The University of Chicago’s collection of North Korean stamps

December 30, 2019 • 1:36 pm

If you’re fascinated by North Korea, as I am, you might be interested in perusing the collection of stamps from that country accumulated by the University of Chicago Library (across the street from my office). If you click on the screenshot, you’ll hear the story behind the collection, which was collected by librarian Jee-Young Park and numbers more than 2,000 items (but are North Koreans allowed to send mail overseas?).

Yes, those are carnivorous dinosaurs.

Then click on the link below, where you can browse through the collection by category, subject, artist and date:

Here are a few specimens:

The site has translations of the words on the stamps. This one is “The General’s female palace guards! Let us show the unbeatable brave spirit in every battles!”

In English (of course)!



17 thoughts on “The University of Chicago’s collection of North Korean stamps

  1. “Socialist realism is a teleologically-oriented style having as its purpose the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism.” But, no pressure.

    1. I don’t understand the how principle of socialist realism leads to a stamp depicting an unappetizing bowl of glop, barely identifiable as pieces of fish swimming in red sauce. (Of course, red sauce.) I’d bet it’s fish in kimchi sauce, which could be pretty toothsome depending on the type of fish. But I think it’s rather difficult to depict dishes of prepared food on postage stamps and make them look appetizing, even when well done,as I’ve seen on some Indian stamps, and this is not well done. But I wouldn’t send the designer to illustrators’ re-education camp.

      IMHO, that depiction of a cat is also deficient, just a cut above a medieval cat. However, browsing the collection turns up some pretty good depictions of domestic and wild cats.

      No Kimjongilia stamps? Surely in the database.

      1. It is Gajami-sikhae [flatfish in fermented millet]

        Flatfish salted for ten days
        Then cut into strips if required
        Then mixed with cooked foxtail millet, chili powder & garlic – leave for 4 days
        Then radish slices are added with more chili powder – leave for 10 days
        Then throw in the bin & go out for a burger

        Yeah, those are badly made stamps with the image taken straight from a digital camera & turned into a half-tone colour image [like a colour newspaper image] – no artist involved. The UK Royal Mail today uses mostly electronic engraving – in contrast to lithography & photogravure, the lines and dots are hardly noticeable & you never, ever go straight from a photo as block colours & or strong lines work best with small images. North Korea churns out loads of poorly executed [ahem] stamp designs – it’s very cheap propaganda in a land with no internet for the serfs.

  2. If you are North Korean can you send mail overseas? I’m going to guess no. Probably only a certain top group of people can do any mailing beyond the boarder and even that is probably reviewed before it can go out.

  3. I’ve long wanted to find some sort of authoritative compilation of the boastful lies the North Korean state tells about its dear leaders and North Korean successes.

    For example, did they actually say that the first time one of the Kims went golfing he got all holes in one?

    1. There are good sources out there regarding the routine NK State lies told to the rest of the world. Rather like Iran they will display a new weapons system which is an obvious full scale wooden fake – obvious to even gullible [most of them] western journos. But the western medja are generally rubbish at reporting accurately anything off their turf & the worst offenders are of course the Americans [cancelled 2001 Ryder Cup rant might fit in here] bar a handful of the best journos out there.

      But back to Kim Jong II: No, that all-hole-in-ones is the western press’ version. Josh Sens, the golf, food & travel writer went to NK in 2011 for the NK open at Pyongyang Golf Course – a course where most of the golfers struggle to break 90 according to Sens.

      Sens was told an innocently mistaken story was started by the NK State news agency – in a land where barely anyone plays golf.

      It’s pretty certain nobody at the only NK news outlet would have understood golf scoring & that’s where the cock up began all from a misinterpretation of the scorekeeping. The dead-but-didn’t-die Kim Jong Il was reported as getting a 38-under-par 34 [ie par = 72] in a handicapped game, which is feasible I suppose depending on how he was handicapped for that – his first ever golf round, but the State news got the impression he scored FIVE aces.

      Sens says he got the skinny from the club manager who of course said Kim was a staggering golf talent, but even for a player of his abilities, five aces in one round were out of reach. How that stat had entered into the official record was pretty simple, the manager said: The scorekeeper tracking Kim’s round that day had relied on a relative-to-par system, marking down 0 for pars, 1 for bogeys and 2 for double-bogeys” Unfamiliar with that scorekeeping shorthand, the North Korean state news agency covering the outing had read the five 1s on Kim’s card as holes-in-one.

  4. Why on earth are they “celebrating” Megalosaurus bucklandi? A species first described from England? (If I recall correctly, a find in a brick-making pit in the Oxford Clay, upper Jurassic, near Oxford of course.) OK, the megalosaurids weren’t the most ephemeral of genera, and there is Jurassic (probable) in the subsurface of the Korean peninsula so it’s not utterly incredible that they found megalosaurid bones at some point, but pretty unlikely to be that specific species.

    1. It’s part of a set of three issued in Sept. 2011 – none of them are NK dinos:
      Megalosaurus bucklandi
      Staurikosaurus pricei
      Chasmosaurus belli

      There isn’t a simple logic to their choices, but perhaps they see that dinosaurs are popular in Western culture & they don’t have iconic dinos of their own that might sell well – a means acquiring US dollars perhaps since their own currency is worthless beyond NK borders? I’ve seen some weird NK stamps – a tiger in a spaceship, a dino & a spaceship, a Christian Bible & church even!

      1. When it comes to propaganda campaigns, “logic” isn’t necessarily a relevant operator. We’re talking about people whose main training is in psychology, for starters.

      1. Well, that would have been the distal condyle of the femur. I’ve definitely seen that factoid in circulation before, but dredging out a citation for it has eluded me on several occasions.
        I doubt it would cut muster against ICZN rules – the holotype has not been (TTBOMK) reported ; the descriptions were, at best, woefully incomplete ; it isn’t even particularly sure if the specimen in question can be clearly assigned to a particular genus or species.

  5. Funny how I could tell the soldier was female, even before reading the caption. I keep studying the picture to try to figure out what the “tell” is, but I can’t seem to pin it down.

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