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.



New peacock forgeries – made in Myanmar?

The 1942 peacock overprints of Burma have been notoriously forged, and at this stage it would be impossible to catalogue all known forgery types. A better strategy is to study the originals, or images of them if you can’t afford originals – assuming of course that the creator of the image you study has been able to tell the difference.

Even so, it’s maybe worth posting a heads-up on a series of forged overprints (on genuine stamps) currently on offer on eBay and on Delcampe, and of a type I’ve not seen before. This may just be me, or it could be that these are newly made. Their well known seller resides on the West Coast of the USA, and his offerings (even if randomly priced) are all good – except for Japanese Occupation material, where he is best avoided. His usual source of supply is Myanmar, which may mean that these originate there. He has already retailed Occupation forgeries made by the late U Mya Win, but these peacocks are not from Mya Win’s known stock. Anyway, whoever made them, they show some interesting features.

The types (as per SG) seen so far include type 2 Myaungmya, type 4 Pyapon, type 5 Henzada, type 6 (long since delisted, but once attributed to Henzada) and type 6a, the Myaungmya “official”. All these show three rather interesting and striking characteristics.

First, their graphic style is distinctively odd, and in places it looks almost as if the negative shapes – the white “holes” – have been drawn into a black silhouette. These negative shapes make little sense compared to the details of the real overprints; it’s as if someone has taken a blurred and partial strike of the real thing and has made an incredibly neat tracing from it. (Or has passed it through a digital filter that massively enhances the edges.) There are no greys or fading areas, just hard edged black and white.

Secondly, each type seems to have been produced in blocks of four sub-types, all of which show the same general idiosyncrasies but each of which is recognisably different in small ways. Two overprints – Myaungmya and Henzada – have been seen so far in blocks of four, so presumably all exist thus. (In what follows, we can designate the sub-types “a” to “d”, going top to bottom and left to right.)

Thirdly, every strike of a sub-type is absolutely identical; there are none of the accidental variations that we would expect to see from the differing pressures of a hand stamp or press. On the Myaungmya and Henzada types various little dots and dashes are visible at the edges of the overprint in all sub-types, reminiscent of the accidental ink spatters sometimes seen on the real overprints, but on every stamp of a sub-type these are reproduced absolutely consistently, so such spots are not in any way accidental but incorporated in the sub-type.

All these circumstances suggest to me that these overprints may have been produced with a digital printer, but without inspecting the actual stamps (and I’ve no intention of paying the prices asked for the privilege of doing so), I can’t be sure of that. Here’s each type, considered separately. I’ve heightened the contrast to clarify the details. Click the images for enlargements.

Type 2 Myaungmya is seen so far only on the “Service” stamps: 3p, 6p, 1½a, 2a and 4a. As no “Service” types were actually used for this overprint, this is a bit of a give away. Shown here is a block of the four sub-types on the 3p value and singles for each value showing sub-type b. The feel of the image is remarkably rough compared with the real thing.

Type 4 Pyapon: 6p, 2a and 4a seen so far. The examples here are not identical, and may be from different sub-types. The design is curiously reduced, almost abstract, compared to the original.

Type 5 Henzada: GV 3p, 9p,  2a, 2a 6p, and GVI 1p and 2a seen so far, the latter inverted – an unknown variety. A block of four sub-types for the GVI 2a invert is shown here, with singles of the GV 3p sub-type d, 9p sub-types b and d, 2a, sub-type c and 2a 6p sub-type b. The 2a 6p was not part of the genuine issue. The GVI singles here are a 1p single of sub-type b and a 2a (inverted) of sub-type c.

The “die” has the look of the genuine position 8, but as imitated in the better known Gee Ma and “Japanese Special Service Post” forgeries, with the straight left arc, the white nick in the peacock’s neck and the projecting “feather” on the right wing. In other words, it’s a rough imitation of existing forgeries.

Type 6 (bogus, so not listed in most catalogues) has been seen in the 3p, 1½a and 2a. The three singles shown here, while superficially similar, probably represent three different sub-types. Interestingly, the forger has chosen to imitate the “original” version of this overprint, in which the arc often appears thinner at one side, rather than its imitations. The original may be bogus, delisted and unpriced, but these days copies are often offered at adventurously high prices, so it’s worth the forger’s while to include this type.

Type 6a, the Yonthon or official overprint produced at Myaungmya, has been seen overprinted on the correct 8a “Service” value. The appearance of the bird here is especially weird and “hollowed”. The four sub-types are very similar to each other.

I doubt that these are the only values produced, but hopefully this is enough documentation to help anyone who comes across these and is unsure. They are not dangerous forgeries, but people buy all sorts on eBay, and sometimes pay handsomely for their mistakes, which is a bit depressing. If anyone has seen these distinctive forgeries elsewhere, or knows more about their origin, do get in touch.

Up date, mid May. After an absence following the appearance of this post (or rather a spell away on Delcampe) these forgeries are back on eBay. A new addition is the Myaungmya high value peacock, seen so far on the 1 rupee stamp. As well as the break in the outline of the left wing at the shoulder (a feature of other forgeries of this type) this version is easily recognisable by its spotty appearance.

Dating the peacocks

The late Gerald Davis was fond of saying that he had never seen a genuine commercially used Burma Independence Army peacock overprint on cover in his sixty years of collecting Burma. I don’t think I had either – until this emerged recently online, offered and (as far as I know) unsold at the somewhat optimistic starting price of $1250.

It’s only a scruffy Chettiar cover of course, from Lemyethna near Henzada to Athegyi in Bassein in August 1942, so at the late end of the peacock period. The cancel on the Henzada 1 anna stamp is almost impossible to read; the top line shows “5” for 5 pm, and the lower line starts with a “2”, so apparently 20-something of July. Next, the cover picked up a transit mark from Set 3 of TPO R-30 (Out), the Letpadan to Bassein section of the railway. But here the empty bar was pencilled in with the date in Burmese numerals and in the Burmese calendar: 2 – 5 – 04. This is the second day of the fifth month (second month of Waso), 1304 Burmese Era, which equates to 29 July. It then took another two weeks to reach Athegyi on 14th August, the postal clerk writing that date neatly in the empty date bar in the English calendar.

So, three ways on one cover to postmark the date: English calendar date slugs, Burmese calendar hand written, and English calendar reinserted by hand. Clearly, this was a transitional situation! Hand written Burmese dates also appear on genuine philatelic covers for the peacock period (such as those by Lim Peng Hong, aka Aung Myint). They are nothing to do with damaged cancellers, but were introduced by the nationalists of the Burma Independence Army at the resumption of postal services in early May, and by late August this practice had been countermanded by the Japanese postal authorities in Rangoon. A postmaster’s date stamp record for Daikpyet post office was acquired in 1945 by Lim Peng Hong, which documented the first date of the reinsertion of English date slugs at that office as 30 August; the change back may well have been earlier at other offices, given that Athegyi was again using the English calendar by 14 August and Lemyethna by late July, judging by this cover.

Collectors will object that they have covers with genuine peacocks and genuine postmarks of May or June of 1942 with the English date slugs perfectly intact. The deduction is clear and simple: they are almost certainly all faked. Genuine cancellers were widely misused in 1945 to cater for the philatelic thirst for Occupation covers, but even the cleverest fakers, such as sub-postmaster Sein Kho, seem to have been unaware of the standard use of hand written Burmese dates during the peacock period  – fortunately for us. This deduction may be clear, but it is not popular, and the most reputable and established of dealers continue to sell such retrospective covers as if they were the real thing.

It was ever thus …

Why do peacocks have rockers?

Images of Burma national flags show the peacock on a plain white ground (Konbaung dynasty) or on a coloured disc (British era). The disc arrangement was followed by the Burma Independence Army of 1942, as shown, for example, on this printed BIA arm band, recently offered at auction. (The yellow, green and red tricolour was readopted as the basis of the national flag in 2010.) Or as on this rubber stamped seal of the Salin (in Magwe) Township BIA, on a document clipping in my collection, which shows a very splendid peacock indeed.

bia arm band

BIA Salin





Some BIA peacock overprints of 1942 show the bird within such a circle (Myaungmya rupee values, or one type on postal stationery), but others set the bird on an arc or “rocker”. Why the arc? It’s hardly the natural shape for a patch of ground to stand the peacock on. What can it represent?

I’ve pondered this much over the years when I’ve had nothing better to do, and the only derivation I can suggest is that these overprints were modelled on a BIA cap badge that in its turn was based on that of the Burma Rifles in British service. I’m no expert, and I can find no image of such an insignia for the BIA, but Burma Rifles badges include the unit title on a scroll or ribbon below. The scroll may be flattish or more deeply curved; the bird’s wings may be fully visible or tucked back. Most versions show the head facing left. Interestingly, these variations are reflected in the overprints. So were the “rockers” intended for scrolls without inscriptions?

Well, it’s a theory. Advice please, from those who know!