©Lin Yangchen

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Peter Kent (1974a) described the fine art of subterfuge so vital to getting your hands on a Japanese occupation revenue stamp in those days. To begin with, normal occupation stamps were hard enough to find. If one were so lucky as to spy the odd fiscal lurking in an unsuspecting dealer's stockbook, one faced the nerve-wrackingly delicate negotiation of a price high enough to persuade him to part with it, but not high enough to trigger his instinct to lock it up for deeper scrutiny.

For some reason, tax-overprinted coconut definitives are more elusive than those of other Malayan stamps. Here one carries the "Great Japan 1942 Malaya" machine chop with a rare additional overprint of the kanji character for "tax" said to have been used in Selangor. At least two forms of this hand chop exist (Kent 1974a), with thin and incisive (above) versus thick and smudged strokes possibly formed by different materials, but it is not clear whether both appear on the coconut definitive.

The rare Dai Nippon 2602 Malaya rubber handstamp, endemic to the state of Pahang, evokes the blue-green tropical waters of the Malay Archipelago. This piece, carrying both upright and inverted impressions, is the biggest ever recorded. The overprint wording is better known in the machine overprint version. The fact that Pahang was one of the less industrialized states with poorer connectivity to the peninsula's western supply lines could have been a factor in the use of manual implements.

The ink shade of this rubber stamp is highly unusual, being neither from the standard mass-produced ink pads nor the usual red or black inks used in most other Japanese occupation overprints of Malaya and indeed in most stamp overprints globally. The shade is known to range across pale green, grey-green, blue and a watery black (Kent 1974a). It could be an effect of ageing, differential environmental exposure and/or variation in ink composition.

The extended (broad-lettered) grotesque sans serif typeface of the overprint has the constant stroke thickness characteristic of its class. The short ascenders and descenders are meant to allow tighter line spacing, but the typesetter seemingly did not take advantage of this quality. A tighter line spacing would have concentrated the overprint in the central part of the stamp and made it easier to read. As it is, one can hardly make out “Dai” and “Malaya”, which overlay the already busy parts of the underlying stamp design. To be fair, the lines could have been set for a larger stamp, but most of the overprinted stamps were of the small definitive size (see Kent 1974a, 1976 for listings). The letters range from a medium to heavy and very heavy weight depending on the printing pressure. Pressure fluctuations across the elastic rubber stamp also distorted the letters and occasionally produced a faint doubling, giving the overprint a homemade quality. The fairly wide letterspacing helped, but did not completely, prevent the letters from fusing together when excessive force was applied. Nevertheless, the overall characteristics of the typeface and typesetting would have been fairly amenable to fabrication on rubber.

A similar font in the digital world is Basic Sans Semibold (above), designed by Daniel Hernández at Latinotype in Chile in 2016. The foundry says it has a neutral look. Differences from the Japanese overprint include narrower numerals and circular instead of square dots above the i’s.

See Kent (1974a, 1974b, 1976), Cockburn (2014) and McClellan (2019) for in-depth treatment of the subject, and the online catalogue by Andrew McClellan.


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