about. But you won’t find anything about this period in history in this book because this book shows exactly what it is about: the stamps! And that is, in my opinion, what a catalog should be all about: give some background but leave out the political message. That is not so obvious to some of the other catalogs out there.

Having said that, the catalog is indeed a very nice book to have. It shows all the stamps mentioned in the listings, scanned at a very good resolution. All stamps are therefore very easy to recognize if you come across them on for instance Ebay (my main forum to search for such stamps). The stamps get some background information, like numbers produced, date of production and such, and they are listed in the different forms they came in (for instance perforated or imperforated). There is also information on how they were supposed to be used, and when, and the accompanying postal stationary gets its share of attention as well. I did not miss any information, it is really the exact amount of detail needed!

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Latvian non-postal exile stamps by Zichmanis

Few exile stamps catalogs must have such an honest name as this one: Latvian non-postal exile stamps is exactly what it shows. The Romanian and especially the Croatian exile communities tried to establish some sort of legality by producing stamps which were supposed to be somehow official. The stamps shown in this catalog are propaganda labels and although they look like stamps, they were definitely never postally used (except for usage next to real stamps on envelopes).

Frontpage of booklet
Frontpage of booklet

Of course the more specialized stamp collector knows this already, but when you start to collect stamps you very soon run into stamps which are difficult to categorize. They don’t show up in any standard catalog and so they pretty soon end up in the back of a stamp album. That is a shame, because quite often these stamps tell a by far more interesting story than “regular” stamps.

In 1979 the Latvian Philatelic Society produced a booklet, Xeroxed at A5 without color, which showed most of the propaganda labels produced by Latvians living outside of the Eastern Bloc nations. The catalog shows the diaspora quite nicely: the catalog lists most stamps by country in which they were produced. So, there are listings for nations like the UK, Germany and Sweden, and of course Canada and the US.

Example of Latvian exile stamp
Example of Latvian exile stamp

Besides showing the stamps themselves a lot of information is given about who produced the stamps, in what quantities they were produced (giving an indication of their relative scarcity) and what they show.

Unfortunately this catalog has exactly the same problem as the Croatian exile stamp catalog: it is not just propaganda, it is propaganda of a political specter people generally don’t want to be seen with. (Let me state that I am politically not involved in any of these groups!) That means that the communist takeover of the Baltic states is portrayed as a plague coming over those states (which is of course true, the communist takeover was a major humanitarian disaster), but at the same time nothing is being mentioned about the thousands of people killed by the Baltic states armies (aided by the Nazi’s) during the Second World War. Atrocities were committed on all sides, but you will only hear about the atrocities committed by the communists. That is understandable in 1979 (or maybe not actually), but it is very definitely not understandable in 2005 when a stamp was produced showing Kurland as being a last defense against communism in 19944/45, like the defenders where angels or something like that. Let there be no misunderstanding about this: they were not just patriots, they were also collaborators of the Nazi’s!

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Korea in the 50s: the full set

For a map aficionado having complete sets of cartographical data is fantastic, especially when you can have them for free! So, in the spirit of sharing here is what Korea (north and south) looked according to the knowledge of the US Army map service in the 1950s.

The full set can be found at the website of the University of Texas (Austin) in the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, which can be found here online. However, these maps are full sized JPEG which are not always easy to navigate when you are looking for something specific, in my case looking for (former) railways.

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Jeju in 1961: not exactly overcrowded

With my specific interest in cartography the first thing I always do whenever I am somewhere is asking for a proper map. A proper map is a map which is, in my opinion, not the same as a streetmap or a thematical map with all sorts of funny symbols on them. A proper map is a topographical map. Preferably one with a scale like 1:50.000 or so.

Unfortunately, in large parts of the world you will not be able to get one, or will only be able to get a very old topographical map, quite often one from the US Army or the former Soviet Army.  Because of the fall of the Soviet Union it is now relatively easy to get proper maps of Africa, if you don’t mind the fact that these maps are 30 years old. Previously they were guarded by the Soviets like they were nuclear secrets, but now they are freely available, for instance as scans for sale on DVD’s through Ebay.

The last time I was on Jeju I tried to locate a proper set of maps, topographical maps that is, but I couldn’t find one. Of course there is a tourist map, which is freely available, but I want a map on which I can navigate if necessary. In the English language bookstore in Sin-Jeju I found a somewhat more topographical like map, but still not really what I wanted. Continue reading Jeju in 1961: not exactly overcrowded

Polish Exile stamps: the Italian scene

After starting to collect the Polish Exile stamps I decided I needed stamp album pages for these stamps too. The stamps the Polish exile government in the UK had produced had proper standing amongst collectors and so there are several sources of stamp album pages out there. I used the pages produced by Mr. Steiner.

However, his policy is to only produce pages of stamps that have a listing in the Scott catalogue. Unfortunately, these stamps produced by the Poles in Italy do not have a listing in that particular catalogue, so he had not produced any pages for them. I asked him if it was okay to try myself and he gave permission to do so. You can download my few pages for the most commonly available stamps produced by the Polish forces in Italy here. I have not included all the different variations, as I am not interested in such things. And I wouldn’t know where to find the money for them either! Anyway, the pages are for free, so if you have some need for them: go ahead.

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The Tuva 2000 Stamp Catalogue by Anders Backman

A few years ago I bought the Tuva 2000 Stamp Catalogue, a small but very colorful catalogue full of stamps of Tuva produced by Anders Backman of Sweden.

Frontside of the Tuva 2000 Stamp Catalogue
Frontside of the Tuva 2000 Stamp Catalogue

TuvaW, or Tyva or Tannu Tuva, is not a very well known area of the world, but amongst stamp collectors it enjoys quite some popularity. Why this is so, is not really obvious, but there are some reasons one can think of. The Tuva Republic originally only existed within the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1944. That doesn’t make it one of the most short-lived nations in the world, but it doesn’t make it exactly a longstanding nation either. The nice thing about it from a stamp collector’s point of perspective however is that a collection has a fairly limited scope: the numbering used in the Tuva 2000 Catalogue for the original series of stamps (the part which is usually collected) stops at 136. At first glance that makes it easy to collect these stamps, but they are somewhat pricy however!

Another reason why Tuvan stamps are quite sought after is there looks: they are quite marvelous. The Tuvan stamps came in all sorts of shapes, ranging from the conventional square stamps to triangles, trapezes and “quares on their sides” (in other words: printed at an angle). The stamps are colorful too: they come in a lot of different colors. Also important are the scenes pictured on these stamps: all stamps have a direct link with the Tuva territory and as such don’t feel so “fake” like the stamps of the Pacific Islands these days do, with their endless series of stamps for thematic collectors. No, these stamps were really of local interest. The depictions on the stamps are either wildlife and fauna, local sights, the daily life or Buddhist religious practices (like the Wheel of life in the first series). Okay, some of these stamps are nonsense, like the famous “camel racing a locomotive”, but then again, even such a stamp is not so out of place here.

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Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939-1949

It is rare to find a book about stamps which has just the right combination of being a catalogue and a history book. But when the friendly folk at Barefoot send me the book “Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939-1949″ I very soon discovered this was one of those books.

Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939-1949: cover
Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939-1949: cover

Most books about stamps tend to be either a catalogue (and rightly so in most cases when they are advertised as catalogues of course) or a history book, with stamps included. This book however is quite different from most books about stamps I have. It has a series of chapters which each on their own could have been small separate books, but which combined into this one book gives a very thorough history of the Polish postal services in exile during the Second World war and the related postal services of the Polish armed forces.

The book comes with series and series of stamps, cancellations, stationary, listings of camps, dates, addresses (like the secret postal boxes used), censorship information, official documentation, anything to make it possible for the serious collector of this particular field within the postal history to discover anything about it.

The book has one major issue, an issue I have with all of the books produced by Barefoot: except for the cover (and the back) the book completely lacks in colour. That is not so problematic, although a small colour section with just the stamps for instance would have been nice, but what is troublesome is the quality of the reproduction of the postal pieces in the book. The fact that it is all in B/W is understandable, given the cost of colour, but even the B/W reproductions are not really up to standard, all the illustrations look like they were previously Xeroxed and only then digitized to be included by the layout department in the book. Continue reading Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939-1949