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Formosan Republic Black Flag Stamps 1st Issue (Die I)

Uploader: NIKKOPublication: 2016-08-01
Basic Information Category: Stamps & Postcards Subcategory: Stamps (Unused) Year: 1895 CE Century: 19 CE Country of Origin: Taiwan Issuer: Formosan Republic
SpecificationLength: 2.55 cm Width: 2.35 cm
Formosan Republic (台灣民主國, literally Democratic State of Taiwan) was a short-lived state that existed between the formal cession of Taiwan by the Qing Dynasty of China to the Empire of Japan and the subjugation by the Japanese troops in 1895. The Republic was proclaimed on May 23rd, 1895 and extinguished on October 21st, when the capital, Tainan, was taken over by the Japanese.

During the 184 day period, with help from C.A. McCallum, a British working at Chinese Imperial Maritime Custom Service (IMCS) in Tainan, Formosan Republic released 3 issues of stamps (the authenticity of 4th issue is still in debate). All issues have 3 stamps: a green 30 Mace (錢), a red 50 Mace and a purple 100 mace. There are minor variations in color, but the stamp design of all issues is basically the same, featuring a tiger and text “Democratic State of Taiwan” on the top. The vertical text on the left is “士担紙 (Stamp Paper)”, which appears to be a portmanteau of sound transliteration from English word “stamp” and Chinese word “Paper” (紙 in its older form with 氏 on the top and 巾 at the bottom). The vertical text on the right is the face value, which was hand stamped afterwards. The exact issuing date of the first issue Formosan Republic stamps is unknown, but it is believed to be around Mid-August of 1895, possibly August 16th 1895.

The term “Stamp Paper (士担紙)” also raised a lot of discussion among philatelists, because in Chinese, there is a specific term for postal stamps called “Postal Ticket (郵票)”. The Chinese term “Postal Ticket” officially appeared for the first time in the documents from Taiwan Postal Office established by Taiwan Governor-General Liu Mingchuan in 1885. Therefore, “Postal Ticket (郵票)” should not be an uncommon term to people in 1895, but, interestingly, McCallum chose to use the term “Stamp Paper (士担紙)” instead. It is also possible that McCallum was not too familiar with the relatively new Chinese term, or he learned his Chinese in Hong Kong or Canton area. In Hong Kong, “士担” was the Chinese literal translation for “stamp.” Of course, another explanation would be that the Black Flag Stamps were not issued merely as postal stamps. According to reports from James Wheeler Davidson (1872-1933), a US reporter in Taiwan at the time, the Black Flag Stamps were also one of the means for government revenue. If that was the intention of McCallum, then “Stamp Paper” is indeed a proper title for the Black Flag Stamps. However, McCallum did clarify that the Black Flag Stamps were actually used in the postal services.

It is likely that the Black Flag Stamps was postal fiscal stamps: duty stamps that can be used postally as well. Hong Kong had used duty stamps for postal purpose several times since 1867, so McCallum should not be a stranger to this. Given the urgency of Formosan Republic’s situation, it is reasonable for the government to issue the stamp for both revenue and postal purposes. The Chinese texts on Hong Kong duty stamps were “印捐士担 (Duty Stamp)”. Whether the Black Flag Stamps were used as duty stamps remains unsolved, but it is very likely that the title “Stamp Paper (士担紙)” got the influence from Hong Kong.

Because the first issue of the Formosan Republic stamps was meant to be provisional, they were actually hand stamped on white papers and then cut into separate pieces as there was no perforation. The papers used by the first issue are different from the latter issues. It is a kind of extremely thin papers probably handmade from bark or bamboo. The first issue stamps were printed using organic ink except the 50 mace stamp, which used Mercury Sulfide based dye also known as vermilion. The organic ink used is highly soluble in water and easily fades over time. Those characteristics make preservation of these stamps more challenging. It is also virtually impossible to separate the stamps from the envelope after adherence.
Ownership InformationAcquisition Date: 2016-04-22
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