KING GEORGE VI - BRUNEI
The Brunei 'River' design came into use in 1907, and remained unchanged until 1952. Potter and Shelton point out that, since this was a native state, the head of the British monarch did not appear on the stamps, so there was no need for a change of design with each change of reign. Colour and watermark were the only things to change. Partly as a result of this longevity, the issue is one of the most interesting in terms of varieties and retouches, and even at this late date I feel sure that there are new discoveries to be made. With the popularity of South-East Asian material, there is plenty of competition to acquire the more interesting items, but with a bit of knowledge it need not be necessary to spend a fortune!
The printed KG VI album produced by Gibbons starts with the 10ct purple on yellow paper, which appeared in March 1937. It is often argued that the KG VI collector should include every stamp which was current during the reign, and if this is adhered to - after all, most were not replaced or superseded until 1947 - then such a collection should start with;
The sting in the tail of this is, obviously, the inclusion of the $5 and $25. I have always rather fancied owning an example of the $25. Mint, it is often seen with gum which is dry in appearance, seeming to have been absorbed into the paper; these can be mistaken for stamps without gum. I have seen a stamp with this dry gum, and Japanese Occupation overprint, described as 'without gum' on an expert committee certificate. This description enabled me to buy it quite cheaply, resubmit it to a different expertising body, have it correctly certified, and find a good home for it at a rather different price! Postmarks are a matter for concern. Gibbons' catalogue footnote refers to their used price as being for a CTO example dated before the end of 1941, and states that examples with dates after 1945 are worth much less. The challenge for the KG VI used collector would be to find one dated between December 1936 and December 1941!
There are many ways in which this ranks as an intriguing set. One is the method of production, the set being produced throughout by De La Rue, always the most interesting of printers. A masterplate produced the entire design for each value, with the exception of the figures of value themselves; these were added by using a pantograph. This meant that each figure of value was copied from an original, but without the precision afforded by an engraved die. The pantograph (which is an 'instrument of four rods jointed together in a parallelogram form, with tracing-point on one end and one terminal joint') did not eliminate human error, as we will see in due course.
After so many years in use, it is hardly surprising that wear and damage affected some of the plates by the time the 1947 set came into use. For a start, most of the old plates still in use had their sizes reduced from 60 to 50. Dan Griffin tabulated the reductions in size as follows;
Columns removed from sheet
The new-colour $5 and the $10 were printed from new, 50-set plates; the old-colour $5 and the $25 never had their sheet sizes reduced, and so remained 60-set. Presumably, some of the reductions were rendered desirable by damage to the plates, but others may have been simply to conform with the new 50-set plates. Now, you may feel entitled to ask yourselves, why have I been banging on about this?
In common with most sheet-layouts of the time, there were central sheet markings at the top and bottom. This was to make life easier for clerks or others who had to supply, say, half-sheets; simple, just tear along the marked line. When the sheets were reduced in size, these markings were not altered, which meant that (from being helpful) they became positively a nuisance. They certainly are, at least as far as present-day philatelists are concerned. You may think that a block with the dividing marking centrally at top necessarily comes from rows 6 and 7; but to establish this, you need to check the table above first! When studying the retouches, knowledge of how the plates were reduced is essential.
Far and away the most famous of the many retouches is the '5c' retouch on R1/8 of the 5ct. C.P. Rang told the extraordinary story in Gibbons' Stamp Monthly of January 1951. It was first spotted by Allan Leverton, some 35 years after its original occurrence. The '5' appears pale, and close examination reveals both it and the 'c' to be differently shaped from the normal. Rang concluded that the variety was the result of the '5c' being completely omitted from this position when the plate was made. That is, that the pantograph operator simply omitted half his task on this one position. To rectify the mistake, rather than set the entire process up once more, the '5c' was drawn in by hand. It is not a bad imitation, at least from a distance, and one may conclude that the decision to draw by hand was a good one, given the length of time between execution and discovery! The most apparent discrepancy is that the normal '5' has very closely-spaced vertical lines, which produce the effect of solid colour. In the retouch, the lines are much further apart. There are other positions on the sheet which superficially resemble R1/8 in that the figure is rather paler than usual, but no other position has the widely-spaced vertical lines. I am often asked to comment on stamps with the pale figures, but it really is very easy to check.
The smaller retouches are not easy to reproduce, and usually can be best seen in pairs or blocks alongside normal stamps. I am not going to go into extreme detail here, but will describe a few of the more prominent varieties to be found, firstly on the 1ct. R1/6 shows the left frame of the top left value tablet extending downwards. R1/7 has a good retouch to the sky, which takes away the middle portion of the central cloud. R1/9 has a smallish retouch, but an obvious one, appearing as a straight line under 'EI'. R4/4 is a splendid stamp and shows up very well in a block - it is now listed in the Commonwealth King George VI catalogue. The whole of the left side of the left side of the vignette is extremely pale. Although I am not certain, I presume that this is a weak entry; whatever its nature, it is a most attractive and highly-collectable variety.
The 2ct is relatively uninteresting, at least until 1951. Until then, the colour had been a rather uninspired grey. Potter and Shelton say that the shade of the 1951 release (a deep black) 'amounts almost to an error of colour'. In addition, there is a very substantial retouch on R1/1, which is listed by Gibbons and Commonwealth.
Apart from R1/8, the 5ct has 7 other positions which Richard Lockyer identifies as having marks in the value tablets. These seem to be deliberate, mostly taking the form of small vertical lines, but their purpose is obscure.
The 10ct has some similar marks. Of more significance is the excellent retouch on R2/10 where the top of the sky is roughly and strongly retouched, and this shows up particularly well in a block. The final printing has an interesting variety. In later years, the value tablet was becoming worn, especially to the left and right of the lettering. On the final printing, these weaknesses were touched up by hand on some sheets. It appears that the hand-painting was confined to the bottom row. It seems likely, too, that it was done only on sheets from this printing destined for the trade. De La Rue's touchiness over the quality of its work, especially that distributed among philatelists, makes this likely.
There are a couple of retouches on the 25ct worth mentioning; to the central cloud on R3/5, and on 4/5 to the left cloud which normally is open on the left side but, in this case, is closed off by lines of shading. There may be further retouches on this and the other higher values, but I have seen no reports, and would welcome readers' comments. Of course, the high value plates received less use than the lower values, and so the necessity for remedial work would be greatly lessened.
When the new perforations came out in 1950-1, they were heavily bought in mint condition, but did not receive that much use. They are difficult to find nicely used, and I urge you to seek them out. Another difficult item, and one that is often misidentified by dealers and collectors alike, is the 1950 shade of the $1 in carmine as opposed to scarlet. Apart from these, I do not believe that there is much to concern us in the matter of printings. Similarly, there is nothing of interest in the commemoratives.
The Japanese occupied Brunei from December 1941 to June 1945. There is much of interest in the stamps, and there are some rarities, as a glance at any catalogue will show. Expert committee certificates are essential with all these. The 5ct has the retouch at R1/8, which I always feel should be very rare, but although it is scarce it turns up with reasonable frequency. Double handstamps, inverted handstamps and so forth turn up often enough and are of no great philatelic significance. Far more important are the unissued values, prepared for use but not issued because of the invasion. There were six of these, in altered colours. They usually turn up with more-or-less discoloured gum, but can, with diligence, be found in fine condition. The 3ct is a considerable rarity. I had the pleasure of handling a block of 10 (the two left columns of the sheet) some time ago, from Dr Wood's collection. He was able to conclude from this block that the sheet size had been reduced to 50, prior to this printing, by removal of the two left columns, since a retouch previously to be found on R1/4 was present on this block of R1/2. The block went to the best home I can think of for it!
Acknowledgements; Richard Lockyer, articles in Gibbons' Stamp Monthly, February and May 1990 Murray Payne Ltd, Commonwealth King George VI Catalogue, 19th edition Dan Griffin Potter and Shelton, The Printings of George VI Colonial Stamps
Follow us on Twitter
Find us on Facebook