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Sedang–A Story of Adventure, Romance and Stamps

Ever since I was a teenager way back in the 1960’s, I have been enchanted by what many refer to as bogus stamps. These are basically stamps which purport to have been issued in some distant land often ruled by a prince or a king. More often than not, the principalities or kingdoms did not exist, but the countries generally did in one form or the other.

One of the first additions to my collection of bogus stamps was a set of seven stamps from Deh Sedang or the Kingdom of Sedang in English. In fact, my set came along with a descriptive note giving a brief background to the Sedang stamps. Over the years, I have been able to add even more Sedang stamps to my collection but until fairly recently, information has been rather limited and not that easy to obtain.

Sedang was, of course, mentioned by both Fred Melville and Georges Chapier in their classic books on philatelic phantoms. Both their books are replete with stories about a plethora of real and imaginary republics, principalities and kingdoms and their stamps.

The complete set of seven has the following denominations: 1/2 math, moi (= 1) math, ber (= 2) math, pouen (= 4) math, moi (= 1) mouk, 1/2$ and 1$.

In May 2005, I visited the NORDIA show in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. It was a wonderful exhibition which marked the 150th anniversary of Sweden’s first Skilling Banco stamps released in 1855. Much to my delight, I discovered a single frame devoted to Sedang and its stamps.

The exhibit belonged to Börje Wallberg, a Swedish collector who has specialized in Indochinese philately for a great many years. Many of his collections have obtained gold medals at international exhibitions.

Mr Wallberg’s exhibit included numerous examples of the 1889 printings of Sedang stamps as well as the much scarcer 1888 originals believed to have been printed somewhere in the Far East and actually thought to have been used in kingdom for a brief period in 1888. There were, of course, no covers as none are known to exist but more about that later.

The Sedang exhibit created a bit of confusion, as the jury didn’t know how to classify it. They finally decided that it was a Cinderella exhibit for which there is no special category in the Swedish exhibition system.

  The 1888 Ber_math (2 Math) first printing (notice the hyphen between Ber and Math).

  The 1889 Paris second printing (no hyphen between Bar and Math).

  Imperforate proof in blue of 1889 1/2$ stamp. The issued stamp is yellow in color.

Sedang is an area located in the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam. Today it is referred to as Xedang by the Vietnamese authorities. Back in 1888, the people of Sedang had very little contact with the French colonial administration. However, there were a couple of Catholic missions in the area. The French authorities claimed that Sedang was administered from the city of Hué.

At the end of May 1888, a French adventurer called Charles-Marie David de Mayrena arrived in Sedang along with a number of followers. A Catholic priest served as interpreter. The expedition apparently had some official backing as the French wanted to extend their control to the Central Highlands.

However, Mayrena did something that nobody really had expected. On June 3, he assembled the local Sedang chiefs and somehow convinced them to make him King of all the Sedangs!

The new king took the name Marie I and immediately set about to issue a number of decrees to organize activities in the new state. One of his decrees created the village of Pelei Agna as Sedang’s capital. A postal service was established on July 9 (at least according to one of his many decrees). The need for a postal service was probably quite limited as the population of Sedang was basically illiterate. Mayrena claimed that the kingdom comprised 44 villages with a total population of some 25.000 male inhabitants.

Charles-Marie David de Mayrena was a very colourful character. He was born in France in 1842. At an early age, he enlisted in the French army and did service in Indochina in the 1860’s. Back in France, he married and had a number of different jobs but all the time he had a longing for adventure. He also appears to have lived in a world of fantasy making outlandish plans all the time. At one point in time he was also charged with embezzlement.

In 1883-1884, he spent some time in the Dutch East Indies. His finances were rather low and he had to borrow money from compatriots living in the territory. Finally he was sent back to France.

Back in France, he convinced some rich people to finance a new expedition to Aceh on the island of Sumatra. The idea was to get a French foothold on the island by supporting the Sultan of Aceh in his struggle against the Dutch.

As was often the case with Mayrena, he did something entirely different and went to French Indochina instead.

In 1888, he certainly reached the pinnacle of his career when he proclaimed himself king of the Sedangs. In September that same year, King Marie I left his country for a brief visit to the coastal town of Qui Nhon. There he discovered that one of his collaborators had taken off with all his money.

Soon his financial situation became precarious and he had to return to Europe. In February 1889, we find him in Paris where he boasted about his Kingdom. He was obviously looking for financial backers. He gave interviews to several newspapers and lived in great style in both France and Belgium. It was apparent now that the Sedang stamps were ordered from a still unidentified printing company.

Once again he ran out of money and returned to the Far East in early 1890. He died on a small island in Malaya that same year under rather suspicious circumstances. Thus ended one of the more colourful episodes in the history of unofficial royalty.

The Sedang stamps reached the philatelic marketplace in 1889, but it didn’t take long for them to be completely denounced by the contemporary philatelic press. The printers had not been paid and to recover some of their costs they sold off the remainders. Many stamps were cancelled to order to make them more saleable. Now, more than 110 years later, the Sedang stamps are still fairly common and they pop up on eBay from time to time.

However, some 70 years after they were issued, British collector Harry F. Rooke discovered that there were two totally different printings of the stamps one of which is very scarce. The original printing is believed to have been made in the Far East in 1888. There are several design differences between the two printings.

Further research by French philatelists (Desrousseaux and Grasset) has turned up evidence that the 1888 stamps were actually used on mail for a brief period. There are records of letters bearing Sedang stamps having been seen in the Museum of Hué. Unfortunately, the museum was destroyed during the Vietnam war and so were obviously the covers.

It seems pretty clear that the Kingdom of Sedang existed for a few months in 1888. The decrees issued by King Marie I also show that a postal service was started. In all probability, stamps were printed somewhere in the Far East. It should be noted that the native script on the stamps is correct and reflects the language of the Sedangs. Thus the first printing could be considered to be genuine postage stamps for an existing postal service.

The second European printing was ordered by the King, but due to a number of circumstances, they could never be used as the King no longer had a kingdom. They fall into the category of prepared but never issued stamps.

Recently German collector Wolfgang Baldus wrote and self-published an interesting 56-page booklet called The Postage Stamps of the Kingdom of Sedang. He has spent a lot of time researching a variety or sources for information about Sedang, its people, its king and its stamps. It is fascinating reading with much new information. The book has numerous illustrations in full colour and a map indicating the location of Sedang. It can be obtained by sending US$20 in cash to Wolfgang Baldus, Heilwigstr. 85, D-81827 Munich, Germany.

Rather interestingly, Baldus discusses the design similarities between the stamps of Sedang and contemporary stamps of Belgium.

The stamps of Sedang constitute one of the more fascinating episodes in the history of philately. Not only because of the exotic character of King Marie I, but also because of its attractive stamps.

Long frowned upon as being bogus stamps of little value, many serious philatelic scholars now consider the 1888 issue of Sedang to be bona-fide postage stamps and extremely worthy of our interest. One day this view might even be shared by the editors of our major stamp catalogues. Only time will tell. n


Contact's: Christer Brunstrom