North Vietnam; Ho Chi Minh in front of country outline; 1951; (Michel Nr. 4A-6b); Stamps that were a bit more sophisticated than the fairly primitive HCM set from 1948/1950 but  were also produced at Viet Bac Central Printing Works. The stamps were issued in May  of 1951 on occasion of HCM’s 61st Birthday. The 100 Dong brown comes in brown and lilaq-brown and the 200 Dong value in brick-red and carmine.  The stamps below are in the color sequence: brown, lilaq-brown, green, brick-red and carmine. The lilac-brown and the carmine values are much rarer than the others, though catalogue makers do not distinguish pricing between the various color options.

100D green, 100D brown and 200D in brick-red perforated in blocks of four:

The stamps were released also im-perforated. This was sometimes a necessity as the perforation was applied by hand. Two people, using two bamboo-sticks in which a large number of small nails had been inserted, would manually press down on about 10 sheets at a time. For expediency this process was sometimes omitted.

100D green, 100D lilac-brown and 200D orange-red im-perforated in blocks of four:

Here are two blocks of 20 stamps each that show the color variation of the “brown” color. Both pieces are of the same color but the upper piece is of a lighter shade than the lower one. This has to do with color saturation during the printing process. On some runs more color was directed to the printing plate which results in a deeper brown. Note the color smears on the third stamp from the left in the top row (that shows a mark on HCM’s forehead) and the most right stamp in the second row of the upper piece (the “BUU” is partially covered). These production errors are quite common on this issue and they do not justify any price increases. 

When these stamps were issued the Viet Minh controlled only parts of North Vietnam, mostly the highlands in Tonkin bordering China. Also, the Viet Minh were constantly on the run pursued by the French Army who wanted to defeat them. As a result the territory these stamps could be used was constantly changing and primarily  limited to small towns or the country side which was under Viet Minh control. Postal volume in the country has always been just a fraction of that in large cities and therefore obtaining postally used stamps is much more challenging than mint ones. It took the editor more than twenty years to assemble the five postally used values below.

Rare piece of the 200D stamp orange-red imperforated together with the 50D on 5D double over-print error.

Please note that a larger quantity of cancelled to order specimens exist especially of the 100 Dong values imperforated. These are still much rarer than the mint version but by far not as rare as the postally used ones. You can recognize them fairly easily as they all carry a standard Hanoi date canceller and are always struck once on a block of four. So one stamp only shows a quarter of the cancel as can be seen below.

Given the challenging circumstances of the production of these stamps errors do exist.  Below is a regularly occurring plate error in which the “V” in the word “Vietnam” is broken. It can be found in position I 3 once per sheet.

There are also cases in which the image only got printed partially. This is actually a plate fault that reoccurs on multiple sheets. Take a look at the bottom left stamp in this block of four.

Here is a spectacular error in which the entire corner of the bottom right stamp is missing. This did not occur through a folded paper sheet but by a large object that had fallen on the sheet prior to printing.

Perforation errors occur fairly frequently. This was caused by the primitive manual perforation process described above. In this block six the vertical perforation on the right block of four is missing:

Here is a mint pair on which the horizontal perforation is missing.

Here is the 100 Dong value green imperforated at the right margin:

Below is a block of four of the 100 Dong value green imperforated at the top margin:

Another block of four of the 100 Dong value that is perforated 11.5 at the bottom but otherwise imperforated.

Here is a block of four of the 100 Dong value brown imperforated at the bottom margin:

Here is a mint blok of four of the 100D value brown imperforated at the top margin:

Block of six of the 100D value brown imperforated. The upper left and middle right stamp were affected by a paper fold that actually separated the paper. The middle right stamp was stamped with “Hong” which means “Damaged”. As paper was scarce the printing works delivered sheets with faulty stamps but intended them to be removed from sale by applying the “Hong” stamp.

Here is a mint pair of the 100D value brown from the lower right sheet that is affected by a paper-fold that apparently was not caught by quality control:

Here is an imperforate pair on which the upper stamp shows a production flaw.

Detailed scan of the affected area.

The paper of this issue was very thin, almost like cigarette paper. As a result paper folds do occur. Here is an example:

Rare complete sheet of one hundred 200 Dong stamps red-brick issue. For technical reasons the editor can only display the top 80% of the sheet but it is complete with all margins intact. Please note the small imperfections in stamp appearance in position A3 (3 stamp from the left, top row) which shows a wide dot to the left of HCM’s mouth or position G7 where the name “Viet-Nam” is partially omitted. These small imperfections are pretty typical for this issue and they do not justify higher prices. The broken “V” error in “Viet-Nam”, which occurs once per sheet, is located on position I 3 (not on the scan).

Dangerous forgeries exist of all three stamps. They are usually offered imperforated and they can come with fake “TT” overprints, cancelled with fake cancels or even on complete letters such as the one below:

Everything with this letter is a forgery: the stamps, the “TT” overprints, the cancels and the two cachets. Here are some detail views:

The forgeries of the stamps are remarkably well done though as is typical for forgeries the details are a little bit more fuzzy than on the originals. This is especially true for the smaller letters. They are more filigrane on the originals and bolder on the fakes. The forger produced one plate for both 100D values and another for the 200D value. A tell-tale of the 100D fakes is that the bottom of the “C” in “CHI” is curved a little bit more upwards than on the originals. The color on the 200D value is a lot deeper red (even if compared to the carmine version of the stamp) than on the originals.

The cancel and all the cachets that has been used to produce this letter all have to be considered as compromised and any cover that bears them has to be considered with a high degree of suspicion:

Beware of stamps that were cancelled far removed from the issue date. Below is a letter that was clearly philatelically inspired and was probably intended to fool less sophisticated collectors. It carries four of the green 100 Dong stamp. The top right stamp was surcharged with the 10 Dong Ngan Hang (New Dong of the National Bank, issued in 1954)  in blue. The overprint represents an error as the new value was supposed to be applied at the bottom right and not top right as is the case here. The bottom two stamps are surcharged with 10 New Dong in black using the Type II (1 with a flag) overprint. Given the devaluation of the Dong in 1954 (10:1) and 1959 (1000:1) the actual postage on this cover represents 0.04 Dong (100 Dong divided by 10 and then divided by 1,000 plus 30 New Dong divided by 1,000). The cover was cancelled in Hanoi on February 1, 1972 when the standard letter rate was 12 xu or o.12 Dong. Therefore the letter is under-franked by two thirds. Since no postage due marker was applied on the cover it is clear that it just represents a late favor cancel and not postal usage. Nevertheless due to the error stamp still a rare item.

Postally used covers with these stamps are exceedingly rare. Below is a cover that was mailed on September 27th, 1953 from Hanoi to the the Ethnographical Institute, Tscheremuschkinskaja in Moscow. The cover carries a Moscow  arrival cancel on the reverse. This may well be one of the earliest North Vietnam covers mailed abroad.

According to the official UPU website (www.upu.int) Vietnam joined the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on October 20th, 1951. This however, only applied to the South Vietnamese regime that was internationally recognized by most countries at the time. North Vietnam did not join the UPU until July of 1954, when the Ho Chi Minh Government became internationally recognized after the Geneva Conference. However, the Soviet Union, China and a number of Eastern European countries recognized the Ho Chi Minh Government already in January of 1950 which means from that date on international mailings to those countries were theoretically possible. While the rate of 100 Dong is the correct one for the fall of 1953, the cover nevertheless leaves some open questions. Hanoi was still controlled by the French in fall of 1953, however their position was a lot more tenuous in the city than earlier in the war. At night a parallel society emerged that was dominated by the Viet Minh. So, it is quite possible that the Viet Minh were in possession of a Hanoi date canceler at that time. There is postal history evidence that one and the same post office handled both, French and Viet Minh mail at the same time. The cover has a “Moscow Airport” hand stamp applied in front, however, it is not clear how the letter would have gotten there. There were no official direct air links between North Vietnam and Russia at that time. Of course, Russia was the major financial and logistical supporting country of the Viet Minh and therefore it is very likely that unofficial military flights carrying Russian supplies and equipment did take place. We do know that Russian and Chinese “Advisors” were working with the Viet Minh to provide them with training. Of course these “Advisors” needed a cover story to justify their existence in the country in case they were accosted by the French Army. Using ethnographical research was as good of a cover-story as any. Even Sven Hedin, the famous explorer, used a similar cover to justify his being in China in the 1920s. Another unusual point is that the cover shows a colorful depiction of two gold fish at the bottom left. While this would have been quite normal before World War II and then again in the late 1950s it is unusual for 1953. The Viet Minh suffered from an enormous shortage of raw materials and producing colorful envelopes with gold fish was certainly not a priority. As a matter of fact most genuine Vet Minh covers were made up of recycled paper and often re-used inside out a second time. However, this is not an internal Viet Minh cover, so different rules do apply. A “wealthy” Russian could have easily brought his own supplies from Russia or obtained  them during recreational stays in China or from a Chinese colleague. The gold fish are a Chinese symbol for good luck after all so it is quite possible that the envelope has its origins there. If you have any information or position on this cover please contact the editor.

From the same correspondence stems a letter franked with a perforated version of the 200 Dong brick-red that was mailed in Tuyen-Guang, Tonkin on May 1, 1951. The town is located northwest of Hanoi in the mountains and was at that time already controlled by the Viet Minh. The domestic standard postage at the time was 60 Dong. Nothing is known about the international rates in 1951 as there was basically no international mail then, however on international mail in the late 1950’s we find that the tariff to associated socialist countries was identical to the inland rate. This would mean that the letter is either over-franked or was much heavier than the standard 20g. The letter arrived in Moscow on August 27th, 1951 (as documented by the arrival stamp on the reverse) which means it took about 3 1/2 months to get there! This long delivery time clearly suggests that the path to deliver the letter must have been rather arduous and was most likely accomplished by private couriers travelling through China.

Registration Nr. 100025

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