Today in Postal History

Greenland to United States

March 31, 1956

This cover led to the story of a philatelic mystery.

This registered cover was posted in Sondre Strømfjord.*
Sondre Strømfjord is on Baffin Bay on the west side of Greenland near the arctic circle.
It has little more than an airport and is a research station.

What makes this cover so unusual is that the stamps
(from the 1945 Denmark Liberation issue) all are overprint color errors.
The overprint is DANMARK | BEFRIET | 5 MAJ 1945.
On the overprint color errors,  stamps which are supposed to have blue overprints have carmine
overprints, and those which should have carmine overprints have blue overprints.
Scott lists these as Greenland 22a, 23a, 24a, 25a, 26a, and 27a.
They are quite valuable.*

The 10ø purple and olive and the 15ø red and bright ultramarine portray King Christian X;
the 30ø dark blue and red brown a dog team; the 2k sepia and deep green an Eskimo in a kayak;
the 1k brown  and gray black a polar bear; and the 5k dark purple and dull brown an eider duck.

There are three strikes of the Sdr. Strømfjord CDS.
Registry was denoted by a preprinted registry label handstamped
Sdr. Strømfjord.

The cover was addressed to San Fernando north of Los Angeles.
The cover was backstamped on arrival in San Fernando April 4.

The cover is obviously philatelically inspired.**
How nice it would be if it had been contemporary.
Nonetheless, it is an unusual item.
As we subsequently learned, this cover has a questionable past.

*Bob Logan noted actually being in Sondre Strømfjord.
When returning from a trip to Europe in 1974, flying from
Brussels to Seattle, his plane made a refueling stop there.

*Chris was also a vistor.
"I spent three days there in 1969 waiting for a
helicopter flight to Godthab (now called Nuuk).
There really isn't much [at Sondre Strøfjord].
It has the longest runway in Greenland, a small barracks style hotel and one restaurant.
On the other side of the runway is the airbase.
Takeoffs are quite exciting as the fjord takes a dogleg not far off the end of the runway."

**Knud-Erik Andersen raises some excellent questions concerning this cover.
First, he points out that the printings of this issue were extremely small with official issues estimated at only 3,500 or less.
He continues,

"The story about the 'wrong' color overprint is a bit fishy.  The sheets with overprints were all examined at arrival by The Royal Greenland Trade company (KGH) in Copenhagen and not one of the variants was found and sold at face value here.  In Greenland there is likewise no record of public sales of these overprint color variants.  All of them were sold in USA by the company which had a monopoly!

What I really dislike is to get a cover from e.g. USA with 50 years old stamps on.  In my opinion the stamps are ruined!  I can personaly only accept stamps used (canceled) in the period they were intended for."

He added later:

"On May 16, 1945, the Danish Consulate General, Greenland Section, operating in exile in New York, ordered 2718 sheets of the original stamps (issued February 1, 1945) overprinted: "DANMARK BEFRIET, 5 MAJ 1945" (Denmark liberated, May 5, 1945.) from their normal printer, Commercial Stationery Co. in New York.  See copy of the order here.

"A complete set of the stamps with the original colors is here.

"Later it is learned that the majority of these stamps was not earmarked for sale in Greenland but for sale to J. & H. Stolow, who sold some of the sets to other stamp wholesalers in USA and Canada.

"A copy of the list of the wholesalers is here.

"J. & H. Stolow got the Greenland Section to sell the stamps in advance.

"A copy of the order is here:

"After the deal between the Greenland Section and J. & H. Stolow, the distribution of the 30,000 sets was as follows:
15,000 sets were sold to wholesalers in USA and Canada (mostly Stolow)
5,500 sets were sent to Greenland for official sale there but disappeared in transit.
9,000 sets were sent to Denmark for sale officially there.
Finally, only 500 sets were sent to Greenland for replacement for those missing.

"Now to the interesting part - the wrong colors.  As it turned out these were never officially ordered and none of them were sold in Greenland or Denmark.  These are believed to have been ordered by Stolow!  A key question is:  How much did the Greenland Section know about this?  Was it a secret agreement between the Section and Stolow or did Stolow get the stamps, with the wrong colors, directly from the printer without the Greenland Section's knowledge?

"As of now, we still do not know what really happened.  We have a stamp mystery which still needs to be researched."


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