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By early 1949 Karen insurgents had dug in within four miles of the capital city, and had raided Mingaladon airport and withdrawn, though they left aircraft and airport repairable and under government control.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.

One reason I like collecting Burma

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Here’s a first day cover for you.

Something like a first day cover, I feel. This is for the Burma 1964 birds definitives, and not an official production. Privately created, but I don’t know the maker. It has just about everything I like in Burmese graphic design – primary colours, an elaborate sense of ceremony, and a strong sense of cultural identity. The large red Burmese numerals at each side are for “1” and “6” for the date, 16th April, and it ties in the date of issue with Thingyan, the Burmese New Year festival, when folks very sensibly abandon work and run around throwing water at each other. There’s a hint of improvisation too (a constant philatelic theme in Burma / Myanmar), given that the blank rectangles in the branches at right are far too small for the stamps they were intended to take. The cover is 10.5″ wide; if it was scaled down to this size, goodness knows how vast the original must have been.

These days, computer graphics programs are globalised, and some modern Myanmar first day covers have become a bit blanded out compared to this. I can’t think of a better way to kick off this blog.