Tag Archives: books

North Korea as Seen Through Stamps

Stamp collecting, often associated with philately (or the study of stamps), is a hobby that has been around since the first postage stamp was issued by Britain in May of 1840. Since then, stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies, resulting in the production of over 400,000 different types of stamp by the year 2000.

Many of the stamps produced are from smaller countries seeking to bring in much needed revenue, which they achieve through the printing of limited run stamps specifically for stamp collectors. One such country happens to be North Korea. This fact came to my attention when a collection of North Korean stamp albums arrived at our lab.

The collection of stamp albums stacked on top of one anotherThe collection consists of five stapled pamphlets and two bound books, all full of loose stamps in need of securing.

The stamp albums that are pamphlets spread out on a flat surface.

A top down view of the the stamp albums that are in book format.

I will mention that it is unclear whether these are actually functional stamps or just coated paper made to look like stamps. There is no noticeable adhesive on the backs of them, and even a UV light analysis and our ordering specialist couldn’t get us any closer to a conclusive answer.

Regardless, we couldn’t risk all of these stamps being lost or stolen. I had to find a way to contain them all so that patrons could access these albums without leaving the fate of these stamps to chance.

How do we treat these items?

Each of these albums is made up of pages containing several small slips of mylar with the bottom edge adhered to the actual page.

A hand pulls back one of the mylar slips and also bends one of the loose stamps away from the page.

Within each of these slips sits either a single stamp or multiple stamps, which varies from page to page.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean fine art.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on North Korean natural landmarks.

Although the stamps don’t necessarily fly about or out of the slips as you flip through the pages, it’s obvious that they aren’t exactly going to just stay in place over time.

So, what is the solution here?

Since these mylar slips were already at my disposal, it made the most sense to use them to my advantage. After applying a thin bead of wheat starch paste to the top of each stamp, I tipped each stamp into the mylar and made sure the bottom of the stamp was placed as far down into the slip as possible.

Two photos side by side. The photo on the left shows a brush being used to apply wheat starch paste to the top edge of the back of a stamp. The photo on the right shows the stamp being placed back into its mylar slip and adhered to the page.

This way the stamp is secured in place without having to glue up the entire back of the item, and the mylar acts as a catch for the bottom of the stamp so that they can’t be pulled out as easily. With the stamps now safely secured, these albums are ready for a closer look at their contents.

How do we interpret these items?

These albums seem to be geared towards foreigners and tourists. Of the seven albums here, three contain text in Korean, Chinese, and English, one contains text in just Korean and English, and the other three contain text in just Korean and Chinese. Seeing as none of these are written only in Korean, it can be assumed that these albums were not intended solely for Korean audiences.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing a larger sheet that is perforated to hold multiple stamps. The stamps depict images of Kim Il-sung, various antique cars, and a music score. There is also accompanying text in Korean and in English.

As you have also probably noticed, these stamps cover a wide variety of subjects as well. It seems as though you can find a stamp on just about anything if you really wanted to. This is probably for the benefit of appealing to as many collectors as possible who might only collect certain kinds of stamps.

A page from one of the stamp albums showing an assortment of stamps focused on Kim Jong-il meeting with various international leaders.

The world of stamps is quite intriguing, especially considering how they can become vehicles for propaganda. Are you a stamp collector or a philatelist (someone who studies stamps)? Leave a comment with your thoughts on this collection if you are, and leave a comment even if you aren’t! We’d love to hear what you think about our new addition to the Perkins Library. If you’d like to find these items in our catalog, you can click any of these links.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Welcome to the new version of our blog! We just migrated over to WordPress, please adjust your bookmarks accordingly. We have a new URL, but we have set up a re-direct for the old one so you can still find us.

The holiday season is upon us, and is our tradition we offer up some last minute gifts for that hard-to-buy-for conservator or preservation enthusiast on your list. This year it’s all about fiction and movies sine we read enough technical literature for our jobs. All work and no play…

Homicide in Hardcover: A Bibliophile Mystery by Kate Carlisle. The description reads, “The streets of San Francisco would be lined with hardcovers if rare book expert Brooklyn Wainwright had her way. And her mentor wouldn’t be lying in a pool of his own blood on the eve of a celebration for his latest book restoration.” Intriguing, no?

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga. Written in 1995, the book follows a young conservator on her journey to Florence to help with the recovery of books affected by the floods of 1966 (a seminal year in the history of library conservation theory and practice). Along the way our heroine discovers more than just a rare volume of erotica.

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva. Part of the Gabriel Allon series, the main character is an Israeli intelligence operative who also happens to be a paintings conservator. Don’t you think some of your colleagues may be secret undercover agents with mad spy skills?

National Treasure. What better way to represent conservators than one that is willing to squirt lemon juice on the U.S. Constitution in the name of discovering long lost treasure? And Nicholas Cage is just fun to watch, in my opinion.

Ghostbusters II. Admittedly not as good as the original but still a fun movie filled with ectoplasm and all around hijinks. Siguorney Weaver’s character, Dana Barrett, is a paintings conservator.

Holly Hunter also plays a paintings conservator in Home for the Holidays. Why do paintings conservators get all the character lines? Anyway, a light and funny film especially good for those of you traveling to meet family this year.

For more finds be sure to visit Conservation Online’s listing of books, movies and more, all with a conservation theme or character. If you have any to add, leave us a note.