Saturday, 28 January 2017

Some old postcards of North Borneo

There are postcards here from Funk in Sandakan, G R Lambert in Singapore and C Piens from Hong Kong.

This is number 78 of the series of picture postcards from Funk & Sons in Sandakan. It is a rare scene of the Padas river ferry crossing. It was probably taken in the early 1910s. The taller person in the near foreground in the typical starch collar European attire was Funk himself. He was featured in a few of of the postcards of this series. Funk was used to the European ways as he worked for many years in the government services especially as a clerk in the treasury department.

This picture postcard from G R Lambert in Singapore was one of the earliest commercial postcard showing an indigenous scene from North Borneo. The earliest similarly used item featuring North Borneo was a postcard published by G R Lambert of the Sandakan Memorial Tower was sent in November 1903. This is followed by a Government series postcard dating from March 1904.
This photo was possibly taken by a Mr H von Katte of G R Lambert & Co in Singapore. He was recorded in the BNB Herald as being on assignment between July and September 1902 in Sandakan, partly to take some official photographs on the request of the Governor. This was on the occasion for the festivities of the Coronation of King Edward Vll in Sandakan mainly centred at the town padang. The cost of the 12 photographs of 2 copies each was put at $150, a princely sum and also showed how expensive professionally taken photos were in those days.
Gustave Richard Lambert arrived from Dresden in Germany in Singapore in 1875 and set up his studio on Orchard Road. His studio photographed and produced about 3000 photos of Singapore, Borneo, Malaya, Siam and China. He produced the first picture post card of Singapore. The firm also flourished in Malaya and Siam but was possibly wound up during WWI due to its German origin. The post cards which were printed to a very high standard in Germany were made unsustainable.

Update You may not know this. Why was the writing on the picture side? If the message was written on the address side, a letter rate rather than a postcard rate was payable. It was not until February 1906 when the Postmaster General relaxed this regulation probably in common with practices in other countries but there were still exceptions. So one expect to see messages written on address side on that date on wards. From there we had the advent of of the various dividers such as the "T" in various forms, another interesting subject. This was the postal notice:
Arrangements having been concluded Pictorial Post Cards hearing communications on the left hand half of the address side will now be accepted for transmission without taxation except when they are addressed to countries known to object to such cards ( Japan, Spain and USA).
Acting Postmaster-General.
British North Borneo

BNB Herald Sept 1906

Divided back postcards appeared in USA after 1 March 1907 with a similar change in the regulations. The very first divided back postcard appeared in 1902 in Britain after the postal authorities agreed to a proposal by F Hartmann to producing postcards of this format. The earliest recorded example was postmarked 5 September 1902. But it was not until 1906 when following the UPU Congress in Rome that it was universally accepted.  

A postcard by C Piens of Kowloon, Hong Kong.  Charles Piens resided in Kowloon between 1906 and 1913. He worked for a major German trading house, Siemssen & Co in Hong Kong. He was responsible for a series of postcards depicting scenes from Hong Kong and North Borneo around Sandakan in particular. While there is no evidence that he personally took the photos in North Borneo, he would have had some local contacts due to the close commercial links between Hong Kong and Sandakan. This is card 1977 from his series and was printed to a very high standard in Germany. I wonder who those three Europeans were and they are also in other postcards from C Piens in photographs taken around Sandakan.  

This is another card from the Funk series which was published as from Philippe & Sons. It is in exceptionally fresh and clear condition and obviously commercially used. It is unusual with its ornate frame.

A rare and possibly one-off real photo postcard of an official occasion at Sandakan parade ground or town padang. It was probably taken by Corrie Dominic, son of Pongholo Dominic who was the deputy assistant commissioner of customs in Sandakan when he retired. Charles Tallack initially worked as a mining engineer at the Silimpopon coal mine near Tawau.
Little is known about the wife of Charles Tallack apart from that she was not a European. A blurred family photo taken in Tawau showed a fair complexion. A significant number of European expatriates married local women. It was officially discouraged and this group of women were the "unmentionables" in the BNB Herald. And also there was scanty information about the other races outside of the expatriate population.
The Herald was used mainly to share good news locally and with the wider audience. Acts of omission and shameful practices or events were usually grossed over or not mentioned at all. To do so would seem officially bad for the morale of the workforce and discourage inward investment and immigration. But it is still the best source of historical information about British North Borneo that exists.


  1. Dear sir im a collector from malaysia... im interested on borneo collection in all types... but nowdays it was hard for us to get thise old material from our country... I live in sabah and im thinking that is any possible ways for me to buy any extra borneo materials from u sir? Im just buying bck what leftover from nborneo bck to sabah,the previous nborneo... plz contact me if any get into your mind... thank you sir... alvin

    1. Putting together a good collection takes time, perseverance and dedication. I bought most of my items from ebay. For more specialised stuff, one may use auction houses but with commission etc tends to be expensive. I am not selling up yet. Happy collecting!