Malaya postage stamp colours and inks - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen


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The coconut definitive observes a tradition as old as the postage stamp itself: that of issuing the unit denomination in black. Many other definitive issues have followed the example of the Penny Black of 1840 (left), such as the 1934 Hindenburg definitive issued by the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler, on swastika-watermarked paper (right). The Penny Black itself was changed to red soon after it was released, so that more robust black postmarks could be used. Yet the tradition of black stamps persisted.

The black look is given a mutagenic transformation by printing it on green paper in the enthralling 50 cents, perhaps as a way to make it look expensive without having to use different colours for key and duty plates. But this made it prone to forgery.

Shades of a given denomination were prone to variation over the long production run of the coconut definitive, especially after the war. Pale shades (e.g. right) are thought to be the consequence of cost-cutting ink dilution. See BMA blues for a case study of post-war shade proliferation in the coconut definitive.

Brown has been found to be people's least favourite colour, but it naturally exudes a down-to-earth charm not felt in other colours. Brown was a remarkably consistent colour in the coconut definitive throughout its tenure, with only slight fluctuations. This suggests that the ink was very simple in composition, perhaps containing only a single pigment that was easy to mix. Most brown pigments contain iron (III) oxide as a major component.

Mauveine, an organic dye derived from coal tar, was discovered by 18-year-old William Henry Perkin in London in 1856. It was the world's first synthetic dye. In 1863, William De La Rue developed his own version, Azulin Purple (Young 2007). The stamps above, originally a similar shade, reveal the extent to which mauveine or related dyes can wash out. This class of dye has a well-known tendency to permeate through the back of the stamp.

References



Analyzing the inks of the coconut definitives with a laser Raman microspectrometer.


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