Colours and papers of the BMA MALAYA 15 cents - Lin Yangchen
  • Colours and papers of the BMA MALAYA 15 cents

©Lin Yangchen

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There were at least nine printings of the BMA MALAYA 15c in different shades of blue on three types of paper (Cameron 1950), making it one of the most fascinating studies of colour variation in the coconut definitives of Malaya. Environmental exposure over time, especially of used stamps, spawns an even greater multiplicity and subtlety of colour, further heightens the challenge of their identification, and offers insights into how an ink changes over time. An ink's variability in the real world will only enhance one's understanding of what constitutes a philatelic 'shade'.

First printing (pre-war): bright ultramarine on 'rough-surfaced paper of 1941' (Cameron 1950). Locally overprinted in black (Cameron 1950, Barker 1993) and issued in November 1945.

Close-up of the paper, showing the distinctive asbestos texture also seen in striated paper. The author postulates that the 'rough-surfaced paper' originated from the same pulp used for striated paper, but is thicker and lacks the striations.

An elusive 'dull cobalt blue' variety, shown here unoverprinted, has been reported (Malaya Study Group 1993), possibly printed by Harrison & Son (Cockburn 2015). Many philatelists pass this off as a fading of the normal 15c. Faded ink, however, is usually accompanied by other signs like oxidation or degradation of the paper. In this example and another in the possession of the author, the paper looks relatively fresh and the watermark is clearly discernible on the reverse.

Second printing (December 1945): bright ultramarine on substitute paper.

Detail of the overprint, showing a possible case of chemical change in the red ink with telltale pitting. The author has encountered only one example despite examining hundreds of copies, and has not yet ruled out the possibility (Lin 2016b) of this being the obscure 'blacking of red overprint' forgery reported by Cameron (1950). A fellow philatelist suggests it could have been the work of a collector whose album lacked the scarcer black overprint, the 50,000 copies of which had sold out by January 1946.

Third printing (15 October 1946): dull ultramarine on substitute paper.

Fourth printing (27 January 1947): deep ultramarine on substitute paper. The blotchy impression on the right may be a 'dry print' caused by low temperature or bad mixing of the ink.

Close-up of the dry print, showing a pitted form of substitute paper.

Fifth printing (8 July 1947): the elusive steel blue on substitute paper.

Magnification of the steel blue showing the texture of substitute paper.

Sixth printing (27 November 1947): blue on chalky paper. Printed from Plate 2, which has the 'MALAYA' at the top engraved more closely than usual to the top of the frame (author's observation). The stamp on the right has probably experienced significant environmental exposure. Astonishingly, these two look more different from each other than some of the other printings do from one another, yet both have the essential tonal characteristics that identify them as of this printing. This pair of changelings demonstrates the variability that can occur across stamps of the same printing.

Magnification of the sixth printing, showing the cakier, less fibrous texture of chalky paper and more homogeneous print quality. The surface seems to act like a porous sponge that absorbs ink quickly and evenly.

A rare self-made postcard with a view of Singapore's General Post Office from Clifford Pier, affixed with blues on chalky paper. In the background on the right is the Post Office Pier along Collyer Quay, linked to the G.P.O. by a tunnel 35 metres long. Mail arrived from Britain by sea every Friday (Bala Subramanion comm.).

Seventh printing (22 March 1948): ultramarine on chalky paper (left), similar to the 12c ultramarine on chalky paper (right).

Eighth printing (13 May 1948): deep ultramarine on chalky paper.

Ninth printing (28 July 1948): light ultramarine on chalky paper.

Special thanks to Richard Hale for making his material available for study and for comments that improved the article.


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