North Korea Stamp News

Stamp Collecting Makes Headlines as U.S.-North Korea Tensions Mount

Mystic and its stamp collectors are unfairly caught up in international politics. The problem stems from an embargo on North Korea stamps that began over 60 years ago. There is good news, though – the general media is covering part of the story, which is good for our hobby.

National Public Radio (NPR) recently interviewed Mystic President Don Sundman about the embargo’s impact on stamp collecting, and a magazine published in Great Britain is writing an article about it. More coverage is likely.

The embargo dates back to 1950 and the Korean War. Under the terms of the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, Americans were prohibited from doing business directly or indirectly with North Korea, including buying postage stamps. The embargo continued until 1999, when sanctions were eased during the Clinton administration.

Stamps are tiny windows into cultures and a great way to learn about secretive nations like North Korea. They are also seldom seen, which makes them even more appealing. On behalf of its collectors, Mystic applied for the necessary license to import North Korea stamps. Permission was given by the Treasury Department in 2000. The stamps were popular with Mystic’s collectors, so permission was asked for and granted a few more times as the license expired.

In 2010, Mystic renewed the license to deal in North Korea stamps, but this time the permission was only granted for one year (previously, it had been valid for several years.)

In July 2011, Mystic again applied for what appeared to be a routine renewal. A year passed before it learned from the Treasury Department that the request had been denied. A request for information on the appeal process went unanswered.

New York Senator Kristine Gillibrand was contacted by Mystic in the fall of 2012 and asked to investigate. In January 2013, she forwarded a copy of a letter she’d received in response to her inquiry. It turns out the Treasury Department must coordinate these requests with the Departments of State and Defense. Those two departments had never acted on the application, so the Treasury Department simply denied the request.

Mystic and our stamp collectors are victims of international politics and governmental red tape. Denying collectors the chance to collect North Korea stamps doesn’t ease U.S.-North Korea tensions. Instead, it prevents Mystic’s collectors from enjoying their hobby and interferes in business during a challenging economy.

The bright note – due to the media coverage, more people are becoming aware of stamp collecting and its rewards. Look for further updates on this developing story.

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What are Farley’s Follies?

754 mint center line block copy

U.S. #754 Imperforate and without gum as issued

Farley’s Follies is one of stamp collecting’s most interesting stories.  And since most of the stamps are readily available and inexpensive, it’s easy enough to put a specialized collection together.  Let’s step back in time and discover one of the Postal Service’s biggest scandals…

James A. Farley (1888-1976) got his start in politics in 1911 as town clerk of Grassy Point, New York. He moved his way through the political system, forming the Upstate New York Democratic Organization and bringing many upstate voters to the Democratic party. In 1924, he met young Franklin Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention. Four years later, FDR asked Farley to run his campaign for New York governor. Farley helped FDR win the elections for governor in 1928 and 1930. A driving force in the U.S. political system, Farley helped FDR win the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections. Roosevelt made Farley his Postmaster General. Farley was pivotal in turning around the U.S. Post Office Department. He helped the department finally turn a profit and revolutionized airmail service.

753 mint center line block

U.S. #753, the Byrd Expedition World Map Special Printing

The infamous “Farley’s Follies” controversy began in 1933 when Farley removed several stamp sheets from the printing presses before they were gummed or perforated. He autographed these sheets (which were not available to the public) and gave them to colleagues and family, creating precious philatelic rarities. Stamp collectors were outraged when they discovered what had happened. Finally, the Post Office came up with a solution – the reissue in sheet form of all the stamps issued since March 4, 1933, in ungummed condition, all but the first two imperforate and in sufficient numbers to satisfy public demand. Although Farley and FDR had a falling out over Roosevelt’s plan to run for a third term, Farley remained a strong force in the political and business worlds. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation and served as a trusted advisor to several Popes, dignitaries, and Presidents until his death in 1976.

Farley’s Follies are Scarce and Valuable Collectibles

The British stamp firm Gibbons reportedly declared the reprint was “nauseous prostitution,” and at first refused to list the issues in their famous stamp catalog! But even today, over 80 years after they were issued, collectors still love Farley’s Follies.

“Farley’s Follies” were issued in large sheets that are way too big to fit in stamp albums. So smart collectors snapped up blocks and pairs in a variety of formats instead. They not only fit, but these key formats are an easy way to understand the stamp printing process.

Mystic purchased full sheets of these mint stamps and made them available in scarce formats like vertical, horizontal and gutter pairs plus arrow blocks, line pairs and cross gutter blocks. All are hard to find – some occur only once in every stamp sheet. It’s a neat way to own a scandalous slice of U.S. postal history. Our experts even designed custom album pages to display them on. Learn more here.

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Grilled Issues of the United States

pg17-grillsIn the late 1800s, officials were worried that people were “recycling” stamps by washing the cancels away and using them again. So they gambled on an experiment – a grilling machine invented by Charles F. Steel. From 1867-75, Steel’s machine used a roller pitted with either small depressions or small raised pyramids to break fibers in stamp paper. The rollers with depressions created a “points up” pattern while those with raised pyramids made a “points down” pattern.

These broken fibers allowed cancellation ink to thoroughly penetrate the paper. This meant even regular pen ink, which was used to cancel stamps at smaller post offices, would be impossible to remove completely. The experiment was short-lived, ending in 1875.

Early in the 20th century, William Stevenson categorized grills by size and shape, and sorted the stamps by “grill family.” Identifying grills is fun and easy using the pictures and chart below.

A” Grill – covers the entire stamp; points up/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 79-81

“B” Grill – 18 x 15 mm (22 x 18 points); points up/vertical ridges – U.S. # 82

“C” Grill – 13 x 16 mm (16-17 x 18-21 points); points up/vertical ridges – U.S. # 83

“D” Grill – 12 x 14 mm (15 x 17-18 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 84-85

“Z” Grill – 11 x 14 mm (13-14 x 18 points); points down/horizontal ridges – U.S. #’s 85A, 85B, 85C, 85D, 85E, 85F

“E” Grill – 11 x 13 mm (14 x 15-17 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 86-91

“F” Grill – 9 x 13 mm (11-12 x 15-17 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 92-101

“G” Grill – 9.5 x 9 mm (12 x 11-11.5 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 112-122

“H” Grill – 10 x 12 mm (11-13 x 14-16 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 134-144

“I” Grill – 8.5 x 10 mm (10-11 x 10-13 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 134-138

“J” Grill – 7 x 9.5 mm ( 10 x 12 points); points down/vertical ridges – U.S. #’s 156e, 157c, 158e, 159b, 160a, 161c, 162a, 165a, 178c, 179c






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Graf Zeppelins

The Graf Zeppelins (and Why Stamp Collectors Love Them)


1930 65¢ Zeppelin Over Atlantic Ocean

Graf Zeppelins are some of the most sought-after U.S. stamps. These airmail stamps are scarce because of their very small issue quantities and the fact they were on sale for five weeks and two days – and that was over 80 years ago!

The Graf Zeppelin dirigible was named after its designer – Count (“Graf” in German) Ferdinand von Zeppelin. An aluminum-framed, lighter-than-air craft, the Graf made its first dramatic trans-Atlantic voyage in 1928. That voyage saw three crew members dangling from the outside of the massive ship, trying to make crucial repairs during a raging storm in mid-Atlantic! That first trip was riddled with danger, but it ended successfully and those that followed were smoother.


1930 $1.30 Zeppelin Between Continents

On May 18, 1930, the Graf Zeppelin began its first round-trip voyage between Europe and North and South America. The Zeppelin airmail stamps were issued to commemorate the event and frank mail carried on it. Covers carried on that voyage bear the famous “Zeps,” documenting the importance of the giant aircraft in the development of world airmail service. It was only after the crash of the German airship Hindenburg that the Graf Zeppelin was taken out of service. Its history included many records, including the fact the Graf was the only airship to fly around the world.

The stamps and covers which resulted from the many flights of the Graf Zeppelin have fascinated collectors from that time on – and they always will.


1930 $2.60 Zeppelin Passing Globe

The Zeppelin airmail designs picture the dirigible’s long journey over the ocean between Europe and the Americas, showing the giant airship traveling westward from Europe as well as eastward, back to its home port in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The Zeppelins and the mail they carried were an exciting chapter in the saga of airmail service in the early years of this century. Those years were a time of daring and courageous airmail pilots whose exploits were carried out in flimsy, unstable, heavier-than-air planes such as the Curtiss Jenny as well as the unforgettable Zeppelins.

All mankind took a giant leap into the future as these heroes defied gravity and piloted their crafts into the wild blue yonder. The Zeppelin stamps are historic artifacts from that exciting time. Like all postage stamps, they tell us wonderful things about our nation’s past.

The Golden Age of dirigible flight ended with the Hindenburg Disaster.

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How to Identify Your Stamps

How to Identify Your Stamps

The biggest reward from collecting stamps is your enjoyment!  However, at some point you may want to learn the basics of identification and condition of your stamps.  As you may know, two stamps can look exactly the same, and yet they are different issues with different Scott Numbers and values.  Also, you know the difference between used and unused, but do you know how unused and mint stamps differ?  Let me show you some techniques for identifying your stamps! Continue reading

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Basic Stamp Terms for Beginners

Knowing the meaning of a few stamp collecting terms makes it more fun to collect – and easier to talk to other collectors about the hobby. Here’s a few basic terms to get you started!

Perforation: small rows of holes punched between stamps to make separating them easy

Design: a stamp’s overall appearance

Vignette: central part of the stamp design

Frame: the outer part of a stamp design, which can be as simple as a single line or very ornate

Selvage: attached margin paper that may be plain or highly decorative

Country: tells you which nation issued your stamp

Denomination: what it originally cost to purchase the stamp from the post office

Series and Sets: Many of the stamps in series and sets have common design elements. For example, each stamp in this series features a Looney Tunes character. Notice the style of the letters and numbers also match. (FYI – series are issued over a period of years, while sets are issued on the same date.)

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