Censor Covers of North Borneo (WWII, Allied censors)


Violet Triangular Censor No 20 - Sandakan

Black Boxed Censor No. 5 - Jesselton

WWII North Borneo Allied Censor

 In general, censor marks might be applied by either one (or both) of the two opposing military alliances: the Allies on one side versus the Axis on the other. In the context of North Borneo and the rest of British Borneo, this was primarily between British and Japanese. The censorship of mail appears to have been imposed in North Borneo beginning late 1939, as the prospect of war seemed inevitable. The climax of censorship appears to be between 1939-1941.

North Borneo censor marks are interesting but information on this area is quite scarce. Censored cover appears sporadically on ebay and elsewhere, making this area quite difficult to study.

North Borneo censor marks can be roughly divided into (1) the Boxed type or (2) the Triangular type. This can be further subdivided into colour varieties - (a) Black, (b) Purple/violet, or (c) Red/carmine. The boxed type is more common than the tringular type, and in term of colours, Black > Violet > Red. The boxed censor mark reads PASSED BY | (NO) | CENSOR | NORTH BORNEO, arranged in 4 lines. The tringular censor consists of double tringles and reads | PASSED FOR | TRANSMISSION | NORTH BORNEO | (NO) |. The censor number appears in the centre of the triangle.

Black Boxed Censor No 18 - Sandakan

Black Tringular censor No 13 - Kudat

The numbering on the censor mark is altogether more interesting. Based on a quick study involving about 90 censored covers (mostly pictures of lots from Patrick Cassels' collection, Stolz collection, ebay and other auction sites) only about four towns involved in the censoring activity - Sandakan, Jesselton, Lahad Datu and Kudat. Covers from smaller towns (eg. Beaufort) may have been censored in bigger towns (e.g. Jesselton). I haven't seen censored cover from TAWAU and TENOM which might be represented by unique censor numbers.
Associated Town
  1-9, 34
(Other than the numbers above)

No 1 - 9 for boxed censor and Triangular cancel regardless of colour would appear to have been applied in JESSELTON. No 12 - 13 for boxed censor and Triangular cancel regardless of colour would appear to have been applied in KUDAT. No 29 for both boxed censor and Triangular cancel regardless of colour would appear to have been applied in LAHAD DATU. No 28 is also probably cancelled in Lahad Datu but I haven't seen a clear picture on censored covers. The rest of the numbers up to 33 (as seen so far) may have been applied in SANDAKAN, although one cover with violet tringular cancel no 34 was cancelled in JESSELTON. This is of course a very superficial study and a simple generalisation. Not all censor numbers are seen. Therefore, ommission may happen. (Note: You may share your censored covers if the number and town appear to be different from above)  

Red Boxed censor No 17 - Sandakan & NOT OPENED BY CENSOR mark

Violet Triangular cancel no 21 - Sandakan

There appears to be about 3 varieties of the tringular censor mark in terms of dimension and design:- (a) 46mm x 44mm x 44mm, (b) 48mm x 48mm x 48mm, (c) 43mm x 43mm x 43mm. Different cancellar also used i.e steel vs rubber. Similarly, the boxed censor also varies widely in terms of size and font used in the cancel. At least two censor labels are used during the censorship period, one of which is a print of the Company's coats of arms.

In summary, although censor marks were never applied for philatelic purposes, they form an important role in philately nonetheless. The different types of cancel used, the various shades of colours applied and of course the labels used, make the whole censorship mails altogether thrilling collectibles! Although there are gaps in our current knowledge in this area, in-depth studies and consensus should bridge these gaps and hopefully expand our understanding.


Ebay News & Reviews

Looking back in ebay in the last few weeks, many interesting items appeared. There are some rare and expensive stuffs of note. The following are a shortlist of what I find worth mentioning:

1. Forged North Borneo Cover

This cover appeared in March 2012 with a starting bid of US$9.00. Two bidders fought over this 'unique' cover and the winner paid US$21.50. Sold by an Austrian seller, the cover is supposed to be sent from "Borneo" to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Purpotedly sent on "28.XI.1932" from "Borneo", the cover is franked with British Protectorate stamp (in use from 1901 to approx 1905), which apparently also cancelled with an incomplete obliterator of six bars.

The circular cancel is probably not even a cancel but likely to be a pen graffitti on the cover and the stamp itself with amusing design. There is also a nice blue airmail label affixed. Verdict: FAILED forgery!

2. Sarawak's SG1 Forgery

According to W.R. Forrestor-Wood [Sarawak Stamps & Postal History], crude forgeries on Sarawak's SG1 exist in three forms - (a) Brown on yellow perf. 11½, (b) Orange brown on light brown perf. 11½ and (c) Green on white, usually imperforate.

The one above is the green on white issue with perforations, and appeared in ebay on March 2012 and ended with a final price of US$12.50 after 6 bids. This is a straightforward forgery, but did you know that it was used as an illustration of the genuine stamp in the catalogues and albums of an American philatelic company for some one hundred years? [Ref: Barry Floyd, The White Rajahs of Sarawak, A Philatelic & Historical Study]

3. A US$1,500 Japanese Occupation Stamps?

These collection of Japanese occupations stamps of North Borneo and Malaya are supposed to be rare and they did actually reached a final bid price of US$1,500! The question, however, is that the underbidder's bid was only $130. So it looks a bit dodgy because the winner pushed the ending price from $130 to $1,500! Furthermore, clicking at the winner's bidding profile, this was his only bid in the last 30-days which is quite uncommon. I'm not sure what's the seller's reserve price but he did say that it was a low-ish reserve price and that he had no knowledge of the stamps value.

Put that aside, these stamps consist of North Borneo and Malaya Japanese occupation stamps. The North Borneo group consists of what seems to be SGJ16 (Cat £600), SGJ17 (Cat £1600), SGJ33 (Cat £4500), and SGJ20 (Cat £5.50). The Malaya group consists of SGJ297, SGJ305, Perak SGJ250, St. Settlement SGJ149, among others.

The seller mentions that the stamps were given to his wife by her Japanese frriend, Ms. Michiko Watanabe, an Education Minister(?). The stamps were formerly part of her father's collection, Lt. Watanabe, said to be one of the Japanese offficers stationed in Sandakan during WWII. According to the seller, the collection was found laying beneath Watanabe's drawer after he passed away and was subsequently passed to the seller's wife and in turn to the seller. Apparently only these stamps were auctioned in ebay by the seller.

4. North Borneo Postcards

Offered at US$200 each, all of these postcards are quite scarce. They would certainly reach a higher bidding prices if listed in an auction:

The American Consulate, Sandakan, B.N.B

Type of Native Bridge, B.N.B

Daughters of the Woods, Borneo

5. 1932, Sarawak Airmail Covers

This Sarawak airmail cover was sent from Kuching to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia via the first air mail service between Singapore and Australia on January 14, 1932. Franked with Sarawak's 3¢, 10¢ and 50¢ and tied Kuching Jan 13, 1932. Backstamped Singapore Jan 16, Perth Jan 9 and forwarded to Hobart Feb 10, 1932.

Affixed is a light blue airmail label with the words "BY AIR MAIL".