Hypnotic bicolours - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

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By the time of the post-war Malay state issues, monochrome values were generally printed using single plates. The 20 cents blue was an exception, having been printed in black and green previously. Occasionally the inks used for the key and duty plates were of slightly different shades (above). More examples can be seen in the BMA Malaya 1 cent black and 2 cents orange Die I.

The true bicolours—high denominations—of the coconut definitive exhibit a kaleidoscope of colour combinations, some inherited from pre-war stamps of the Malay states. The colour pairs are of varying proximities on the colour wheel (centre) from near-adjacent (left) to directly opposite (right). Like the tonal nuances and contrasts of orchestral instruments in a Beethoven symphony, they range from sombre to exuberant, feminine to masculine, subtle to brazen. Multicolour registration was a mark of craftsmanship in artistic letterpress printing in the late 19th century (Clouse & Voulangas 2009), and the choice of colours was hotly debated in the trade. Bicoloured stamps were not always appreciated though; the first such stamps in the US in 1869 were widely seen as garish at the time. The author himself has spoken to an individual who finds the bicolours jarring.

This variant of the $1 tricolour with a pale olive vignette has not been documented even in specialized catalogues. A similar "mutant" vignette exists on some 50-cent values in the same series. In lieu of chemical analysis, the author speculates that the greenish colour may be due to hydrated copper nitrate occuring as an impurity that becomes visible as the black pigment fades. This is known to happen in body tattoos.

A mysterious copy of the $1 with a missing vignette was reported by Flowerdew (2002); a $5 in similar condition is shown above. The author suspects poor ink and/or bleaching by chemicals such as the benzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene and hydrogen peroxide sometimes used by philatelists to remove grease, reverse sulphuretting and treat other damage.

Three new post-war colour schemes that happened to match those of Serbia’s King Peter I stamps of 1905. Left: the colours of Singapore's prestigious Raffles Institution. Centre: the 50 cents finally got the bicolour scheme that would have prevented the famous forgery. Right: the BMA $1, now printed on white paper instead of blue paper, lost its glamour.


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