Friday, 27 April 2012

Retour again

It really has been the month for postal history. This incoming cover from Switzerland to Brunei has to be philatelic with all these nice stamps arranged in a very attractive fashion. It was posted in Basel on 8th December 1930 with a registration label. It has been marked in red (? by convention)  as "Unknown Unclaimed Retour".

The back of the cover has a lot of interesting markings. Firstly, there is a Singapore Registration cancellation dated 1030am 31 DE 1930. The letter has taken 23 days to reach Singapore probably via one of the Mediterranean ports such as Marseilles after being transported by train.
It took another week to reach Brunei on 7 JAN 31. The postmark for Brunei is quite interesting. It looks like Proud D7 but with year missing the first 2 digits. Not only that, the year 31 is placed more to the right.
It was marked as "Undelivered Unknown" in red. They must have tried their very best as the letter went back to Singapore on 9 Mar 1931 as seen by the faint registration cancellation after 2 months. One can speculate whether this Mr Edgar Writhlington ever existed for it would not have been difficult to trace him in a small place like Brunei.
Finally, the letter was returned to Basel arriving on 4 April 1931.
I have decided that, in future, I should be showing interesting items from the other parts of British Borneo.

 An unrelated Retour item from Penang. Maybe interesting for some. This is relatively recent cover from 1955. It has the marking RETOUR in violet(by convention?) and again writing in red for "retour" and "no such number"

As it was on government service, no postage applied when it was sent back to the sender, the treasurer of the Penang & North Malaya Motor Club. Could have been done with a better cachet from the Dead Letter Office.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tawau paquebot

A paquebot cover which was probably posted while the ship was on its way to Tawau. An air mail envelope was used and presumably this then continued  its journey to Sibu by air.
It took me a bit of time to understand the workings of paquebot mail. In practice, there are 2 countries whose stamps are allowed for postage on any ship. Firstly, the stamps of the country under whose flag the ship is sailing. This is relevant when the letter was posted in international waters. An example would be the Labuan paquebot cover as in the March posting using a GB stamp for a British registered ship.
Secondly, once the ship is within territorial waters, then stamps of that country would be valid as in the various examples which has been shown so far.
The situation gets more confused with letters which were posted at the harbour direct onto the mail launch. Normally, there is a surcharge. North Borneo had a system where these letters were given a "late letter" bar cancellation. This was not used by most countries.
Sarawak has many rivers which were used instead of roads for the transport of goods and mail. That is why there was a profusion of paquebot cancellations on Sarawak stamps. Most of these were Singapore paquebot markings. These cancellations were made on arrival in Singapore itself and also on board certain designated shipping vessels.
Mail from Sarawak and Brunei were known to be carried on ships bound for Labuan and cancelled there. The former is very rare (I say this now and at some time, a whole lot would suddenly turned up together just like London buses!) and the latter is also scarce.
The term "loose letter" can also be applied to paquebot items. Normal mail are carried in sealed bags. Mail posted on board ship are "loose" as they tend to be a few items handled separately. The term "ship letter" applied to postal letters carried on private shipping and would have a cancellation with the name of the ship.

Friday, 13 April 2012


Surviving incoming mail covers to North Borneo are uncommon. This 1937 prewar 3c uprate 2c Bicentennial postal stationary envelope from San Francisco to Jesselton was insufficiently addressed. It was marked Retour, using the french convention and usually in red, meaning return or come back. A Retour cover returning from NB should be fairly hard to find.
I like the dramatic hand and forefinger slogan in violet which was applied at Seattle USA. Similar slogans were in use in different parts of USA as well as Australia and New Zealand usually in violet.
There is also a rectangular chop in paler violet with the writing "Return for reasons and return to sender" which was probably applied at Jesselton but it could perhaps be Singapore. The writing in red would have been carried out at Jessselton GPO.

At the back, we have a very poor example of an arrival Jesselton prewar double ring postmark, probably a D24 on the Proud classification. The violet "Insufficient Address" marking was likely to have been applied at Jesselton or it could be Singapore and is the same colour as the rectangular chop on the other side. In addition, there is also the quite uncommon red hand stamp from the Dead Letter Office Singapore.

An example of an affordable USA retour postal stationary. There were different slogans in use for the different states.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

An interesting letter in a cover

An entire cover from Sandakan in 1935 to Ohio USA which transited at Hong Kong. This was by sea mail. There is no evidence of an arrival postmark but my guess it would have taken about 3-4 weeks to get there after passing through the port of San Francisco or Seattle.

This is a nice letter probably from someone in his early teens or younger. He would have been living in North Borneo with his expatriate parents who were most likely to be working in the civil service or one of the foreign owned trading companies or plantations. Most of the expatriate children tended to go to school in UK.
What he was saying about my old school, St Mary's in Sandakan, would have rung true in those days.