Top 10 Rare Chinese Stamps

Investing in stamps is referred to as Philatelic investing. It quite simply means building a collection of rare and valuable stamps. Over time, this collection often increases in value, due to the rarity and demand for certain stamps. Philatelic investing hit a high point during the 1970s when stamp collections were speculated highly. They since suffered a fall in value, but they are climbing high again. Expert stamp collectors stand to make millions from just a small collection. In fact, the world’s most expensive stamp was recently sold at auction for $20 million. That particular stamp was Britain’s 1c Magenta.

However, it does require an expert eye and lots of investigation. It’s often considered very difficult for beginners to get started, due to the depth of knowledge necessary.

Having said that, everyone has to start somewhere, and there’s no reason you can’t learn the history. In this post, we’re going to start with the beautiful and mysterious country of China. In the world of philatelic investing, China boasts some of the planet’s most valuable and rare stamps. The country has come through decades of political instability, war, and cultural change. That has caused faltering and varying stamp production. The number of discontinued and recalled stamps are comparably high. As a result, rare stamps from China have become highly sought after.

So, let’s take a trip through some of the most beautiful, rare, and wonderful stamps in China. Some are valued for their special edition, limited release. Others became valuable after a mistake. Each has its unique colourful history, and we’ll explore each in detail.

  1. The Whole Country Is Red

This particular stamp launched in 1968, at the heart of China’s Great Cultural Revolution. It represents Mao’s enormous political revolution that imposed China’s commitment to Communism. The stamp strengthened that notion by declaring the phrase: ‘the whole country is red’. It featured an army of smiling Chinese citizens holding Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’, a symbol of communism. There’s an outline of China, coloured in red too. However, here’s why it’s so valuable. The small island of Taiwan, to the right, was left in white.

It was a design mistake, so devastating that the designer feared he would lose his life! Once the mistake was realised, the stamp was quickly withdrawn from the market. That error has made the original incredibly rare. No-one is quite sure how many exist. However, these stamps have fetched upwards of $1 million at Chinese auction.

  1. Military Post Blue

These blue military stamps were once standard issue for Chinese army personnel. However, the government soon realised that these stamps were drawing too much attention. It was becoming easy to recognise a piece of army mail that could have confidential information inside. Like the stamp above, they were immediately recalled, so that confidential info could be hidden. All the remaining stockpiles were destroyed. It’s estimated that only 15 or 20 still exist in the country though there could well be more. The most expensive was sold at auction for $428,000 recently. The stamp itself features the logo of the People’s Liberation Army.

  1. Red Revenue Stamp

This stamp is often considered the rarest in China. There are only 32 in existence, which is more than the current Military Post stamp. However, there could be a hundred more military post stamps hidden in attics across China. With the Red Revenue stamps, there are very certainly only 32 left. That’s because only 32 were ever made. It was first printed under the Qing dynasty when it switched China’s currency to dollars. A stamp was made to commemorate it, with a dollar imprint. Unfortunately, the dollar was printed too small and was subsequently replaced with a larger version. The smaller version is now highly coveted, fetching up to $900,000 at auction.

  1. Marine customs large dragon stamp

The large dragon was perhaps China’s first ever stamp. It was introduced when China’s modern mail service started in 1878. Letters were previously used in the army, but it was the first time it was delivered to the general public. The service launched three new stamps, collectively called the ‘large dragons’. Different coloured dragons represented different values, including 1, 3, and 5. The reason they are so valued by stamp collectors is that they were the first commercial stamps available.

  1. Marine customs post small dragon stamp

Ten years after the introduction of the large dragon stamps, the post service issued new versions. They were slightly smaller, representing various lower values. Colours were extended to include red, blue, green, and purple. However, they did retain the iconic dragon logo right at the heart. Since they followed the large dragon stamps, collectors nicknamed them the ‘small dragon’ collection. These stamps are relatively affordable, (by stamp collector standards!) but they are a vital part of any collection.

  1. Long Life stamps

Long life stamps are loved for their tiny detail and classic Chinese artwork. They date back to 1894 when they were released to celebrate the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi. For this reason, collectors also call them the ‘Dowager’ issue. They were published in an issue of 9, each with a different value, and watermark. The artwork consisted of classic Chinese designs. They include a dragon, carp, peony flower, peach, boat, and evergreen. Another version also contains the Chinese symbol for ‘longevity’. Hence the nickname ‘long life stamps’.

  1. Coiling Dragon stamps

The Coiling Dragon stamp was another to emerge from the Qing dynasty. They were the first to feature the phrase ‘Imperial Chinese Post’ which soon became standard. As every stamp collector will tell you, the first of any trend is always the most valuable. Coiling Dragon stamps aren’t the rarest in China, as they quickly became commonplace. But, finding one now is rather difficult. They have an iconic design, with three different variations. The lowest value features a dragon, the middle value features a carp, and the highest, a wild goose.

  1. 80 red monkey stamp

This peculiar stamp marks a big change in design for Chinese stamps. It features a strong red background, with a colourful picture of a surprised-looking monkey! It was introduced to celebrate the year of the monkey in 1980. It became the most popular stamp in China, and remains relatively easy to get hold of today. However, it’s unique design makes it a must-have for any philatelist.

  1. Temple of Heaven stamp

The end of the Qing dynasty was marked by the Temple of Heaven stamp. It was issued in 1909 to celebrate the reign of Xuan Tong. As we’ve seen throughout this post, the Qing dynasty produced a variety of coveted stamps. The final stamp is therefore highly sought after by collectors. The stamp itself features a beautiful Buddhist temple, with various colours to denote the value.

  1. Cai Lun stamp

Cai Lun was the inventor who created paper during the Han dynasty. He is a much-loved character in Chinese history, and was enshrined on a stamp issued in 1962. Unfortunately, another design disaster ended in an enormous recall. The year of Cai Lun’s birth is unknown, but the designer printed a date regardless. When stamp collectors quickly pointed out the error, the postal service recalled them immediately. Of course, smart collectors kept them for themselves! Some 2,000 stamps stayed in the hands of collectors, making them a somewhat valuable prize.

Perhaps you’ve got one of these rare and valuable stamps in your collection. Or perhaps they’re in the attic, hidden away! As you can see from these expensive examples, stamp collecting isn’t such a dull hobby after all.

Elizabeth Goldman is the editor of She has written for, and many others.