Bogus censors – beware!

Over a year since my last post here. Apologies.

Quite independently, two friends recently passed on images of unusual censor marks on Burma covers. Too unusual to be true, in fact. Which creates a good opportunity to post a warning here.

These aren’t new. Hundreds of different types are listed by Konrad Morenweiser in his useful booklet, British Asia Forged Censor Handstamps and Resealing Labels (Civil Censorship Study Group, 1997). As I understand it, all were created in India to add value to otherwise unappetising truckloads of chettiar covers that flooded the market. The reference collection was donated to the CCSG by Arun Agarwal, but only includes some 60% of the known fakes. Here are the two images that came my way:


A circular mark reading “BURMA S803/L PASSED” and an all-purpose triangle inscribed “PASSED FOR TRANSMISSION 30”, neither resembling known types. I can’t say that these are typical, but they give some idea of what to expect.

The lessons are: don’t automatically trust a censor mark that looks like an “unrecorded”; don’t automatically trust a censor mark on a chettiar cover; and certainly don’t trust one on a cover mailed outside wartime!


The mystery peacock – slightly less mysterious

A couple of years ago, I made a post (go here) on the mysterious little “frontal” peacock overprint that turns up unused on the 1 anna stationery envelope, presumably done in 1942. I asked if anyone anywhere knew anything more about it, but there has been no response. My anxiety was that it is listed in Higgins & Gage, but not in the immediate post war works on the Occupation of Burma (Roberts & Smythies or Dalal). Which might make it an item manufactured at a later date.

However, here’s some reassurance – a used copy. Used not during the Japanese Occupation, but as a post war remainder, sent at letter rate from Bogale to Rangoon on 29 May 1946 under the new Civil Administration. This is privately used, not a leftover sent by the post office “on postal service”, and it shows no sign of being philatelic. There are small indications of wear and tear having been present before the flap was sealed, so it was certainly not fresh off the press in 1946.

This is all good. It strongly suggests that the overprint was made at some point well before 1946, that the overprinted envelopes had been in circulation at post offices, that some were still in private hands and available to use without philatelic contrivance.

All of which makes this more likely to be a genuine Burma Independence Army overprint and not some retrospective piece of fakery. To clinch it, all we need now is a copy genuinely used during the Occupation – something of a challenge, and not something I anticipate finding! If you have one, let me know!

A forgery of the 1964 ‘Service’ overprint

One humble but intriguing oddity of Burma philately is the 1964 “local” official overprint on the 3p definitive, reading “Service” in English (SG O174, Scott O80). Given that every other such overprint since Independence had been in Burmese, this appeared distinctly anomalous at the time, and the stamp’s status was questioned when examples leaked into the wider philatelic view, mainly courtesy of the enigmatic Mr D V George, an employee  at the Accountant-General’s Department in Rangoon. Mr George seems to have saved scrupulously every cover with a copy of the stamp that went anywhere near his desk; it’s highly unusual to see a cover with this stamp addressed to anywhere else.

George proceeded to alert Gibbons Stamp Monthly, who made enquiries of the Burma postal authorities, but at first drew a blank. Not until early 1966, well over a year after the stamp’s first appearance, was it finally acknowledged by the Burma post office as “officially authorised”. Covers and used copies are largely from  Meiktila and Mindat, with Tavoy and Kyauktu bringing up the rear; commercial use is known from January 1965 until late 1966, with a handful (some possibly philatelic) after that. Distribution, designed to alleviate shortages of the regular overprint on this value, was clearly specific and limited.

Stamps overprinted for official use were only available to government bodies from the Treasury department, and could not be bought by the public from post offices. So neither stamps nor covers are exactly common, and the survivors must surely account for only a fraction of the 160,000 copies said to have been overprinted. Gibbons price this stamp at under £10 mint and a mere £6.50 used; in fact its catalogue value has fallen since the 2004 “Part 21” was published. However, it can change hands on eBay and elsewhere for more than this, and its scarcity has now – as far as I know for the first time – been noticed by forgers.
Here (above) is an example of the forgery, acquired recently in a Bangkok stamp shop. Since this version of the overprint does not seem to have been recorded before, and as it differs from every example of the known stamp that I’ve ever seen, it seems fair to declare it a forgery. It’s not a bad imitation, but comparison with the genuine overprint shows that the letters in the forgery are more widely spaced; D V George claimed to have found a “variety” of the original with the “v” and “i” joined, though to my mind this may have been no more than migrating ink – but that does serve to demonstrate the close spacing of the real overprint. In addition, in the forgery the difference between the broad and narrow strokes of each letter seems more pronounced, the “S” is more upright, the “v” is slightly elevated, and the top of the “i” appears to slope, while on the real stamp it is level.

Left: genuine. Right: forgery.

The genuine measures just over 10 mm, while the forgery is nearer to 11 mm. Though the forgery appears to be typographed, the impression of the letters is not at all so pronounced on the back of the stamp as it is on the genuine. As the centering of the basic stamp on the two copies seen is very different, it may be that this forged overprint has been applied to single stamps or small multiples, and not to sheets or large blocks.

So far, this forgery does not seem to have circulated too widely, and let’s hope it stays that way. My grateful thanks go to Kevin Tse for telling me about this, and for very kindly making available an example.

New Myanmar “surcharges” and first day covers – be cautious!

Recently three surcharged Myanmar “musical instrument” stamps have appeared for sale online, all overprinted with a hand stamp at K100.

A contact in Myanmar has enquired about these, and an official at MPS has confirmed that no surcharges have been authorised, and has confirmed that no township post office in Myanmar has used any such provisional overprints. No examples have been seen on cover, and no news of these stamps has come out of Myanmar. Also, it would seem very unlikely that any postal staff in Myanmar would create a surcharge that could be so easily copied by anyone. In short, they are completely bogus.

They are offered by just one eBay seller, based in Thailand, and are offered at high prices – 80 Euros for a pair, 2000 Euros for a full sheet. They are a purely private production, so if you are tempted to buy, be aware of their status.

The rest of this seller’s Myanmar stock is mostly modern stamps, many in full sheets. They are all genuine, except for just two other items which raise questions. These are first day covers for last year’s new “musical instrument” definitives, dated 27 July and 14 September. As noted in my last post here, the four values put on sale on 14 September at Yangon GPO were prematurely released, were withdrawn from sale after a few hours, and were put back on sale on the 19th. On 27 July a Myanmar-language first day cancellation was used. On 14 September most covers made by the few collectors on the spot used the black pictorial GPO cancellation, though a violet cancellation, in general use, was also applied to some.

The two covers offered by this seller both use a version of the violet cancellation, which was not used on 27 July. In addition, the cancellation is a slightly different size, and the date is too neat and in the wrong font. As it happens, this seller’s auction images of the covers are digital mock-ups, not scans of actual paper covers, so it appears that the cancellation used is a digitally created imitation, from which a rubber stamp has probably been made to use on the actual covers. In short, the stamps are real, but the cancellations are not. Be aware! Images of the digital and paper versions of the covers are shown here, along with two genuine examples for comparison.

“Rare” Myanmar new issue: a warning!

It’s up to you, of course, but I’d think twice before parting with this sort of price for the latest Myanmar “rare” new issue. It was “rare” for exactly five days. Let me explain …

The two highest values of the new set – re-using the old musical instrument designs first seen in 1998 – came out normally in July. Then, without warning, Yangon GPO put on sale four more values, two for K200, two for K500, on 14 September. A few collectors were lucky enough to find out what was going on and make a few fdc’s. As soon as they posted about it on Facebook, the postal authorities had the sales halted. A simple misunderstanding – the instructions had been to distribute the new stamps to area post offices that day, not sell them.

The four new stamps disappeared from the GPO counter. Would they become rarities or not? Sadly, not. On the 19th post offices nationwide put them on regular sale. And thousands upon thousands are still available.

K200 or K500 is about – what? – the price of a coffee? Something like that. So beware speculative prices that hype up the “rarity” – soon these will be selling for next to nothing …

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.

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 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.


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.