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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