©Lin Yangchen

previous section | next section | back to table of contents

De La Rue reportedly manufactured three plates of which two were sent to Kuala Lumpur and Australia (Walton 1972, Morris 2017), but their exact circumstances have been disputed (see Wells 1968, Barker 1993). In Australia, two electrotypes were made from the original copper plate using a wax mould (Peter Cockburn comm. 2021). The Jaarstroom eventually helped bring coconut definitives back to Malaya's shores (Peter Cockburn comm. 2017).

The typesetter has apparently taken care to both kern and letterspace the glyphs appropriately with respect to one another and to their surroundings, placing the pairs la, ay and ya closer together and spacing out bma. The overprint holds yet another typographic surprise: its two lines are in slightly different typefaces. The malaya has narrower letters for economy of space; more unexpectedly, stroke width is constant in bma but variable in malaya. The author suspects that this latter difference, obviously not meant to be perceived by the normal user, may have been an aid for weeding out less meticulous forgeries.

Two extremes of font weight and ink opacity encountered by the author. The chalky (top) and substitute (bottom) papers are partly responsible for the difference, but they do not tell the whole story.

You might be wondering if just the three letters bma over the straits settlements inscription were not enough for an overprint. This would have saved ink and labour, but it would have made the overprint even more prone to forgery. Nevertheless the three-letter configuration was used on the stamps of Sarawak.

The letterpress effect on the surface of substitute paper of a BMA $5 stamp, with the vertical axis exaggerated four times. The black patch is the lower part of the vertical stroke of the letter L of the overprint, while the orange ink is part of the second E of the word SETTLEMENTS on the stamp. The overprint has embossed the paper—not surprising given that all the force of the letterpress plate is concentrated on the thin-stroked letters and small overall area of the overprint. This is the anomaly by which albino overprints are detected. This 3D surface was reconstructed in true colour using a Keyence industrial microscope with reflected annular illumination and extended depth of focus.

Another visualization of the letterpress effect, in a scanning electron micrograph of the BMA 15¢ on rough paper. The last letter s of settlements appears in a slightly lighter colour than the unprinted parts of the paper and seems slightly depressed. But it is surpassed by the high-pressure BMA overprint, which looks like the footstep of Godzilla.

Digital elevation model of the footstep of Godzilla, constructed using laser scanning confocal microscopy. The height difference between the pink and light blue areas is about 40 μm.

overprint flaws

Imagine the bottom legs of the 'A' looking like the top of comic character Batman's headgear with two ears sticking up. Now imagine the top point of the 'A' looking like the black silhouette of a cat sitting up with its tail hanging down to the right … The right hand leg of 'M' in Malaya looks wobbly and about to fall over to the right.

James Kennedy on a cranky BMA overprint

The famous “London overprint”, looking like ripped jeans.

The disappearing M from the Kuala Lumpur assembly line, on stamps that had been temporarily stranded in India (Peter Cockburn comm. 2021). Dr. Abdul Majid Dato Kassim observed this flaw in the second to seventh stamps in the second column of the sheet.

The famous dot between L and A of MALAYA, with further metastasization. The dot (without the extra creativity) is very common and is found on most denominations (Robinson 1994).

The BMA part of the overprint reconstituted from different stamps and different papers (left and right, substitute paper; centre, chalky paper), showing various overprinting flaws. Just like the stamp design, the overprints clearly exhibit the same differences in print characteristics between chalky paper and substitute paper.

Deformed specimens of the letter M in MALAYA. Besides plate damage, the letters exhibit variations in overall typographical characteristics that could have arisen from electrotyping fluctuations and/or plate wear. Plate, paper and ink in turn interact with one another in the printing process, spawning infinite variations.

Bad-As (do you sense A bad pun?)

A partial albino letter A where the embossed shape of the whole letter is visible. The additional damage to the paper surface along the embossed edge could have been caused by abrasion over time or even the initial plate pressure itself. The letter is both deformed and incompletely printed. The plate may have been incompletely inked or had the ink accidentally rubbed off after inking.

I am grateful to Neil Macdonald for his gift of the overprint flaws featured in this reference collection.


previous section | next section | back to table of contents

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In