Like most countries which at one time used revenue stamps, South Korea has a long history of using local revenue stamps. Until the 1970s these local revenue stamps were produced locally, each with a unique design per province or municipality. From 1976 onwards local revenue stamps were produced nationally (with standardized designs) by the national printing company (KOMSCO) and then “localized” by simply printing the name of a province or municipality on these stamps. However, the city of Seoul has always used its own revenue stamps with a design unique to Seoul which lasted almost unchanged for 6 decades.
Seoul is a self-governing city province (서울특별시, Seoul Special City), hierarchically equivalent to provinces such as Gyeonggi-do and Jeju-do. The city is subdivided into urban districts named “gu” (Korean: 구). Hence, Seoul has known its own form of “localization” of revenue stamps: Seoul’s city districts used to overprint the standard Seoul city revenue stamps with their own district names. That may seem like micro-management, but Seoul has more than 10 million inhabitants, while urban districts vary in population between 140,000 and 630,000 inhabitants. The districts are thus comparable to (minor) cities.
In addition to these local documentary revenue stamps for “general use” in Seoul, other revenue stamps are also known for use in the Seoul area for more specific services. For example, the provincial board of education had its own revenue stamps. These however are not part of this article.
1. Before 1945
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) local tax stamps were issued especially for the city of Seoul, then known as Keijō (Japanese) or Gyeongseong (Korean). Of these stamps little is known. The values of these stamps were listed in yen (100 sen = 1 yen).
Hasegawa (2005) shows two stamps in his catalogue (numbers from Hasegawa):
|KF2||50 sen overprint “5 sen”||Dark blue||31x19mm||11.5x11.5|
Effectively this means there must have been at least 3 different stamps.
The appearance of these stamps is based on a standard design used in Korea for local revenue stamps at that time. These are also known for Pyongyang (Hasegawa HF1, Barefoot Pyongyang 1 to 4), and Daegu. After 1945, they were still used in North Korea (Hasegawa PY1 through PY4) for some time but with a slightly modified appearance.
The National Archive of Korea (NAK) has a document (CJA0002874) from 1935 showing the decision of the “Seoul Regional Prefecture” to issue new revenue stamp values. The document contains a list of both the “existing” values and the “new” values, without indicating whether this meant that completely new revenue stamps were introduced or that values were added to an already existing series:
2. Hard times: 1945 – 1962
From 1945 to 1962 Korea went through several difficult periods, such as the Korean war (1950-1954) and years of high inflation. From 1945, South Korea used its own coin, the won (Kor. 원), which was replaced by the hwan (Kor. 환) between February 15, 1953 and June 9, 1962. That meant that from 1953 new revenue stamps had to be printed using hwan values instead of the won values used from 1945 onwards.
In April 2015, the Ombudsman of Seoul reported on the state of Seoul’s archives. One part of the report was about the archiving of revenue stamps, or to be more precise the lack thereof. The report contains some interesting references to revenue stamp ordinances issued in Seoul, but which are not listed in the NAK archives. The report shows a document issued in 1948, on which 7 fiscal stamps were stuck: 6 worth 50 won and one 500 won stamp. A picture with an exceptionally low resolution of this document is in the report. Despite the low quality it can still be seen that the 50 won stamps were light blue and the 500 won stamp green. The ombudsman writes that it is a mysterious document and that no documentation about these particular revenue stamps was known to him.
Unfortunately, the NAK has relatively few files from the period up to 1962. For Seoul, only one file has been found listing revenue stamps (BA0089254) during this period. This file, dated July 3, 1952, gives only values without further information about the appearance of these stamps.(1) The values listed are 100 won, 300 won, 500 won, 1000 won, 3000 won, 5000 won and 10.000 won. It could be that the 500 won stamp is the same as the 500 won stamp on the 1948 document, with the 50 won value already delisted due to inflation. Whether or not this is correct, the inflation did lead to the introduction in February 1953 of the hwan.
1954/1955: hwan stamps
No primary documentation from the NAK was found showing hwan value revenue stamps, but unlike the 1951 series, examples of stamps from this series are in revenue stamp collections. Joe Ross showed six different values in the Cal-Rev’r (2011; Barefoot’s list comes from Ross) with 1954/1955 as year of issue.(2) Ross is probably right about the years: according to the Seoul Ombudsman’s report, these stamps are mentioned in a July 1954 regulation with a total of five values (unfortunately without mentioning the individual values), a number that matches the stamps shown below.
This series of revenue stamps is probably the first series with the default image of Seoul’s revenue stamps, namely Seoul’s former city hall (since 2012 the central library). It is also likely that more values were issued between 1955 and 1962: the hwan suffered quite a lot from inflation, a series with a 100 hwan stamp as its highest value would have needed higher additional hwan values by the late 1950s.
|SLR0_5||5 hwan||Purple||25mm x 37mm||Roulette (13)|
|SLR0_10||10 hwan||Vermillion/Orange||25mm x 37mm||Roulette (13)|
|SLR0_20||20 hwan||Dark blue||25mm x 37mm||Roulette (13)|
|SLR0_40||40 hwan||Olive-green||25mm x 37mm||Roulette (13)|
|SLR0_100||100 hwan||Brown||25mm x 37mm||Roulette (13)|
In addition to the above series of rouletted revenue stamps from the 1950s, there are also perforated hwan value stamps known. These stamps are identical to the 1954/1955 hwan series, complete with a corresponding colour for the 100 hwan. The 50 hwan however is not in the original rouletted series and therefore proof that at least one new hwan value was introduced later on in the 1950s.
|SLR0_50||50 hwan||Carmine||25mm x 37mm|
|SLR0_100p||100 hwan||Brown||25mm x 37mm|
Note something about the colours of the stamps related to their values: the 1962-1975 won series has a pink 5 won stamp which is identical to the 50 hwan perforated stamp. The same effect occurs in the 100 hwan stamp, which changes during the hwan era from “100 hwan (brown) rouletted” to “100 hwan (brown) perforated” and then becomes the 10 won (brown) stamp in 1962. That is not a coincidence: the conversion factor from hwan to new won was 10: 1 in 1962. However, this was not possible for lower hwan values and so the 5 hwan purple became the 500 won.While compiling information for this article many types of documents were found relating to revenue stamps in the National Archives of Korea.