Cross Reference of Chinese Formula International Air Letter Sheets and Some Remarks

Jia-Jer Liou

Published in The China Clipper, Volume 68, Number 6, September 2004

Thanks to The China Stamp Society, Inc. for permission to place on this website!

The Republic of China issued formula international air letter sheets during early 1948 and 1953. The massive usage of these sheets covered periods when different currency Systems were applied before and after the ROC government retreated to Taiwan. Some were even used in the PRC era. The different currency Systems, namely Chinese National Currency, Gold Yuan, Silver Yuan, old Taiwan Currency, and New Taiwan Currency, along with frequently changed postal rate made the topic of formula air letter sheets fascinating.

Three different formula air letter sheets were issued in mainland by the Department of Communication in 1948. All of the three are relatively common both in unused and used forms more than half a Century after being issued. The three issues are also reported used in Taiwan. However, it seems that only the third issue was sold in postal Offices in Taiwan. The used copies of the first and the second issues are so rare that they might be brought to Taiwan by private hands instead of being sold through post offices. On the 5th of June 1951, the first formula international air letter sheet printed in Taiwan was issued. Several more were prepared and issued in the following two years. Different issues of these air letter sheets are easy to distinguish from others following specialized catalogues, while two of them can be confusing without clear guidance. In complying with the regulations of the Universal Postal Union, air letter sheets with indicia and current denomination were prepared since July 1st, 1953. No formula international air letter sheets were issued thereafter.

The most widely used catalogue specialized in Chinese postal stationery used to be the Han's catalogue. It seems that the ones written by Donald R. Alexander are catching up. Recently, a catalogue specialized in letter sheets by Chang-Long Lin was issued by the Philatelic Writers' Club in Taiwan. Some of the information about the formula air letter sheets was updated in the book. Unfortunately, this book is in Chinese. Whoever does not read Chinese would have a hard time using it. On the other hand, since referring the same catalogue is a necessity for collectors to understand each other correctly, I made a table of cross reference for formula international air letter sheets issued by the ROC postal administration (Table l). Four catalogues, namely the Han's, the Alexander's, the Higgins & Gage, and the Lin's, are compared. The air letter sheets listed in the Higgins & Gage catalogue were from the "Chinese Postal Stationery Guidebook" by Michael Rogers. Remarks are given following the cross reference table to provide something that may be useful to fellow collectors interested in this field. I am not in any position of commenting which catalogue is better than others. Nor did I try to value any of these sheets. Only information concerning the issue and usage of these fascinating postal stationeries will be discussed.

Table l.  Cross reference of formula international air letter sheets.

Han Alexander Higgins
& Gage
Lin Issue Date Quantity of Issue Remarks
lFLSIA-1F3I1 15 Apr 1948100,000 (1)
2FLSIA-2 F1I2 May 1948
(earliest usage)
Unknown (2)
3FLSIA-3 F2I3 Nov 1948
(earliest usage)
Unknown (3)
--FLSIA-4 -- -- Unknown -- (4)
4 FLSIA-5 F4I4 5 Jun 1951 25,000 (5)
4aFLSIA-6 -- -- -- -- (5)
5 FLSIA-7 -- I5 4 Feb 1952 50,000
6 FLSIA-8 -- I6 19 Sep 195248,805 (6)
---- -- I7 15 Nov 195250,000 (7)
7 FLSIA-9--I825 May 195325,000 (7), (8)
-- ---- I8a 1 Dec 1953 -- (8)

(1) In "A Historical Survey of Postage Stamps, Postmarks & Postage Rates of Taiwan (1945-1949)" by Paul K. S. Chang, it was stated that a #1 sheet was used in Taichung to Switzerland on the 16th of June, 1948 (on pages 351-352). No image of the said letter sheet was provided. This is the only example of #1 sheet that was used in Taiwan known to me.

(2) Both used and unused copies of the Han #2 sheets are plenty. The real issue date of this issue remains unknown. A copy of the #2 sheet used in May of 1948 was shown in the November 2003 issue of China Clipper. The earliest known used copy of the #2 sheet that was mailed from Taiwan was recorded in an article by Sung Yao, titled "an Illustration of Non-Postal Emblem International Aerogram", in the CTPF Journal. It was sent from Taipeh (now Taipei) to Austria on August 14th, 1948. Another copy was shown on page 354 in P. K.-S. Chang's book. It was sent from Hwalien to the United States.

(3) Similar to the #2 sheets, #3 sheets are plenty both in used and unused forms. It seems to me that unused #3 sheets are even more common than the #2 sheets. The earliest known usage of the #3 sheet was on the 10th of November, 1948. The image of this cover can be found in the article titled "Formulary of the ROC (II)" by Chin-Yuen Yuan on page 87 of the "Postal History Research" #16, issued by the Straits Postal History Research Society in Taiwan. This sheet is also the only copy of #3 sheet known to me that was franked with stamps with Chinese national currency denominations. However, I believe that there may be other un-reported copies franked with CNC stamps, because CNC stamps were still in use in December of 1948.

(4) The only copy of FLSIA-4 was mentioned in the Alexander catalog. I guess that this is an error copy instead of regular issue. After the communists took over the mainland, many captured postal stationeries were converted into postal forms for different purposes. No mass stock of any kind of paper stuff would be wasted. Formula air letter sheets were seen overprinted with "yu dien" (for postal and communication) and reissued. However, no other such sheets were discovered or seen converted into any other forms.

(5) Han #4 was the first formula air letter sheet issued in Taiwan. It was issued two and a half years after its predecessor in the mainland. Only 25,000 #4 sheets were issued. The small quantity seemed to indicate that these sheets were a test for the Publicity of air letter sheets. This sheet bears a mistakenly printed character "kai" for "Jer," which means folding. A hand stamped "Jer" was added by the wrong character "kai" before issuing. There are two types of hand stamp, namely the large character and the small character (Fig. l). It was also reported that copies without hand stamp existed.

Alexander listed #FLSIA-6 as an individual issue and referred it as Han #4a. Han actually did not say much about the #4a sheet. He did not provide any picture for #4a, either. Two differences between #FLSIA-5 and #FLSIA-6 were mentioned by Alexander. One was the raised "V" in "PAR AVION" for the # FLSIA-6. The other was the discrepancy in the width of right sealing flaps: # FLSIA-5 was 12.5 mm and #FLSIA-6 was 18.5 mm. However, an unused copy of #FLSIA-6 in my collection has a 12.5mm right sealing flap. The raised V variety was not recognized nor mentioned in the Lin's catalogue and thus was not given a number. It remains unsolved if the sheets with raised "V" are a different issue or just a plate variety of #FLSIA-5.

Both used and unused copies of the Han #4 (including Alexander FLSIA-5 and 6) are far less common than Han #2 or #3. Properly used copies are difficult to come by. Copies carrying no message inside and franked with Scott C64 are for Philatelic purpose.

(6) Starting from this issue the background lines on the face side of sheets were so fine that a good magnifying glass is needed to clearly see them. Naked eyes would only tell you that a light blue background is on the surface.

(7) This is probably the most confusing issue among all China formula air letter sheets. Its status was not sorted out until a few years ago. For many years no one discovered the differences between these two issues because of a few reasons. Firstly, the #I7 and #I8 sheets listed in Lin's catalogue look very similar. Fig. 2 shows a copy of the seventh sheet (#I7 in Lin's catalogue), while Fig. 3 shows a copy of the eighth sheet (#I8 in Lin's). Secondly, examples of these two issues were not common. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, collecting of formula international air letter sheets was not popular.

Following the sixth issue in Han's catalogue, the information that he gave for the #7 was a mixed up of the seventh and the eighth issues. The picture provided was a seventh issue (on page 253 of the catalogue, second edition). The issue date mentioned, i.e. May 25th, 1953, was the issue date for the eighth issue. The correct information for the seventh issue is shown in Table l. Some copies used before May 25th of 1953 were occasionally offered as "early usage before issue." For many years, collectors suspected that something was not straight because the so-called "early usage" was many days before the issue date stated in Han's.

Even for a sophisticated collector who reads Chinese, it is difficult to distinguish #I7 and #I8 from each other at first sight (Figs. 2 and 3). Subtle differences between Chinese characters were discovered and first reported by Sung Yao. Sung Yao concluded that the seventh and the eighth issues were separate ones. An official document that described the order of the preparation of the seventh issue was later found to support the conclusion. Several differences between #I7 and #I8 were described in detail by Sung Yao. Here I would like to repeat only the most obvious ones for those who do not have the reference to check. Fig. 4 shows the differences in Chinese characters meaning "International Air Letter Sheet." Several differences are shown with circles. The most prominent one is that "kuo" (the first character from the right hand side) of the #I7 has a hook while that of the #I8 does not.

I also found some differences between #I7 and #I8, which have not been reported elsewhere. First, the background lines of #I7 tilt 62 degrees, while those of #I8 tilt 71.5 degrees (Fig 5). Second, the "PAR AVION" box of #I7 measures 33.5 mm, while that of #I8 measures 34 mm (Fig. 6). Third, the length of the English "IF ANYTHING ... ... ORDINARY MAIL" is 87 mm for #I7 and 86 mm for #I8 (Fig. 7). These differences indicated that the background plate and the plate for wording used for the two issues were both different.

(8) In complying with the regulations of the Universal Postal Union, air letter sheets printed with indicia were issued on the first of July, 1953. At the same time, the postal administration called back all unsold formula air letter sheets. Official records indicated that the number of these called back sheets was 22,235 without specifying the number of any specific issue. These air letter sheets were franked with a three dollar value CKS stamp (Scott #1087) and re-issued later on the first of December, 1953. A #I8 sheet franked with Sc #1987 was given #I8a in Lin's catalogue.

In some occasions, including Lin's catalogue, fellow collectors stated that there may be issues other than #I8 included in the called back batch, especially #I7 because of very close issue date. There is a copy of #I7 sheet in my collection that was franked with a piece of Sc#1087 (Fig. 8). The sheet was sent from Kaohsiung to the United States on February llth, 1954. Another copy of #I7 sheet franked with Sc #1087 was depicted as Figure ten in the article by Chin-Yuen Yuan, titled "Formulary of the ROC (IV)", in "Postal History Research" #I8. The sheet was miss-identified as #I8a in that articie probably because the author was fooled by the Camouflage of the Sc #1087. This sheet was sent from Taipei on October 25th, 1954 to the United States. I would like to stress that Sc #1087 is the key to the set (#1077-91), as many of our fellow collectors already knew. It would be highly unusual to use this key value on mails. In addition, the two examples do not seem to be pure philatelic item. The communication in my copy was from a prospective Student who tried to inform his friends that he just got accepted to attend the Montana University. Thus, I suspected that the two examples were among the called back and reissued batch.  If we use #I8a for the eighth issue that was re-issued with a stamp added, there should be #I7a for the case of the seventh issue based on this indirect evidence.

Although we are not sure how many #I8 exactly were called back, the number of #I8 that was sold before the callback should be a little more than 2765 (the issue number minuses the number called back). This is a very small number compared to quantities of other issues. On the other hand, unused and used #I8a were very likely destroyed by dealers or novice collectors for filling the empty Spots for Sc #1087 in their displaying cards or albums. This was even more likely before fellow collectors started to pay attention to formula air letter sheets. The consequence is that we do not see #I8a (or the proposed #I7a) too often in either used or unused forms.

Final thought

The formula international air letter sheets were used through currency transitions and even power transition from late 1940's to early 1950's. Many fascinating facts about these non-mainstream issues are waiting for us to explore. Here, I focus mainly on matters concerning their usage in Taiwan. This article is meant to collect some of the information pieces that I have accumulated in the past several years and to report to fellow collectors. Most of the information was written in Chinese. I hope that this is useful to whomever are interested in this field.


1. Alexander, Donald R.,  (1993) Postal Stationery of Taiwan, Republic of China, pp 331-336. (in English)

2. Chang, Paul Ke-Shing, (1986) A Historical Survey of Postage Stamps, Postmarks & Postage Rates of Taiwan (1945-1949), Volume I, pp 351-359. (Chinese and English)

3. Han, Ho-Yun, (1984) Han's Illustrated Catalogue of Imperial & Republic of China Postal Stationery, 2nd edition, pp 248-254.

4. Lin, Chang-Long, (2002) Postal Letter Sheets of the Republic of China, pp 2-7 & pp 122-126. (in Chinese)

5. Liou, Jia-Jer, (2003) Early Usage of the Second Issue of ROC Formula International Airletter Sheet, Vol 68(1): 15-19.

6. Rogers, Michael, ed. (1989) Chinese Postal Stationery Guidebook, page 20.

7. Yao, Sung, (1998) An Illustration of Non-Postal Emblem International Aerogram (1948-1953). C T P F Journal, Vol 2, pp 97-119. (in Chinese) This article is by far the most comprehensive one in terms of general information except pricing.

8. Yu, Tzau-Nien, (1999) The Eighth Print Formulary, Postal History Research, #I7, pp 164-167. (in Chinese)

9. Yuan, Chin-Yuen, (1998) The Air Letter of the ROC (I), Postal History Research,

#15, pp 145-149. (in Chinese)

10. Yuan, Chin-Yuen, (1998) Formulary of the ROC (II),, Postal History Research, #16, pp 144-149. (in Chinese)

11. Yuan, Chin-Yuen, (1999) Formulary of the ROC (III). Postal History Research,

#I7, pp 168-172. (in Chinese)

12. Yuan, Chin-Yuen, (2000) Formulary of the ROC (IV). Postal History Research,

#I8, pp 97-105. (in Chinese)


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