The Pen Cancels of North Borneo


2 cents stamps with 8 cents surcharge pen-cancelled with "Silam"

Pen Cancels

Pen cancellation is relatively common among the North Borneo stamps but currently there is a limited reference or study done on the subject. This resulted in very few attention or interest on the subject itself. If looked carefully, some pen cancels are actually quite interesting and possibly rare.

Most pen cancels are seen in revenue or fiscally used stamps. The cancels can range from a simple meaningless scribble to something describing the date and town, and in some case, the initials of the postmaster.

Pen cancels with Chinese characters?

Pen cancels are usually associated with fiscal or revenue stamps, however, in some instances it may be used as a substitute to handstamp on postally used stamps. It is not certain whether North Borneo ever necessitated pen cancels because of the shortage of handstamps, however in some countries a shortage of handstamps may be solved simply by using the pens. Nicaragua for example exclusively used pen cancels for seven years after its first stamps issue due to unavalability of handstamps.


Of course because of the nature of the cancellation, pen cancels worth significantly lower than handstamped collection. Even a CTO stamp may worth more than a pen-cancelled stamp. It is probably the less desired cancels of all and some people even attempt to remove the cancels to make the used stamps appear mint.

A variety of pen cancels on fiscally used stamps

Nevertheless, pen cancel is still unique in its own way, and clearly someone has to do a research or study on the topic. It would be nice to know whether there is a regulation or guideline issued by the North Borneo Company on how to pen-cancel a stamp.

Buyer's Premium: A Rip Off?


Buyer's Premium

Anyone participating in an online auction should notice this - the buyer's premium - an additional charge levied by the auction house to the successful bidder in addition to the final hammer price. This 'small' charge is paid by the bidder to the auctionhouse but not passed or shared with the vendor.

The majority of the stamps online auction charges this at 15%. Usually this also includes a Value Added Tax (VAT) but some auctionhouse charges separate VAT (eg. Stanley Gibbons), which makes the successful bidder pays more.

It is strange that we have to pay an additional amount just because we have the privilege of buying things from them. If we go shopping in a supermarket and buy a $1.00 pen, this 15% additional tax means we have to pay an extra 15c - but for what? For the pleasure and privilege of shopping in that shop?

A Rip Off?

So what do we get for the additional tax we pay? Certainly nothing because we don't get any extra service apart from the basic email correspondence and we don't get free catalogue either. The auctionhouse charge it only because they can and they'll make more money out of it.

AuctionhouseBuyer's Premium
    Stanley Gibbons    15%
David Feldman15%
Status Int16.5%
Cristoph Gartner19%
Some buyer's premium from common auctionhouse

Surely they should charge the seller (or vendor) more because they are the ones using the service from the auctionhouse. For example if a consignment of stamps is received from a seller, the auctionhouse has to research for the stamps, revalue them, making estimation, take pictures and publicise them in a catalogue and then advertise the upcoming auction in stamp magazines or internet etc. So it is reasonable to charge the vendors a good percentage of the final price, but why charge the buyer?

The only reason I could think of is that they are taking the advantage of the fact that no two collections are the same. Scarcity is the keyword. Buyers would go an extra mile just to get hold of rare and good collections, and some buyers of course wouldn't mind paying a little more as long as they can get their desired items. This simply reflects the basic tenet of supply and demand. In order to get a quality supply, the auctioneer would not overcharge the seller, but because there is a strong demand in philatelic materials, they feel they should make full use of it by charging the buyer as well (and make them 15% richer).

A buyer's premium, as cool as it may sound, is simply a rip off. Nothing else. It is used by many auctionhouse elsewhere and not limited to the stamps business.

The question is, is it legal? Well no one has challenged the practice before so it could be legal. However, because the buyer gets nothing for the 15% charge (or whatever the rate is), it can be considered a "levy" or "tax" or "extortion" which is illegal by the standard of the European law. So maybe somehow someone would bring this matter into the attention of the European court and outlaw this shameful practice. Just my 2 cents...

Interesting Stampless North Borneo Covers


Early cover from North Borneo?

Saw this cover in ebay sometime ago but I'm not sure what exactly it was. The heading says "THE BRITISH NORTH BORNEO COMPANY" similar to the government official cover eg. OHMS. The only postmark on the cover is the red ink London Paid postmark, 7 Dec 1890. No other postmarks from North Borneo. Is this kind of cover commonly used by the company in 1890s? Has anyone got any information about this?


Jesselton 20c Paid Postmark

Another interesting stampless OHMS cover from North Borneo to Denmark. It is marked with Jesselton 20c Paid postmark dated 22 Feb 1956. The lower left corner of the cover is also strucked with violet cachet of the Department of Posts & Telegraphs, Colony of North Borneo, Jesselton. There is certainly no reference on this postmark in Proud's book, which makes it a nice collectable.

The Hunt for Great Postmarks II



Imagine you are given the task of presenting the essence of your country's philatelic history in one-page stock card. What sort of postmarks or stamps would you put and why?

A quick glance into this collection gives you that sense of historical appeal, capturing the very essence of North Borneo's rich philatelic history and not to mention the thrill of looking into some of the rarest North Borneo postmarks!

It appeared in an online auction site (not ebay) about 2 weeks ago and ended in 2 Nov 2010. The site's estimated price was way undervalued at £180-£220 (of course the final price was way beyond that range).

The rare Postmarks

Generally speaking the collection presents a nice mix of old and new postmarks. Some of the most notable postmarks are:

Gantian simply means a "replacement" or "substitution" in Malay. The town is so named because it was used as a substitution of the earlier settlement in Gaya island after being burned down by Mat Salleh. The Gantian cds in the collection is struked in black ink and shows a date of 13 FEB 1900, consistent with the D2 type postmark. Although there is a slight fault in the year on the postmark, it can be overlooked considering the fact that it is generally an excellent cds of this extremely rare town.

Equally interesting postmark on the horizontal pair of violet 3 cents of the 1887-1892 stamps. The cds is strucked in black ink and shows the upper half of the cds. The date is not visible although the "B" code on top of the date can be seen (not sure what it indicates). The numbers of letters received or dispatched from the post office are not known but from Nov 1886 - Jan 1887 only about $ 24.50 of the stamps sold.

Mempakul town still exists today. It is situated on the shore of Brunei Bay facing the Labuan island. It is about 3 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu towards the more well-known town of Menumbok due to ferry service to Labuan. The Mempakul postmark in the collection is struked in black ink on the 5 cents stamp of 1892 issue, showing the right half of the cds. The date is 25 MAY 1897, consistent with the D2 type postmark. In general, there are 3 types of Mempakul cds, all of which are very rare.

Elopura postmark is used from 1884-1885 before the name Elopura being reverted back to Sandakan. Prior to 1884, oval of bars postmarks were used (or doted postmark). Even though the official usage of the above postmark was from 1884-1885, it is presumed that it was used unofficially to cancel some high values stamps up to 1890. The year in the Elopura cancellation in the lot is unclear, it could be the genuine postally used cds or that of favoured cancels.

There are two Lahat Datu cancels in the lot. The first one, which is probably the more notable one is the one with the blue ink bull's-eye cancel. The date is 2 APL 1903, consistent with the D3 Lahat Datu cancel. The second Lahat Datu cds is struked in black, dated 10(?) MAY 1908 which is also the D3 type.

There are many more postmarks worth mentioning such as the nice TAWAO cds, the PAPAR, HONG KONG, SANDAKAN, BEAUFORT etc.

P/s: Comments are welcomed!