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 …

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.

One reason I like collecting Burma





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.