A Kawthoolei cinderella

The majority of labels supporting separatist ethnic causes in Burma seem to have been produced outside the country, and some are philatelically inclined. But here’s an exception. This Karen New Year label, typographed in red, blue and black, shows the flag of Kawthoolei, the liberated area claimed by the Karen National Union, and dates from around 1960. Over the sunrise in the canton is a Karen drum. To the margin of the imperf label the sender of the card has added “A merry X’mas”.

It’s attached to the back of a photo post card showing a handsome middle aged Karen man in traditional clothing holding a blurred grandchild, his left chest plastered with medal ribbons and military unit patches and badges – insignia for XII and XIV Armies, parachute wings, and what looks like the Burma Rifles are visible in there.

The sitter is Lionel Vandevere Po, and his CV, inscribed on the reverse of the card, serves to remind us just how closely the lives of some of Burma’s minority people were bound up with the fortunes of the British Empire and the British military:

Taken 10th Sept 1960
Born 8th May 1900 United in Love 27th April 1926
A Veteran of Two World Wars 1914-1918 & 1939-1945.
Started Military Career in 1st London Regt.
The Royal Fusiliers Aldershot, England.
“Wingate’s Phantom Army” 1942
General Staff Intelligence 1943 (Parachutist)

In 1922 Po had been commissioned a second lieutenant in the India army, but resigned in 1928. As a reserve officer he became a captain in 1940 and another card in my collection, written by him in 1941, confirms that he was then Captain commanding No 5 Garrison Company in Rangoon. During the War he served under the Special Operations Executive. Of his life after the War, or of his relation to the Karen insurgency or to the KNDO, I know nothing.

It seems unlikely that this label is the only design of its kind, but I’ve yet to see another.

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Bags, tags and labels

Something from the fringes of philately – some modern mail bag labels, thanks to a kind gift from Myanmar. These need a bit of study (when I can find the time) to make full sense of them, but here’s a sample of some different types, in case anyone’s interested.

First, some foreign incoming labels from about 1990, surface mail and (the two top right) registered. The former are clearly standardised by UPU regulation, and all are in card, with proper holes for ties. I imagine the registered labels are from inner bags, within the main bag. (Click all images to enlarge.)

The arrival of the barcode has changed the look of these more recent examples, surface, air and registered, and the standardisation of design seems more thorough. Interesting to note that in the destination code – MMRGN – the country title, MM for Myanmar, recognises the new form while the city name, RGN for Rangoon, still does not. The big plastic label has a Thai security checked sticker on the back – something for civil censorship collectors.

Next, some domestic EMS (Expedited, or Express Mail Service) bag labels from 2000. The one on the left has a red marking reading “Airport Security / checked / Myeik”. The others are from Mandalay (marked as a “green bag”), Kalaw and Salin, all to Yangon.

Now some more recent inland labels, from 2010 and 2011 – the most interesting of the lot, in my opinion. Only one pukka card label here; the rest are random pieces of card and folded paper, some attached to the bags with string and sealing wax. The postmarks of the sending offices are clear enough, and some of the abbreviations are simple enough – “YAN RL BN 11” for registered letters to Yangon, bag number 11, for instance – but others will need a bit of deciphering.

Finally, to bring things up to date, the plastic security ties now used by Myanmar Post, cut and discarded when the bags are opened. There are thousands of similar ties on sale online, all, as far as I can see, made in China, but I haven’t yet been able to identify the manufacturer of these. All that is now shown is the post code of the sending office. (Post codes in Myanmar relate to post offices only. Therein lies a tale, but perhaps for another time.)

Some independently minded perforations

Today, in preparation for a suggested article on the Burma 1943 Independence issue, I dug out a few perforation varieties for perusal. In their 1946 tome, Roberts and Smythies (working from info provided by U Tun Tin, Director of Posts during the Japanese occupation) tell us that the first sheets were cut with a single line perforator, gauge 11. This was supplanted by a more efficient disc rouletting machine, gauge 7, some sheets of the 5 cent value having both methods applied, with the perfs running horizontally and the roulette vertically.

Roberts & Smythies go on to describe three printings of this issue between first day on 1st August 1943 and January 1944; no points of identification to distinguish each printing have ever been found, though R&S assert that the roulette machine was used on “the greater part, if not all” of the third printing of all three values and, by implication, on the second printing too.

The actual picture may be more complex, naturally. Gibbons lists “perf x roul” for all three values, not just the 5 cent, though the 1 cent and 3 cent thus are rare, and none have ever come my way. It does appear, though, that there were problems with the line perforator, so that double perforations can be found on all values; all three can be found doubly perfed 11, and the 5 cent doubly rouletted, though these are not catalogued. It also seems to me, judging by variant sizes of perf holes, that more than one line perforator may have been in use, but this is moving into nit picking territory.

Anyway, the basic stamps are not uncommon, so the perf oddballs are well keeping an eye open for. Here are a few (click to enlarge them):

First, all three values doubly perfed 11 – at the left on the 3 cent blue and 5 cent carmine, with one line almost entirely “blind” on the former, but along the top on the 1 cent orange, where the ragged effect is actually created by pairs of overlapping holes. (This copy has a slight doubling of the print too, but only in the “kiss print” sense.)

Then, the 5 cent with the “classic” error – three sides rouletted and the top horizontal line perfed. This is the real “perf x roul”, as opposed to the imagined variety, which is no more than the normal rouletted version with some blind roulette slits (very common) that give a superficial impression of pin perf holes; these are frequently offered on eBay by the ignorant or unscrupulous at dizzy prices. Be aware! Next, the 5 cent with a nice double roulette down the right margin.

Finally, what may well be an impostor – a 1 cent with two vertical lines of pin perf holes, apparently done with a rotating disc, or maybe even a sewing machine, alongside the real roulette lines. Since the real vertical roulettes look perfectly separable, I can’t see any practical reason why an improvised line of perfs needed to be added; I’ve acquired one or two of these over the years from different sources (though all 1 cent stamps), and they’re most likely a posthumous attempt to imitate the genuine double for the benefit of collectors.

While on the subject of warnings, note that this issue was reprinted after the war on coarse yellowish paper and perfed 11 very roughly – quite different in appearance to the original. The various reprints don’t seem to have included the perf errors, but they do include imperfs, on paper close to the originals. These are not to be confused with rouletted copies with one side imperf, which are marginal copies and entirely genuine, though not amazingly valuable. There are various low quality forgeries too, made in India, usually either imperf or sewing machined.

Like all the Rangoon printed occupation stamps, this is a nice little set for study, and not hard to find. Get looking!

Burma nearly broken

Here’s an ordinary looking cover, from Kamayut in Rangoon to Bombay in August 1949, but it’s unusual in three ways. First, because someone recently gave it to me, which is both unusual and very kind. Secondly, and philatelically, because of the “X / BY SURFACE” mark, a memento of the civil war crisis that nearly put paid to the new born Union of Burma government.

by-surface
By early 1949 Karen insurgents had dug in within four miles of the capital city, and had raided Mingaladon airport and withdrawn, though they left aircraft and airport repairable and under government control. With surface routes beyond Rangoon largely destroyed or unsafe, Mingaladon came under enormous pressure, for both military and civil flights. To ease the situation, unregistered air mails to India were suspended in April, and not resumed until October. At the India end various markings – five different in all – were applied to indicate this re-routing. As the India air mail rate was increased with the resumption of the service, many senders then understamped their India mail; rather than charging postage due, the post office continued to send these underpaid items by surface, and the “X” marks were kept in use until February 1950.

broken-rThe third unusual feature here is a plate flaw on the stamp  of the 1948 Independence issue, in which the “R” of “BURMA” on the map (not in the top panel) is missing the lower half of its upright. In the sheet of 128 stamps, eight rows of sixteen, this elusive “broken R” variety occurs on the sixth stamp in the eighth or lowest row. As this set is common, there must be quite a few copies out there, but it’s hard to find, and examples on cover are rare, only a couple of others having been noted to my knowledge.

Conflict and instability continued for several years, and the blockaded Burma government of U Nu came close to breaking point, but survived. The “broken R” flaw makes a nice symbol of this crisis, somehow.

My thanks to Brian Saxe for his input on this variety. For another aspect of the postal history of the period, see this post.

Labels for the wild Wa

OK, so what exactly are these?

The history of the Wa people of Eastern Burma is well known, and in particular how the collapse of the armed forces of the Communist Party of Burma, including many Wa fighters, created the rise of the United Wa State Army, whose influence grew to control a huge tract of border territory, and then, with the cease fires, developed into nation wide business interests, both legitimate and reputedly less so.

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So are these “stamps” the creation of the UWSA? Colour photocopied (or computer printed), roughly gummed and perf or imperf, their source of supply seems to be a single dealer in India, which is perhaps a bit worrying. And his prices aren’t cheap! Certainly, if the denominations are anything to go by, they can be none too recent; pyas don’t exist these days, and today’s stamps are valued in hundreds of kyats. Similar labels exist marked “Shan State”, but neither type seems to have any connection with the many other (more or less) bogus labels created for the ethnic separatist groups of Burma over the last forty or so years. (Use the “Karenni” tag below for a few examples.)

If anyone has more information on these, I’d love to hear it.

Small is good

I don’t usually flag up new issues here, but, for once, why not?

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Here’s the latest, two small format low values (500K counts as low these days) to honour the 23rd ASEAN Postal Business Meeting, hosted this year by Myanmar at Naypyitaw. These came out on the 21st, together with an official first day cover and a maximum card for each value, which seems to be the default current practice.

On the minus side, that’s too many  items to service – four official covers and cards plus the privately produced covers. Why do we need a separate cover for each value?

On the plus side, these are neat, unpretentious little stamps that celebrate an actual occasion of political and postal significance, mundane though it may seem. Myanmar still produces and prints its own stamps. They commemorate real events, not collector-targeted themes. And stamps are still very widely used in Myanmar. And that’s all good. Long may it stay that way!

Improvising censorship in the Military Administration

Apologies for the unforgivably long time since my last post here.

I’m continually fascinated by the postal history of the 1945 Military Administration of Burma, which still has secrets to reveal, seven decades on. Amazing how much there is still to discover, even within the space of just six months of postal service.

Here’s an example. This cover was sent to the Regional Inspector of posts from Prome on 15 August 1945, the day that office re-opened following the reoccupation. It’s paid at over the actual letter rate, probably as a way of confirming what values of stamps had been supplied. But if the office was new to the business, so was the Prome censor. Since the cover contained no letter, the censor signed and enclosed a typewritten slip confirming this, a practice I haven’t encountered before. A piece of typewritten censor label covers the rear flap, and this was duly stamped with censor marks. An individual examiner’s mark, DG/110, was applied but the proper hand stamp for the Prome censor station – an octagon with crown and “PASSED”, numbered DGE/1 – seems not yet to have arrived.

As a makeshift the censor put to use an Airgraph censor mark with a Rangoon number, DGB/1, crossing through the word “AIRGRAPH”. This is a usage not previously recorded. Its scarcity is not just in this context; airgraph forms were generally stamped with military unit censor marks, but even when a civilian censor mark like this was used, the original form was destroyed after it had been photographed for transmission. Since very few original forms survive, few original censors survive either. And come to that, I’ve never seen an airgraph with a Burma “DG” censor mark, and I’m not sure if Burma airgraph censorship has ever been explored and documented.

Hopefully, someone can tell me. If you can, please send a message via the “Comment” option”!

Myanmar Post on Facebook

Thanks to Toe Kyaw Kyar for pointing out that Myanmar Post now runs that indispensable window for all businesses – a Facebook page.

It’s here – https://www.facebook.com/MyanmarPostService

MP fb

Posts are largely in Myanma font, so won’t be visible, let alone readable, to many outside Myanmar and the disapora, but it’s still worth checking, and there are some good shots of post offices.

A mystery peacock

What the heck is this? It won’t be unfamiliar to collectors of Burma Japanese Occupation, but I’ve yet to see a satisfactory account of its origins. A distinctively frontal peacock, with rather splayed legs, and only found in black on the one anna envelope. Some describe it as “experimental”, but that simply means that they don’t know either.

mystery peacock close
It is listed in Higgins & Gage’s postal stationery pages, but it wasn’t picked up in Roberts & Smythies, nor in Dalal, which rather implies that it wasn’t in evidence in the immediate post war period. Nor does it show up “used”, with a spurious address and a retrospective but genuine cancellation “borrowed” post war from U Tun Tin at Rangoon GPO, as do other peacocked envelopes and cards. Which is a blessing. But which also implies that the appearance of this item may have come suspiciously late in the day.

mystery peacock env

I dare say we’ll never know, but I live in hope. Does anyone have any light to shed on this strange little creature? I have to say, I’m quite fond of it.

 

 

Another reason I like collecting Burma

My first post here showed a large and highly coloured first day cover for the 1964 definitives, very Burmese in its graphic style, by a maker unknown to me. Here’s another by the same hand that’s just reached me, this time for the 1963 issue for the first anniversary of the “Revolution”, or military assumption of power. The front parades Burma’s natural resources, while the whole of the reverse is illustrated with a panorama of landmarks. Interesting that the flag is not the national flag but the white star of the Tatmadaw, the armed forces. Condition isn’t perfect here, but what the heck.

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Most images of the famed Inle Lake leg rowers show single rowers, but here we have a boat full, all lined up. The overarching female figure on the front at first suggested a Nat (spirit) to me, but the peacock head dress must indicate a national personification – a Mother Burma?