Train Stamps : Manchukuo : Manchurian Local Overprints : 1945/46

Historical Background : Manchuria is a large region in northern China, which was sparsely-populated and under-developed when the twentieth century began, but it grew in importance as the century progressed. The Japanese, driven by military fervour and imperialist dreams, invaded Manchuria in the early 1930s, and set up a puppet government, renaming the region 'Manchukuo'. This new territory was recognized by very few countries and condemnation of the occupation led Japan to leave the League of Nations.

The occupation was harsh, the Japanese seeing the Chinese inhabitants as racially inferior. The territory's resources were systematically directed towards the furtherance of Japanese regional power. In August 1945, a month before the Japanese surrender in World War II, troops of the Soviet Union took advantage of the disintegrating Japanese Empire by invading Manchukuo. They made rapid inroads against a large but demoralised Japanese army, overrunning huge areas in days. Although the Chinese nationalist forces under Chiang Kai Shek, at the time the internationally-recognized legitimate government of China, were theoretically allies of the Soviet Union in the World War which was still being waged in the East, the Russians prevented the nationalists from filling the vacuum left behind as Japanese resistance crumbled, preferring to allow Mao Tse Tung's communist forces to strengthen their strategically-important military presence in Manchuria. This contributed significantly to Mao's eventual defeat of the nationalists and the formation of the communist People's Republic of China in 1949.

Manchurian Local Overprint Charbin Harbin Railway Bridge
Manchurian Local Overprint Charbin Harbin Railway Bridge
Detail of a 39 fen Manchurian Local Overprint. The stamp shows a (tiny) steam train, the train travelling away from us, its locomotive (and the smoke from its chimney) just visible at approximately the same spot as the locomotive just discernible in the postcard.

The China Eastern Railway.
The view on the card is of the Sungari River Bridge at Charbin (Harbin) in Manchuria, a strategically vital river crossing. The card was posted to Russia in 1912 from Harbin, at the time when that city was at the centre of three spheres of influence. The area was officially ruled by China but, with their weak army, the Realpolitik was different. The Japanese were in control of Dalian, known as Dairen to the Japanese, a large port located at the end of the China Eastern Railway (CER), an important railway terminus on a line which connected the port to Harbin and, beyond, to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The CER and much of the railway network in Manchuria, though, was run by Russia, the centre of operations being in Harbin, and control of the railway system at that time carried with it great political power, so influential was the railway upon the economy of the region. Harbin was a cosmopolitan city with Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Americans and many Europeans using it as a trading centre, their trades heavily reliant on the CER. After the Japanese seized Manchuria in the early 1930s, Harbin's strategic importance was crucial, it being a key supply pinch-point in an era of poor roads when almost all major movements of materiel were rail-borne.

Philately : Returning now to the events of 1945, as each town or region was captured by the Soviet Army from the Japanese, a limited postal service was established using the stamps of Manchukuo overprinted locally with Chinese characters. There are hundreds of different local overprints applied to many thousands of stamps, but relatively few of them were made on the 39 fen Railway Bridge & Train design of Manchukuo, a definitive stamp first issued in 1937.

Note: Some Manchukuo stamps were overprinted by the Chinese communists for Port Arthur & Dairen. However, these are not treated as local stamps but recognized and listed as regional issues in main catalogues under North-East China. However, the 39 fen stamp was NOT overprinted for Port Arthur & Dairen and all overprints encountered on the 39 fen will therefore be local overprints of 1945/46, not regional issues.

The Kerr catalogue is probably the best-known for these local overprints, a small four-volume paperback publication which has long been out-of-print. Other specialized catalogues of China also list these overprints. According to Kerr, there were 272 different localities which applied their own overprints, some using more than one overprint style, and these overprints can be found applied to just 1 or 2 stamps or frequently to one or more sets of stamps, including long definitive sets.

Almost every overprint can be identified by location, so varied are the styles, although a 4-character overprint arranged in two rows of two, was the most popular format and they can be amongst the more time-consuming overprints to identify, although this is not a problem if just collecting the relatively small output of 39 fen stamps. The overprints mostly translate as 'Chinese Republic - Temporary Use', 'Chinese Postal Service - Temporary Use' or similar. Occasionally, the stamps are also surcharged with a new value.

The limited supply available at the time of 39 fen stamps can be gauged by the fact that Kerr lists overprints on this value in only about 17 of the 272 locations that he catalogues. The airmail catalogue, Sanabria (1966 edition), lists 21 different stamps and displays 21 different overprints, without identifying the location of any of them. The Sanabria listing contains at least three overprints not in Kerr - whilst omitting several that are.

Catalogue-Style Listing :
We have based our listing primarily on Kerr, showing any corresponding Sanabria number alongside. Kerr lists all the 272 locations alphabetically and numbers them sequentially, A Cheng being location 1 and Yung Shan Chen location 272. Catalogue numbers are composed firstly of the location and then the catalogue number for that location. The 39 fen is normally part of a set, rather than a single stamp issue, and indeed it is often the scarcest value in a set, but each stamp in a set is individually numbered and, usually, priced in Kerr using a points system. Kerr was printed in the mid-late 1970s, yet it is still used quite widely, especially outside China, for the relative valuations between different stamps and sets based on that points system.

Manchurian Local Overprint Sanabria 25 Manchurian Local Overprint Chang Chun Manchurian Local Overprint Chang Chun Manchurian Local Overprint Fo-Shan

Left - to - Right above:
A Cheng : 39 fen : Kerr 1, Unlisted value (Sanabria 25) [ . ]
Chang-Chun : 5 Yen / 39 fen : Kerr 13,16 (Sanabria 9) [ . ]
- ditto - Bar through top inscription [ . ]
Fo-Shan : 39 fen : Kerr 40,11 (from set/13, Kerr 40,1-13) : Not in Sanabria [ . ]


Manchurian Local Overprint Hai-Cheng Manchurian Local Overprint Kiao Ho, Kwei Lin, Mao Erh Shan

Left - to - Right above:
Hai-Cheng : 39 fen : Kerr 48,26 (from set/31, Kerr 48,1-31) : Sanabria 22 [ . ]
Kiao Ho : 39 fen : Kerr 93,13 (set/5 Kerr 93,9-13) : Sanabria 16 [ . ]
Kwei Lin : 39 fen : Kerr 111,X12 (not in Sanabria) [ . ]
Mao Erh Shan : 39 fen : Kerr 136,13 (from set Kerr 136,1-17) : Sanabria 19 [ . ]

The Kwei Lin issue above was not regularly issued and its origins are suspect.


Mo Lin: No image
Image from Kerr catalogue.

Mo Lin : 39 fen : Kerr 143,4 (from set Kerr 143,1-4) Not in Sanabria [ . ]


We now come to Mukden, which is a problem city for these overprints. There are up to five Types associated with Mukden, but what we have seen only partially accords with the Kerr listing. Sanabria does not identify locations in its catalogue and shows only two types that appear to be for Mukden, one of which (San.5) is Kerr's smaller Mukden Type V. The other (San.21) will therefore cover Types I-IV in Kerr. There are two key measurements used to distinguish these 5 Types, if indeed they all exist on the 39 fen value.

Manchurian Local Overprint Mukden Manchurian Local Overprint Mukden

The two key measurements are the overall height (C to D) as shown above, which is by far the most difficult to measure with any accuracy. The overprints frequently have ill-defined edges, especially at the top, and they tend to spread with usage, thus increasing their overall size or, alternatively, the tops become worn away, thus decreasing their size. On the other hand, the width measurement (A to B), measured between the mid-points of the two characters, can be accurately measured.

One can quickly identify Types II and V without much difficulty, as follows:
Type II measures only 6.5 mms in width, whereas all the others measure at least 7.5 mms wide.
Type V is only 18 mms high whilst the others are at least 19 mms in height.

We now give the measurements as per Kerr for Types I, III and IV (IV described as a small variant of III):
Kerr Type I . : Height 19.0 mms . . . . Width 7.5 mms
Kerr Type III : Height 20.6-21 mms . . . . Width 7.9-8.1 mms
Kerr Type IV : Type IV - see below.

Manchurian Local Overprint Mukden
Above : Left-to-Right : Kerr Types II, III or IV, V.

Manchurian Local Overprint Mukden Manchurian Local Overprint Mukden
Above : Two stamps measuring Height 20.0 mms approx. and Width 7.5 mms. Also shown is a Double Overprint which we have not been able to measure ourselves. From the style, it appears to be a Kerr Type II and it is tentatively listed as such.

Upper Row of Scans above:
The stamp in the middle meets the Type III and/or IV measurements. Kerr provides a single listing to cover Type III combined with a note about Type IV in the heading which reads 'Type IV is a variation of Type III'. Without greater clarity, we cannot know whether our scan shows a Type III or a Type IV, nor do we know whether the 39 fen value only exists as a Type III, only exists as a Type IV or exists in both Types. We have simply assumed that our scan shows a Type III in the listing below and put a [ ? ] against the Type IV but more information is needed.

Lower Row of Scans above:
The first two stamps do not fit with Kerr at all, both measuring height 20.0 mms +/- 0.2 mms, with width 7.5 mms. As the width measurement is the more reliable, it suggests that these two stamps are closest to Kerr Type I, but significantly at odds with Kerr's measurements and, therefore, seemingly not listed by Kerr at all. It is worth noting that Kerr does not price the Type I, an indication that it may not even exist. We have therefore added an extra 'Type' at the end of the listing (titled 'Kerr unlisted'), whilst putting a [ ? ] against the Type I listing.

A reminder for Types III and IV: Our listing [ . ] and [ ? ] could be the wrong way round.

Mukden Overprints
Mukden : Type I : 39 fen : Kerr 148,23 (set 148,1-27). This stamp may not exist. [ ? ]

Mukden : Type II
(simple test: width=6.5 mms) : 39 fen : Kerr 148,50 (set 148,28-54) [ . ]
- ditto - Kerr 148,50a : Overprint Inverted (this stamp not confirmed to exist) [ ? ]

Mukden : Type not established, possibly Type II : 39 fen : Overprint DOUBLE [ . ]

Mukden : Type III : 39 fen : Kerr 148,77 (set 148,55-81) [ . ]

Mukden : Type IV : 39 fen : Kerr 148,77 variety (set 148,55-81 var) [ ? ]

Mukden : Type V
(simple test: height=18.0 mms) : 39 fen : Kerr 148,104 (set 148,82-108) (Sanabria 5) [ . ]
- ditto - Kerr 148,104a : Overprint Inverted [ . ]

Note: We have not seen Kerr 148,104a but it is priced as well as listed in Kerr and will presumably therefore exist.

Mukden : Kerr unlisted : 39 fen : Height 19.8-20.2 mms; Width 7.5 mms [ . ]

Manchurian Local Overprint Peh An, Peh An Chen, Peh Chen

Left - to - Right above :
Peh An : 5Y / 39f : Kerr 160, 11 (set 160,9-11) : Sanabria 12 [ . ]
Peh An Chen : 39 fen : Kerr, 161,9 (set 161,1-12) : Sanabria 11 [ . ]
Peh An Chen : 39 fen : Kerr, 161,19 (set 161,13-22) : Sanabria 14 [ . ]
Sanabria states overprint is always blurred.
Peh Chen : 39 fen : Kerr unlisted (opt. style of set 162,5-9) : Sanabria 7 [ . ]


Manchurian Local Overprint Pu Si Manchurian Local Overprint Peh An, Peh An Chen, Pu Si Manchurian Local Overprint Pu Si

Pu Si : 39 fen : Kerr 172,4 (from set 172,1-7) : Sanabria 24 [ . ]
- ditto - Overprints SIDEWAYS, reading Down. (not in Kerr, San.24a) [ . ]
Sha Sung Kan : 39 fen : Kerr 178,5 (from set 178,1-5) : Sanabria 20 [ . ]
Schwang Cheng : 39 fen : Kerr 184,16 (from set 184,1-21) : Sanabria 15 [ . ]


Manchurian Local Overprint Sia Cheng Tze Siao Kiu Chan Manchurian Local Overprint Pu Si

Sia Cheng Tze : 5Y / 39 fen : Kerr 191,12 (from set 191,1-12) : Sanabria 13 : [ . ]
Sia Cheng Tze : 5Y / 39 fen : Kerr 191,36 (from set 191,25-36) : Sanabria 18 [ . ]
Siao Kiu Chan : 39 fen : Kerr 193,9 (from set 193,1-13) : Sanabria 6 [ . ]
- ditto - Horizontal Pair, one Without Overprint (not listed) [ . ]


Manchurian Local Overprint Sin Li Tun Tung Ho Manchurian Local Overprint Sanabria 10 Manchurian Local Overprint Sanabria 23

Sin Li Tun 39 fen : Kerr 195,10 (from set 195,1-13) : Sanabria 17 [ . ]
Tung Ho 5Y / 39 fen: Kerr 246,56 (from set 246,47-56) : Sanabria 8 [ . ]

Location unknown : 39 fen : Sanabria 10 [ . ]
Location unknown : 39 fen (surcharged?) : Sanabria 23 [ . ]


We should like to thank Bill Weinberger for supplying some of the scans for this article. We have not been able to find a scan of Mo Lin and we are not sure we have all the possible scans for Mukden, nor do we have scans of inverted overprints. Note that, generally, one encounters only mint examples of the 39 fen design. Whilst Manchurian Local Overprints on cover appear occasionally, we imagine that there would be very few bearing any of the 39 fen values.


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