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by Bonnie & Roger Riga

image1.jpg (23266 bytes)The late 1800s were a prolific time for the issuing of stamps that weren't quite what they seem. The example of the Brunei set of ten values produced in about 1895 comes to mind. These stamps could be viewed in a number of different lights. They could be seen as little more than a local post since they were valid for postage only from Brunei to Labuan or Sarawak. They could be viewed as the idea of a clever promoter, J.C. Robertson, who taking a page from other scammers, convinced the Sultan of Brunei to buy, at a discount, stamps provided by Robertson and his partners. Since Brunei was not a member of the UPU at the time, the stamps could only be a local post at best. Yet an article in the Singapore Free Press at the time announced that over 100 covers were posted on the first day, which certainly indicates postal validity.

Gibbons lists them without comment; Michel calls them a local post; Scott's does not list them at all. Lithographed in Glasgow on unwatermarked paper, the set consists of a 1/2 cent brown, 1 cent red-brown, 2 cent black, 3 cent deep blue, 5 cent blue-green, 8 cent purple, 10 cent orange, 25 cent turquoise, 50 cent yellow-green, and 1 dollar olive. Color descriptions vary from listing to listing, as does the perforation gauge, being 13, 13 1/2, or 14. The design does not change from value to value. It shows a five-pointed star with a Malay boat on the sea in the foreground, palm trees to either side and a mountain rising behind the boat. They bear a resemblance to many of the Chinese treaty port stamps of the same era, even to the inclusion of Chinese characters in the design.

Whether this issue is considered a bit of a scam, a valid local post or the initial offering of the Brunei Post Office, the fact that Scott does not acknowledge them has created an expensive and intriguing cinderella. The debate will no doubt continue - and isn't that half the fun?

This column first appeared in Scott Stamp Monthly and has been edited for online presentation.
This page was last updated July 8, 2016.
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