The early stamps of Brunei

5/02/2018     Brunei

‘The Abode of Peace’
The American author Harlan Hogan wrote “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Brunei’s first stamps are known as the “Star and Crescent Locals” and were issued on 22 July 1895. They did indeed have a second chance to impress when in 1935, some 40 years later, documents were uncovered that proved that these erstwhile ‘locals’ were in fact official in origin and properly valid for postage within Brunei and Labuan!

We are delighted to offer an interesting range of early Brunei stamps from between 1895 –1922 plus some later issues, up to 1990, in our Hunter’s Sale Number 7236 on the 27th January (Lots 5711-5747). These include many different examples, particularly of those known as the “View on Brunei River” type that first appeared in 1907 and continued, via various issues until 1952.

There were ten stamps in the 1895 “Star and Crescent” set with ten denominations from ½c to 1 British Trade Dollar (SG1 – SG10) which was then legal currency within Brunei. These stamps were typographed on white paper in a number of different colours, with no watermark and perforated between 13-13½. The design shows a five pointed star boldly appearing in the centre of the stamp, beneath an arched crescent under which are a sail boat, a mountain and two palm trees on either side. The set was issued seven years after the Sultan State became a British Protectorate.

Brunei is located on the northern shore of Borneo Island, bordered by the Malaysian state of Sarawak and sharing a South China Sea coastline. The capital of this relatively small country of approximately 2250 square miles (nearly the size of the County of Devon), is Bandar Seri Begawan. Nearby, is the former British island colony of Labuan. For a short period before 1895, stamps issued by Labuan bearing the familiar profile head of Queen Victoria were used in Brunei.

The first stamps were the result of the entrepreneurial inventiveness of the local Manager of the Central Borneo Company of Labuan, and friend of the Sultan, Mr John Robertson. He successfully negotiated a monopoly concession from His Majesty Sultan Hashim, to set up what became an internal domestic postal service with the Company also providing the first post office in the Protectorate. The stamps were printed by Maclure Macdonald in Glasgow.

Whilst the local mail service was described as “erratic”, it was nevertheless a successful attempt to establish an inaugural postal service, one that was only replaced in 1906, four years after Mr Robertson had been transferred to nearby Kota Marudu.

The establishment of an official government postal service in 1906 resulted in an order being placed with Thomas De La Rue in London for the printing and delivery of what was to become known as the “View on Brunei River” type. However the first supplies were delayed in transit from Great Britain and the temporary solution was to overprint 12 different stamps from the neighbouring colony of Labuan with “BRUNEI” in red ink.

Whilst the first issue was met with scepticism, and the second ‘temporary’ overprinted issue sought-after as a potential investment, the “View on Brunei River” design was greeted enthusiastically by collectors and commentators around the world. Featuring a tropical image of a boat navigating along the River Brunei with a native house and moorings on the river bank behind and palm trees and clouds above, this pleasing design speaks from a period when colonial stamps actually showed aspects of the countries that they represented. The colours chosen for each stamp complied with the identification needs of the Universal Postal Union. Brunei officially joined the UPU on the 1st January 1916 and these stamps were the first that could be used without additional stamps or charges beyond Brunei. The later issue of 1910 extended the values to include a $5 carmine/green (SG 47) and $25 black/red (SG 48, see lot 5720).

This basic design did not change but in 1924 new 6c & 12c values were added with a design showing a Karupong Ayer (Water Village) as viewed from the elavated home of the British High Commissioner. Even throughout WWII the Japanese administrators continued the use of these designs as they showed little British influence and it wasn’t until the introduction of a new definitive series in 1952 that the “River View” design was finally retired!

Much has occurred in Brunei since. Her oil wealth and ancient trade links have allowed her to issue beautiful stamps that often bridge western modernity and eastern panache. These beautiful issues, both old and new, still have much to offer the serious collector.

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