A History of the Philippine handstamped “Victory” postage stamps

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Among the most valuable of all Philippine postage stamps are those that have been overstamped “Victory” handstamped on a previously released postage stamp. And although they are among the most valuable, they are also among the most illegally reproduced. (Above, a legitimate “Victory” hand-stamped example from the L.R. Aguinaldo collection.)

First of all, you will be hard-pressed to find another country that “overprints” and “handstamps” more postage stamps than the Philippines. Filipinos hate to waste anything, especially food, and items of value. Therefore, when postage rates change or if some event is to take place, the Philippine postal service simply overprints rate changes or commemorative events on existing postage stamps. The government also overprints verbiage to designate postage stamps that are for official business only. Why create a whole new postage stamp when you can simply overprint on a stamp that is most likely not going to be in service much longer or may have even been issued a long time ago?

Above, is an example of an “overprint” postage stamp.

Before we get too deep into the overprint versus the hand-stamping process, let’s first define them. As you can see on the above stamp is an example of an “overprint” postage stamp. This is done on an existing stamp using a printing press.

Above, is an example of an “overprint” and “hand-stamped” postage stamp.

Most handstamps are made of rubber or even leather, and as the name implies, they are placed onto the stamp by hand, and not by a printing press. This is the case with the hand-stamped “Victory” postage stamps.

In cases of canceling a postage stamp by the post office, particularly in the early history of the Philippine Islands, handmade stamps were used to denote that a stamp had been used for postage. Potatoes were even used to hand-make cancelation marks!  

Above, a poorly faked forgery that was made using odd-colored paint.

But let’s go back to the beginning when just after General MacArthur had been forced out of the Philippines when the Japanese overran the islands. Of course, after the Japanese had invaded the Philippines, they began issuing their own postage stamps. First, they used existing United States territory stamps that were already in use in the Philippines. The Japanese overprinted these stamps by obliterating the “United States” markings with heavy black lines.

Above, Japanese overprint on pre-war Philippine stamps.

On April 9, 1942, 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to the Japanese and were subjected to the horrors of the famous Bataan Death March of which many died. By March of 1942, the American allies were not doing too well in Asia and the Philippines in general. Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was already plundering the islands. American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered MacArthur and key members of the Philippine Commonwealth government to retreat from the Philippines.

Above, a “Commonwealth” overprint stamp that was issued on May 12, 1939, by the Philippine government. 

After leaving the Philippines, with his famous last words of “I shall return” MacArthur set up his army headquarters in Australia. At the same time, the Philippine commonwealth government went into exile in Washington, DC. While in America, the Philippine President, Manuel Luis Quezon, and his team established a Commonwealth In-Exile Government. In order to demonstrate the legitimacy of their newly formed government, they needed to establish certain protocols. Postage stamps would help fit that bill and the portrait of national hero, Jose Rizal, was selected to grace an early issue.

Above, Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal.

In the course of any war, things do not always go as planned. For the sake of expediency, things are rushed and mistakes happen. And as in the case of the Rizal stamp, somehow the parting of Mr. Rizal’s hair was on the wrong side!

Above, the green 2-centavos Jose Rizal stamp with his hair parted on the wrong side.

Not long afterward, the mistake was noticed and corrected, but many variations of this particular stamp eventually surfaced.

Above, the corrected hair parting on the brown Jose Rizal stamp.

During the exile of MacArthur and the Philippine Commonwealth government, America’s strategy was primarily focused on completing the war in Europe. By 1944, attention shifted to the Pacific War and General MacArthur formulated his “I shall return” invasion plan of the Philippines. The plan was to land in Mindanao on November 15, 1944, and on Leyte on December 20, 1944. Consequently, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing began printing Philippine postage stamps between September 28, 1944, and October 7, 1944, with the intended use date beginning January 20, 1945.

The stamps of the new Philippine Commonwealth government were designed, printed, and shipped from the United States with plenty of lead time to arrive in the islands according to the original issue date of January 20, 1945. Of course, as stated, not all goes to plan during a war and plans tend to change. And as such, General MacArthur’s plans were modified, for various reasons, to now land at Leyte instead of Mindanao, and the date was pulled in from November 15, 1944, to October 20, 1944. The new schedule proved victorious for the Allies and everything fell into place, with the exception that the “Victory” propaganda stamps that were printed in the United States, were still in transport to the Philippines!

Above, is a compilation of Philippine Commonwealth Victory stamps on an envelope from the collection of L.R. Aguinaldo, a famous Philippine stamp collector and business person.

With the altered plans of MacArthur and the far-off landing date of the ship that was carrying the newly printed Philippine government Victory propaganda postage stamps, someone made the decision to make a “Victory” handstamp to overstamp existing stamps already in the Philippines until the printed variety arrived in the islands.

Above, a Type I, hand-stamped Victory stamp with “straight” and somewhat even lettering.

A local craftsman was selected to produce a handstamp to be used with violet-colored ink. Being an amateur craftsman with limited availability of material, he chose a rubber of very poor quality. Postal employees began to hand-stamp existing Philippine postage stamps in earnest. The newly printed, handstamped Victory postage stamps, known as Type I, went on sale at the post office in Tacloban. And as with any rush job using inferior material, the rudimentary handstamp began to fail, ultimately breaking between the “C” and the “T.” Consequently it was poorly repaired by driving a small nail into the stamp which caused deformation.

Above, a Type II, hand-stamped Victory stamp with “curved” and uneven lettering, and a space between the “C” and “T” with a “bite” taken out of the “T.” Most likely a fake due to the cancelation style that was not used after 1940.

The makeshift Victory handstamped postage stamps, known as Type  II, also underwent poor quality control during their processing, subsequently, the ink quality and color suffered. Although the color was mostly violet, some examples are black and some postage stamps have the stamp inverted and on some panes, rows are missing the handstamp altogether.

The overall width of the rubber stamping was anywhere from about .737” to .765”, depending on how much ink had accumulated on the stamp or how hard it was pressed. Most often the rubber stamp was over-inked and the width and height of the impression varied accordingly.

Above, a potentially very valuable and rare error 2-centavos Rizal hand-stamped Victory stamp with one side missing the Victory stamping. Real or fake? Only an expert can tell.

Eventually, the ship carrying the original, professionally printed Victory stamps arrived in the Philippines and on January 19, 1945, they replaced the handstamped variety. It was not long afterward that postage stamp collectors around the world saw the rarity of these small-volume printings.

Above, undocumented hand-stamped “Victory” stamps that are not in Michel or Scotts catalogs have recently been showing up on internet sales sites like eBay. Are they fake? Most likely since they sold for so cheap and they have no documentation!

As with the aftermath of any war, chaos, disorder, and confusion follow. Despite the attempts to perform a detailed and accurate assessment of the production of the handstamped Victory postage stamps, many quantities were missed and several heretofore varieties have subsequently emerged from private collections.

Above, is another recent find from a “long-lost collection” that has no provenance.

All told, original accounting records that were sent on March 23, 1946, to the office of the Philippine Postal Inspector in Manila show that about 51,279 handstamped Victory stamps were produced. This quantity included 22 pre-war regular issues, 7 official business (O.B.) issues that came from pre-war regular issues, 7 denominations of postage due stamps, 2 special delivery stamps, and 1 airmail stamp. 

Over the years several other variations have since emerged which of course may or may not be genuine. However, what is very clear is the fact that Filipinos hate to waste anything, and the use of existing postage stamps, even those with hand-stamping were found to be in use much later than when the printing press varieties of Victory stamps had been put into circulation.

What this implies is that not all supplies of the hand-stamped issues were taken out of circulation or intentionally destroyed by the Philippine postal authority as others have suggested. To think that any Filipino would literally destroy “money” is absurd! And then let us consider typical actions that are taken post-war especially when the scarcity and value of an item becomes known. Does anyone actually believe that any remaining rare hand-stamped postage stamps are still sitting in some Philippine postal service archive in a dusty Manila warehouse? Mr. L.R. Aguinaldo, with his higher-up connections, was known to be on the receiving end of many of these rare hand-stamped “Victory” stamps.

Above, an envelope showing multiple Japanese-era occupation stamps of the Philippines. (From the L.R. Aguinaldo collection)

The famous Filipino stamp collector and entrepreneur, L.R. Aguinaldo, the nephew of the former Philippine President, saw opportunities all around him. As an avid collector of Philippine postage stamps, especially post-marked first-day-of-issue covers, he would have dozens stamped and post-marked with the special first-day-of-issue cancelation marking. He would have these elaborate envelopes with their colorful markings sent to his address where these very historical items went up for sale. Oftentimes he would send them to postage stamp and first-day cover collectors around the world. Most of these envelopes have significant amounts of postage stamps on each and have become very collectible over the years.

Above, a hand-stamped “Victory” postage stamp from the L.R. Aguinaldo collection

As part of Mr. Aguinaldo’s collection are the extremely rare hand-stamped Victory postage stamps. These stamps were produced just before General MacArthur’s famous return to the Philippines in 1944. They are stamps that were of previous issues before the war and were hand-stamped using a crude rubber stamp that created all sorts of rare errors and very limited supplies, making them very valuable and, unfortunately, easily forged. If these stamps are from the L.R. Aguinaldo collection, they have his hand-stamped circle star marking on the back.

Above, the hand-made “circle-star” logo of Mr. L.R. Aguinaldo

It was said that after the war Mr. Aguinaldo obtained a “good size supply” of hand-stamped Victory postage stamps from the government. Immediately afterward he began noticing a large amount of non-government issue hand-stamped with all sorts of Victory lettering. To combat this, he initially was going to use his standard “L.R. Aguinaldo” rubber stamp that he used on his envelopes, however, he soon realized that these could also be easily forged. Instead, he used a hand-made stamp with a star encircled. It was said that he used a spent bullet casing from the battles around the islands and pieces of leather from a discarded baseball mitt that an American soldier had left behind.

Above is the original L.R. Aguinaldo circle star stamp with the asymmetrical design used to prevent duplication.

Now comes the time to discuss the forged reproduction Victory stamps that came out almost immediately after the scarcity of the originals was discovered. And as with valuable art or anything valuable in general, unscrupulous people find a way to replicate these items. And now with so many who can access the items for sale on the internet, these deceitful, crooked people have found an avenue for their forged wares. A simple search of “Fake Stamps on eBay” will take you directly to the eBay site where you can find not only fake postage stamps but many other fake products as well.

Above, is a poorly made fake that was offered for sale by a seller on eBay.

Sadly, not only do forgers, both professional and amateur alike, make and profit from the production and sale of fake items, but history has also shown us that even well-known auction houses profit from known fakes. For example, a well-known clearing house for high-value postage stamps even offered at auction fake, handstamped Philippine Victory postage stamps and marked them as such. These fakes were sold at a handsome profit and may well be split up in the future and sold as legitimate issues.

Above, is a page from a well-known auction house catalog that sold these obvious fakes.

What can be done about the sale and proliferation of fake Philippine handstamped Victory stamps? For one, as the old saying goes, if it is too good to be true, then it probably is! Included below is a somewhat recent accounting and value of legitimate handstamped Victory postage stamps. You can easily see that their value makes them a choice candidate for forgery.

Above, a tabulation showing relative quantities and values for handstamped Victory stamps.

What else can you do to ensure that you are obtaining genuine handstamped Victory Philippine postage stamps? For one, get them from a source that can provide legitimate provenance and certification. That does not mean that you buy them from a source that will provide you with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)! A handmade COA document that says an item is genuine can be produced even more easily than a forged copy of the postage stamp itself. And even organizations that authenticate postage stamps as their business have their faults too.

Above, a document showing that a stamp was determined to be a forged handstamped Victory stamp.

The Philatelic Foundation provides a service that will judge whether a postage stamp is legitimate or a forgery. But the cost of doing business may not be worth it if the item is an obvious fake. On the other hand, should the item be authentic, having the certificate from a reputable source will make that endeavor worthwhile.

Above, is it real or just a well-made “facsimile?” Rubber stamps can be easily purchased online for under $20.00 including the correct color ink pad!

What matter does it make? Not much if your intent is to pass the forgery on as a fake, or if the intent is to perpetuate this farce. However, if your intent is to put a stop to this sort of illicit activity, then by all means, stand up and shout at the dealers and the internet companies like eBay who care less about anything but the bottom line.

Above, is another poor attempt to make a rare “Victory” postage stamp.

It will boggle the mind to see just how many fake, or “replicates” as some call them, are on the internet sales sites. However, when you see a stamp that has a value in a Scotts catalog of $4,000.00, and it sells for under $25.00, then you know the internet site is catering to the illicit stamp forgery market.

Above, is another of those obvious fake hand-stamped Victory stamps.

How can the above stamp be real when the period of hand-stamping “Victory” started when they went on sale in the Tacloban Post Office on November 8, 1944, to January 19, 1945? On March 23, 1946, all of the plates and remaining unsold hand-stamped Victory stamps were sent to the office of the Philippine Postal Inspector in Manila, but yet the original “base” of this stamp came out two months later on May 28, 1946!

The hand-stamped issues were not used much after that date (March 23, 1946), except for the Official Business (O.B.) overprint stamps which were used for about six months afterward.

Above is yet another example of an obvious fake that was sold on an internet sales site. This stamp has a canceled date of 1939, yet these hand-stamped Victory stamps did not come out until 1944!


Above is still another fake Victory stamp! You can see on the back of the stamp that the unscrupulous seller marked the stamp “413”. So what is 413? That is the Scotts catalog number of the base (unmarked) original stamp that is only worth 25 cents in pristine condition. The seller sorted this stamp, marked the actual Scotts catalog number on the back, then took that cheap, common stamp, which was worth 25 cents, added the “Victory” over-stamping, and turned it into a stamp (Scotts catalog #466) now valued at $825.00!


Above, is a 1954 Life Magazine article featuring the hand-stamped “Victory” stamps.

On the other side of the coin, collecting rare, legitimate postage stamps can be of great value not only financially but can be personally gratifying as well. Doing so might just add another drop in the bucket!

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography and their respective owners. Please contact me with any questions, or comments, or for authorization to use photos or for signed high-resolution copies.

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