World Stamps

By Michael Rogers

Indonesia’s Vienna Issues were created as revolution unfolded

June 23, 2014 07:00 AM

  • Figure 1. Most of the stamps of the 1948 first set from the Republic of Indonesia were printed in Vienna, Austria. The top three values, shown here, were engraved and printed in Philadelphia. The 1948-50 Revolution stamps of Indonesia are collectively referred to as the Vienna Issues.

  • Figure 2. The 1948 second issue of the Indonesian series commemorating the failure of a Dutch blockade to curtail trade includes a souvenir sheet with four stamps se-tenant (side-by-side).

Some collectors of worldwide stamps might be familiar with the 1948-50 Revolution series of postage stamps from Indonesia, stamps that usually are referred to as the Vienna Issues, but others might not be aware of them.

These stamps aren’t more widely known for two major reasons.

First, Indonesia is not as popular with collectors of Asian stamps as China, Japan or even Korea. And second, these Vienna Issues were completely ignored by the Scott catalog until just a few years ago. Consequently, collectors ignored them too.

Perhaps now is the time to take another look at these interesting stamps from the early years of Indonesia.

Let’s start with a brief history of the islands so that we understand why these stamps were issued.

Prior to independence, Indonesia was a Dutch colony known as Netherlands Indies; however, humans have inhabited these lands since prehistoric times. In fact, scientists have discovered the remains more than 1 million years old of early hominids.

Modern humans reached the island of Java about 45,000 years ago. Historians tell us that Indian culture reached the islands about 2,000 years ago, followed by Islamic kingdoms in the 1200s.

Christianity arrived with the Portuguese in the 15th century, followed closely by the Dutch, who eventually attained dominance through the powerful Dutch East India Company.

The Dutch ruled with a heavy hand, as did most European colonial powers. As a result, the natives became resentful and started to dream of self-government in the late 19th century.

In 1905, the Japanese defeated the Russian Navy, and many Asians took note.

At the beginning of World War II, the Japanese easily defeated the small Dutch force in the Netherlands Indies. During the war, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta (later the first president and vice president of Indonesia, respectively) supported the Japanese and were decorated in 1943 by the Japanese emperor.

In view of this friendship, Japan considered granting Indonesia its independence near the end of the war. However, the Japanese surrendered Aug. 15, 1945, and Sukarno declared independence two days later on Aug. 17.

The Dutch, however, were not ready to give up their colony because of the wealth of resources it provided.

During the next five years, there was a bitter armed struggle between the Dutch and the Indonesians. Finally, after years of political pressure from the United Nations and the United States, the Dutch granted independence Dec. 27, 1949.

With this background information, we can begin to explore the circumstances of these early Indonesian Vienna Issues.

In the middle of the fierce battle for independence, representatives of the Indonesian government met in New York with J. & H. Stolow to print these stamps.

The low values were printed by the Austrian State Printer in Vienna using the photogravure process.

The three top values of 5 rupiah, 10rp and 25rp (Scott 22-24) were printed in Philadelphia using engravings by the E.A. Wright Bank Note Co. These three stamps are pictured in Figure 1. The stamps depict an officer presenting a flag (5rp), Vice President Hatta (10rp) and President Sukarno (25rp).

Very few of these stamps were actually used, though first-day covers are often available.

Authorities in Indonesia explain that until actual independence was achieved, most high-level government officials were Dutch. They controlled the post offices and refused to recognize these stamps because they are inscribed Repoeblik Indonesia, or later, Republik Indonesia.

Because of the political turmoil and scant evidence of normal postal usage, stamp catalogs were slow to list these issues.

Catalogs generally list these in chronological order by issue. The stamps of the first issue were inscribed Repoeblik, while on the stamps of the second issue, the same word was spelled Republik.

To honor the failure of Dutch efforts to curtail trade, Indonesia issued the Blockade issue (Scott 25-29, C14-C18, 54-61, and C32-C36). The four-stamp souvenir sheet of the second issue (59) is shown in Figure 2.

A set commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union followed in December 1949 (Scott 62-69).

Five commemorative overprints were applied to existing stamps, including “RIS,” “RIS Merdeka,” “RIS Djakarta,” “Merdeka Djokjakarta 6 Djuli 1949,” and “Republik Indonesia Serikat 27 Dec 49.”

Though the Vienna Issues are controversial, over the years the marketplace has determined that some are elusive. Scarcity coupled with a healthy demand equals higher valuations. These issues are avidly sought in the Dutch philatelic market.

For collectors who still dismiss these issues, perhaps a close look at the Scott catalog will change their minds.

Several souvenir sheets are rather pricey, such as the imperforate variety of the souvenir sheet pictured in Figure 2 (Scott 59a), which is listed at $325 in the 2015 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue.

A second imperforate four-stamp souvenir sheet in the Dutch Blockade set (Scott 60a) is valued at $150, and an overprinted variety of the souvenir sheet (117) is valued at $650.

The imperforate variety of that overprinted sheet (Scott 117a) is even more valuable, with a catalog value of $1,750, and the postage due set issued Aug. 17, 1949 (J14-J26) also has a significant value, listed at $455.

At last, Indonesia’s Vienna Issues deserve some philatelic attention.