Understanding North Korea through Stamps

Online Collection: https://luna.lib.uchicago.edu/north-korean-stamp-collection

The East Asian Collection at the University of Chicago Library acquired more than 2,000 North Korean stamps this year, each of which has been digitized and accompanied by a wide range of in-depth data to form the first digital collection of its kind developed by any library worldwide. Compiled from 19 stamp books on 30 individual sheets, the North Korean Stamp Collection spans more than five decades, from 1962 to 2017, as well as a striking variety of subject areas, including: National figures and symbols, Military, Worker’s Party of Korea, Tourist sites, National heritage and Folklore, Traditional and European Art, Animals and Plants.

During the fall quarter, this stamp collection will be displayed on the Fifth Floor of the Joseph Regenstein Library. In cooperation with the Visual Resources Center (VRC), the stamps will also be accessible via an online Collection with identifying information such as Korean and English titles, description, publication, year and Juche as well as keywords.

Introducing the North Korean Stamp Collection carries great symbolic meaning in terms of the expansion of Korean Studies. Due to the country’s long history of dictatorial rule and closed borders, information on North Korea has remained limited to much of the outside world. Through the many images found in the collection, even (everyday/non-specialist) library users will gain an easy opportunity to come into visual contact with the shifting politics and culture of North Korea, not to mention changing perspectives on subjects ranging from natural resources to tourist attractions and day-to-day life.

In the decades following North Korea’s issuing of its first stamp in 1946, these printed items were limited to postal usage. After 1970, however, production increased greatly as stamps turned into profitable items for export to both Asian and European countries. Since then, these government-issued documents have grown progressively more elaborate in design and scale, assuming a dual commercial and propagandic function as an instrument for transmission of popular culture and national identity.

Interested researchers and students who want to see the stamps in person are more than welcome to visit the East Asian Collection at the Joseph Regenstein Library.