Okugawa-Akira seal - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

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Early scholars from Arabia to Greece to Tibet regarded the circle as a perfect shape that embodied the divine and supernatural. The Okugawa-Akira seal envelopes the philatelic scholar's consciousness with a similar aura, the circumstances of its appearance on coconut stamps steeped in as much mythology as fact.

The first name Akira puts it in the same celebrity club as a class of starship in Star Trek, two Indian movies—action and romantic—from 2016, a 1988 Japanese animated science-fiction film, and a 1982 manga series set in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Yet for years philatelists had thought Okugawa's first name was Ryo, the character in the seal having alternative legitimate pronunciations. The correct name was established only in 1977 when researchers finally asked the man himself.

The overprinted stamps, which appeared in October 1942, are thought to be request stamps (Cheah 2001) sold at Penang's Zaimuka (Finance Section) but not at any post office (Harral 1961a). Postally used examples exist, and the stamps may have served as small change as well (Ricardo 1962, Coulter 1965, Dewey 1965b). A stamp dealer during the occupation regarded the overprint as 'philatelic nonsense created by a Japanese official and a Chinese post office employee' (Proud 2001), but Okugawa himself seemed to contradict empirical evidence by claiming in an interview (Tomioka 1977) that they had been for fiscal use. Cheah (2001) and Tsuchiya (2001b) list and describe all loose and on-cover specimens known to be in existence—no more than 54, or just half a sheet of stamps.

The seal, made in Penang with an unspecified material from Bangkok, was in Okugawa's possession as a war memento as late as 1977 (Tomioka 1977). It was not reported whether Okugawa had applied the seal himself. It seems that most applications of the seal, like the one shown above, are rotated anticlockwise from the vertical, suggesting that the applicator was right-handed.

The oily ink used to overprint the stamp has percolated to the back of the thin striated paper.


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