Jan 16, 2018
Since the DCStamps Investigator is all about “dead countries”, I feel that it is important to dedicate the first few issues to discussing the term.
Defining a Dead Country
What is a Dead Country? While the answer seems obvious, when I began putting real effort into organizing my collection, it quickly became complicated. In my first attempt to make a list of dead countries, I ended up with more questions than answers.
Of course, some countries where easy, such as the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Kingdom of Hejaz, or Central Lithuania. But what about a colony, is that a separate country, or merely an extension of the controlling country? What about a puppet government such as Manchukuo or the Far Eastern Republic? If they didn’t really have control, were they a country? And, if colonies and puppet states are considered as separate countries, how far down the rabbit hole do I go. What about military occupations? Revolutionary governments? Or even entities like the China Treaty ports or League of nations Plebiscite areas?
With so many different kinds of entities and complex situations, I realized that unless I developed a common set of rules and definitions, I would never complete the list. And to be honest, as I continue to research the various countries and regions, I am still changing my list and tweaking the definitions.
As a result, I set out to answer two fundamental questions:
1) What is a country?
2) What does it take for a country to become dead?
This week I will discuss the first.
What is a Country?
As one who is obsessive about geography and world travel, I find it fun to keep track of countries I have visited. Changing planes at an airport without really entering the country doesn’t count. I am frequently asked by friends and people I meet, “how many countries have you been to?” To me, the answer depends on what you define as a country.
Let’s take Guadeloupe, the beautiful island in the Caribbean Sea. I have been to Guadeloupe, the people are friendly and the island is beautiful. Guadeloupe is not a country, it is part of France and the EU. Therefore, since I have visited Guadeloupe, I can say that I have have been to France, and can check France off in my travel log — right? Humm, well that just seems – wrong. But I guess it is no different than Hawaii being part of the United States.
In fact, although the situation is somewhat different, you can also visit the Netherlands and the United Kingdom just by cruising around the Caribbean. They are considered autonomous overseas territories, but not part of the EU. While Guadeloupe doesn’t issue stamps anymore, Dutch territories such as Aruba do. Does that make Aruba or Guadeloupe a country, no — its complicated.
Back to the discussion at hand. In developing my definition, I decided that I wanted a geographic / historical definition, not a philatelic one. The stamps we collect exist within a historical context, and if we want to better understand our stamps, we need to understand what was happening in the region at the time. I also wanted a fairly broad and loose definition of a country, even if it was messy, primarily because the movement of nations in our world is a messy process.
Here is my current definition:
“Any governmental, political, colonial, military or revolutionary entity which had control (or legitimately attempted to have control) over a region of land and its people.”
Of course, if you collect stamps, banknotes, legal documents, etc. from a country, it needed to have issued such items to collect them. However, that doesn’t determine whether or not an entity is a country. For us stamp collectors, we have to realize that not all counties issued stamps, and not all stamp issuing entities were countries. For example, Thurn and Taxis wasn’t a country, rather it was a private mail carrier service contracted by other countries to handle their mail.
In order to help me better understand the historical context of a “country”, I categorized each of them into various categories. My current list of categories are:
• Empires – A single supreme authority which had an extensive group of states or countries under its authority (e.g. Imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungary Empire, the German Empire or the Ottoman Empire)
• Nations – An independent, self-governed sovereign nation (e.g. Hawaii, Hejaz or Orange Free State)
• City States – An autonomous city, which existed as a sovereign nation (e.g. Danzig, Hamburg, or Bremen)
• Resurrected Countries – An independent country which ceased to exist for more than 40 years, and later rose again (e.g. Lithuania, Georgia or Armenia)
• Semi-Autonomous States – A state with limited autonomy under the control of an empire or larger country. (e.g. India Princely States or the Grand Duchy of Finland)
• Colonies – A territory separated, but subject to a distant ruling power (e.g. Obock, Kiauchau, or Cape Colony)
• Puppet States – A “country” proclaimed to be an independent nation, but in reality was controlled by a another government (e.g. Manchukuo, Italian Social Republic and Bohemia and Moravia)
• Military Occupations – A nation or territory occupied and controlled by foreign military forces (e.g. Bushire, Japanese Occupation of Malaya, or the Allied Occupation of Baden)
• League of Nations Mandates – Territories from the defeated Ottoman and German Empires after WW1, which were given by the League of nations to an Allied country to administer. (e.g. Palestine, Tanganyika, or the Territory of New Guinea)
• International Zones – Territories under a broad international control and administration (e.g. Tangier International Zone and West Berlin)
• Plebiscite Regions – A treaty of Versailles region where a vote was taken by the local population to determine national alignment (e.g. Upper Silesia, Marienwerder or Allenstein)
• Revolutionary Entities – A revolutionary government, army or group formed by locals that attempted to overthrow, radically change or separate from an existing country. The entity counts whether or not it was successful (e.g. Confederate States of America, Theriso Revolution in Crete, Autonomous Republic of Epirus)
• Government is Exile – The legitimate government of a country occupied by a foreign power, but is operating remotely in a friendly country. The legitimacy needs to be recognized by a portion of the international community. Over time, a government can lose legitimacy based on international recognition (e.g. Polish Government in Exile, WW2)
The problem with rules is that they are often made to be broken. One entity which doesn’t fit into my definition of a country is Foreign Post Offices in another sovereign nation, such as Offices in Turkey and China, or China Treaty Ports. I include them at DCStamps, primarily because I think they add to the history of both the nations who issued them and the nations where they were used.
A few of the entities which issued stamps not included in the definition of a country include:
– Local/Provisional Issues (e.g. where stamps were issued primarily as a stopgap for supply shortages)
– Private Issuers (e.g. Russian Steam Navigation & Trading Company and Thurn and Taxis)
– Siege issues (stamps used during a military siege, such as found during the Boer Wars)
– Concentration Camp issues
I am certain that I have probably over-complicated things, but I guess all “specialists” do – it kind makes us feel important.
The World has Changed since 1850
In 1850, the world was dominated by Empires, Kingdoms, Republics, Colonies and Native lands. A lot has changed since then: the “Scramble for Africa” colonization frenzy, the collapse of Empires, a multitude of regional wars, two World Wars, globe rattling revolutions, and more. Collecting items such as stamps or banknotes from countries that appeared and disappeared from the world stage, offers an extremely interesting hobby. I hope you will join with me on the journey, and be part of the discussion about this fascinating area.