Imperium universal unified key plate - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

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Queen Victoria (1819—1901)
New Colonial Head B 1863
total height 22 mm

It was like a McDonald’s chain from the Victorian era. A brand with a global reach, sold where even McDonald’s has never been, from the sweltering jungles of subsaharan Africa to a windswept volcanic island in the middle of the south Atlantic. It even came with variations that catered to local tastes and circumstances, like Samurai Fries or McArabia.

Its name was Imperium, latin for “empire”. A miniature likeness of the monarch framed in an elegant quasi-hyperbolic octagon, poised upon a sturdy hexagonal pedestal flanked by graceful botanical motifs. A harmonious juxtaposition of geometric forms harking back to the mathematical exploits of Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci.

A circular-framed version of Imperium.

This was my route into, and out of, and over and through, London.
It was geographically exhaustive, but in a very ordered, very logical way.
The idea was—and I feel a little stupid using this word, but only a little—beautiful.

Mark Mason, who visited all 269 stations on the London Underground

Some of the Malay states had a unique variation of Imperium, featuring a tiger in a heraldic beast couchant posture based on a 1891 pen-and-ink drawing by R.E. Holding. Hence granted a philatelic position of power abreast with the British monarchs was the most fearsome predator in all of Asia. Indeed, Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita was for his command of the 25th Army in the Blitzkrieg of the Malay peninsula nicknamed Tiger of Malaya.
It is not implausible that the client was enchanted, if subconsciously, by its broad six-sided tablet reminiscent of Persian carpets or of the crossbeam decorations under the palace roofs of imperial Peking. The communion of Occidental and Oriental design elements was, in effect, a subtle manifestation of the cultural diversity and neutrality of the British Empire.

In Imperium the main part of the stamp design is on the key plate, while in the coconut definitive it is on the duty plate.

Perhaps it was the universality of Imperium that precluded the geographical and cultural identity that distinguished the coconut duty plate. Nevertheless, some consider Imperium's "palace wallpaper" more befitting of the monarch's stately countenance than coconut trees.

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