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.