Question: Is it true that South African stamps are illegal to own but that Soviet and Communist Chinese issues are freely traded in this country?--T.E.
Answer: The U.S. Treasury Department announcement on Nov. 24, 1986, that banned South African stamps from importation interprets the sanctions law passed by Congress on Oct. 2, 1986, as it applies to stamp collectors.
But any South African issues made and brought into America before this law are legal to own and sell. It is a complicated game of international politics that is played when nations ban goods from other nations, and logic has little to do with popular decisions.
For example, there was tremendous pressure on the U.S. government to forbid collectors to own or trade German stamps during World War II, the theory being that Hitler's regime didn't deserve to get American money. Today it is quite legal to own, buy or sell stamps made in the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China.
But stamps are banned under the Trading With the Enemy Act if they have come from Vietnam, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos or North Korea, since those regimes were economically sanctioned by the U.S. Congress.
Personally, I don't collect the stamps of any country that habitually votes against America in the United Nations.
Q: My 50-cent green stamp says "U.S. Postal Savings, Official Mail," and the denomination is at the bottom of the design. What is it worth? --M.B.
A: Current catalogue quotations are $100 mint, $32.50 canceled. Issued on Feb. 1, 1911, this stamp was part of the old Postal Savings system's set made for official use by government employees instead of using penalty or "free-franked" government envelopes.
An exclusively designed commemorative cover will be available Friday to Sunday at Stamp Expo '87/Pacific. The show will be held those days at the Holiday Inn, 1850 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. The cover, complete with a Stamp Expo cancellation, honors the Fourth of July and the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The covers will be available for $1.95 each with paid admission. For further information, call (818) 997-6496.