©Lin Yangchen

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The BMA Malaya 50 cents was famously forged by dyeing green the paper of the black 1c, reportedly with chlorophyll extracted from pandan leaves as was a familiarity in local cuisine (Cockburn 2015, comm. 2021), and altering the denomination tablets. The perpetrator was a Chinese employee in the post room of the National City Bank of New York (now Citibank) in Singapore (Cockburn 1998, comm. 2017), who was eventually caught and jailed (Cockburn 2015). The forged stamps were used mostly on parcels. They attained a sort of celebrity status and have been documented many times over the year by The Stamp Lover (1949), Fletcher (1977), Rosevear (1981), Cooper (1982, 1992), Cockburn (2015). Postmarks on these stamps are characteristically smudged and indistinct, probably because of the added green colouring.

Mutant Ninja Turtle

Lin & Cheah (2016a) first reported the existence of shade varieties of the forgery. In contrast to the turquoise "coral sea" of the previous example, this one exhibits the chlorophyll green of a phytoplankton bloom. The front of the stamp has been bleached by prolonged exposure to light.

An apparently hybrid variety. It is not clear whether these varieties were due to the use of different colouring substances or simply inconsistencies in handiwork.


The alteration of the tablets was a painstaking and, as it turns out, quasi-expressionistic endeavour. Yet the author knows of some 40 forged stamps, including 14 on a single piece that auctioned for £8500 in 2016. This means he did it 80 times—twice on each stamp. One could imagine him poring over the stamps with a loupe, like a jeweler or watchmaker. The "revenue" from each stamp was about a day's wage for the clerk, before debiting the time, energy and materials spent fabricating it.

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For all his efforts, the tablets' crudeness makes one wonder if the forger did not realize only until after the fact that evidence of his pranks would remain indelibly etched on the stamps and eventually bring about his downfall.

Almost all copies of the forgery seen by the author were fabricated from 1¢ stamps printed on striated paper (above), an observation first made by Peter Cockburn. This dates the 1¢ to 1946 (see Cameron 1950).

Lin & Cheah (2017), however, uncovered a single copy of what appears to be a fabrication on substitute paper.

The typography of the tablets on the substitute paper is even cruder; the glyph shapes are indistinct while stroke thickness is inconsistent. Furthermore, the inscription "spills over" into the vertical white margin on the right-hand side of the tablet, which alludes to poor judgement of space constraints while working from left to right.

The bottom portions of (upper image) the suspected forgery of the forgery and (lower image) a genuine forgery, showing the stamps as they appear in daylight (left) and under 365 nm ultraviolet irradiation (right). The suspected fake has tablets that glow brightly under UV (Lin & Cheah 2017).

Was this simply a case of traction problems on substitute paper, or a modern-day forgery of the forgery? We only know that this had been manufactured some time prior to the 1980s, before one of the authors bought it from Derek Clayton.

De La Rue had earlier suggested updating the 50c to a bicolour on white paper for post-war printings, but the Colonial Office rejected it (Cockburn 2015). Now it was too late. Soon after, the postal service would be hit by the Singapore 1948 postal forgeries.

The 50¢ forgery remains as much of a maverick as ever. While some philatelists nostalgically recall the occasional copy lurking in flea markets for a few pence in days gone by, collectors nowadays face wildly fluctuating prices for the privilege of ownership. There have been been lucky strikes on eBay for prices as low as £1.99 from unsuspecting sellers, while the author witnessed a nuclear bidding war for a single stamp at a major auction house in 2015 that reached £2000 before buyer's premium and taxes.

The real 50 cents and its botanical counterpart, the orchid Coelogyne pandurata, a native of the Malay Archipelago. Orchid photo: Azhar Ismail (Creative Commons license)

I am grateful to Cheah Jin Seng, Peter Cockburn, Alan Chong, Ong Kuee Hong, Gerald Brown, Chang Kok Kay and the Singapore Philatelic Museum for providing material and valuable insights.


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