One of the things I remember most vividly from my stamp collecting days was the availability of postage stamps for non-countries. These were for real places on the map, but not for entities that had their own postal services. The one I remember most vividly is Tannu Tuva (formerly in the Soviet Union).
According to Wikipedia:
Tuva was a region in central Asia between Russia and Mongolia, which in 1921, under Russian instigation, became the Tuvan People’s Republic. A treaty between the Soviet Union and the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1926 affirmed the country’s independence, although no other countries formally recognized it. In 1944, it was annexed to the Soviet Union as part of the Tuvan Autonomous Oblast and in 1961 became the Tuva Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Its successor since 1992, the Tuvan Republic, is a member of the Russian Federation.
I remember reading a book in the 1990s about American physicist Richard Feynman’s failed attempts to visit Tuva, which were detailed in a book by Ralph Leighton entitled Tuva or Bust!: Richard Feynman’s Last Journey. Apparently he never got a visa approval before his final illness.
Some early Tuvan stamps may actually have been used postally, at least in the early days. Most, however, were issued in Moscow with picturesque settings to hard currency from capitalist collectors for Mother Russia. The stamp pictured above of a camel racing a railroad train was a bit fanciful, as there are no railroads in Tuva. Also, why wasn’t the text on the stamp in Cyrillic or even Mongolian letters?
I remember confronting an old family friend about his extensive collection of Tuvan postage stamps. A former postal employee, he became red in the face when told by a little boy that his Tuvan stamps were merely pretty paper.