Books about Malaya - philatelic, postal history & social history
Penang : 500 Early Postcards
A stunning illustrated description of 500 early Penang Postcards by Dr.Cheah Jin Seng based on his extensive collection
its successful introduction in 1894, the picture postcard has left
collectors with a fascinating pictorial and postal history record
of the past. Prof. Cheah Jin Seng’s latest book on early picture
postcards of his native Penang epitomizes the delights of this vast
and fertile collecting area and will be warmly welcomed by deltiologists
and philatelists alike. This is Prof. Cheah’s fifth book after
Singapore: 500 Early Postcards ; Malaya: 500 Early Postcards
; Perak: 300 Early Postcards  and Selangor: 300 Early
The 288-page fully illustrated book has a foreword by social historian Dr. Cheah Boon Kheng describing it as ‘a wonderful artistic record of Penang’s unique past and progress as northern Malaya’s commercial centre and The Pearl of the Orient’. The book is handy-sized and has a pleasing layout with its mainly two-to-a-page full-size colour illustrations of postcards individually numbered for easy reference.
The collection is almost completely owned by the author himself and is comprehensively described in several chapters. Each chapter carries mostly full-size colour illustrations of representative picture postcards with individual annotations on the title, the cancellation (if any), the back (undivided or divided) and the publisher (if known), together with a well-researched description and historical background of the picture itself. Relevant postal history information is also provided for many used postcards.
The introduction to the history of Penang contains a brief historical narrative, a descriptive list of all known publishers and photographers of Penang picture postcards and a spectrum of their early creative efforts, notably the ‘Greetings from Penang’ series of c. 1900-1905. The earliest known outgoing picture postcard from Penang to Austria was sent on 9 May 1898 and featured three real photographic images of Weld Quay, a Malay lady and a rickshaw. This was published by A. Kaulfuss, whose own image was captured on a postcard and was believed to have later again appeared in a postcard of Waterfall Garden as an European gentleman dressed in archetypal white suit and topee.
The first chapter starts with Penang harbour in its regional entrepôt and free port heyday. There is a scarce double-size panoramic view, as well as early and later scenes, of the harbour and its surroundings. The probable earliest panoramic view of the harbour was taken by A. Kaulfuss as part of 1902 and 1908 multi-view postcards showing additional scenes of the landing pier, the post office and Beach Street. There are pictures of tongkangs, junks, sampans and ocean-going steamers in the harbour as well as scenes of Swettenham Pier, Weld Quay, Victoria Pier, the F.M.S. Railway Building and Penang River.
The second chapter covers colonial Penang with a variety of views of charming colonial buildings such as Fort Cornwallis (perhaps the oldest building in Penang), the Penang Cricket Club, the Town Hall, the General Post Office, the Penang Free School and many others. There are memorials like the Cenotaph, the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower and the Logan Memorial together with various views of the Esplanade and the Padang Kota Lama (or Padang). The Ben Vermont Monument on the grounds of the Padang was in honour of the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Batu Kawan Estate and was regrettably destroyed during WWII, never to be rebuilt again.
The third chapter deals with the hotels, schools and hospitals of Penang. The well-known E & O Hotel and the Runnymede Hotel had their own post offices and tourism niche but there were also lesser known hotels like the Raffles, Penang (formerly Bellevue Boarding House), Hotel Norman, the Australia Hotel and the Shanghai Hotel. Schools and convents like St. Xavier’s Institution, Chung Ling High School, Convent St Maur and Anglo-Chinese School are shown, together with various views of the General Hospital and a scarce view of the Leper Camp.
The fourth chapter depicts Penang streets and roads, many of which were peopled not only by the ubiquitous coolies but by tradespeople, pedlars and shoppers. Various modes of transportation are shown ranging from rickshaws and bullock carts to motor vehicles and electric trams, and there is even an amusing scene of Chulia Street showing an electric tram just next to some quaint rickshaws. There are also views of places of worship like St. George’s Church, the Scotch Church, the Siamese Temple, the Chinese Temple at Pitt Street and the Malay mosques at Acheen Street and Chulia Street.
The fifth chapter takes a look at scenes beyond George Town. The Botanic Gardens and Penang Hill (including Crag Hotel) were familiar themes for postcards. The Buddhist temples shown are the well-known Kek Lok Si temple in Air Itam and the Snake Temple in Sungai Keluang. Pre-war Province Wellesley (a.k.a. Prai or Prye) was notorious for its gambling dens but refreshingly, there were Catholic churches like the Chinese Church of the Sacred Heart at Machang Bubok, the interior of which is shown in a scarce c. 1910 postcard.
The sixth chapter focuses on the people. Heart-warming scenes of the 1906 royal visit of Prince Arthur and the 1922 royal visit of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) were captured on picture postcards. The Silver Jubilee of King George V was commemorated with, among others, a real photographic postcard depicting the prize-winning arch across Beach Street, sent to Belgium and franked with a KGV 1¢ and a 5¢ Silver Jubilee stamp. There are intriguing images of Straits-born Chinese (nyonyas) in glittering costumes and jewellery and bright Chingay processions, sharply contrasting with those of emaciated opium smokers in their dens. There are also interesting poses of Malays, Indians, Europeans and even of Japanese Dancing Girls and Burmese Beauties, reflecting upon the multi-ethnic composition of Penang society.
The final chapter on philatelic history gives useful information on stamps affixed on the picture side which might detract somewhat but could have been a trendy practice or a desire to be different. A c. 1905 biview postcard depicting a tin refinery and tinslobs ready for shipping is shown with stamp tied on picture side by the scarce triple ring violet ‘E & O Hotel/Penang’ c.d.s. with manuscript 16/4/1910 date. There is additional information on uncommon stamps used on picture postcards such as the 1922 Malaya-Borneo Exhibition stamps and uncommon cancellations like the Swiss-type Siamese c.d.s. used in Kedah. A helpful insight is also provided into the valuations of picture postcards.
The book concludes with sections on further reading, acknowledgements and a brief résumé of the author.
A preview of images of the book itself is available at http://books.google.com.my by entering a search with the book title.
Penang: 500 early postcards is an excellent addition to one’s philatelic library, not just only for reminiscence, nostalgia and reading pleasure but also as an authoritative reference work for the growing numbers of collectors of Malayan picture postcards.
Review by Dr. Gong Ngie Hee
by Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd and attractively priced at USD 29.90,
SGD 45.00 or MYR 99.00, Penang: 500 early postcards is now available
at many leading bookstores, including the Popular Bookstore chain in
Singapore and Malaysia. It will also be available for online purchase
at Amazon.com from March 2013.
Publication date : 2013
Price USD 29.90, SGD 45.00 or MYR 99.00 available at many leading bookstores, including the Popular Bookstore chain in Singapore and Malaysia. It will be available for online purchase at Amazon.com from March 2013.
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