The Karl Lewis Cover of Sarawak


The Karl Lewis Cover

This beautiful hand-painted cover was recently listed in ebay and reached an impressive final price of US$1,975.50! So what makes this cover so special? Well, the answer is pretty obvious - the Karl Lewis factor! This legendary American is well known in the philatelic world for producing many marvellous hand-painted covers. Based in Yokohama Japan, Lewis made arrangements for covers to be mailed from exotic countries to stamps collectors, primarily in the US. His advertisement reads "COVERS FROM THE RADIANT ISLANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS &c. TYPICALLY hand-painted of these islands from photographs and sketches I have made of many of them. Franked with the stamps of these islands &c. MAILED DIRECT TO YOU at TWENTY FIVE CENTS EACH..."

The cover above is postmarked November 20 1940. There is a brown censor tape on the right side with "Passed By Cenor 106 Singapore" rubber stamp on the front and reverse. It also includes a typed and signed letter from Karl Lewis to the addressee on his illustrated letterhead from Yokohama Japan dated October 31 1940. The scene depicted in the cover is a village by the river in Kuching, different from the other scene he usually depicts for Sarawak - The Datu's Road.

From the letter to the recepient, it is quite apparent that Lewis wasn't aware of the difference between British North Borneo and Sarawak. He writes "...but cannot send from Jesselton; as I have no correspondent there, and it would be impossible to send different cities from one island." The sender's address is Kuching, Sarawak, British North Borneo suggesting that Lewis must have thought that Sarawak was part of North Borneo rather than a separate country in British Borneo. From the letter, Lewis wrote that he had no correspondent in Jesselton, therefore, it follows that we won't have any hand-painted covers of scenes in North Borneo - Neither do we have any North Borneo/Labuan stamps franked on Lewis covers.

Another interesting aspect of this letter is that it was written in 31 Oct 1940 and mailed from Kuching on 20 November 1940. We know that in Dec. 29, 1939, at the age of 74, Lewis suffered a paralytic stroke. This means the letter and the cover above must have been produced while he was battling with the disease with possible limitations in movements. In two letters written Feb 8 and 10, 1940, he said he was only able to sit up for two hours in the mornings and afternoons. Lewis died in 19 May 1942 while still under Japanese house arrest, leaving behind great treasures in philatelic world and beautiful hand-painted covers to be admired for many generations to come.

The other scene of Karl Lewis cover of Sarawak - The Datu's Road - Mailed on 28 Sept 1936.

Review of Spink's 2011 Auction of "Walter Bickly's Labuan & N. Borneo Collection"



On July 14, 2011, Spink London held an important philatelic auction of Walter Bickly's Labuan and North Borneo collection. Of the 722 lots auctioned, 475 were North Borneo lots and 247 were Labuan. There was a wide array of lots ranging from a single stamp to important covers and specimen stamps. Of note was the De Saumarez cover, one of the earliest known covers from Labuan. But this didn't even come close to the most expensive item sold during the auction.

Of the 722 lots auctioned, only 47 lots (6.5%) remained unsold at the conclusion of the auction. Cumulative price realisation excluding buyer's premium was £508,025. The most expensive lot in the whole auction was the 1904 $10 Labuan stamp (SG142) which managed to topped the list with an eye popping figure of £32,000. The cheapest lots sold in the auction was £40 (several lots).

The Spotlights:

1. 1904-05 $10 Brown Labuan Stamp with RPS Certificate

Sold for: £32,000
Description: Officially the rarest and most expensive Labuan stamp known. This fine unused stamp comes without gum as usual. The stamp also comes with RPS certificate no: 18,949 - perhaps the reason why the stamp sold for £7,000 more than the catalogue value in Stanley Gibbons. This one piece of paper, being the most coveted material in the auction, would need an average middle class worker to work for at least 3-5 years before being able to afford for such a gem. At £32,000 this piece of stamp can buy 1 kg of pure gold at a current market price! It also tripled the estimated price of £10,000 at the start of the auction.

2. Strip of 1883 stamps with 3 cents surcharges

Sold for: £10,000
Description: Described by the auctioneer as being extremely rare. This strip of three stamps with provisional surcharge of 3c. on the pink 4c. stamps shows a small "3" in the middle stamp, being neatly cancelled by oval of bars and part of the red circular date stamp. Auctioneer estimated the price to be between £4,000-5,000 but this rare gem managed to eventually push the hammer price to a staggering £10K. Although the perforations look dodgy and the fact that the stamps are cancelled with the 'hated' oval of bars, this strip of stamps reached an amazing final price nonetheless.

2. North Borneo 1918-30 Postage Due stamps in block of 6.

Sold for: £10,000
Description: This one shares the second place with the strip of three stamps above. Although £2,000 below the minimum estimated price, this lot reiterates the tenet of stamps collecting - "To err is Divine". The more obvious and major the error is, the more expensive the stamp becomes. In fact, the most expensive stamp in the world also follows the same basic rule. This lot consists of a block of six postage due stamps. The middle row however has the overprint ommited making it one of the rarest North Borneo philatelic collection. It is also great for a showpiece and perhaps should be displayed in a major philatelic museum!

For the complete list of items auctioned, click here.

Stamp Travelling: A walk in Rome


A philatelic shop in Rome

Stamp Hunting in Rome?

North Borneo stamps in Rome? That doesn't sound right at all. I don't recall many Italian sellers selling British Borneo materials, neither in ebay nor elsewhere. So my main target to Rome was simply to eat authentic Italian spaghetti, attending the Pope's mass and to admire the artistic masterpieces of the likes of Michaelangelo, Raphael, Bernini etc. Stamps came tenth in my to-do list.

Nevertheless I did manage to find a philatelic shop in the middle of the bustling city of Rome. Who would have tought that the shop was just a stone throw away from the hotel where I stayed. I went inside the shop, trying to pick up any hint suggesting the presence of rare philatelic gems hidden somewhere in the mountainous stamp albums. I was duly greeted by the shopkeeper with "buongiorno", an Italian formal way of saying hello. I wanted to ask him about North Borneo or even Malaya stamps, but because there wasn't anything in the shop suggesting non-Italian items, I started with a very broad question - "Do you have stamps from the British Commonwealth?" He gave me a blunt "No". "What about British stamps?" I asked again "No, we don't have that either...".

So yeah, no luck in Rome. I went to several other smaller shops but the answers were practically the same. "No!". I didn't stay long in Rome, perhaps if I had a longer stay I might, with luck, find  some stamps r covers from British Borneo. I remember buying two covers of North Borneo BMA stamps from an Italian seller long time ago but that was it..

Vatican Philatelic Museum

Because Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, everyhing you expect a country should possess can be found without difficulty in this 0.44 km2 area. This includes its two post offices; and the philatelic museum located in the bigger museo vaticani. I knew nothing about the Vatican philately but a visit there was quite interesting because you get to see the Pope's picture everywhere in the coins and in the stamps and the tendency to depict religious-related design (Angels, cross, Saints etc). Many of the older Vatican stamps are engraved which give that nice classical feeling and high aesthetical value.

Many pre-1900 covers were also shown but because I don't have the knowledge of the Papal states philately I didn't get to appreciate their values and beauties. Perhaps they are as rare as the older cover we have in North Borneo such as those with Gantian postmark, Silam, the early entire and the early Labuan covers. Here are some of the exhibited items in the museum:


Cover with Character: 1946 Proclamation of N. Borneo as Crown Colony


Proclamation of N. Borneo as a Crown Colony

I saw this cover/document listed in  ebay several days back. It thought it's a very nice historical document pertaining to the change of status of North Borneo from British Protectorate to a Crown Colony. Along with the declaration of His Majesty King George is a black and white portrait of their Majesties. Apart from the main issue of status change, his majesty also acknowleged the post-war effects (which was essentially the primary factor for the change in status), and finally an announcement about Labuan island as being part of North Borneo.

So what does it mean to be a Crown Colony rather than a British Protectorate? Well, after the WWII, the British North Borneo Company became virtually paralysed financially. The destruction of the towns and infrastucture was so great that the Chartered Company was unable to reconstruct North Borneo. Sandakan as a capital was totally wiped out such that Jesselton was chosen as the new capital. That's when the Company decided to sell its interests to the British government, and in doing so, afforded North Borneo a Crown status on July 15, 1946. Protectorate simply means that the British government is protecting North Borneo both diplomatically and militarily, but the administration remained entirely in the hands of the Chartered Company. So when North Borneo became the Crown Colony, the British government not only controlled the administration but also safeguard North Borneo interests.

The cover/document ended with an expected final price of US$355.50. It is franked with various North Borneo and Sarawak BMA stamps and tied with Jesselton cds dated 15 JY 46. There are also translations of the proclamation in Malay and Chinese according to the seller.

On A Lighter Note...

Silamstar noticed this lot in ebay and everyone starts asking why would these common CTO stamps ended with a very high final price? About a year ago, I sold the exact same copies of stamps (CTOs) and I got US$18 for both. I thought that was pretty ok until I see this one. Perhaps Anthony was right, while North Borneo stamps are getting more expensive in the current market, those who have started collecting long time ago will be rich if they start selling their stamps now. Are North Borneo stamps on the rise?

The Saumarez Cover - The Earliest Known Cover from Labuan!


The cover to Behold - the De Saumarez Cover

The Earliest Cover from Labuan!

It was only a few months back that we were discussing about the Saumarez cover, and now here it is appearing with all its glory! It is of course a great pleasure to see one of the philatelic treasures of North Borneo/Labuan - the coveted De Saumarez cover! Until recently, very few people have heard about the cover save the experts from the SSS; and fewer still, have ever set eyes on the cover with all its colour and luminosity. This cover is, of course, the earliest known cover from the island of Labuan, being posted in July 13, 1864. This makes the cover comparable to the three early covers from Labuan, known as the Stafford covers, all of which were sent in 1864 as well.

This stampless De Saumarez cover was carried by private ship to Singapore, showing two impressions of red-ink "LABUAN" double-ring cds (Proud's D1) along with boxed "SINGAPORE/SHIP LETTER/1864 AG 4/BG ____" with manuscript of "2as" indicating that 2 annas was charged in Singapore on arrival. If I'm not mistaken, Aug 4, 1864 is the arrival date in Singapore. According to the auctionner, an endorsement on the inside flap reads "72 dollars being charged for bringing the store which came by the 'Rainbow' from the beach to the store close by? - Ask Major Elphinstone to show you the Labuan agents abstract for June".

From  1861-1867 the Straits Settlement (incl. Singapore) was administered by the Burma circle, whereby according to the Indian Post Office Act (1837), letters carried by a private ship is to be stamped with black-inked box that reads "SHIP LETTER BEARING___". This is in contrast to the 3 Stafford covers where stamps from India and Hong Kong were used, the former being supplied in Singapore. One of the covers is franked with Indian stamps ammounting to 8As.

The Stafford Cover with 8As India Stamps

The Saumarez cover above is up for an auction at an estimated price of £ 6,000 - 8,000. It would be interesting to see the hammer price on this great piece of philatelic gem, which would be known after 12 Jul 2011. Comments are appreciated.