Country name changes affect stamp collecting

Mar 28, 2005, 9 AM

By Rick Miller

Most collectors today started out as worldwide stamp collectors.

The great majority go on to specialize in one or more areas, but a few never abandon the passion for worldwide collecting. That includes me.

One of the problems for the worldwide collector is keeping track of which country is which when countries change names.

Identifying a stamp's country of origin is not the only problem. You also have to figure out which country name the stamp is listed under in whatever postage stamp catalog you are using.

Changing the name of a country is a big step. After all, the name of a country is integral to its national pride and patriotism. But this happens more often than you might think. A few countries have changed their names, not just once, but a number of times.

This can present problems both for stamp collectors and postage stamp catalog editors.

Should all the stamps from a given country be listed under one heading, regardless of the country name in use, or should they be listed separately under the name printed on the postage stamp? That question has been answered differently in different instances.

Persia issued its first stamps in 1870. The country took its name from the ancient Persian Empire, which conquered much of the Middle East and Near East and clashed with the Greeks.

But the Persians were just one tribe from a family of peoples who spoke Iranian languages.

In 1935, the Persian ambassador to Germany persuaded Reza Shah Pahlavi, the country's ruler, to change the country's name to "Iran." Aryan blood was a popular topic in Nazi racial theories, and "Iran" is the Farsi (Iranian language) cognate of "Aryan."

The new name also signaled a break with past British and Russian domination.

Existing stocks of Persian stamps were overprinted "Postes Iraniennes," and all stamps printed after 1935 bear the new country name.

Stamps of Persia and Iran were listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue under "Persia" until the 1976 edition, when they were first listed under "Iran."

A Persian 50-kran Shah Mohammed Ali stamp (Iran Scott 445) is shown at left in Figure 1. An Iranian 25-dinar Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

31st Birthday stamp (935) is shown at right in Figure 1.

Siam was the name of an ancient kingdom in Southeast Asia. It was the only country in the region to avoid European colonization. In 1939, the name of the country was changed to "Thailand," which means "Land of the Free" in the Thai language.

Thailand was a reluctant ally of Japan in World War II. After the war, the name of the country was changed back to "Siam" to distance the country from its wartime association with Japan.

This lasted until May 11, 1949, when the name of the country once more was officially changed to "Thailand."

These name changes can be followed on the country's postage stamps.

Stamps issued from 1883 to 1939 and from 1945 to 1949 are inscribed "Siam." Those from 1940 to 1945 and 1949 to the present are inscribed "Thailand."

The Scott standard catalog began listing Siamese and Thai stamps under "Thailand" with the 1975 edition.

A Siamese 1-baht King Vajiravudh stamp (Scott 151) is shown at left in Figure 2. A Thai 1b King Bhumibol Adulyadej stamp (355) is shown at right in Figure 2.

So far, so good. After a country changes its name, eventually all the stamps are listed under the new country name, right? Not necessarily.

The Republic of Ceylon gained its independence from the British in 1948. The name "Ceylon" is the Anglicized and shortened version of "Selan Dwipa," which means "Island of Gems."

On May 22, 1972, the name of the country was changed to "Sri Lanka," which means "resplendent island."

Stamps of Ceylon, the colony and the independent republic, are listed in Vol. 2 of the Scott standard catalog under "Ceylon." Stamps of Sri Lanka are listed in Vol. 6 under "Sri Lanka," although they are numbered consecutively with the earlier stamps, beginning with Scott 470.

A 45¢ Elephant and International Tourist Year Symbol stamp of Ceylon (Scott 490) is shown at the top of Figure 3. A 35¢ Vesak Festival stamp of Sri Lanka (634) is shown at the bottom of Figure 3.

Madagascar is another country that just can't seem to make up its mind about what its name is. Madagascar has been issuing stamps since 1889. It was a French colony until 1960, when it became an independent republic.

Stamps of the colony were inscribed "Madagascar," also the name of the large island on which the country is located.

The first stamps of the independent republic were inscribed in French "Republique Malgache."

In 1961, the inscription changed to "Repoblika Malagasy" in the Malagasy language. "Malagasy" is an adjective form of "Madagascar" and the name of the language.

In 1976, the inscription changed to "Repoblika Demokratika Malagasy."

Finally, in 1993, the inscription changed to "Repoblikan'i Madagasikara."

The Scott standard catalog lists all of the stamps under "Malagasy Republic."

A 15-franc 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America stamp (Scott 1014) inscribed "Repoblika Demokratika Malagasy" is shown at the top of Figure 4. A 1,500fr 25th Anniversary of Greenpeace stamp (1341) inscribed "Repoblikan'i Madagasikara" is shown at the bottom of Figure 4.

Congolese stamps can be particularly problematic.

To start with, there were four different colonial entities named "Congo": the Congo Free State (later Belgian Congo), Middle Congo (a French colony), French Congo and Portuguese Congo.

Portuguese Congo issued stamps from 1894 to 1915 before being subsumed into Angola.

Middle Congo and French Congo passed through French Equatorial Africa on the way to becoming the independent People's Republic of Congo in 1960. Stamps of the People's Republic of Congo are numbered in sequence with stamps of Middle Congo, but they are listed in Vol. 2 of the Scott standard catalog under "Congo, People's Republic of."

But by far the most confusing is the state that began life as the personal possession of King Leopold II of Belgium: the Congo Free State.

In 1907, control of the Congo Free State was transferred to the Belgian government, which renamed the colony "Belgian Congo." The Scott standard catalog lists the stamps of the Congo Free State with those of Belgian Congo under "Belgian Congo" in Vol. 1.

A Congo Free State 5-franc Bangala Chief and Wife stamp (Scott 26) and a Belgian Congo 5fr Bangala Chief and Wife stamp (58) are shown side by side in Figure 5. The stamp vignettes are the same, but the country name inscriptions are different.

Belgian Congo gained its independence in 1960 under the name "Democratic Republic of the Congo."

The Scott standard catalog numbers the stamps of the Democratic Republic of Congo consecutively with those of the Congo Free State and Belgian Congo, but it lists them separately under "Congo Democratic Republic."

In 1971, the country's dictator Mobutu Sese Seko changed the name of the country to "Zaire." He also changed the names of many of the cities and rivers, and ordered the people of Zaire to change their names from Western or Christian names to African names.

Stamps inscribed with the name "Zaire" kept their sequential numbering with stamps of the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo, but moved to Vol. 6 of the Scott standard catalog to be listed under "Zaire."

In 1996, Mobutu was chased out of the country and replaced by Laurent Kabila. In 1997, Kabila changed the name of the country back to "Democratic Republic of Congo." Democratic Republic of Congo stamps issued since 1997, however, continue to be listed in Vol. 6 of the Scott standard catalog under "Zaire."

A Zairean 1-makuta Okapis stamp (Scott 818) is shown at the top of Figure 6. A Congolese 7.80-franc Lion stamp (Zaire 1511) is shown at bottom in Figure 6.

Another country whose name has come full circle is Djibouti.

The first stamps for the French colony were issued by overprinting French colonial stamps of Obock with "DJ" or "Djibouti."

Beginning in 1894, stamps were issued for the colony bearing the inscription "Protectorate Cote des Somalis" (Somali Coast Protectorate).

In 1902, the French colony of Obock was combined with Djibouti and the inscription was changed to "Cote Francaise des Somalis" (French Somali Coast).

The Scott standard catalog lists French colonial stamps for Djibouti, Somali Coast Protectorate and French Somali Coast under "Somali Coast."

In 1967, France changed the name of the colony to "Afars and Issas." The Scott standard catalog numbers the stamps of Afars and Issas sequentially with those of Somali Coast, but it lists them separately in Vol. 1.

In 1977, the colony gained independence as the Republic of Djibouti. Stamps of the independent republic are numbered sequentially with those of the colony, but they are listed separately under "Djibouti."

An Afars and Issas 500-franc Columba Guinea airmail stamp (Scott C102) is shown at left in Figure 7. A Djibouti 40-franc Pelican stamp (674) is shown at right in Figure 7.

Other country name changes include Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, British Honduras to Belize, Cambodia to Kampuchea and back, Burma to Myanmar, Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Bechuanaland Protectorate to Botswana, Southwest Africa to Namibia, Benadir to Italian Somaliland, Transjordan to Jordan, Curacao to Netherlands Antilles and Malaya to Malaysia.

When in doubt, check the index at the back of any volume of the Scott standard catalog to find the volume where the stamps of any given country are listed. A page number indicates that the stamps are in that volume.

Thanks to fellow Refresher Course author Joe Kennedy for suggesting the subject of this Refresher Course.