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Tibet is a land-locked region between China, India, Nepal and Bhutan. The Empire of Tibet started breaking in the ninth century, and the region was broken into different tribes which at times was dominated by Chinese, Mongolians, Sikhs among others. Although Tibet was never a country in the way we understand this word today, it has maintained its culture, identity and varying degrees of autonomy at different points in time.
In the start of the 20th century it was the Qing Dinasty that controlled Tibet. The British controlled neighbouring India and feared Russian influence on the north, leading them to send the military and forcing Tibet into a trade agreement with them. This led to China invading Tibet in 1909 in response.
An agreement involving Great Britain and Russia recognized Chinese suzerainty over the region. The Xinhai Revolution, however, began in 1911 and overthrew the last imperial dynasty. The Chinese Republic was founded, while the Chinese were forced out of Tibet.
For long Tibet had been ruled as a theocracy, where Buddhist leaders were recognized as political rulers – in specific, the spiritual figure of the Dalai Lama, head of government in the central region. In fact, for centuries the Dalai Lama also served as a symbol of unification for Tibet, and it was in 1912 that he proclaimed Tibet’s independence and signed the Tibet Mongolia Treaty on 29th of December 1912. Tibet maintained an army, a national flag, its own currency, and -of course – it’s stamps.
Internal affairs were troubling and political/religious disputes took place, weakening Tibet – right at a time where the People’s Republic of China surged in 1949. The communists were quick to bring the cultural revolution to Tibet, occupying Lhasa (the capital) and forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to India in 1959, where he still lives as a refugee.
British stamps with Tibetan cancels are known, issued from British offices set during the expedition times. These are rather rarer, and the Brits never set local post offices in place. The Chinese have done that between 1910 and 1911 in Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, Pharijong, Yatung and Chamdo. These offices were closed as Tibet restored its control across the land, and launched its first stamp in 1912 (possibly in December), a 1/6T green depicting a heraldic snow lion – also found in its national flag. Tibet never joined the postal union and for this reason, the stamps could only be used internally. International mail had to go through India, reason why many covers from the time also had to be franked with Indian stamps.
The paper used was produced using very primitive methods, taking up to two days for just a few sheets of varying quality, possibly leading some stamps to be printed with just any paper available at the time. Similarly, the local paint production was a factor to the numerous colour shades of the issues. The printing block made of wood was hand carved, resulting in each stamp being different from the other. It was also not uncommon for some stamps to lack chunks of printing, or quite the opposite: some have an accumulation of die causing the writings to be almost illegible. The result is a multitude of paper types, shades and figures being produced – so many combinations that make it rather difficult to tell fakes from real stamps apart.
The denominations of the first issue were: 1/6 Trangka (green), 1/3 Trangka (blue), 1/2 Trangka (purple), 2/3 Trangka (darker red), and 1 Trangka (brighter red). They were printed in sheets of 12 stamps, according to local demand. To the left, I highlighted gross differences among stamps from a single sheet. In this particular case, the stamps to the left lack ink while the second from the left (middle row) seems to have it in excess. Spacing and shapes of letters vary greatly and known errors exist and persisted.
I reproduced my specimen, with a Gyantse postmark on a typical rough looking envelope, close to what probably was its original position (picture to the left). Commonly the stamps were glued to the closing, along with hand line cancelations, usually found on the linked parts of the paper, accompanied by a or multiple symbols.
Tibet only had 3 definitive stamp issues of its own, the second first appearing in 1914 and third in 1933. All were imperforated, were issued with no gum, all may expect some bits of foreign matter (such as the wood from the printing block or some shiny insect-based paint) and showed a version of the snow lion. Official stamps are also known to have been issued in 1945, but their status and validity are questioned.
Post-Chinese occupation Tibetan stamps were issued by the government in exile in India, especially to call attention to Tibetan matter, but those are cinderellas. For more information on Tibetan issues, I would recommend a study on Richard Frajola’s website which I find particularly interesting. It is available at http://www.rfrajola.com/Tibet2016/Tibet.pdf.
* 0.1 - 49 USD
** 50 - 99 USD
*** 100 - 499 USD
**** 500 - 999 USD
***** 1'000 - 9'999 USD
****** + 10'0000 USD
The First Issues Blog is a place to discuss about the stamp number 1 of each country, territory, district, etc. Each additional item to my new collection shall receive a small description about the item, its history and curiosities.
Note that I may add more than 1 'number one' stamp to a place. This happens as I judge that in the case of independence or any other political issue that changed the postal history or when I deemed interesting to do so. This will be noted on the posts when it happens.