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During the Christmas season and New Year I did have a blast with German definitive stamps. Very likely one of the most notorious of these is the Five-year-plan (“5-J-Pl.”) issues of German Democratic Republic (more commonly know as East Germany or DDR) which shows “the common men and woman at work”. Despite of rather short lifespan it is without a doubt one of the most dreaded and complex definitive stamp series ever. The first issue came out in August 1953, the last seventh issue in 1959; and the stamps became invalid in 1962.
The series features pretty much everything possible. In total there are 60 stamps having several designs, most having both offset and letterpress versions. Stamps have overprints, various perforations and watermarks. There are copies with and without a footer imprint. And to make things even more fun for the collector, some of the issues exist in HUGE quantities of reprints and re-issues.
Series history in nutshell
Backgrounds of the series are heavily loaded with the winds of cold war era. Like many things at the time, this too was also a race between the east and west. Western Germany had issued their very first “country-branded” definitive stamps (post horn-issue) in June 1951, but Eastern Germany was still using definitive stamps with generic “German post” inscription. As the series would also be a milestone in local political scene, it caused a lot of discussion and gaming about appropriate topics for designs.
The first issue was released in August 1953 containing 17 different designs printed in offset. The issue (as well as the following 3 issues) was printed on paper with “DDR and Posthorns” watermark with a perforation of 13:12½. The original plan was to print the stamps in letterpress, but due to too strict timelines and limited free printing capacity the postal officers were forced to change plans.
Interestingly, the original first issue didn’t include a stamp to match the existing standard postage rate (of 24pfg). This stamp was added a month later.
At the same time with the 24pfg stamp addendum, the postal ministry released also the second issue. This time it was done as planned – all the designs from the first issue were printed in letterpress (including the 24pfg).
The third issue overprints were done because of postal rates reductions in October 1954. To keep the manufacturing costs low, the postal ministry decided to make the overprints on unsold stamps of second issue. Interestingly this created a situation that led to birth of one of the most valuable DDR stamps as well as one of the lowest valued re-issues.
For some reason 10 complete sheets from the first issue 24 pfg stamps were mixed in the printing process. And as can be guessed the collectors found the variety first. The “capitalistic bidding” over the new born rarity didn’t fit into “socialist dream society”, so postal ministry tried to devalue it by making a re-issue of 2,000,000 copies using 24 pfg stamps from the first edition.
Unfortunately, the stocks of this stamp were low and a re-issue using the original plates had to be made. But alas, the re-issue failed to match the colors of the original print and collectors received yet another new subtype for the overprint.
The fourth issue in 1955 re-introduced the designs with changed nominal values to match the recently changed postal rates.
At this time, the East German stamps had raised a lot of collectors interest in the western world. This was also noted by VEB Buchexport Leipzig, organization that exported eastern stamps to west. Shortly after, postal ministry commanded large scale re-issues and reprints to fill the western demand: 20 million copies of each stamp from the four issues should be delivered to VEB. Overall, it means over one billion DDR stamps were pushed to collectors.
But alas, the original offset plates had been destroyed so they instead of re-issue, the printer had to do a reprint for the first issue. The reprints became slightly different than the original ones, so collectors received yet another subtype. The difference can be spotted by the length of country inscription as below images show.
However, for letterpress issues the original plates were remaining and reprints are identical to originals. However, these can be distinguished from the lack of gum and CTO-cancels printed on stamps.
The fifth issue in 1957 introduced a new watermark “DDR and Posthorns”. At the same time the colors of the issues were modified slightly. The change in colors however that subtle ,that most catalogs list same colors for stamps in all printings.
The sixth issue in 1958 introduced a new perforation of 14.
The seventh issue in 1959 consists of single stamp only; a 10pfg stamps design was once more changed. In addition the issue is the only one to ship with two perforations (13:12½ and 14) without footer imprints.
How to differ the various issues, re-issues and reprints from each other?
Identification of first issue prints is very easy as it’s the only offset print. Anything with rasterized, color filled (and slightly blurred) impressions originates from the first issue.
Identification of third issue prints is similarly easy with bare eyes as it is the only one consisting of overprints.
Other prints share few common characteristics. For starters, all the stamps are in letterpress. Designs consist of accurate, single colored lines and fills are solid. Stamps exist both with and without a footer imprint bearing the names of designer E(rich) Gruner and engraver K(arl) Wolf.
But let’s move on with practical issue identification guidelines…
For starters, all stamps with nominal value of 1,6,8, 12,16,24, 35,48,60, 80 or 84 pfg. come always from the second issue. For these there is no need to check perforation or watermark.
After this one has to pick up perforation gauge (or rely on visuals). Most of the stamps in the series have a perforation of 13:12½. The only exceptions to this are 6th and 7th issue stamps having a perforation of 14 (but it’s worth highlighting that 7th issue comes also with 13:12½ perf., but more of this later). Of these only the 10pfg blue green “Machinist” belongs to 7th issue while the rest are from the 6th issue.
For rest of the issues one has to dust up the watermark detector and identify the correct watermark from the below options:
Any stamp with “DDR and Posthorns” watermark comes from the 2nd issue except the values of 10,15,20,40,50 and 70pfg which are from the 4th issue.
Any stamp with “DDR and Quatrefoils” watermark should be placed under 5th or 7th issue. Of these only the 5fg blue green “Machinist” belongs to 7th issue while the rest are from the 6th issue.
It’s worth adding that watermark varieties exist, and many of them have a notably high catalog value.
Re-issues and reprints
Finally there’s the question about the reprints. As written earlier, the number of re-issues and reprints from the first four issues is gigantic.
The reprint of first issue is very easy to identify from the position of letter E:
But as the re-issues are identical to original ones, the only way to distinguish them from originals is cancel. Most re-issues have press-printed cancellations (centered on a block of 4), but also handstamped sheet CTO-cancellations exist with cancels from Cottbus, Gera, Halle, Magdeburg, Potsdam, Rostock and several other places. A full listing of these (with date ranges) can be found on Michel Germany catalog.
All unused stamps are originals. However, there exist few copies of unused (without gum) reprints / re-issues. These have a somewhat high catalog value.
You might also be interested of related posts about Stamps and postal history of Germany and German states.