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

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

A study of ellipses in Christmas colours.

The first batch of 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). The rebirth of the coconut duty plate would turn out to be one of Sir Edward Gent's final 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.

This was a momentous event for the coconut definitive, for it became the only design to ever truly cover the whole of Malaya. Singapore would later chart its own political destiny, but its geographical and cultural affinity to Malaya are eternal.

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. De La Rue's version of 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.

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

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.

Both postmarked in 1960 are this coconut stamp in Singapore's national colours and a first-anniversary stamp of the State of Singapore. By then, Singapore was no longer part of Malaya, and Lee Kuan Yew had been sworn in as prime minister. Singapore coconut definitives were finally invalidated on 1 August 1961 (Stanway 2009).

A brand-new value with brand-new colours which happen to be those of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles Institution.

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

Two of the dollar values sported colour schemes new to the coconut definitive, although the schemes first appeared in the 19th century. The earthy, botanical colours of the $5 set it apart from the bright colours of the other coconut high values.

Among the proofs preserved in the Crown Agents, Philatelic and Security Printing Archive are unapproved reversed colour schemes of the high values.

Tanjong Rhu

Singapore had more than 200 kampongs in their heyday, throughout the main island and the surrounding isles.

[image coming soon]

Back in 1933, the designer of the coconut definitive might have stood gazing at the two coconut trees framing this idyllic kampong scene. Now, in 1968, the PAP government was running the newly independent nation’s economic machinery at full throttle. Kampongs and coconut trees were fast becoming nostalgic memories, yet they continued serving as ambassadors for the country. So was and did the native Harlequin Rasbora (upper right), which led a tenuous existence in freshwater streams deep in the forested heart of the island. Singapore’s Ministry of Culture sent this postcard to an Australian listener to say that it had received his report that he had received Singapore’s 11940-kilohertz amplitude-modulation English radio station. The ministry wrote that it hoped he had enjoyed listening and would continue to tune in.

Stamps issued by the Coconut Action Party marking the historic state visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin to Singapore (president Halimah Yacob) in 2018.


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