The Karl Lewis Cover of Sarawak


The Karl Lewis Cover

This beautiful hand-painted cover was recently listed in ebay and reached an impressive final price of US$1,975.50! So what makes this cover so special? Well, the answer is pretty obvious - the Karl Lewis factor! This legendary American is well known in the philatelic world for producing many marvellous hand-painted covers. Based in Yokohama Japan, Lewis made arrangements for covers to be mailed from exotic countries to stamps collectors, primarily in the US. His advertisement reads "COVERS FROM THE RADIANT ISLANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS &c. TYPICALLY hand-painted of these islands from photographs and sketches I have made of many of them. Franked with the stamps of these islands &c. MAILED DIRECT TO YOU at TWENTY FIVE CENTS EACH..."

The cover above is postmarked November 20 1940. There is a brown censor tape on the right side with "Passed By Cenor 106 Singapore" rubber stamp on the front and reverse. It also includes a typed and signed letter from Karl Lewis to the addressee on his illustrated letterhead from Yokohama Japan dated October 31 1940. The scene depicted in the cover is a village by the river in Kuching, different from the other scene he usually depicts for Sarawak - The Datu's Road.

From the letter to the recepient, it is quite apparent that Lewis wasn't aware of the difference between British North Borneo and Sarawak. He writes "...but cannot send from Jesselton; as I have no correspondent there, and it would be impossible to send different cities from one island." The sender's address is Kuching, Sarawak, British North Borneo suggesting that Lewis must have thought that Sarawak was part of North Borneo rather than a separate country in British Borneo. From the letter, Lewis wrote that he had no correspondent in Jesselton, therefore, it follows that we won't have any hand-painted covers of scenes in North Borneo - Neither do we have any North Borneo/Labuan stamps franked on Lewis covers.

Another interesting aspect of this letter is that it was written in 31 Oct 1940 and mailed from Kuching on 20 November 1940. We know that in Dec. 29, 1939, at the age of 74, Lewis suffered a paralytic stroke. This means the letter and the cover above must have been produced while he was battling with the disease with possible limitations in movements. In two letters written Feb 8 and 10, 1940, he said he was only able to sit up for two hours in the mornings and afternoons. Lewis died in 19 May 1942 while still under Japanese house arrest, leaving behind great treasures in philatelic world and beautiful hand-painted covers to be admired for many generations to come.

The other scene of Karl Lewis cover of Sarawak - The Datu's Road - Mailed on 28 Sept 1936.


Michael5000 said...

It's a surprise to see my state, Oregon, in connection with North Borneo Stamps! I had never heard of Colton, the town the letter is addressed to, and had to look it up. It is only about 50 km from my home, but it is a tiny little village. The postmaster there in 1940 must have been surprised to be sorting a piece of mail from Sarawak!

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