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Stamp Identification and 'Puzzle' Stamps

So, you've soaked off your shoe-box full of stamps and they've dried nice and flat. The next step is to sort them. Unless you're a thematic collector, the usual method is to firstly arrange them according to country of issue.

Most countries helpfully print their name on their stamps, one of the exceptions of course being the United Kingdom. Ever since the first Queen Victoria stamp issue, UK stamps simply display the head of the ruling monarch, most recently as a silhouette. If the issuing country uses the Latin alphabet, identification of the stamp is fairly simple. Cyrillic or Greek script are fairly easily identified as well. But when it comes to identifying "puzzle stamps" - especially strange older stamps which appear to have no legible text, the following guide may come in handy. Of course this is not an exhaustive list!


Alwar stamp motif

One of the Indian Feudatory States, Alwar is a district in the state of Rajasthan, India. In the reign of Jey Singh the spelling was changed from its original "Ulwar", reputedly to rearrange the district's position in alphabetically ordered lists. Stamps were issued from 1877, and became obsolete on 1 July 1902.


Azerbaijan stamp motif

The largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Established as a democratic Muslim republic in 1918, it was absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1920 and again became independant in 1991.


Batum stamp inscription

Now known as Batumi, it is a city on the Black Sea Coast. It was under Russian administration until 1918 when Turkey took over, swiftly followed by the British. In July 1920 Batum was handed over to the National Republic of Georgia.


Bulgaria stamp inscription

A country in Southeast Europe, formerly a Turkish province, and now part of the European Union.


Bundi stamp motif

Another Indian Feudatory State, stamps were issued from 1894 until 1948 when Bundi became part of the Rajasthan Union.


China stamp motif

Chinese characters are usually fairly easy to identify; but the motif above provides another clue to identification on earlier Chinese stamps.

Dedeagatz / Dedeagh / Dedeagatch

Dedeagh stamp inscription

Now known as Alexandroupoli, it is a city in northeast Greece near the Turkish border. Established as a fishing village in the Ottoman Empire, it was briefly under Russian control in 1877/8. In 1912 it was captured by Bulgaria, and then Greece in 1913. Later that year, Greece was forced to hand control back to Bulgaria. Following the defeat of Bulgaria by the Allies in 1918, the French took control. Dedeagh was once again handed over to Greece in 1920, and shortly thereafter renamed Alexandroupoli in honour of Alexander I. During the Second World War, the area was yet again controlled by Bulgaria from 1941 until the liberation in 1944.


Greece stamp inscription

A country in Southeast Europe, part of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 to 1830, and now part of the European Union.


Japan stamp motif

An empire in eastern Asia consisting of numerous islands. The stylized chrysanthemum is a common feature on stamps of Japan.


Manchukuo stamp motif

Manchukuo was a puppet state in north-east China comprising part of Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. It was seized by Japan in 1931 and issued postage stamps from 1932 until its dissolution in 1945. The stamps usually display a stylized orchid as shown above.


Montenegro stamp inscription

Montenegro lies in southeast Europe, on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. In 1878 it became independant from the Ottoman Empire. In 1918 it became part of Yugoslavia, but declared independence in 2006.


Nawanagar stamp motif

Nawanagar is another Indian Feudatory State. Stamps were issued (without gum) from 1877 until 1895.

North Korea

North Korea stamp motif

A country in east Asia. Korea was an empire until it was annexed by Japan in 1905. In 1945 it was divided into two zones, North (under Soviet control) and South (under American control). In a United Nations supervised election in 1948, North Korea refused to participate. This led to the Korean war in 1950, with both North and South claiming the entire Korean peninsula. This war has not yet officially ended.

Russian Western Army

Russian Western Army stamp inscription

This was a paramilitary force initially formed by Germany in the Baltic provinces of the former Russian Empire. Its aim was to prevent Bolshevik advances. In 1918 this force received a Russian commanding officer, Major-General Pavel Avalov-Bermondt. This army unsuccessfully attacked Lithuania and Latvia in 1919 and was forced to withdraw back into Germany. A number of stamps were issued and postally used. Other stamps in existence had been prepared for Major-General Avalov-Bermondt's force, but were never issued.


Serbia stamp inscription

A country in southeast Europe. In the first half of the 19th century it successfully gained independance from the Ottoman Empire and reverted to a monarchy. In 1918 it became part of Yugoslavia, but regained independence in 2006.

South Korea

South Korea stamp motif 1      South Korea stamp motif 2

A country in east Asia. See North Korea above.

Transcaucasian Federation

Transcaucasian Federation stamp inscription

The Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (to give it its full name) was a Federation comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Formed in 1922, it issued its own stamps in 1923. From 1924 it used stamps of the Soviet Union, and was absorbed into the U.S.S.R. in 1936.


Turkey stamp motif

A country situated between Europe and Asia. The centre of the former Ottoman Empire.


Ukraine stamp inscription

Situated in southwestern Russia, Ukraine issued its first stamps in 1918, following the Russian Revolution. It was one of the founding republics of the U.S.S.R. in 1923. It started issuing its own stamps again in 1992 following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

White Russia

White Russia stamp inscription

White Russia (or Belorussia, Byelorussia) is an area corresponding to the eastern part of the current Belarus. In 1918 an independent state was declared by a military administration in Minsk. This only lasted nine months before becoming the Byelorussian Soviet Republic. Some stamps were issued in 1920 for use by troops under the command of General Stanislav Bulak-Balachovic.


Yugoslavia stamp inscription

Established in 1918 as a union of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia (including the Kingdom of Montenegro), the country was initially known as "the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes". In 1929 this became the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia". In 1946 a further three states were added; Istria, Rijeka and Zadar. A communist government was established, and it was known as the "Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia". In 1963 it was renamed the "Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia", consisting of six member states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia. In 1991 four of these separated, and the remaining two were known as the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". In 2003 this was renamed "Serbia and Montenegro", and when these final two countries declared independence in 2006, Yugoslavia ceased to exist.

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