50 Fabulous Stamps of the British Empire

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"A Selection of the most historic, most beautiful, oddest and rarest philatelic items from British territories overseas"

Fabulous Stamps of British Empire

Stamp magazine UK recently published a 116-page guide magazine on the 50 Fabulous Stamps of the British Empire. The guide came about for the first time in a celebration of the philatelic achievement of the British Empire.

50 great stamps/issues from 50 different colonies were chosen for us to marvel at their legacy - stamps that combined artistic beauty with eminent practicality with fascinating stories and wonderful rarities.

And of course, Sarawak and North Borneo stamps issues were among the 50 distinctive list.

No 18 - Sarawak's first stamp issue - Portrait of Rajah Sir James Brooke


Queen Victoria's face is perhaps the most recognised portrait in philately due to extensive portrayal in early British (and Empire) stamps. The penny black for example portrays the Queen's face for the first time in philatelic history. However, her majerty's face wasn't the only British sovereign portrayed on the early stamps. In 1869, Sarawak's first stamp was issued depicting the face of the white rajah - Sir James Brooke.

James Brooke was born in India to English parents. He gained control of Sarawak from the Sultan of Brunei by helping to quell an uprising against the sultan. He later became the Governor of the neighbouring British Colony of Labuan and introduced reforms, fought off pirate attacks and brought greater stability to the region.

James' Brooke personal correspondence, which he transported personally in his yacht to Singapore before posting in the normal way, graced and enriched Sarawak philately today. Before the first stamp was issued in 1869, Indian stamps were used for overseas postage. Unfortunately, James Brooke never lived to see his face on the stamps. He died nine months before they went on sale...

Example of Rajah Brooke's personal letter written in 1863 to Mrs Browne in London, bearing India stamps.

No 25 - North Borneo's 1894 Issue

Low values of 1894 issue of North Borneo

The low values of North Borneo's 1894 issue was selected among the list. It is a story between beauty and overexploitation in stamps marketing. North Borneo's 1894 issue broke the traditional designs of the 19th century stamps by introducing unrivalled eye-catching designs and noted to be among the most attractive and innovative design around that time. The depictions of Dyak chief, a Malay dhow, a sambar stag, a great argus pheasant, a sago palm tree, an estuarine crocodile and the majestic Mount Kinabalu created desirable philatelic results, delivering a romantic insight into island life.

However, the British North Borneo Company's overexplaitation by means of selling excess material to stamp trade, encouraging varieties, and special ties with a philatelic dealer in London, Mr Parker, tarnished the philatelic reputation of North Borneo.

Today, the stamps market of North Borneo is flooded with an endless myriad of cancelled-to-order remainders, printer's waste, improbable perforations, spurious overprints and of course blatant forgeries. While the market value of North Borneo and Labuan are rising steadily, the presence of the CTOs necessitate the third column in many worldwide stamps catalogue. The many pitfalls faced in collecting North Borneo stamps cause many aspiring collectors to avoid this country altogether...

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