On May 6 1840, the world’s first postage stamp called “Penny Black’ went on public sale at post offices in England. It bore the profile of Queen Victoria and cost one penny. And it was printed in black. In the modern electronic age, most of us have forgotten the use of postal stamps but the little piece of paper once glued on a letter has evolved into an article with diverse functions. A postal stamp denotes a nation’s heritage and as a paper ambassador, it has both intrinsic and actual value. In today’s turbulent times, with uncertainty hanging over the stock market, collectors all over the world are showing interest in investing into postal stamps. In 2011, the most valuable stamp collection in the world was put up for auction. The total value of the collection, owned by former Velcro chairman Sir Humphrey Cripps was 20 million British pounds. Sir Humphrey had bought the stamps for £29,000 in 1972. In his collection there were two Post Office Mauritius “penny blue” stamps, which sold for £1m.
Philatelists buy stamps for the pleasure of collecting but stamps can be big money-spinners. Some stamps perform better than others. Some of the Great Britain stamps were listed in GB250 Index. For the last 20 years, this Index has consistently shown a compound annual growth. Some of the postal stamps of Myanmar figure in the list of collectibles. To know the real worth of such stamps, it’s important to know the history of the nation as well as that of its stamps. Burma had been an autonomous country for hundreds of years ruled by the Burmese kings, before being defeated in three wars with the British. There was no postal system during the Burmese kings’ rule. Local messengers and volunteer carriers were used to send letters. Starting in 1854, Burma used the stamps of British India when Burma was incorporated into the British Empire. It was not as an independent new colony, but as a division of the province of India. Under British occupancy, British authorities set up an official postal system in Burma. After 1856, the stamps were specially prepared for Burma post offices. Mr. Crisp was appointed as Rangoon Postmaster in September, 1852 and he tried to develop the postal work. On April 1, 1937, Burma was separated from India politically and administratively and it became a self-governing unit. The first provisional stamps of Burma were sold on this day. Between 1926 and 1936, the Indian stamps were printed with the word ‘BURMA’ in black, as overprint. These overprints added the word ‘SERVICE’ to the ‘BURMA’ overprints. Their face values were in the Indian Monetary System of Pies (Ps), Annas (As) and Rupees (Rs).These stamps were also used on foreign parcels, for the payment of radio license fee, and for the payment of charges on telegrams, cables and radiograms.
Soon after its independence from India, in July, 1937, Government of Burma advertised a public competition for the issue of a new series of postage stamps. 252 designs participated and the first definitive postage stamps of Burma were born. A Royal Barge designed by Maung Kyi, a Burmese farmer plowing a rice field in deep blue & black designed by Maung Ohn, an elephant moving a teak log in dark violet designed by Maung Hlaine, and a sailboat on the Irrawaddy River in slate green designed by Naigamwalla won prizes and were selected to be reproduced on stamps. The profile of King George VI wearing the Imperial State Crown with all the other royal regalia was printed on the right hand side of all the four stamps. These stamps were printed at the Nasik Security Printing Press, India and put on sale on November 15, 1938.
When the Japanese came into Burma in 1942, postal stamps were issued both by the Japanese military administrative authority and by the Burmese Independence Army (BIA). The Japanese Army Administration handed over control of the postal service to the Burmese Government in November 1942. The first definitive issues included simple designs in red showing a Burmese warrior’s helmet and crossed swords with a rising radiating sun in the background. The first act of the BIA administration was to start the postal service again. In 1943 and 1944 stamps were issued by the Burma Government with the permission of the occupy ing forces. There were different categories of postage stamps, one of them definitive, issued during the Japanese occupation period from 1942 to 1944. Stamps and firstday-covers from this period are still very much sought-after by the collectors. A definitive stamp is a postage stamp that is part of the regular issue of a country’s stamps, available for sale by the post office for an extended period of time and designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country. One of the definitive stamp’s designs is the head of the King George VI which appears on the drawing of a dancing peacock’s tail. After King George V died in 1936, a definitive set of George VI stamps was issued in 1938. Between 1938 and 1940, four designs of George VI stamps were printed in 12 colors and face values. On 6 May 1940 a commemorative stamp was issued to celebrate the centenary of the use of the first postage stamp. The British postal authorities overprinted the stamp with “Commemoration Postage Stamp 6th May 1840”.
After the defeat of the Japanese in the World War II the postal system of Britain was restarted. Under the control of the British Military Administration (BMA), the British used their own pre-war Burma stamps with new overprints reading ‘MILY ADMN’. In 1946, Britain issued new stamps inscribed BURMA.
On 4 January 1948, Burma became an independent republic and till 1973, stamps were issued in the name of Union of Burma. From 1974 stamps were marked Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma, and from 1990 Union of Myanmar. As the modern Myanmar continues to face challenges of urban development, future changes are hard to predict. The volatility of a nation is reflected in its stamps, and those stamps remain a fascinating area for many collectors and investors, as well.