Singapore's first postage stamp - Lin Yangchen
  • Singapore's first postage stamp

©Lin Yangchen

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A telegram (British Postal Museum & Archive accession number POST122/7689) dated 15 May 1947 from Sir Edward Gent, Governor of the Malayan Union, addressed to the Secretary of State, Colonies, reads: Governments of Malayan Union and Singapore agree in principle to the establishment of new Local Postal Union to be styled (Malaya) and agree to ask Crown Agents for the Colonies to proceed at once with execution of indent for Singapore stamps and to prepare printing material for Penang and Malacca (in anticipation of receipt of an indent for these issues) based on former Straits Settlements design, but now with (Malaya) in top panel and Singapore, Penang, Malacca as the case may be, in bottom panel.

The traditional-Chinese character for post
Post Office Savings Bank machine slogan

In the trying post-war period, reusing and adapting the good old coconut design might have been a option too attractive to pass up.

The stamps for Singapore, as well as Penang and Malacca, were ordered in October 1947 (Crown Agents Stamp Bulletin No. 178, British Postal Museum & Archive accession number POST122/7689). Proofs of numerous unapproved colour schemes are preserved in the Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive.

The rebirth of the coconut duty plate after the war would turn out to be one of Sir Edward Gent's lasting legacies. On 4 July 1948, on his way back to Britain, he was killed in a mid-air collision.

Less than two months later, on 1 September, the first stamps ever inscribed SINGAPORE were issued.

SINGAPORE coconut duty plate

ITC Franklin Gothic Medium Condensed

The typeface of SINGAPORE is similar to but slightly squatter, more angular and more formal than the International Typeface Corporation's Franklin Gothic Medium Condensed, which was used in the end credits of the animated sports comedy film Space Jam in 1996. The SINGAPORE also has slightly more consistent stroke thickness and more even kerning than the Franklin Gothic.

Rickshaws languishing along grimy Sago Lane in Chinatown (circa 1920), fermenting under the oppressive humidity of wet laundry. Rickshaw pullers had a hard life and meagre earnings.

Luck seemed to have helped the Singapore coconuts come into being. To begin with, the British had decided in 1946 that Singapore was to be administered as a standalone Crown Colony separate from Penang and Malacca, which were considered Crown Colonies under the new Malayan Union. In fact, on 19 June 1946, a letter from Assistant Under Secretary of State Sir John Paskin to the Director of Postal Services (British Postal Museum & Archive accession number POST122/7689) had stated: It is the intention that in future the stamps to be used in the new Colony of Singapore should bear only the title “Singapore”. If this policy had gone into force, Singapore would have been ineligible for the universal coconut duty plate with its MALAYA inscription at the top.

One of the grotty but robust triangular cancels used throughout the British Empire for printed matter, SE probably denoting Singapore. These cancels were for non-personal mass-printed materials like magazines and newsletters, which enjoyed discounted postage rates.

This stamp, in Singapore's national colours, was more than 10 years old when it was postmarked. By 1960, Singapore was no longer part of Malaya, and Lee Kuan Yew had been sworn in as the first prime minister.

The 20 cents wears colours new to the coconut definitive, which happen to be the colours of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles Institution.

The Singapore 25 cents was the one and only coconut definitive where erroneous preparation of the single-plate Die II for a bicolour was followed by erasure of the medallion from the die and replacement with a Die I key plate, producing the unique Die III (Stanway 2009).

The purple-and-orange colour scheme (above) had been passed from the 30 cents through the $5 to the 25c. The postal authorities might have decided that the purple-and-orange colour scheme that the BMA $5 had inherited—perhaps as a matter of exigency—from the pre-war 30c really belonged to the 'middle-class' denominations.

Left, crosshairs (parcel post); right, season's greetings from Christmas Island in December 1948.

Yet another (final) change of colour for the $5: an earthy, botanical scheme that sets it apart from the bright colours of the other high values.


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