ASG Certifies Two Rare 1897 Red Revenue Stamps

Posted on 2/6/2023

The high-grade examples of the high-denomination stamp are among the rarer collectibles in Chinese philately.

Authenticated Stamp Guaranty® (ASG®) recently certified two examples of the 1897 Chinese $5 Red Revenue stamp. One is graded ASG VF 80 Mint while the other is graded ASG F/VF 75 Mint NOG. ASG had previously certified only one other Red Revenue stamp of this denomination.

When the Chinese government launched a new national postal service in 1897, the Coiling Dragon design was supposed to have been the first postage stamp issued. That plan, however, fell through. The stamps, which had been ordered from the Tokyo Tsukiji Type Foundry in Japan, did not arrive in time for the launch of the new service.

To address the problem caused by the delay, the Chinese government issued a stamp that has become one of the most sought after in the world of philately. The Red Revenues, as the stamps are known today, were created by overprinting the new stamp denominations on Chinese revenue stamps that the government had in reserve. Although meant to serve a temporary purpose, the Red Revenue stamps have since come to occupy a permanent place on the list of rare and valuable historic stamps.

Click images to enlarge.

The world’s most sought-after overprint stamp

Overprint stamps are generated when new ink is added to a previously printed stamp design. This is often done by postal authorities for administrative purposes but has also been used to modify stamps that are then used by the public. “Surcharge” is the term used to describe overprints that are modified for the purpose of updating the price of the stamp. This practice allows postal officials to continue to use stock on hand when postage prices change.

Red Revenues are surcharge stamps. The original revenue stamps, which were printed by Waterlow & Sons in London, were 3 cent stamps used to indicate that taxes had been paid. The overprinting done by the postal service altered them by adding five denominations: 1 cent, 2 cent, 4 cent, $1 and $5.

The $1 Red Revenues include a very rare subset known as the “Small One Dollar.” These surcharges were the first to be printed, but it was quickly determined that the font size used on them was too small. Historical sources say only two 25-stamp sheets of the “Small One Dollar” stamps were printed before the design was updated to make the font more readable.

A famous block of four “Small One Dollar” stamps, which was reportedly obtained by a government official at the time of printing, has changed hands numerous times since being revealed by the official’s widow in 1924. Chinese stamp collector Lam Man Yin purchased it in 1982 for $280,000. He reportedly sold it along with a Chinese Large Dragon stamp in 2009 for $18.8 million.

A superb example of intaglio design

The exquisite design on the original Red Revenue stamps, which was printed using the intaglio process, is another draw for collectors. The time-consuming intaglio process involves engraving an image and stamping it into a metal plate. The recessed image on the plate is then filled with ink that is transferred to the stamp during printing. Intaglio gives the stamp’s design slight relief in the areas where the paper is pressed into the plate, which provides an eye-catching depth of appearance. At the time that the Red Revenue stamps were printed, the plates would have been painstakingly engraved by hand.

ASG is honored to serve as an expert and impartial stamp grading service for the collecting community. In addition to grading and certification, it provides expert encapsulation in a variety of sizes. More information on the design features and sizes of ASG holders can be found here.

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