North Borneo was infamous for stamps which had been cancelled to order, also known as CTO. The North Borneo Chartered Company ran the place like a business as they were answerable to their shareholders. Selling stamps was a way of making money, hence the new issues, overprints, surcharges etc. The stamps were printed in London and part of them sold direct to dealers via their sole agent, a Henry Grieve Parker aka F R Parker, a name which appears on many covers of that period.
There were probably hundreds of thousands of stamps which were subjected to CTO and sold on at a fraction of face value. The 1888 "arms" issue as shown above in the first picture was sold at an old penny a CTO set to dealers!! Still it was like selling bits of coloured paper at a premium. It was quite a surprise that Francois Fournier in Geneva and Rene Carame in Paris bothered to make good forgeries of these stamps at these silly prices. The problem for collectors is learning to recognise which are CTOs and which are postally used.
The 14 bar cancel that was used in London was the same as the one used in Sandakan for normal post between 1885 and 1891. However, there were similar but different bar cancels in postal use as well. The common ones were the 17 bar and its bigger brother with 18-22 lines. The ways to differentiate from the 14 bar cancels are the former have more pointed ends as shown in the second picture and also they are "eye" shape rather than oval. CTOs have a cleaner appearance and they are usually located at the corners of the stamp as the printers tried to frank 4 stamps at a time though less often with high value stamps.The stamps were in sheets of 50 and there were literally thousands of sheets to be done.
Note the the more pointed ends and the "eye" shape of these 17 bar cancellations. These postally used cancels also tend to be more smudgy and untidy.
These three stamps includes the 8c stamps of the 1883 and 1886 issues with postal used 14 bar cancellations. The 3rd stamp on that row has a thicker 9 bar cancel ? postal used in Labuan.
These are 1888 1c and 6c stamps with a cancellation from a modified 14 bar oval chop with lines cut diagonally giving rise to an oval dots postmark. There were similar postmarks in use in Labuan and the Straits but they were round in shape. A relatively uncommon cancellation. I am wondering whether the 6c has a modified 17 bar cancel as it looks longer. But a modified 17 bar dots cancellation is not on record.
. I have also included these stamps as a warning to unwary collectors. They seem like good postally used stamps at a glance. But look carefully, you can see faint bars of CTO at the corners. They have fake postmarks or later postmarks applied by an obliging postal clerk on top trying to obscure the bar cancel. They are misrepresented items which have been passed onto collectors at a higher price. A lot of these stamps have the box/circle postmark. The controversial practice of bar CTO on North Borneo stamps at the London office was sensibly stopped in 1916.