©Lin Yangchen

previous section | next section | back to table of contents

Nothing beats the 10¢ magenta coconut definitives in sheer diversity of shades. The varieties of the BMA MALAYA 10¢ and post-war 10¢ are legendary. But philatelists usually study these two issues separately, since BMA and the postwar Malay states are seen as different collecting specialties. Only when one views the whole panorama of the Universal Coconut Duty Plate from 1936 to the 1950s, including the pre-war Straits Settlements issues, does one see the full chromodiversity of the 10¢.

Foster Freeman VSC8000 philately
Examining 10¢ magenta shades with microspectrophotometry and hyperspectral imaging between 400 nm and 1000 nm.

The longer time scale of observation also lays the foundation for reconstructing a broader picture of the evolution of security printing doctrine and developments in ink manufacturing technology. I also embrace colour changelings in used stamps, an additional layer of variability usually excluded from colour studies, in the hope of uncovering insights into ink chemistry.

This is the first-ever full-colour photographic guide to the shades of the 10¢ coconut definitives. It catalogues both visible reflectance (left side of composite image) and ultraviolet fluorescence (right side of composite image) at high resolution and covers the complete lifespan of the coconut definitive. The aim is not to identify print requisitions or dates, which are in good hands, but to explore the colour spectrum of the 10¢. A calibrated and standardized imaging procedure ensures colour consistency and accuracy if viewed on a calibrated monitor. Note, however, that paper colour can influence the perceived shade of the ink.

pre-war straits settlements
(all non-fluorescent)


Aged Bordeaux.

Photomicrograph with a 20× plan apochromatic objective and transmitted Köhler illumination.

Purplish brown.

One of the most exotic purple pigments is purple fluorite. It is known to have been used only in southern Germany and the Tyrol from 1470 to 1520 (National Gallery Company 2000, Richter 2001).

bma malaya

Cameron (1950) listed 11 printings of bma 10¢, while Murray Payne (2015d) lists eight. But Dr. Abdul Majid Dato Kassim’s tour de force shows 30 different combinations of shades, papers and dies, including subtleties like “purple-brown and light reddish purple”. Still, it was quite well-behaved when it started out in 1945.

Overprint on pre-war chalk-surfaced stock.

Brownish purple on post-war substitute paper.

Desaturated purples on wartime striated paper.


In 1947, all hell broke loose when magenta, reddish and fugitive inks became the rage. The inks were probably based on aniline, an aromatic amine distilled from coal tar. It smelt of rotten fish and was used as a hypergolic rocket fuel at the time. Aniline-derived stamp inks have been widely reported by philatelists to fluoresce like volcanic lava under ultraviolet bombardment.

One of several forms of fuchsine, a magenta-coloured synthetic dye derived from aniline. Fuchsine is used in hair dye, artists' paints, microscopy and dermatology.

Alizarin is also a candidate dye, especially for the more reddish shades. Alizarin can be pinkish or purplish depending on the accompanying fixative, and fluoresces like aniline. It is also used as a histological stain for calcium. It used to come from the roots of the madder plant but is usually synthesized nowadays.

Another pinkish dye is eosin, which was used for Australian KGV stamps. It fluoresces but in yellow. I don't think it was used for the coconut definitives.

Organic dyes seem much more variable in shade than inorganic pigments. Perhaps this is because every batch of dye is a different mix of many similar molecules with slightly different benzene ring configurations and substitutions (such as the above) and reflectance spectra, and manufacturing processes cannot or do not precisely control the composition. In contrast, inorganic pigments such as mercuric sulphide have a simple and (mostly) singular molecular formula, and the only significant degrees of freedom are their purity and concentration.

Hybrid form on substitute paper.

Chalky two-tone with differential fluorescence.

Full-blown chalky magenta.

The solvent in the cancellation was enough to make it bleed.

Photomicrograph with a 20× plan apochromatic objective and transmitted Köhler illumination.

post-war states

Historically, stamps printed with reddish inks were notoriously variable in shade (see Judge 2017, Hofmeyr 2020, Charles 2017 and Charles 2020a,b for examples from other parts of the world). For the coconut definitive, this was exacerbated by the fact that the post-war 10¢ had the largest production run of all the post-war denominations. Indeed, the first coconut stamp I ever saw in my life was a 10¢.

Stanway (2009) categorized them into early fluorescent and late non-fluorescent shades. The fluorescents were probably printed using ink recipes inherited from the late BMA issues. Non-fluorescent ink gradually took over and was in full use by the time of Queen Elizabeth II.

We thus see a macroevolution of coconut 10¢ shades from pre-war purples through the magenta craze to a refined and elegant post-war claret. Supply chains for ink constituents were probably disrupted during the war, forcing De La Rue to improvise, and stabilized again when peace returned. Canadian stamps got into a similar situation during World War I (Judge 2017).

Fluorescence spectrum (raw data) of a post-war magenta 10¢ on excitation with a 325 nm helium-cadmium ultraviolet laser through a 40× fused silica-calcium fluoride microscope objective.


‘Mint Never Hinged', ‘Very Fine Used' and other such decorations are highly coveted by stamp dealers and collectors. But there are the stamps that have endured half a century of hardship in the tropical heat and humidity. They have a rugged, uncosmetic beauty, like a sunburnt, dirty and sweaty Zhang Ziyi after the fight with the desert bandit in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Stanway (2009) mentions a Singapore 10¢ so unstable that the ink leaches out even in mint condition. Did the printer run out of fixative or forget to add it?


Photomicrograph with a 20× plan apochromatic objective and transmitted Köhler illumination.

I am grateful to Lim Kim Yong and Sow Chorng Haur (Department of Physics, National University of Singapore), Ernest Cheah (Nikon Imaging Centre, Singapore Bioimaging Consortium), and Poh Kian Hwee for valuable discussions and research facilities.


previous section | next section | back to table of contents
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In