The history of Western involvement in North Borneo reads like an exciting novel with the British finally taking a serious interest in the area when it was feared that a vast area of land ceded to an Austrian businessman might pass into the hands of Austria or Germany itself. Alfred Dent of the great eastern trading house Dent Brothers managed to dislodge the Austrian through legal manoeuvrings and obtained a Royal Charter to a new British North Borneo Company.
North Borneo’s first postage stamp was probably issued during March or April 1883, having been despatched from England in late January or possibly even later. The design incorporates the Arms of the Company with script in English, Malay & Chinese, the stamps being printed by Blades, East and Blades of London, who printed stamps for the colony until 1894. One of the rarest stamps of North Borneo is actually a pair of these stamps imperforate between.
Once Waterlow took over as printers in 1894 the designs changed dramatically from the ‘Company Arms’ styling to spectacular and intricate bi-colour pictorials depicting local chiefs, stags, birds, crocodiles, mountains, elephants, rhinoceros plus so much more. No tasteless modern pictures these, but the finest work of London’s best engravers and stamp collectors have marvelled over them ever since.
As well as the considerable pictorials-only legacy which continued until the end of North Borneo itself in 1963, philatelists can enjoy the many different perforation varieties to be found amongst many of these issues, unusually collectors will note a third column in the Stanley Gibbons catalogue which indicates the price for stamps with a remainder cancellation. The ‘postmarking’ of excess stamps in this way gave generations of philatelists the opportunity to acquire otherwise valuable stamps at substantially reduced prices.
For information on postmarks and postal history we would recommend “The Postal History of British North Borneo” and for the stamps, proofs, essys and so much more “The Stamps and Postal History of North Borneo. Parts I to III” by L. H. Shipman.