Imperial China had a long history of an organised postal system. The Imperial government developed a system of routs, messengers and posthouses over centuries.
Until 1878, that system was used only for government purposes while messages for citizens were carried by private couriers.
During the 4th year of the Emperor Guangxu, a modern postal system was set up and in July of 1878, the first set of three stamps was released.
The stamps had a design of a large dragon in the centre, surrounded by a boxed frame with a bilingual inscription of "CHINA" and the local denomination “CANDARINS.” Stamps were in different colours: 1 Candarin in green, 3 Candarins in red and 5 Candarins in Yellow.
This first issue was on thin, hard unwatermarked paper. The stamps were in sheets of 25 (5X5), spaced 2.5mm apart on all sides and perforated 12½.
In 1882, the second set of Large Dragons was issued. They were printed on thin or pelure paper, using the same colours and currency. This time, the stamps were spaced 4.5mm apart and arranged in sheets of 15 (5X3) for the value of 3 Candarins, while the other values were arranged in sheets of 25 (5X5).
A rare find: The value of 1 Candarin and 3 Candarin with part of watermark of the paper maker’s name (MONCKTON KENT). The 1882 set is called “Wide Margins, Large Dragons.”
In 1883, a set of Large Dragons was issued, printed this time on thick, opaque paper with the stamps printed 3,25mm apart arranged in sheets of 20 (4X5) with clean-cut perforation. The 1883 set is known as “Thick Paper Large Dragons with Clean Cut Perforations.”
In 1885, the perforation machines, due to the mechanical wear, gradually started to have their needles blunted. The result was that the stamps began to appear with rough perforation, a subtype of the previous issue so can be distinguished.
The wide range of cancels, shades and variety opens up varies possibilities for collectors to study and collect this fascinating first issue of China.
This article is written by Specialist Auction Describer Michele Martini.
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