Cancel To Order (CTO) of North Borneo Stamps

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Figure: Parker Cover from Labuan 1905. Oval of bars postmark was used to cancel postally used mail.

What are CTOs?

Cancel to order (CTO) in general refers to a stamp that was marked as used by the postal service despite not being used for postal purposes. Usually, these stamps are then sold to collectors and dealers at a fraction of the face value. The reason for this is that by selling the cancelled stamps, the government can acquire additional income. It's a good solution for selling the remainders of the stamps and at the same time not having to provide the postal service.

Figure: Oval of Bars postmark used as CTO for $25 North Borneo Revenue stamps


What are Stamp Remainders?

Stamp remainders are simply the unsold stamps at a time when they are considered obsolete by the issuing agents (post office). In other words, stamp remainders are the 'expired' stamps. Now, it would be a total waste to dump these stamps because they are still valuable to the stamps collectors. That's why these remainders are usually sold at a fraction of the face values and must bear the CTO mark to avoid being used postally.

Figure: Biggest problem to North Borneo collectors - Forged stamps and CTO cancels

North Borneo CTOs?
In North Borneo postal service, an oval of black bars was used to cancel the remainder stamps from this country up to 1916. However, not all the oval bars postmarks were used to cancel the remainders. In fact they were used both for postal cancellation and remainder cancellation up to 1916. This form of postmark (oval of bars) were used for postal purposes at some post offices up to 1949. Therefore, we may generalise it like this "all the North Borneo CTOs have the oval of bars cancel, but not all of the oval of bars are used for CTO stamps".

Because it is relatively easier to counterfeit the oval of bars postmark, it has been readily targeted by unscrupulous forgers to make easy money. Many forged postmark of this kind are very difficult to distinguish and the best way to spot them is by looking at the stamps themselves. It is amazing to know that actually stamps bearing this type of postmarks sell for much lower prices than the mint version even for the genuine stamps, and you always wonder why is it necessary at all for the counterfeiters to add the extra work to forge the postmark. In ebay, especially the queen issues of Labuan stamps, the forged stamps are usually offered as a block of 4 bearing this postmark. As a general rule, expect that it is a forgery until proven otherwise.

In Stanley Gibbons catalogue, the values of the CTOs are indicated in the third column (up to 1912 stamps issues), usually at a fraction of the postally used and mint values. The Scott catalogue lists the used price (in second column) as the CTOs up to 1912 and indicates that stamps with clear dated postmarks sell for much higher price.

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