According to Ta Phi Long’s book „Some Features of Postal History in the period of Revolutionary South Vietnam” the stamps issued under the banner of “The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF)” and its successor organization “The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRGRSV)” were intended to be used in liberated areas of the South that were in a disputed state to replace the stamps of the old Saigon regime and as a political propaganda tool to assist the NFL and PRGRSV in furthering the reputation and influence of both organizations internationally.
In reality there is no evidence that the author has seen so far, that these stamps saw any genuine postal use until after the “Fall of Saigon” on April 30th, 1975. All samples on cover that pre-date “Liberation” are either philatelically inspired (some sent in contravention of postal regulations from North Vietnam, where these stamps were not valid) or are favor cancels that simply have been back-dated to after the war (as evidenced by lacking routing and arrival cancels). One can clearly see postal use after “Liberation” in either the un-overprinted or overprinted version of the stamps but even then, genuine samples are not common. So, while some collectors may write these issues off purely as propaganda vignettes that were primarily sold for the purposes of gaining hard currency, they nevertheless are part of Vietnamese postal history, but just found very limited actual use.
Part of this effort was a series of six stamps issued on June 6th of 1974 in celebration of the 5th Anniversary of Proclamation of the Republic of South Vietnam. The denomination was 10 South Vietnamese Dong each, the currency of the Republic of Vietnam. This may seem strange to some, but using South Vietnamese Dong made sense for the PRGRSV, as it was the currency actually in use in the South at that time. However, the nominal of 10 Dong did not. The standard letter rate in the South at that time was already 25 Dong and an increase to 30 Dong was planned for 1975 so, if the PRGRSV had hoped that these stamps would actually serve for their intended purpose to eventually replace the stamps of the Republic of Vietnam, they would have used a more useful nominal of 25 or 30 Dong instead. So again, the emission of these stamps had more of a propaganda and revenue goal than actual postal usage.
Five of the stamps were printed in se-tenant strips, two strips, side by side, in each row (Exhibit 1). Each sheet featured ten rows for a total of 20 strips. One sixth stamp was printed by itself in sheets of 100.
There is a well documented error on the strips on a partial printing on the second stamp from the left, depicting a “demonstration”. On the error stamp the right lower red flag is missing and all one can see is a white space instead (Exhibit 2). This error apparently appeared multiple times in this particular printing in each sheet as the attached two rows of three stamps demonstrate (Exhibit 3). Witness that both stamps in the center show the missing flag error. The author has yet to see a complete sheet with the red flag missing error, so it is not clear if the error appears on every “demonstration” stamp in the sheet or only on some. What is known, is, that the error is not very hard to find. While, of course, the majority of specimens do not show any error, the misprint can usually be bought for under $10 on E-Bay, so clearly, it is not very rare. Michel list it in mint and used condition at €30.
These stamps were reportedly printed in the off-set method. This means areas with color are defined by applying a design shaped photo polymer that attracts printing color while areas that were to remain “white” are wetted with water which will reject it. Given, that the error appears multiple times in a sheet indicates that it was already incurred during the preparation of the original set-tenant clichés and was then later simply replicated by copying the original cliché to prepare the final cylinder of 20 strips in total. It is therefore likely that the error appears 20 times in each error sheet.
Another piece in the puzzle
Another piece in the puzzle appeared recently on the market. A well known Vietnamese E-Bay vendor offered an error strip that until then had not been seen at all in the market. It missed all of the red color, save for the lower right flag on the “demonstration” stamp (Exhibit 4). Since it took over 40 years since initial printing for this second error to appear and the fact that it was not even contained in the highly specialized and gold medal honored collection of Tran Trong Khai on the subject of NFL and PRGRSV, the second error must be extremely rare. However, given the sheet size, at least 20 strips with most red color omitted should have been printed.
Since each color phase is printed by using a separate printing plate, it is rather weird that this issue has produced two errors both which showed a lack of color in the red printing phase. This would suggest that printing of the red color did not occur in a single print run but in two separate runs. Now, this is not exactly economically efficient and would have therefore been a work-around to correct a known deficiency. It is therefore not farfetched to speculate that the missing “red flag” error, once discovered, would have been corrected by running all the unissued error sheets through a second red print stage that only applied the missing flag. Only this would explan the occurrence of both errors.
Given that this issue was printed in the National Printing House in Hanoi, one can also find the occasional printing flaw. Witness the uneven color application on stamps 2 and 3 from the left (Exhibit 5) which leave the blue and dark green color applied rather blotchy. This can occur when the polymer that is supposed to pick up a particular color is worn and no longer picks up color for the full design. This type of printing flaws will never be featured in a catalogue but they nevertheless tend to “spice up” a collection, so watch out for them.
If you have any other information or ideas regarding these errors please write to the author . All material contributions will be shared with the remainder of the membership in subsequent writing.