©Lin Yangchen

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The Singapore Municipal Commission was a powerful, partially elected body that oversaw many aspects of urban management and planning in Singapore. It used at least four security markings on postage and revenue stamps, comprising pre-war and post-war perfins (Turnbull 2022) and two types of overprint (Peters 2004).

The first overprint type is a high-quality letterpress so far recorded only on pre-war stamps, as seen on this utility receipt issued during World War II. It is a machine overprint with a setting of at least four rows by three columns, judging from the print quality and the alignment on a block of stamps seen by the author.

The heavy black letters signalled that the SMC considered its identity almost as important as the stamp itself. They are Didone-style with high stroke contrast and fine serifs, a font class of the 18th and 19th centuries that had gone out of fashion by the beginning of the 20th century but was nevertheless suitable for large lettering.

The overprints sometimes appear heavier or lighter, but when one overlays them, the character positions match very closely. This suggests that the weight differences arose from inking and/or printing pressure rather than from different dies.

It was the SMC that kept the city of Singapore running. It provided utilities such as water, electricity and removal of faeces, diplomatically known as nightsoil. It also kept the streets clean. This photograph taken from the roof of the General Post Office shows the city's major landmarks in the mid-20th century, including the Fort Canning lighthouse, Hill Street Police Station, Victoria Theatre, Supreme Court, Singapore Cricket Club, Cathay Building, Saint Andrew's Cathedral and Anderson Bridge (bottom right). And, of course, the Municipal Building (upper right), home of the SMC and site of the Japanese surrender and the swearing-in of Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. The stamp is not stuck to the card.

The second type of overprint is a violet rubber stamp of very different qualities from the first. I have seen it only on BMA and later stamps. It could have been a replacement for the pre-war overprinting plate which might have been lost or damaged. This rubber handstamp would have been easier and faster to apply. The stocky letters with heavy serifs would have been easier to cut in rubber, and they dispensed with the dots too.

An overprinted sheet of Singapore 4¢ seen separately by the author shows that the handstamp is 2×2-set in a grid forming four rectangles. The grid is a bad design in my opinion. It is thin and of about the same dimensions as the stamp, which ensures it almost never aligns with the edges of the stamp and looks messy and unnecessary. The handstamp was possibly conceived in a hurry amidst the post-war chaos.

Spiral staircase for nightsoil collection in the old days.
Ellison Building, Singapore
©Lin Yangchen

Pre-war perfin (Peters 2004) on overlapping BMA stamps. This was one of the few perfins to survive World War II (Turnbull 2022).

Post-war perfin (c. 1947–1980) with the defective singaporf datestamp.

The smc perfin machine, made by reputed firm Joseph Sloper & Co. in London in a setting of four dies in a row, was rediscovered at a flea market by Yong (2011). In fact, Sloper, a mechanical engineer, was the pioneer of postage stamp perfins, having borrowed the idea from his railway ticket punching machines; his proposal to so protect merchants from the theft of their stamps was approved by the General Post Office in Britain in 1868.

The machine has a large hinged lever that when pressed downwards drives four sets of pins into a horizontal strip of four stamps. Two separate strikes on plain paper (above) show a horizontal periodicity of 2.05cm, which corresponds quite precisely with the width of the coconut definitive. Even more interesting, however, is what actually happens when it is being operated (Lin & Yong 2017). The lower row of perfins (above) is the output when one depresses the lever fully, with complete letters throughout except for a chipped S and M. The upper set, punched with less force and incomplete travel of the lever, displays additional flaws in truncated m's as well as holes with incomplete removal of paper. This demonstrates that the human hand can spawn striking variations and flaws from a single machine and even a single set of pins. There are constant flaws in the letter S in the third die and letter M in the fourth die.

Truncated m in reversed and inverted forms. The author has also seen an example with only one stem of the m remaining, making the perfin look like sic.

Mis-estimation was common with the hand-operated machines in the realm of perfin production.

Double perfins are relatively rare.


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