Taiwan 1949-1950 'Star' Surcharges

Among these early issues of stamps issued by the Republic of China on Taiwan were the' Star Surcharges on Northeast $44 Sun Yat-sen' series [SG 93/99], one of the least understood and most interesting groups of stamps not just of the R.O.C. Taiwan, but in all Chinese philately.

The $44 Sun Yat-sen design was beautifully engraved and printed in bright red by Central Trust, Peking. Issued in Nationalist-controlled areas of the Northeastern Provinces in October 1947, it saw very limited use, but was also on sale at the Post Office Department's philatelic sales bureaus in Peking and Shanghai. With liberation of the Northeast in November 1948, Peking in January 1949, and Shanghai in May 1949, stocks of the $44 stamps in those places came under Communist control. Large quantities were used for the $400/$44 [SG 1445], part of the Sun Yat-sen surcharge set issued in July 1950.

A quantity of the $44 stamp was taken to Taiwan by the Nationalists. Since the stamp's inscriptions specified its restricted use for the Northeast, this made the $44 a natural candidate for surcharging. On June 15, 1949, Taiwan's currency standard changed to the New Taiwan dollar. Toward the end of the year, the decision was made to surcharge the $44 in New Taiwan cents, to be issued in conjunction with the proposed Flying Geese dollar-value series [SG lOO/104].

According to Taiwan Post Office records, the total issued quantity of Taiwan Star Surcharges was 12,613,000 stamps. Based on this figure, we know that the equivalent of at least 63,065 sheets of 200 of the Northeast $44 were brought to Taiwan. It is reasonable to assume that the entire supply was used for the Star Surcharges, since they were useless in their original unsurcharged form. The unsurcharged $44, while by no means rare, has always been one of the scarcer post-war Northeast stamps Unlike most other Northeast issues, it was never remaindered.

With regard to the basic $44 stamp, four different printing plates were produced Chinese inscriptions, indicating the printer, appear in the sheet margin above positions 3-4, 17-18, and below positions 183184 and 197-198 Position 183 also contains the plate number 1,2,3, or 4. Position 197 includes a number representing Central Trust's consecutive numbering of all plates that it produced. In the case of the $44, these are numbered from 177 through 180, with 177 appearing on the Plate 1 sheet, 178 on Plate 2, and so forth. The 177 -180 reference numbers may eventually give us an indication of when the $44 plates were actually made, in relation to other Central Trust stamps. Such numbers are most frequently encountered on China's Parcel Post stamps [SG P925/936]. Of these, the 1947 values include numbers between 107-122. The Taiwan Province Parcel Post set [SG P65/69] includes numbers 140143, while China's last unsurcharged Parcel Post set [SG P937/941], issued September 1948 at the start of the Gold Yuan period, includes number 198.

The first values of Taiwan R.O.C.'s first definitive series picturing General Cheng Cheng-kung, sometimes referred to as Koxinga [SG 111/124] were not issued until June 15, 1950. In the meantime, several provisional surcharges were issued, including the Star Surcharges. All these were necessary to meet the urgent demand for New Taiwan currency stamps. Even 50 years later, we can appreciate how great was the need for these surcharges, based on the scarcity of mint stamps compared to most of these values in used state.All surcharging on the Northeast $44 was done by the Chinese Engraving and Printing Works, Taipei. Each sheet of 200 was split into two equal halves, sometimes into quarters, so all surcharges were done in sheets of 100 or 50.

Use of one basic-stamp denomination to produce surcharges of different values had already been done by the Chinese Post Office on several occasions, most notably with the 1897 Red Revenue Surcharges [SG 88/95] and the 1942-43 Regional Surcharges on the 16c Central Trust [SG 688/689, 701]. Likewise, incorporation of stars in a surcharge to obliterate a basic stamp' s value or inscription was not new. The method had been used successfully with the 1922 2c/3c Junk [SG 361] and again with the 1948 C.N.C. surcharges [SG 1012/1014].

To help give a more complete picture of the need for the various denominations of Star Surcharges, Taiwan's principal postal rates during their period of usage are summarised in the following tables. Each rate shown here is the total amount of franking required for a particular class of mail matter. The supplementary 10c value seems to have been added in response to the new domestic airmail rate effected December 27, 1949.

December 12, 1949 saw the initial release of the Star Surcharges, with the appearance of the 2c and 5c stamps. This was followed by the 20c, 30c and 50c values on January 1, 1950, which was also first day of issue for the First Flying Geese series. Specialists refer to this first group of five denominations as the First Printing. On January 23, 1950, further printings of the 2c, 5c, and 20c were issued, along with a new 10c value. These four stamps are considered the Second Printing.

First or Second Printing identification is normally done by measuring the vertical spacing between the Chinese characters 'Tai' and 'Pi,' which form the top-right part of the surcharge. In First Printings, this spacing is approximately 0.7 millimetre. The spacing on Second Printing stamps is much smaller, about 0.3 millimetre.

A much easier method of differentiating stamps of the two printing groups, except for the 20c, is to examine the character 'Pi.' First Printing stamps always show the 'Pi' with a diagonal stroke at upper left. In Second Printing stamps, instead of the stroke, there is a thick dot at this position. Collectors of the Flying Geese stamps are familiar with these two 'Pi' varieties, as both of them occur in every First Printing Geese sheet. All 20c Star Surcharges, in both First and Second Printings, show the 'Pi' with diagonal stroke. For this value, one must measure the spacing between the 'Tai' and 'Pi' in order to properly classify any stamp.

With the vast majority of Chinese surcharges, different colours were chosen to contrast the surcharge ink colour with the colour of the basic stamp, so that the new value would be easy to see. For the Star Surcharges, each denomination was printed in a different colour, presumably to make it easier for postal workers to readily distinguish the denomination when verifying that a cover or card was properly franked. Whether or not this was the reason for the different colours, it is a unique situation in Chinese philately. All 2c stamps were surcharged in Dark Green, 20c in Black, 30c in Blue Violet, and 50c in Ultramarine.

First Printing 5c stamps were surcharged in Deep Purple, but the 5c colour was changed to Red Violet for Second Printings. Judging from the small issued quantity of the 5c stamp, it may be that early in the production of this value, the Deep Purple colour was no longer deemed suitable, and it was replaced by Red Violet ink. Curiously, the Second Printing 10c was surcharged in this same Red Violet colour.

The Star Surcharges are summarised in the table below, listed by printing and denomination. Note the relative quantities. The 20c value alone accounts for more than 75% of the total quantity of all Star Surcharges. On the other hand, 5c stamps represent just over 2% of the total issue.

Within the Second Printing 5c sheets, all stamps in the three left-hand vertical columns contain a different style Chinese character 'Wu' for the denomination, from those in the other seven columns. The overall height of both parts of the 'Wu' is shorter, as is the diagonal stroke at the top-left of the character. In addition, the 'box' formed by the strokes in the lower-right portion of the 'Wu' is wider in these so-called Short 'Wu' stamps.

Actually, this variety of the 'Wu' is identical to that used in all First Printing 5c stamps. Therefore, correct identification of a Second Printing 5c Short 'Wu' can be verified merely by comparison with any 5c First Printing stamp or, in other words, any 5c with a Deep Purple surcharge.

Logic dictates that the Star Surcharges should be collected either as a basic face-different set of six stamps, or as a more specialised set of nine. The Taiwan D.G. of Posts 'Postage Stamp Catalogue' lists and illustrates a set of nine. Over the years, however, the Second Printing 5c Short 'Wu', while clearly a sub-variety, has become accepted as its own major variety by collectors in Taiwan. All Taiwanese catalogues list the Star Surcharges as a set often. Unfortunately, mint examples of the 5c Short 'Wu' are rare, so that it is extremely difficult to complete such a set.

A glance at the Second Printing 5c issue quantity shows that only 57,975 examples of the Short 'Wu' were produced. So many of these were used, that there may very well be less than 1000 mint examples in existence today. Market value of such a stamp is considered to be equal to the combined total of the nine other major varieties. Obviously, the ability to recognise and properly classify this variety is important to Star Surcharge collectors.

Prominent minor varieties of the Star Surcharges include 'Tilted Stars,' resulting from the sideways insertion of pieces of star type. These occur in all denominations throughout both printings, and ideally should be collected in pairs or blocks with normals. 'Double' and 'Shifted' Surcharges can be found, and the 20c exists with 'Invel1ed Star.' One position of the 20c includes the lower pol1ion of the right-hand Arabic '0' broken so that it appears flattened at the base. Another 20c variety is the 'Triangle for Star' This resulted when the tip of the piece of type used for the left-hand star broke off, leaving three stubs which left a printed impression resembling three small triangles, which together form a larger triangle.

The Star Surcharges contain so many major and minor varieties, due to variations in type style and breaks in the various characters, that the surcharge plates must have been set up in great haste, perhaps by an inexperienced typesetter. In this manner, the Star Surcharges are strongly reminiscent of China's 1948 $5000/$100 Kwangsi Provisional [SG 1048]. As with that stamp, any Star Surcharge can, in theory, be plated and its sheet position determined, based on variations in the surcharge type.

On a few occasions, the stars failed to print, nearly creating some 'Stars Omitted' varieties. As soon as these errors occurred, however, they were immediately noticed by the printers. Three pieces of star type were then tied together, inked, and handstamped onto the incomplete stamp. Thus was born the 'Handstamped Stars' variety, usually recognisable by the asymmetrical position of the stars relative to the Arabic value numerals, and the poorly defined shape of the stars.

No fakes of the Star Surcharges have been recorded, probably because forgers have never considered the major-variety stamps quite valuable enough to fake. The rarity of the 5c Short 'Wu' makes it a potential target for faking, by skilful excising and alteration of the character on a normal stamp. The 'Handstamped Stars' can be simulated by applying a blurry spot of ink over each of the stars. Extreme caution should be used when buying any 'Handstamped Stars' variety.

Star Surcharges are difficult to find on cover, but often occur as mixed-issues frankings with Flying Geese or other early surcharges. A few covers exist bearing Star Surcharges in combination with old currency Taiwan Province issues. Surcharge varieties on cover command a premium, but some of these covers are clearly philatelic.

Although the Star Surcharges were largely replaced by the Sun Yat-sen Surcharges [SG 105/110e], issued March 25, 1950, their normal period of usage ran from their initial release date of December 12, 1949 until shortly after June 26, 1950 when the first Koxinga definitives were issued. The Star Surcharges were invalidated December 16, 1961.

Over the years, occasional articles on the Star Surcharges have appeared. Anyone seriously interested in the Stars should obtain a copy of Paul K.S. Chang's book, "Overprinted 'New Taiwan DolIar' Stamps with Standard Style of Writing of Lead Types, Typographed. ' Published in 1981 but still readily available, this fine pioneering work remains the basic reference for all the early Taiwan R.O.C. surcharges, including the Stars and First Flying Geese. Although the book's illustrations are poor by today's standards and recent research has rendered some of the information obsolete, Chang's book remains the obvious starting point for collecting any of these interesting provisionals.

Steven C. Frumkin