Bags, tags and labels

Something from the fringes of philately – some modern mail bag labels, thanks to a kind gift from Myanmar. These need a bit of study (when I can find the time) to make full sense of them, but here’s a sample of some different types, in case anyone’s interested.

First, some foreign incoming labels from about 1990, surface mail and (the two top right) registered. The former are clearly standardised by UPU regulation, and all are in card, with proper holes for ties. I imagine the registered labels are from inner bags, within the main bag. (Click all images to enlarge.)

The arrival of the barcode has changed the look of these more recent examples, surface, air and registered, and the standardisation of design seems more thorough. Interesting to note that in the destination code – MMRGN – the country title, MM for Myanmar, recognises the new form while the city name, RGN for Rangoon, still does not. The big plastic label has a Thai security checked sticker on the back – something for civil censorship collectors.

Next, some domestic EMS (Expedited, or Express Mail Service) bag labels from 2000. The one on the left has a red marking reading “Airport Security / checked / Myeik”. The others are from Mandalay (marked as a “green bag”), Kalaw and Salin, all to Yangon.

Now some more recent inland labels, from 2010 and 2011 – the most interesting of the lot, in my opinion. Only one pukka card label here; the rest are random pieces of card and folded paper, some attached to the bags with string and sealing wax. The postmarks of the sending offices are clear enough, and some of the abbreviations are simple enough – “YAN RL BN 11” for registered letters to Yangon, bag number 11, for instance – but others will need a bit of deciphering.

Finally, to bring things up to date, the plastic security ties now used by Myanmar Post, cut and discarded when the bags are opened. There are thousands of similar ties on sale online, all, as far as I can see, made in China, but I haven’t yet been able to identify the manufacturer of these. All that is now shown is the post code of the sending office. (Post codes in Myanmar relate to post offices only. Therein lies a tale, but perhaps for another time.)

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Myanmar Post on Facebook

Thanks to Toe Kyaw Kyar for pointing out that Myanmar Post now runs that indispensable window for all businesses – a Facebook page.

It’s here – https://www.facebook.com/MyanmarPostService

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Posts are largely in Myanma font, so won’t be visible, let alone readable, to many outside Myanmar and the disapora, but it’s still worth checking, and there are some good shots of post offices.

St Valentine’s Day massacre

There was a period, not so long ago, when Myanmar’s stamps, cards and cancels reflected relentlessly the distinctive iconography of its particular totalitarianism: the statues of the three kings, the grandiose fountains and architecture of Naypyitaw, the stick-breaker statuette and so on, not forgetting – in the final days of the Than Shwe era – the white elephant. As officialdom demanded the same images every time in slightly varying combinations, the stamp designers didn’t have to think too much about their task. In today’s “democratic” climate they seem more uncertain.

On February 14 Myanmar Post came up with a set of three Valentine’s Day cards and a commemorative cancel – a brave new departure. The cards are, frankly, awful: icky globalised clip art, enlarged and stretched. Why, to pick on just one point, is the girl doll blonde? The accompanying cancellation repeats one of the designs but, significantly, manages to omit any national or post office name; someone, it seems, simply forgot about that, and on the day staff had to bring out the GPO pictorial canceller and apply that too, just to demonstrate an origin.

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Apparently there was zero publicity, and the cards and cancel were only available at Yangon GPO. I’ve no idea how many were sold to the few collectors in the know, but it can’t have been a lot. A special postmark on your Valentine’s card is a nice idea, but it’s one for the general public, and that requires promotion and availability. And as all the items are dated for 2016, they won’t be able to use the remainders next year.

For me, the disappointment lies in the nature of the designs. Myanmar has a long tradition of romantically themed pictorial stationery, and I like to collect such cards and covers, but there’s always been something distinctively Burmese in the graphics, which has been lost here. It’s almost enough to make you remember fondly the bad old days of totalitarian design … Well, not quite.