Monday, 28 May 2012

The mysteries of a Brunei Local

The Brunei Locals refers to the issue of 1895 stamps using a "Star and Crescent" design. They was initially thought to be bogus but subsequently, were proven to be genuine. They were issued after an arrangement between the then Sultan and a J C Robertson to fulfill a local postal purpose. The main motive behind it was to raise income for both parties. They were only valid within Brunei and for mail to Labuan as Brunei was not a member of the Universal Postal Union.
The initial impression was that this could be an rare and unusual stamp with the date being written to replace the faint underlying postmark. On closer examination, one can see remnants of the postmark with the date of 4 AUG 1895. It is unusual that the writing and the underlying postmark seems to be made with the same ink. The postmark also  corresponds quite closely to D1 of the Proud classification.
The date itself is a problem, being a Sunday! The other Sunday dates recorded on this set of stamps include 17 MAR 1895, 18 AUG 1895, 27 SEP 1896 and 23 JAN 1898. A whole set with SON(socked on the nose) or bullseye postmarks dating from 20 FEB 1898.  So are these bogus postmarks?
Bogus postmarks tend to have fixed dates as they normally do not to have interchangeable date slugs. Secondly, why  chose a date which corresponds to a Sunday on purpose (or through error at least six times!)? The postmark is almost certainly D1.
There is a possibility that Sundays were normal working days in Brunei at that time. Being Muslim, the day of rest would have been a Friday. Or quite possibly, the post office was open 7 days a week.
The most likely explanation was these were cancels by favour. One can imagine that Mr Robertson found himself free on a Sunday. He knocked on the door of his friend, the postmaster, who helpfully CTO stamps, perfectly SON, that were requested by collectors outside of Brunei.  Some of these stamps happened to have faint postmarks and they thought it would have been a good idea to insert the date by hand using the ink from the same pad.
For more information on this fascinating issue of stamps, may I refer you to the book "The secret lives of the Brunei Locals" by Brian Cave.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Bar cancel conundrums

This is an uncommon bar cancellation found on Brunei stamps. It is usually poorly defined. This example shows that this cancel probably consists of at least 8 and more likely 9 (as in other recorded examples) medium bars in the shape of an oval. The status of this marking is open to question.
It had been postulated this could have been a paquebot or arrival postmark for mail travelling to or via Labuan. This is smaller and rather different to the 9 bar cancellation of Labuan. And the use of bar cancellation for postage purposes in Labuan stopped in the early 1890s. This stamp was issued in 1907.
The other two possibilities are that this was some kind of fiscal or temporary cancellation but then why should it be confined to the lower value stamps of the 1907 series?
The quality of the marking would point to a temporary hand stamp that was not of normal construction with metal or rubber. It might also have been down to a particular ink or ink pad that was used.

A North Borneo type bar cancel on a 1901 Labuan postage due stamp seems a bit amazing. This is by no means an unusual marking having seen it several times on different Labuan stamps. My first impression was this is the Sandakan 14 bar cancel but on comparing directly, it is more akin to the 13 bar cancellation again from Sandakan. One has also to bear in mind that there is some variation in proportion of the 14 bar cancel and similarly and  more obviously in the Labuan 9 bar cancel which has not been clearly documented so far.
And also the dates just do not tally. According to Proud, the 14 bar was used postally until 1891 and the 13 bar until 1886.
And then what is this stamp doing in Sandakan as postage dues were used at the local post office on payment for an underpaid postal item? Does that reflect the flexibility in the use of stamps of both territories when Labuan was ruled by the British North Borneo Chartered Company from 1890 to 1904?
The most likely explanation could be that, when this stamp was CTO in London for mass consumption, the wrong bar hand stamp was used. But then CTOs are usually found at the corners of stamps. The position of the cancellation would implied normal use. Could it be a fake? But that would not make any financial sense.  The nature of this cancel remains unclear.
Incidentally, the most famous Labuan stamp is a variety of this 8c stamp with the frame inverted. Only 33 copies were recorded which were CTO (corner cancellation) at the London office. They were sold as part of a cheap package of stamps. The stamp would have had originated from a sheet of 50 or 100. It is quite possible that some are still undiscovered, lurking in someone's grandfather's schoolboy collection!

I have found another better example recently. This one has 7 of the bars visible. I have the same stamp alongside with a normal Labuan bar cancel for comparison. The thinner bar stamp has gum!! This would suggest CTO rather than postal use and would have been carried out at the London printers. This bar cancel  is closer to the 14 bar cancel even though it is not an exact fit. Is it a forged cancellation? But why bother?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

fake red Maltese cross overprints

The top stamp has the matt carmine cross overprint and the bottom stamp has the shiny vermillion overprint. I think the middle has a fake red overprint. The ink is just not the same and seems to be of a lower quality. The resulting overprint seems less well defined.

The fake overprint is more obvious in the middle stamp here. The ink is definitely of a different shade and quality. They do not have the translucency of the carmine overprint nor the brightness of the vermillion overprint. They are both quite well executed and probably hand painted on properly used stamps. They could have passed off as genuine if one does not have a normal stamp to compare.
I have seen much cruder productions where the cross is of a different size and proportion. The other tell tale sign is that a bar CTO stamp was very often used. Genuine Maltese cross overprinted NB stamps were not officially cancelled to order with bars.
The stamps of the 1925 issue with perforation 12 has also been used in forging these stamps.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

some recent acquisitions

I do apologise if this blog seems to be devoted to postmarks and postal history only. Here are some "ordinary stuff" that I acquired recently.
This is the 1894 $5 used with a nice clear Kudat D3 (here we go again!) postmark. Catalogued at over £300, one should be able to acquire it for half that or less. This is bright purple but also available in dull purple.
Used examples, even with normal postmarks like this, are mostly fiscal or cancelled by favour. It is possible that it might have been used in parcel post but I doubt that many stamps would survive intact in its original condition.

This is the dull purple shade with a large but undecipherable fiscal cancellation.

 A 25c indigo used from the 1888-92 set. It is very similar to the 1886 value but has taller capitals for the top inscription. The latter is quite rare especially in mint. Probably it is also available fiscally cancelled with normal postmarks or cancelled by favour. CTO examples would obviously cost a lot less.

The 50c stamp has the company cancel "O TABAK M" which probably in full would have read as "Noord-Borneo Tabak Maatschappij". This is Dutch which would translate in English to "North Borneo Tobacco Company". A lot of the tobacco companies in those days were owned or ran by Dutchman.
Recently, a cover with this company inscription with a combination of NB and Straits stamps used with Sandakan and Singapore postmarks was sold for a hundred times estimated price in an auction in Hong Kong! The feeling is that this cover was well and truly underestimated as combination covers are very rare and desirable.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Back to stamps

Well, back to my original affliction of collecting stamps. Initially, it was sets in mint and basic used. Then I became drawn to postmarks. Naturally, that progressed to postal history and covers. There are some who take the extreme view that a mint stamp is not really a stamp but a label until it has gone through the postal process. Mint stamps are also sometimes referred to as adhesives. For this reason, some collectors will only accept used covers. I personally feel that one should collect and study mint and used stamps first before going onto covers.
The stamp above has the rare Jesselton G.P.O. BNB postmark. I had to collect a couple of  bogus Madame Joseph imitations before I obtained this. The distinguishing feature is that there is full stop after each letter of GPO. It is D5 in Proud's classification. This one is in black and it has been recorded in green and also violet. It is particularly valuable when found on a postmaster memo where it had been used to frank a postage due for underpaid letters.
A Sandakan version of the GPO postmark was also thought to exist. If so, there might have been only one copy recorded. Very very rare stuff indeed if that was true.
The General Post Office GPO was for North Borneo was sited initially in Sandakan and then moved to Jesselton in 1906. This would initially seem surprising given Sandakan was the capital and a much bigger place. It was all to do with  geography. Jesselton was and is nearer to the important areas of commerce that NB was dealing with, namely, Singapore and Malaya. Westward was also the shorter route to Britain by sea.
Update There was certainly record of a GPO at Sandakan in 1895 but this was relocated to Jesselton in April 1906. There was a nice PO cachet for Sandakan on government mail though.

This is definitely a fiscal use of the Sandakan D10 BNBC cancellation with the Maltese cross. Not as difficult to find as I previously thought. The Kudat BNBC fiscal cancellation is very much more elusive. There is also a Jesselton BNBC postmark on record even though not listed by Proud and I have not seen one yet.

A nice blue Sandakan D3 postmark but what is also of interest is the second marking. This is probably an arrival postmark. Can someone tell me a place that ends with the letters BO?
Update I have a suggestion for Colombo which would have been a rare destination for NB mail. Thanks.

A dramatic perforation shift in a stamp from the 1888 issue. This is not a forged stamp due to the lack of an extra stroke in the first chinese character on the right  sided column as in forgeries from Fournier and Careme. The placing of the 14 bar cancel could possibly indicate postal use rather than CTO. It looks like this stamp is part of an imperforate pairing from which it had been cut .
Interesting dealer's mark at the back of the stamp. This tends to be on the older stamps and very rarely on a CTO stamp.