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The Malaya Study Group exists for collectors of the stamps, postal stationery and postal history of the states of Peninsular Malaysia which until 1963 formed the Federation of Malaya, including the Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore, the Federated Malay States, Negri Sembilan and Sungei Ujong, Pahang, Perak and Selangor and the Unfederated States, Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Trengganu. Many MSG members also collect & study all of modern Malaysia, Singapore, and the island of Borneo, comprising additionally  Sabah, Sarawak, Borneo, Labuan, and the states of Brunei & the peninsular state of Singapore. Study of the whole area so often adds to understanding and appreciation of the philately of Malaya. The Society has a JOURNAL, "The Malayan Philatelist" and a NEWSLETTER supplied free to members, EXCHANGE PACKETS, AUCTIONS and has produced a number of significant PUBLICATIONS on the stamps and postal history of the area.

The Rob Holley display of Perak

November 14th 2009

A report from Rob Holley & pictures from Nick Hackney

Rob Holley gave us a superb three round display of a part of his Perak collection. It was greatly enhanced by his informative brief descriptions and his personal anecdotes. He of course had some questions to pose, and interesting suggestions about the Taipeng Postmaster's curious behaviour. I found it an excellent and enjoyable display, and a thoroughly memorable afternoon.
Intro by Nick Hackney


Rob starting his display



Rob describing 2c items



Part of the audience

PERAK, a display by ROB HOLLEY, 14th November 2009, LONDON.

Rob began by saying he had gone to Malaya in September 1963 (right in the middle of the 'Malaysia' crisis) to teach in British Army Children's Schools. He lived a year in Ipoh and then 5 years in Taiping, so for 6 years Perak was his second home. He returned to the U.K. in 1969 and here he was, 40 years later, showing Perak for the first time. Being one of the easier states to collect, his main problem was what to leave out and, as a result, he had omitted almost all the FMS period, the Japanese Occupation, BMA and, with one exception, the post-war issues.


He began with the first issues – the Straits 2c brown with wmk Crown CC, SG 1-9. SG 1 was easy enough to find used but not in fine condition and of the 3 copies shown only one was sound. SG 2 was much scarcer, in his view a genuinely rare stamp and his 3 used copies had all come from the Koh sale in 1986. SG 3 & 4 (shown in reconstructed triplets, all used) were not much easier as these early stamps seem to have been issued and dispersed before the U.K. dealers were aware of what was going on. SG 5 (block of 4 & 4 used copies) was the exception as it was common mint and used and was oddly different in style to all the others. SG 6-9 were easy mint but almost impossible used as they were bought up by dealers leaving few to be used in Perak and he had never found SG 6 & 8 acceptably cancelled. The 1883-4 issues were represented by a block of 6 of SG 10 plus 5 used, a reconstructed used triplet of SG 15 & 16, & 11 used copies of SG 11-13 plus a block of 8. Most were not easy to find and SG 12 (the wide 'A') had eluded him altogether. Curiously, many had the Larut-1 postmark of Port Weld and when Rob asked why, the suggestion came from the floor that uncancelled mail coming down to Port Weld from Upper Perak might have been chopped by the postmaster before it was sent on to Penang, something he had not considered before. The display included a copy of SG 14 (the 10th row of the vertical o/p), of which only 7 copies were known. In GB terms this was a rare stamp but he recalled there were no less than 3 in a Spink sale a few years ago.

Not a lot was said about the remainder of the o/pts as time was pressing but Rob said he found them almost without exception much more difficult to find used than mint. In fact he had never been offered SG 20, 21 & 29 used, the latter being priced at peanuts. How Gibbons managed to price them so cheaply he had no idea. He had found the 'Ferak' error easy (2 used/2 unused) as it was spotted by officialdom before sale and kept. 'Preak' was difficult as was SG 38 & 39 (Types 35 & 36) as he assumed they were from very small printings. From the middle of 1886 and lasting until 1891 Perak had operated an internal letter-rate of 1c, remarkable value as it was equivalent to roughly a farthing. It must have been widely used judging from the number of 1c o/pts required but despite many years' search Rob had never found a commercial cover franked 1c. In fact the only ones known were those addressed to Jamal Mohamed franked by the 1c/6c lilac of which considerable numbers must have been prepared. There were a lot of strange goings-on in the Perak Post Office in the 1890s and the scandal of the 2c orange (SG 63) was a typical example. (This was fully covered by Rob in TMP 45/90.) The tiger heads of 1895-99 were accompanied by a few commercial covers but they were not easy to find as the stamps were not valid abroad during most of this period and so mainly ended up in the WPB. The 'elephants' could readily be found apparently postally used, especially the $3 which he felt was priced at a ludicrously high figure, but were likely to have come from telegrams.

This round ended with 20 pages of the shortage period 1899-1901. Rob had tried to treat it chronologically but felt he had not got it right particularly where the 1900 o/pts were concerned and much more research needed to be done. He thought the first stamp to be used during the shortage period was the 2c rose half-tiger, SG 62, as he had found a number used at various Perak offices in 1899 (including on a p/s card) long after they should have been superseded by the 2c tiger-head, not to mention the 2c orange. It was a confused picture again and more research was needed. He talked at some length about the postal stationery cards used during the shortage period (once again, covered by a recent article in TMP) as they were sold at their face value and so could have been used in place of stamps. He felt sure Perak experienced a shortage of them in 1900, requiring some to be borrowed from Negri Sembilan. More and more of the latter used in Perak were coming to light. His final item was a Perak 3c/$5 elephants revenue stamp used on a local cover in Taiping on 27th October 1900 at a time when the Perak Post Office was struggling to keep the postal service going. He cherished the hope that one day evidence would come to light that these were authorised for postage at this time. This stamp is scarce fiscally used but he had seen a number with postal cancellations of various Perak offices during the last week in October 1900. Was this evidence of desperate postmasters prepared to accept such things from philatelic opportunists or sold by them in a last-ditch attempt to keep things afloat?

Round 2 began with a page of the FMS provisionals used in Perak including the $5 although this was fiscally used. He had found no 1c, 2c or 3c values, however, as these had been sold in Negri Sembilan and Pahang only. There then followed a few pages of postmarks tracing the use of the different types in Perak before the coming of the Malayan Postal Union when there was a need to incorporate the word 'MALAYA' in the postmarks. The 1935-41 period began with an informal picture of Sultan Iskander at a race-track with his Resident (Mr David?) and a cover from him to the Headmaster of the Malay College at Kuala Kangsar where, no doubt, he had a son or two. A postcard bearing what must have been the portrait from which the Government Survey Essays (and the side-faced DLR issue) were taken was followed by a couple of die-proofs from the vignette, the second showing some crude additions for which there was no room on the working die. A pair of colour trials and an examination of the cause of the 'extra line' above the head-dress on some of the stamps preceded the side-faced set up to $1, each page showing just one value including a block and a commercial cover, except for the $2 & $5, blocks of which Rob said he had never seen. The full-face set followed set out in the same way except there were no plate blocks of the 10c or the three dollar values, the latter being extremely rare. The postal stationery (used) of both sets was covered fairly fully including an 'H' sized registration envelope of the first set and an 'H2' of the second.

A dozen pages were devoted to the 1941 shortage period and the new values and colours issued that year including the various papers on which some of them were printed. He forbore saying anything about the latter, however, as much had already been said, and time pressed. With Gibbons now listing the 'striated' papers, the debate will begin again no doubt. A photographic essay depicting Sultan Abdul Aziz and not Sultan Iskander, as had once been thought, more or less ended the stamps in this round. Sultan Aziz (who ruled 1938-48) was destined never to appear on a stamp being a victim, so to speak, of the Japanese Occupation and the B.M.A. period which followed it.

The remaining pages were something of a pot-pourri covering subjects such as hotel stationery, meter stamps used in Perak, Ipoh Train Letter handstamps and items created by WWII such as patriotic slogans and labels and a cover from S.P. 506 which was thought to have been in Perak at this time. There was a final section on Pangkor and The Dindings, a subject which had always interested Rob particularly the post offices and agencies therein. This section started with a Straits 2c p/s card used from Pangkor on 10 May 1892, possibly before Lumut opened, which was almost certainly put on a steamer and sent straight to Penang. It was pointed out that the Pangkor cds did not cancel the impressed stamp on the card which, incidentally, was addressed to William Brown, author of the classic book on Straits stamps surcharged for use in the Malay States and also founder of Salisbury P. S. in 1895. Another card from Pangkor, sent in 1907, also did not have the Pangkor cds cancelling the adhesive but was postmarked in Lumut instead, while on its way no doubt, to being despatched inland to catch the train to Penang from Ipoh or Batu Gajah. Why the postal agent in Pangkor did not see it as his responsibility to cancel the stamps on his mail he had no idea. Several pages of Lumut postmarks followed including one on a cover sent by a member of Katharine Sim's family. Katharine was wife of the Customs Officer at Lumut and wrote a book describing her experiences in Malaya called Malayan Landscape. She offered a woman's view of the country, making it one of the most enjoyable books about pre-war Malaya Rob had read.


Although he was aware that some found three rounds rather too much in one afternoon Rob risked another 90 saying that its first half was very easily digested as it was just of the 'small-head' issue, 1950-56, a favourite of his. These pages could be skimmed through, but one or two needed to be noted – the first one being a FDC addressed to the Group's founder, Howard Seltzer, remembering that 1950 was a full 7 years before the MSG's birth. The other was a page showing two examples of the contemporary 'G' sized registration envelope of Perlis used in Enggor and Kampong Kapayong on 12.6.57 & 26.6.57 respectively. He had photocopies of others and thought they constituted evidence of a local shortage of stationery shortly before the 'Independence' issue was due when the authorities would be reluctant to order more while they still had stocks of the the lesser-used states' stationery on their hands. Perlis used abroad? That was something new to be sure. He also showed a single example of a Kedah 'H2' envelope used in Taiping on 16.8.57 but as Kedah was next door to Perak this could have been a 'traveller', but worth looking out for all the same, although shortages of stationery apparently not noted at the time were unlikely to emerge from the official records (if there were any!) 50 years later.

The second half of this round was mainly concerned with social philately or Rob's version of it. He started by airing an old favourite – his Perak war cover bearing H.M.S. Thistle's monogram on its reverse. This has been described in TMP 31/4 but more research has been done. After an article on the subject in Gibbons' Stamp Monthly Rob received a letter from a great-niece of the first casualty of the Perak War, a Captain Innes who was killed while accompanying Thistle's sailors on an assault on a fort manned by the followers of the plotters, together with much valuable and interesting information on the man and the events he was involved in. Photocopies of part of Capt. Innes' personal log threw definitive light on the composition of the famous photograph showing many of Perak's pioneers at a location in Lower Perak in 1875 which early researchers had thought had been taken on the occasion of the signing of the Pangkor Engagemet in 1874, the agreement which began Britain's political involvement with the Native States and an historic occasion. This is now not thought to be the case, the photograph being taken on a later expedition which Captain Innes accompanied and of which he left a full description. As a result Rob was able to identify one of the men in the photograph as Captain Stirling, skipper of the Thistle, and the man who took the photograph as Lt. Abbot, also of the Thistle, who had been Birch's companion when he was murdered on 2 November 1875.

A section featuring pictures of various post offices of early Perak followed, together with items of mail used in same. Among them were cards and covers used at Ipoh's post offices illustrating the name changes which saw Ipoh Sub Office become Ipoh East after which it moved to Ipoh New Town's premises when the latter closed. Ipoh East is now Ipoh Timor. A page on the history of the Malay States Guides whose name became somewhat tarnished during the Great War included a ppc captioned 'M.S.G. Office'! Other pages showed changes in roads and bridges as transport developed in the State and a couple of ppcs showed the railway stations at Ipoh and Batu Gajah, although pictures of Perak's stations were strangely few in his experience. A couple of pages on Hubert Berkeley, surely Perak's most eccentric District Officer, were followed by a couple of mail items sent within the State. The first was an FMS p/s reg envelope sent from Tanjong Malim to Taiping in 1901 which had gone via KL, Klang, Telok Anson and Ipoh and had been carried by train, train, boat, train again and, last, by pony gharry before arriving at its destination 4 days later. A 1c FMS p/s card from Tapah to Ipoh in 1902 arranging a one-day cricket match at the latter threw interesting light on the changes wrought by the building of the north-south railway.

A little section on Dr Wood, based on a cover addressed to him from Maxwell Hill, which Rob had shown before brought the display to an end. It always creates interest as it shows a photograph of the legendary doctor on the occasion of a visit of a group of MSG members to his home, Coedfa, in North Wales in 1963. Among those present was Gordon Peters, looking just a little younger than he does today, and at his elbow on a table were some of the Doctor's albums which the party had obviously just been studying. Coedfa is, or was a few years ago, being run as a bed and breakfast establishment and Rob stayed there once. The proprietor remembered 'the Major' as Dr Wood liked to be called. Another memory was being shown the office in Taiping (just at the rear of the post office as it happens) where Dr Wood worked during his time there, his guide being an old-time employee in Perak's Public Health Department who had served with senior colleagues able to recall the most celebrated of all Malaya's collectors. An appropriate end to a display which had, in some ways, been a nostalgic trip for the speaker. Rob Holley


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