New Views on the Labuan Stampless cover, 1858



I posted this in my blog sometime ago and received some interesting comments that it could very likely to be fake. The cover first appeared in ebay around December 2010 and was listed by a French seller. Around that time I had some correspondence with the SSS committee including the then president, Mr. Peter Cockburn, the Labuan specialist Mr. Jeremy Dickson, the current president and librarian of the society Mr. Simon Martin-Redman and the Vice President, Mr. Chan Kee Tex. From the collective correspondence, there are several interesting views that have surfaced, and I thought it is worthwhile to share them here.

Genuine or Fake?

This was the primary question regarding the stampless cover as pictured above - is it genuine or fake? Jeremy Dickson has provided a wealth of information on whether the cover is genuine or not. We know that so far, only six known covers that bear the earliest Labuan postmark  as illustrated in Proud's book. This Harvey cover is dated "Feb 24, 1858" which means that if it's genuine, it predates all the other six known covers. In Proud's, there's a reference on a cenceller sent by the Colonial Office in London to Labuan on 15 September 1851, so the date on the Harvey cover is not at all impossible.

Jeremy had compared the dimension of the genuine cancellation (30mm for the outer ring and 29mm for the inner ring) with the one in the Harvey cover above. There is no way of telling what the dimension is in the Harvey cover so he reduced the size of the picture to match the 30/29 cancellation dimension. This resulted in the cover being measured around 100mm x 60mm - a rather small cover, but not altogether impossible.

Comparison to the other known cancellations based on the numerals was not conclusive either, as there are some parts of the lettering and numerals that are not replicated on the six known examples. Furthermore, Proud's cancellation is not accurate in terms of the lettering and numerals, making such comparison a difficult one. Nevertheless, a lack of evidence does not necessarily means that the cover is fake, as Jeremy pointed.

Regarding the comments sent by anonymous, Jeremy pointed that:

1.  The red cancellation on the Stafford covers has no bearing on whether the Harvey cover is or is not genuine.  The Stafford covers were datestamped in July, September and November 1864; whereas the Harvey cover is datestamped in February 1858 - over six years previously.  All the other two ring cancellations (including - I think - the earlier De Saumarez July 1864 cover) are in black.  It is entirely possible that over the six plus year period (1858 to 1865) different coloured ink pads would have been used. The 1864 De Saumarez cover has a rectangular boxed Singapore Ship Letter handstamp.  By itself, I do not see this as any evidence that the Harvey cover is 'wrong'.  It would however be helpful to consult Singapore philatelists to gain an understanding whether the boxed handstamp was used in 1858 and, if so, whether it was applied without fail to incoming mail. 

2.  I don't think that the suggested differences in the 8's is conclusive evidence the cover is 'wrong'; indeed I don't think that any conclusion can be drawn from this observation.  Firstly, the copy I have looked at has been through the email system three times - you got it off eBay, then to Simon and then to me and each transmission would have resulted in the loss of some clarity.  Secondly, there are no other known covers with '8' as the last slug in the year date.  It is entirely possible that there would have been small differences between different slugs.

3.  The fact that Mr Harvey was managing director of The Borneo Company could actually be said to provide authenticating evidence, rather than a reason to cast doubt on the cover.  The alternative argument that, as Mr Harvey could be identified by trawling the internet, the cover is 'wrong' is inconclusive. The 'too good to be true' argument is a starting point - not the finishing line!  Recently, there has been another amazing Labuan find, which goes to show that over the years covers and other material do emerge that none knew existed.

I have taken the liberty to post his comments verbatim here and I hope he wouldn't mind. :)

The Harvey Covers and French-connection

Mr Simon Martin-Redman added that in the Sarawak Journal vol 60 no 4 page 141  he described a pre stamp cover which appeared and was sold for £20,000 at a SPink auction after being touted by Lugdunum and Feldman Auctions.  This was first discovered in France in 2007 and is addressed to Mrs Harvey.

Last year he saw on ebay another cover previously unrecorded bearing the Sarawak Post Office cancellation and bearing East India Stamps.. This has turned out to be the second earliest cover known from Sarawak bearing adhesives.  It turned out that the cover is worth about £20,000! The interesting part was that the dealer was in France and the cover is to Mrs Harvey as well!

And now this Labuan cover from France and again Harvey. The two Sarawak covers are most definitely genuine and he therefore believes that this Labuan cover to also be genuine.

Mr Peter Cockburn and Mr Chan Kee Tex had similar view although with lesser explanations.


Although there are some good points to support that the cover could be genuine, these remain inconclusive as the only thing we have is the low resolution picture of the cover. It is obviously difficult to draw any firm conclusion based on this alone. I have recently emailed the French seller who listed the cover in ebay to give a higher resolition picture of the cover, but unfortunately he hasn't replied my message as yet. Perhaps we should just wait for the cover to re-appear again. At the meantime, I would appreciate your views and comments on this. Please let us know what you think.


Anonymous said...

Hello Marcel,

Glad to see that you don't give up easily on this cover. When a cover of such "importance" is born, it is natural to have more than one view as to its authenticity, especially when the subject is in the unknown territory, yes, unknown - like the black hole.

I believe you have gone through great length seeking the opinions of the experts and rightfully so. Judging from the wise and learned opinion of JD, the chances of this being a genuine article appear to be very high.

I have these facts to add so that you form an even more informed judgment:-
1) According to Ray Price's great article on Labuan published in the American Philatelist many years ago, the postmaster requisitioned for black ink pad in 1851 and only asked for red ink pad in 1864. This explains why the cds on the Harvey cover is black whereas those Stafford covers were canceled in red. I have not seen the Saumarez cover in colour, but I have a feeling both cds on the cover should be in red. However, the HK/SS combination piece of 1865 is black.

2) I have checked the size and lettering of the Harvey cover by superimposing the cds on the other known covers and it appear good. The size of the double rings are exact match and the position of the letters/numbers are identical. Even to the extent of sharing a constant break above 'B' of Labuan, at the top of the outer circle. That may be due to a weakness on the canceling device per se. Go check it out yourself.

3) In reply to those questioning the absence of markings and receiver on the cover, I can only quote this from Ray's article, the PO in Labuan was 'not on proper footing' before 1860. And after all, this is not a registered cover.

That's just my 2 cents, but since your have access to excellent libraries and Asian/Colonial archives, why don't you try to find out if it was Mr Harvey's handwriting. I am sure there are suitable records of such an enterprising man.


Marcel said...

Dear GantianExpress,

Thank you for sharing your insights with regards to the cover. It's always nice to listen and read you gentlemen's learned opinions on the uncharted teritory as this one. It is also a good learning opportunities for us, the newcomers in the interesting philatelic field.:)


Anonymous said...

Dear Marcel,
We are all learning new things from your blog too.

Anonymous said...

From the Robson Lowe's Colonel 'J R Danson' sale on 30.06.1971, the description of the Saumarez cover is as follows:-

[1864 envelope showing two impressions of the RED "LABUAN" datestamp, apparently carried by private ship and 2 annas charged on arrival in Singapore ...]

Therefore, it confirms that the cds' are indeed red as I have expected.


Marcel said...

Hello GantianExpress,

Thank you for your comment on the Saumarez cover! I would certainly love to see the cover myself. Last year many of the notable early Labuan covers have appeared including the one franked with Hong Kong stamps, one would therefore wonder whether the Saumarez cover will re-appear again, perhaps anytime soon...


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