International Comparison of World Stamps Designs


By Prof. Chae-Suk Lim* and Dr. Yang-Taek Lim**



A stamp is an artistic article using high-tech paper and printing technologies and designs to express historical themes and modern sentiments of a country. GPSPC (Government Postage Stamp Printers Conference) established in 1986 to encourage government stamp producers and exchange information on management and technology holds, every year, a world stamp exhibition in which its 22 members participate. The current paper compares Korean stamps with foreign ones by focusing on the design themes expressed in the stamps exhibited on the 2004 10th GPSPC World Stamp Exhibition in Poland. It is a general trend for a stamp of a country to have become a national culture product, particularly in the era of telecommunications due to the development of IT.


I. Introduction: History of Stamps in Korea

There have recently been many discussions and arguments over whether to change the designs and specifications of Korean bank notes and whether to issue large denomination bills. The most important requirement of a bank note is that it should incorporate a combination of counterfeit prevention technologies and designs and have aspects of an international currency.[1] In contrast, a stamp is an artistic article that uses paper technologies and printing technologies to express themes and topics reflecting values of an era. For mass, a stamp is a means for paying for communication with others, while a stamp collector thinks it as a cultural asset that he/she wants to keep through life.

Retrospectively, it has been 121 years since Korea issued its first stamp. However, Korean stamps were issued by foreigners before 1946. First five kinds of 'mun'-denominated stamp were designed by Hong Young-Sik in 1884. But they were printed by the Japanese Ministry of Finance that used letterpress printing to issue stamp. Issuance of the 'mun'-denominated stamps were ceased because of the 1884 Kapshin Coup d'Etat. In 1893, a US mint company (Andrew B. Graham Bank Notes) issued four kinds of Korean regular stamps by using offset printing. In 1903, the Printing Bureau of France 13 kinds of Korean regular stamps by using letterpress printing. The stamps issued by Korea were only 14 kinds of regular stamps printed between 1900 and 1901 by the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce of Daehan Empire and the commemorative stamp of the 40th anniversary of the accession of the Emperor Gojong. In 1905, Japanese imperialist government seized all post offices in Korea and banned use of Korean stamps after forced occupation of Korea in 1910. Although Korea was liberated from Japanese imperialist rule in 1945, Korean stamps were printed by Japan because of poor printing technologies of Korea.

The commemorative stamp of the first anniversary of liberation in 1946 was the first that was issued by Korea. After that, Josun Book Co. Ltd., Seoul Whale Culture Press, and Dongyang Press issued stamps by using imposition printing, letterpress printing and offset printing between 1947 and 1952. The first Korean stamps issued by KOMSCO (Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation) were a regular stamp (Tae Guk-Ki) and the commemorative stamp of the second anniversary of the inauguration of the 2nd President of Korea.

After then, KOMSCO has made efforts to develop technologies in order to improve the quality of Korean stamps to world-class level. KOMSCO imported Klimsch camera for prepress from Germany and used negative film of stamp on Misomex exposure system from Sweden, reducing spacing error down below 1/100 mm. Also, plate for offset printing developed from decalcomania printing plate through albumen zinc plate and albumen aluminum plate through PS plate. Glued paper took the place of glued paper since August 1964, and stamp paper with colored fiber embedded was used. This made KOMSCO achieve remarkable improvement in stamp printing technologies. In 1968, KOMSCO imported Goebel Gravure press from Germany and learned gravure stamp printing technology from German engineers. This enabled KOMSCO to print the first gravure printing based regular stamp called Tae-guk-ki. In 1986, KOMSCO bought electronic color separator, which shortened the time for stamp printing and provided remarkable improvement in color rendering and quality. In 1999, KOMSCO bought a new-model gravure six-color system to raise the quality of Korean stamps to a world-first level. It should be noted that KOMSCO printed a special stamp smelling violet for the first time in the world on February 25, 2000, exhibited it at the 2002 Seoul World Stamp Exhibition of GPSPC and won the prize of best stamp. This 'aromatic stamp' triggered the issuance of British coffee-smelling stamp and Swedish chocolate-smelling and rose-smelling stamps. Recently, 'customized stamps' have been issued. KOMSCO started to mark the full name of stamp printer on stamps on January 16, 2005. The stamp commemorating the nature of Mara Island was the first one that the full name of stamp printer was printed on. This is to improve the responsibility and pride of printers in order to raise stamp printing quality.


II. World Stamp Exhibition


GPSPC (Government Postage Stamp Printers Conference) was established in 1986 in order to encourage government stamp producers to exchange information on management and technology. Every year, the Conference holds a world stamp exhibition in which its 22 members participate. This chapter will compare Korean stamps and foreign ones by focusing on the themes expressed in the stamps exhibited on the 10th GPSPC World Stamp Exhibition.


1. Korean Stamps

KOMSCO succeeded in holding the 9th conference of GPSPC in 2002 and the stamps exhibited by the corporation won the grand prize in three sectors: 1) offset-printed stamp (special stamp for a week for hobby of stamp collection : Buljong Pavilion of Mt. Kumgang painted by Jong Son (1676-1759), a painter in the era of Josun), 2) unique stamp (special stamp for endangered and protected animals and plants : fragrant stamp) and 3) combination stamp (special stamp showing world-heritage listed remains : a panoramic view of Changduk Palace).




[Offset-printed stamp]

[Unique stamp]

[Combination stamp]

Issued on: Aug 2, 2002

Issued on: Feb 25, 2000

Issued on: Dec 10, 2001

Printed in: 5 colors with


Printed in: 5 colors with

gravure printing

Printed in: 6 colors with offset printing

and 1 color with intaglio printing


At the World Stamp Exhibition of the 10th conference of GPSPC (held in Poland), KOMSCO's stamps won the Regularity Award given to the winner of the highest score in total in the areas of offset, intaglio, gravure, combination, multiple and unique stamps. In 2005, KOMSCO's stamps won the grand prize of printing at the World Stamp Exhibition of GPSPC held in China. This made world pay attention to the excellence of Korea's stamp printing technology. This was additional evidence of prominent stamp-printing technology of Korea, which was proved by Muga-jeonggwang-dae Darani Sutra, which is the oldest wood block in the world, and Jikji Simche Yojol, which is the oldest metal-print in the world.

      A commemorative stamp of the 'Week of Women' (July 1 to July 7) has been offset-printed every year. This stamp is printed in order to encourage development of women and promote a social campaign to increase public attention to improved sexual equality.

     Unique stamps have been intaglio-printed in order to communicate the taste and wisdom of traditional living by showing household utensils, like light fixture, used by our ancestors.

      A joint stamp showing cultural remains of Korea and Vietnam, i.e. Dabo Tower (Korea) and One Post Tower (Vietnam) was gravure-printed in order to commemorate the 10th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relation between Korea and Vietnam (December 22, 2002).

      Combination stamps were designed that expressed dolmens in Ganghwa, Hwasun and Gochang. These dolmens are important resources for researching the funeral and rituals of pre-history period.

      Multiple stamps contain designs of cymbidium kanran, gastrodia elata, pogonia japonica and cephalanthera falcata. Unique stamps are designed on the basis of the cartoon 'Fools' Village Schoolhouse' drawn by a cartoonist Yoon Sung-Wun who has drawn, written and published joy cartoons and history cartoons for children.




[Commemorative stamp of

the Week of Women]

[Unique stamps showing traditional living and culture]



Printed on: Jul 1, 2002

Printed on: Jul 1, 2002

Offset printing

Intaglio printing

Image area : 22mm X 32mm

Image area : 35mm X 35mm

Sheet composition: 4X5

Sheet composition: 4X4 (roll)

Punching angle: 13 degrees

Punching angle: 13 degrees




[Commemorative stamp of the 10th

anniversary of the establishment of

diplomatic relations between Korea and


[Unique stamps showing world-heritage

listed remains]



Printed on: Dec 21, 2002

Printed on: Dec 9, 2003

Gravure printing

Combination printing

Image area : 27mm X 37mm

Image area : 52mm X 24mm; 52mm X 36mm

Sheet composition: 4X4

Sheet composition: 2X5 (combined)

Punching angle: 13 degrees

Punching angle: 13 degrees




[Stamps of the series of Korean orchid]

[Unique stamps of cartoon]



Printed on: Nov 12, 2002

Printed on: May 4 , 2002

Paired printing

Intaglio printing

Image area : 27mm X 37mm

Image area : 36mm X 26mm

Sheet composition: 4X5 (vertical paired printing of four stamps

Sheet composition: 5X4

Punching angle: 13 degrees

Punching angle: 13 degrees


2. Foreign Stamps


As listed in Appendix of the current paper, many beautiful stamps were presented at the World Stamp Exhibition of the 10th (2004) conference of GPSPC held in Poland. These stamps are classified by the participant country as follows :

   Algeria : Escargots

   Austria : 250 Years Zoological Gardens Schönbrunn, Gustav Klimt Judith I,

"Soundcloud over Limz"(a music festival), Introduction of the Euro, and

Soundcloud over Linz.

   Belgium : Belgium Castles, Red Cross, Common Issue with Russia to commemorate

150 years of relationship between Mechelen and St. Peterburg,

George Simenon, Drive, and 150 years High Education in Antwerp.

   Brazil : Sivam Project (Surveillance System of Amazonia), and

Mercosur Issue (Recycling-Handicrafts).

   China : Suzhou Gardens (The Garden of the Fisherman), Art of Books,

The Royal Carriage (Souvenir Sheet), Tibetan Antelope, and

Chinese Lengends (The Story of Butterfly Lovers).

   Czech Republic : Vlaho Bukovac (1855~1922)’s Divan, Antonim Slavicek (1870~

1910)’s Autumn Veltrusy (1896), and Animal Breeding-Aquarium Fish.

   Denmark : Diana’s Garden, The Danish Literary Greenland Expedition,

Royal Jelling (Harald’s Stone), and Landscapes.

   Germany : Benefit Stamps for Sports 2002, “Fools 5” (EUROPA),

The 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and

100th Anniversary of Deutsches Museum(a gear wheel).

   Italy : Italian Design (Haute Couture), Philatelic Exhibition “The Italian Republic”,

Arnolfo di Cambio (Sick Man at the Fountain), Chamber of Deputies, and

“International Year of the Mountains”.

   Poland : Children Games and Amusements, Historic Steam Engines, Europe,

7th Visit of John Paul II to Poland, and 160th Anniversary of Birth of

Maria Konopnicka.

   France : Saint-Valentine, French Gardens, Basilica of Notre-Dame, The Dancers,

and Best Wishes.

   Spain : World Heritage, 2003 European Year of People with Disabilities, Stained Glass Windows of Santa Maria Cathedral in the Town of Vitoria,

“The Music”, Castle of Calatorao, Pope John Paul II, and Camilo Jóse Cela.

   Sweden : The St. Bridget Jubilee, The East Indiaman, “Pope John Paul II”, and

“Harvest Time”.

   Ukraine : “Maniavskyi Cell”, “Carpathian Cell”, “Yavoriv National Natural Park”, and

Owls of Ukraine.


III. Conclusion

As described above, a stamp is an artistic article using high-tech paper and printing technologies and designs to express historical themes and modern sentiments of a country. In this 21st century, competitive culture products are required. A stamp is a national culture product.

Now, KOMSCO has world-level paper and printing technologies and design competitiveness. If these technologies are fused with the themes and designs of stamps publicizing Korean culture and traditions, Korean stamps can play roles of artistic articles and culture products improving the image of Korea. For example, we can communicate the taste and humor of Korean nation if we make Korean stamps into artistic articles and culture products by expressing following themes on the stamps:

      Korean nation blossomed most advanced culture, which is evidenced by the fact that Korean nation developed world-best printing technology which is a core source of human civilization.

      As is shown by the fact that Korean nation enjoyed the renaissance of science and art in the era of King Sejong in the 15th century, Korean nation loved art and science and put them into practical use.

      Korean nation had spirit of scholar and refined taste, and regarded morality and virtue as basic principles of life and politics.

      As shown by the idea of Dan-gun, Korean nation was humanitarian one that thought highly of human life (for instance, Hu-Joon who was a famous doctor in the era of Josun, professor Hwang Woo-Sok and his study on embryonic stem cell, etc.)

      In recognition of recent world focus on the possibility of crisis in Korea, it is necessary to communicate that Korean people have taken sides with peace.

      It is necessary to show that lost history of Goguryo is alive in Korea, by using the remains of Goguryo like the monument of the Great King Gwangaeto.

      Dokdo, which is natural monument no. 336, is surely belonged to Korean territory.

      Korea is the mecca of globalization opening up IT era.



< References >


Lim, Chae-Suk and Lim, Yang-Taek (2004), "Banknote Designs and Counterfeit Prevention Technologies : OECD Members Countries", International Regional Research, Vol. 8 Issue 2, pp. 423~450.





< Appendix >



















































Text Box:   



























* Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial Design, Multimedia College, Seoul Digital University  (

** Professor, Department of Economics and Finance, College of Economics and Finance, Hanyang University (

[1] See Lim, Yang-Taek (2004).

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