Annam and Tonkin were two French protectorates comprising most of modern-day Vietnam. The northern part was Tonkin — also spelled Tongkin, Tonquin or Tongking — known as Dàng Ngoài in Vietnamese. The name is a corruption of Đông Kinh (東京), the name of Hanoi during the Lê Dynasty. Locally, Tonkin is known as Bắc Kỳ, meaning “Northern Region”. Located on the fertile delta of the Red River, the area is rich in rice production and had its capitol at Hanoi. An Nam, or Trung Kỳ in Vietnamese, encompassed the central region of Vietnam. with its capitol located at Huế. Vietnamese were subsequently referred to as “Annamites.” Nationalist writers adopted the word “Vietnam” in the late 1920s. The general public embraced the word “Vietnam” during the revolution of August 1945. Since that time, the word “Annam” has been regarded as demeaning.
Annam and Tonkin were incorporated as provinces of the overall French Colonial area of southeast Asia In the late 1800s, Both China and France desired control of that part of Asia for trade purposes. After mistreatment of French nationals in the area and for other reasons, France took it upon itself to claim colonial oversight of the regions and sent substantial reinforcements in June of 1883. This set up an armed conflict called the Tonkin Campaign. On August 25, 1883, Annam and Tonkin were declared as French protectorates. The Sino-French War began the following August and by June 9, 1886, the Chinese had renounced their claims to the region. During the French colonial administration, Vietnam was administratively divided into three different territories: Tonkin (in the north), Annam (in the center), and the colony of Cochinchina (in the south). These territories were fairly arbitrary in their geographic extent as the vast majority of the Vietnamese regarded their country as a single land and minor resistance to French rule continued over the next 70 years to achieve an independent state.
The official French Protectorate of Annam and Tonkin (established on January 29, 1886) issued only one set of stamps. On January 21, 1888, nine of the French Colonial Commerce types were issued — overprinted A & T or A – T as an abbreviation for Annam and Tonkin plus a surcharge of either 1 or 5 centimes. These surcharges have different types of numerals and letters. There are various errors in the placement of the surcharges, including double 1 inverted, double both inverted, double 1 sideways and without surcharge. By 1892, stamps of French Indochina had replaced those of Annam & Tonkin. Scott #1 bears a 1 centime surcharge in black on a 2 centime brown on buff unwatermarked paper stamp of the French Colonies 1881-1886 series, perforated 14×13½. Varieties include inverted surcharge (Scott #1a) and sideways surcharge (Scott #1b).