Johore small heads issue - Lin Yangchen
  • Johore small heads issue

©Lin Yangchen

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The sultan who saved the coconut stamp. Major-General Sultan Sir Ibrahim ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Sir Abu Bakar Al-Khalil (1873–1959), the only Malay sultan to be portrayed in western military uniform and who commanded the unique state-level armed forces, the Royal Johore Military Force. The uniform is similar to the No. 2 dress of the British Army, a departure from all previous Johore stamps, in which the sultan wore the more formal ceremonial No. 1 dress. The No. 2 almost gives the sultan an air of congeniality, befitting of the coconut definitive's rustic character as a "people's stamp".

A younger Sultan Ibrahim in No. 1 dress.

The Sultan, an only son and a maverick who ruled for 64 years and lived his last years in London, was an ardent Anglophile. Incidentally, Johore is the only state whose name on the stamp was printed only in English and light-on-dark.

Like a scene from a science fiction movie, the imam meditates from the lofty pulpit or minbar in Johore's Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque (c. 1900). Designed by architect Tuan Haji Mohamed Arif bin Punak in the Victorian style, it was one of several buildings in Johore that accommodated the Anglophilic sentiments of Sultan Ibrahim. Published by G. R. Lambert & Co. Ltd. as part of a series of postcards separated by perforations. It appears from the handwriting on the front that the postcard's owner was on a visit to the tin mining town of Sungei Lembing up north, near Kuantan. An fascinating juxtaposition of islam and christianity is offered by way of reference to Whitsuntide 1912 alongside the scribbled 'Note: the Man at Prayers'.

Postmarked in Singapore in 1959, the year Sultan Ibrahim died. The destinies of Johore and Singapore are intertwined; Singapore was the birthplace of the sultan, while the Sungei Johore watershed is providing the island with fresh water for a hundred years.

Fibre remnants in the perforations are probably a sign of worn-out pins in the perforating machine. This stamp was postmarked in the town of Mersing on the east coast, which during World War II had been thought to be a likely landing place for the Japanese invasion force (Bose 2012). The datestamp has seemingly been manœuvred with such uncanny accuracy that none of the important information on the stamp—names, face, denomination—has been lost.

The typeface of JOHORE superficially resembles the bold condensed version of Monotype’s Grotesque Display, whose origins date from William Thorowgood’s Grotesque of 1832. But there are subtle differences that relate it to the denomination tablets, particularly evident in the slanted cut of the end of the hook of the 'J', giving the bottom panels a homogeneity of typographic style not found in the other state issues.

Sultan Ibrahim probably had some interest in stamp design; in 1956, he again rejected a design—that of the new 1960 issue.

The Johore Market (built in 1894) on Sungei Segget, Johore Bahru's own romantic incarnation of the Thames in London or the Seine in Paris. The market sits on an island, evident from the bridge on either side. Sadly, Sungei Segget became one of the dirtiest rivers in the peninsula and was covered up in 2005 in an attempt to reduce the stench of sewage and rubbish. Published by G. R. Lambert & Co. Ltd.


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