Q&A: On North Borneo CTOs


Fake Labuan Stamps with CTO
I think with my little budget I am able to start my North Borneo accumulations by getting 1894 series. But are these series easy to be acquired in non hinged condition just like fresh from post office? I do understand they have surpassed a century and there might be some gum toning.
And how much should I pay to get North Borneo CTO stamps in bulks from ebay? Would like to have them as examples/references and as well as gap fillers.
In general, collecting CTO stamps on North Borneo is not only cheap and affordable but also quite fun especially for beginner. I remember when I was about 15 years old, my collections were mainly CTOs with very little used examples and practically no mint stamps. At that stage, I didn't bother so much and I always look for more stamps mainly because of their stunning beauties, colours and variations. As I began collecting stamps more seriously, I realised that collecting CTOs is not the best way forward, I became less satisfied and the thrill is disappearing. For instance, you could complete your CTO collection on 1894 issues in less than a week for a mere US$15-30.
I also realised that from the value perspective, CTO stamps probably won't appreciate over time but mint stamps and postally used stamps do. In other words, you can overspend on collecting CTO stamps of North Borneo now but in the future your collection might be simply sold for a song! The alternative is to collect used and mint stamps of a particular period slowly, and in the process, you will inevitably also collect CTOs. For example, most stamps lot offered in ebay nowadays mix the postally used stamps with CTOs, so if you collect the used stamps, you will also collect the CTOs at a much reduced price compared to buying CTOs alone.
But of course CTOs are great for reference and space-fillers. I have a lot of those in my collection too especially on the rare stamps. So they are without doubt serve a lot of practical purposes in many ways.
Because in early collecting days, people used hinges in their albums, unfortunately, finding old stamps unhinged from that period is regrettably very difficult. Stamps with a fresh condition "like fresh from post office" are even more scarce, although you can still find good quality mint stamps at reasonable prices. As for the 1894 issue, almost all used and especially the CTOs are hinged. Some mint stamps may be unhinged but can be a bit pricey.
And finally, depending on the bulk of stamps, you would expect to spend from as little as US$5 to US$40. They rarely go beyond this unless if the lot contains some rare used stamps or high value stamps with CTOs (eg. $5 or $10).

Note: This site is no longer maintained and contents are mostly outdated.
Please visit my new site called The Stamps Journal for latest articles. Alternatively, you may click the links below for specific articles on the new site:

Brunei BMA Stamps


British Military Administration (BMA)

The BMA took charge of Brunei's postal service on 17 December 1945 and treated all four British Borneo teritories as one unit (as also had the Japanese). Sarawak stamps of the 1934-41 issue and North Borneo 1939 issue were overprinted "BMA".
None of the Brunei stamps were overprinted primarily because of insufficient stock from previous issue - this is likely because the little number of remaining 1924-37 Brunei stamps might have been used up for Japanese overprints. Also both North Borneo and Sarawak stamps were sufficient enough to provide for postal need in Brunei during the BMA administration.  The use of BMA stamps ceased with the reappearance of new Brunei issues on 2 January 1947.
Three-line postmark supplied by Straits Times, Singapore - Kuala Belait

Three-line postmark - Brunei

Very few postmarks were used during BMA and mainly from the two main towns - Brunei and Kuala Belait. I'm not sure about postal services in Tutong and Temburong during BMA, but both Muara and Seria were not opened until 1948 and 1951 respectively.

Two varieties of postmarks were produced: (a) A three-line postmark provided by the Straits Times in Singapore; and (b) An Australian pattern cds. Both varieties were available for both towns. Two further varieties found for the three-line postmarks for both Brunei and Kuala Belait.

Australian pattern cds - Kuala Belait

Australian pattern cds - Brunei

More about Brunei Stamps.

A Cover That Missed the Last Clipper Service


Pan-American Trans-Pacific Clipper Service (1935-1941)
I showed this cover to one of my non-philatelic friends one day and jokingly asked him if he would buy it for €50. Although quite impressed with the heavy colourful frankings, like an innate reflex, he spontaneously asked me back"Fifty euros??! why would I buy this piece of crappy paper? I wouldn't even buy it for a tenner!!!". I smiled. Of course he wouldn't buy it and I wouldn't sell it at the price either, but trust me it's always fun to tease your friend on the subject from time to time.
Anyway this is a censored cover sent from Lahad Datu to Berkeley, California, USA. It is heavily franked with multiple North Borneo stamps (1939 issue) to a total rate of $2.05 - Evidently a mistake, this being the rate to the UK via the Pacific, plus 2¢ War Tax stamp. The rate to USA with PAA service after 3rd July 1941 would have been $1.55. Tied with Lahad Datu 4 DEC 1941 (D11) with black boxed censor cachet number 28 on the front and back. Inscribed "Per Pan American Clipper" on top left corner, with an airmail etiquette below. US censor label number 1683 on top of (presumably) North Borneo censor label.
Missing the Last Clipper from Singapore
The Pacific clipper service bacame available in Singapore on 10th May 1941. The first clipper (California clipper) reached Singapore on 10th May 1941 and returned back to San Francisco on 12th May 1941 - The first newly extended Pan Am route to Singapore.
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941, and the US officially declaring war to Japan, the trans-Pacific services were immediately suspended. The last clipper (China clipper) left Singapore on the 30th November 1941, so the only remaining possibility for airmail to the UK and USA would have been the Horseshoe route with its long arduous transit times. Other possibility would have been by ship journeys from Singapore or Australia (Sydney) to the USA.
How Did the Mail Reach USA?
The essential question is how did mails missing the last clipper delivered to their US/UK destinations. Examples from various countries show two possibilites: by surface ship via the Pacific to the US; or via the long Horseshoe route to the UK. 
The numbers of  covers flown on the newly introduced PAA trans-Pacific route from North Borneo are unknown but should be very little. Many covers boarded the clipper in time for the last clipper on the 30th Nov 1941 so there are very few example from British Borneo or Malaya to compare with.
 For the cover above, the US censor 1683 is that of San Francisco, which strongly suggests that it was delivered via ship to the US. This was either from Singapore or other major port cities (eg. Sydney). Nonetheless, because of lacking examples, it would be interesting if details on such ship delivery can be brought to light.

Ebay Review - North Borneo


1. Elopura Bulls-eye Cancel

This catchy Elopura cds was listed in ebay on 7 July 2012, fetching a final price of US$171.45. I recall a slightly tatty example of similar  bulls-eye Elopura cds on $1 stamp which appeared on January 2010 and ended with a mere US$35. Surely, the appetite for such beautiful gems has not waned at all, but in fact shows an ever stronger demand. Another bulls-eye Elopura cds on $10 appearing in ebay on February 2012 fetched $123.50.
Elopura cds was in use from 22.1.84 to 18.4.85 (as per Proud) but was then passed into unofficial hands for philatelic cancellation mostly involving high values stamps up to 1890. This is why bulls-eye cancels are quite prevalent post 1885 for the Elopura cds.
2. Judicial Dept Sandakan (Type 3)
Surely the attention for this lot consisting of 75 North Borneo stamps revolved around the $10 stamp bearing a violet cancel of JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT (Type 3, IDM). This lot ended on 28.07.12 for US$122.50. This large size cancel is similar to the GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH NORTH BORNEO cancels (type B, C and D) but with different caption in the lower half of the double ring. Overall, this is an impressively clear chop for such an elusive fiscal cancellation, and should be a great presentation item.
3. Maltese Cross Cover, 1918
Another superstar item, likely to be one of the most expensive philatelic items for North Borneo in ebay in the last few years. Prices rarely go beyond US$1000 even for very rare items in ebay. This cover however, managed to amass 5 bids to fetch the final price at US$1275! 
The cover consists of almost a full set Maltese Cross stamps issue (1916) from 1¢ to 24¢ (without 25¢). These are all tied neatly to the cover by a characteristic (worn-out) D11 KUDAT cds dated 20 DEC 1918. The cover is a registered mail sent from Kudat to England.
4. Fake Sandakan cds on $10 stamp
This is too obvious to miss, accounting for the very low ending price of  £4.99 after one participation. Collectors nowadays are becoming more knowledgable and sophisticated. The obliterator bars on top right corner and lower left corner indicate that this is a fake one.

North Borneo 1950-59 Definitives in Stamp Magazine


After about 2 months of inactivity, I'm back with the usual business. I was in Dublin for some stroll when this Stamp Magazine issue September 2012 caught my wary eyes. Finally, someone, somewhere is actually writing about North Borneo stamps in the Stamp magazine! This is indeed a rare feat as I've been following Stanley Gibbons, Stamp Magazine (UK) and the Scotts magazine (USA) for quite sometime and in the last few years there has been no article on North Borneo, let alone Labuan. There are of course articles related to Sarawak, Brunei and Malaya in the last few months. You might start to wonder whether North Borneo is that unpopular among Commonwealth collectors.
Anyway, Len Stanway wrote a nice article about North Borneo's 1950s definitive series. He covered the historical aspects and the substandard designs of the series in a great detail. From relatively blurry images to uninspiring choices of depictions, the stamps series were largely received with disappointment among collectors. The 50¢ stamp for example, had the capital name spelt wrongly from JESSELTON to JESSLETON. Although this probably gives us some sentimental philatelic feel now, it didn't quite impress much the collectors back then. Subsequent Queen Elizabeth II stamps issue used the exact same designs.

What further caught my eyes was Silamstar's Papar cover which was used in the article: Click here for the picture and here for the Papar postmark entry. Further, Anthony's Salvaged mail was also included in the article: Click here.


Ebay Review - North Borneo, Labuan, Sarawak Stamps


1. Straits Settlement Stamps used in Labuan

I recall this stunning cover being auctioned in Spink Singapore on Sept 2010 as part of the Stolz collection. The hammer price then was S$1,100 (or approx US$840 in Sept 2010). It reappeared in ebay on May 2012 with an opening price of US$750 and ended with 1 bid after 7 days. It is apparent therefore that the seller didn't make any profit from the sale and in fact was making a loss of more than US$90 including buyer's premium. This proves my belief that for expensive items, ebay might not be the best place to sell afterall...

Back to the cover, this is a registered envelope to Scotland franked with six different values at 21c. (6c. Imperial rate plus 15c. registration) cancelled with superb "labuan" c.d.s. (Type D11), showing boxed "recommande" h.s. (Type R5) and registration label at foot.

Historically speaking, Labuan (and Brunei) officially became part of the Straits Settlements administration in 1st January 1907 to 1st January 1942, when the Japanese first landed in Labuan. By letters Patent dated 30 October 1906, Labuan was incorporated with Straits Settlements and ceased issuing its own stamps, explaining why within this time span, Straits Settlement stamps were being used in Labuan. It became part of the Colony of North Borneo again in July 1946.

2. Pead cover with Brunei and Labuan frankings

Pead cover with mixed frankings of Brunei and Labuan stamps. The Brunei postage rate is 23½¢ and Labuan rate of 18¢ with all stamps tied to the cover. Typical Paed cover date of 22 JUL 1895 in Brunei and Labuan cds dated 25 JY 1895. Registered no 1062, consistent with Brian Cave's listing of Peads cover which begins with number 903. Ended at US$499 in May 2012 after 2 bids.

3. Fake Maltese Cross

I'm glad that nobody actually bidded for this set of fake Maltese cross stamps at an opening bid of €95. As a rule there are two varieties of colour in the overprints - magenta or light carmine. Anything exceedingly bright red in colour as the picture above is likely to be forgery. Furthermore, the edges and the points at the centre of the cross are usually sharp in genuine overprints. The fake overprints on the contrary usually have blunt and wide edges and the points at the centre are usually thicker than the genuine ones.

In addition to that, when you start seeing a maltese cross overprint on a CTO North Borneo stamp, don't turn back, run away quick because you know it's fake!

4. Sarawak Japanese Occupation Cover

This is a registered Sarawak cover sent locally and franked with full set of un-overprinted Japanese stamps from 1937-40 series (1 sen - 8 sen); and the 1942 issue of 5 sen claret. Tied with Sarawak cds dated 1 OCT 1942 with Kuching boxed registration cachet. At the back is a circular "SARAWAK CONSTABULARY LICENSE OFFICE" with initials in red. Also stamped with an oval chop in blue with Chinese characters. Ended at US$610 in May 2012.

Historically speaking, Sarawak was invaded by the Japanese army on December 17th, 1941. Officially, on October 1st, 1942, a series of un-overprinted Japanese stamps were made available for use in British Borneo, having arrived at a much earlier date in September 1942. These stamps are usually cancelled with existing "English" postmarks before overprinted Japanese stamps became available together with the cancels.

5. North Borneo 'On Government Service' letter

This cover is a registered cover sent from Jesselton to USA in 1932. The interesting part is of course the red wax seals at the back, bearing the North Borneo's coat of arm impression. Franked with a block of four 12¢ stamps and cancelled Jesselton cds. There is also a faint chop at the lower left corner which I suspect to be the Jesselton GPO cancel. Ended at US$179.50.

People's Republic of China (PRC) - Stamps worth Looking for


People's Republic of China (PRC)

Everybody's been talking about it - China's stamp boom. Demand for most stamps issues of this country especially the issues of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, shows no sign of abating any time soon. Recent auctions realisations around the globe seem to highlight this huge demand.

According to Mike Hall, the Chief executive of Stanley Gibbons group, within 4½ years from Nov 2006 to April 2011, the catalogue values of high profile China stamps grew on average of 200%. Some stamps grew at a more astounding annual rate, for example the 1962 Mei Lan-fang set grew by about 790% within the last 4½ years (or on average of 175% annually)! Fah Onn Liau wrote a nice article on the growth of North Borneo stamps especially for the high values stamps, and this seems to apply to many other Asian stamps in general, but North Borneo stamps' growth is a long way to go compared to the mighty Chinese stamps.

Imperforated Mei Lan-Fang stamps issue (1962) - Finished US$1,500 in ebay May 2012.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Schneider, founder of Interasia auctionhouse, demand for Chinese stamps has exploded in the last 20 years since he started his first auction. "It's such a booming market because you have the influence of China, and an enormous Chinese diaspora too, and they tend to collect Chinese stamps whether they're living in the U.S., Scandinavia or South America," he says. And of course in addition to the 20 million strong collectors in China, westerners also collect stamps from this country. According to Louis Mangin, owner of auctionhouse Zurich Asia, half of the participants in Chinese stamps auction come from the mainland China and another half are from outside China.

In March 2011, Interasia auction shaterred the world record with the largest ever stamp auction in Hong Kong with a total reaslisation of almost HK$100,000,000. Dr. Scheiner was quoted as saying "Philately has a special place in Chinese culture, with rare stamps regarded as important cultural icons and treasures, just like art, and thus fiercely competed over. However, we are seeing a level of interest and excitement in People's Republic stamps that is absolutely breathtaking, with many increasing 200 per cent or more in value in the past two or three years in a white-hot market."

Red-Hot Stamps Issues

Strip of 5, 1967 issue used, Thoughts of mao Tse-Tung, sold US$1,300 ebay May 2012.

On 1 March 1955, a currency revaluation took place, marking a new era in Chinese philately. The cultural revolution was launched on 16 May 1966 by Mao Tse-Tung. It was aimed at getting rid of bourgeois elements from the society and to return to capitalism. This explains why almost all issues within this period are very scarce as stamp collecting was viewed as a burgeois activity. Even postally used examples of stamps within this period are difficult to obtain. Those with a deep pocket, the 1967-68 issue on Mao's poems is worth looking for especially in unmounted mint. Another issues to look for are the 1967 Labour day, Mao's 'Talks on Literature and Art' (1967) and Directives of Chairman Mao (1968).

The legendary stamp of 1968 issue 'The entire nation is red' is probably impossible to acquire with its current market value unless you're one of those Forbes magazine highlights. Alternatively you may start playing a jackpot now and pray that you win big bucks. This stamp is super scarce, being quickly withdrawn because Taiwan appears white instead of red.

Although the Cultural Revolution officially ended in 1969, its effects continued to be felt until mid 1970s, with stamp collecting still very much frowned upon. Difficult issues in this later period include Centanary of the paris commune (1971), Chinese Merchant shipping (1972), Giant Panda (1973) and Industrial products (1974) among others.

1980 year of Monkey (8f) Sold in ebay for US$1,275 in May 2012

Issues from 1978 to the early 1980s may be picked up more easily although not cheaply. Finally, another legendary China stamp is the 1980 Year of the monkey stamp. This is the penny black of China, or the inverted Jenny in USA. Every China collector reveres this particular stamp due to a combination of the design (monkey), colour (red) and value (8f) - all of which are considered to bring good luck. As everyone wants to own this stamp, the price keeps rising exponentially, so if you need this stamp in your collection, buy it sooner rather than later.