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.

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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.

Bobby Roberts’ Yano seals

Don’t you hate it when owners deface the backs of their stamps? Expert marks, dealer marks, initials, catalogue numbers – a mess! But here’s a defacement I haven’t erased.

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This block of four ‘Yano seals’ came from the collection of Brigadier G L “Bobby” Roberts, co-author of the seminal The Japanese Occupation Stamps of Burma, 1942-1945, published in Lahore in 1947. In May 1942 the Burma post office, under Japanese military administration, set 1 June as the date for the re-opening of services, but then found that stamps could not be printed in time. As a provisional issue the personal seal of administrator Yano Shizuo was hand stamped onto pre-perforated sheets of 104 positions (13 rows of 8 columns). The sheets were imperf at the upper and right margins, and the paper had a sheet watermark of an elephant and “Absorbo Duplicator”. The lowest (thirteenth) row was always, for some reason, a little deeper than the rest, creating taller stamps, as in this block.

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On the back of the block (shown here with contrast tweaked) Roberts pencilled this sum:

  13
8
—-
104
2
—-
208
118
—-
326

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Brigadier Roberts

I’ve often puzzled over these numbers. The first three rows are easily explained: Roberts was calculating the number of stamps per sheet. Two sheets make 208 stamps, but what was the additional 118? This last figure seems to have nothing to do with numbers issued to post offices, and I can only assume that Roberts was totting up known surviving copies of this stamp – two full sheets plus 118 stamps in smaller multiples or singles. Perhaps on this basis, he concluded that the stamp was “rare” and that “only a small percentage of the 45,760 copies printed [440 sheets] have survived.”

This stamp has been much forged, including on the correctly watermarked paper! To spot a forgery, compare with those here, especially the break in the circle at four o’clock, the closeness to the circle of the top right curved bar of the right hand character, and the upper portion of the central character, which should resemble two interlaced triangles. The whole issue has been best documented by Ito Kyoichi; a translation appears in Japanese Philately 34 / 2 (April 1979).

Finally, here’s an unlisted variety – a partial double impression. Hardly surprising during (as Roberts dutifully calculated) eleven solid man hours of hand stamping.

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